Twentieth-Century Literature Conference
Thrity Umrigar's Bombay Time: A Casebook
Fear and Stasis:
Outer Terrors and Rapidly Shrinking Interior Spaces in Bombay Time
Do not cite without permission of the author.A structuralist perspective is, in many ways, a difficult one to hold on to. This difficulty arises from the fact that so many different—and sometimes contradictory—methods have been termed structuralist . As Richard and Fernande DeGeorge remark in their anthology The Structuralists from Marx to Levi-Strauss , “bibliographies on structuralism can be virtually endless if one succumbs to the temptation to include everything related to the topic” (vii). Structuralist theory counts among its originators the seminal figures of Marx, Freud and Saussure, and among its contributors theorists like Jakobson, Levi-Strauss, Barthes, Todorov, Genette, Foucault, Althusser, and Lacan. It is a famous list, and not surprisingly, all who are listed under structuralism do not in fact have the same idea of exactly what structuralism is . Roland Barthes suggested that the term be reserved for “the methodological movement which specifically avows its direct link with linguistics” (qtd. in Culler 255), while popularizer Jonathan Culler explains structuralism more generally as “a poetics which strives to define the conditions of meaning” (Culler viii). It is perhaps most useful to think of structuralism in terms of what it allows a critic to do, rather than what it is: though it does not help us to discover new meanings, it helps us to realize our immersion in a larger system of meaning. It shows us how we read, and reveals the semiotic conventions of which we are part. Its principal use in my work will be the discovery of those semiotic conventions, patterns and trends in Thrity Umbrigar's novel Bombay Time, the form and structure lending focus to the function of textual elements.
Umbrigar, a Zoroastrian Parsi who lives in the United States , published Bombay Time in 2001. This story, or group of stories, focuses on a small community of middle-class Parsis in modern Bombay . The framing narrative is a wedding, but the intervening stories are the memories of the community members on this eventful day, the “least and most of all our lives” (5). The novel's structure is complex; interweaving personal memory-narratives through the larger story of a Parsi wedding reception, and consequently changing its tense and narrative perspective rapidly, often several times in a single chapter. Structuralism, then, seems to be the most useful in-road into this complicated post-modern tale of memory, community, fear and promise; but it cannot explicate the text on its own. It is necessary, before proceeding to analyze Bombay Time , that we discern and discuss the limits of structuralism, and what may supplement our reading of the text.
Because structuralism at its purest generally sees form as more important than function—the recognition of the system as more worthy of note than what the system produces—it is rather unhelpful in searching for or deciphering meaning. For instance, in Saussure's analysis of langue (the system of rules) and parole (the individual manifestation of the rules), parole is only worthy of study as a means of seeing and understanding the langue . What is of interest to the critic, however, is what Culler describes as the “gap” between the rule and the actual behavior or manifestation, for the “gap is a space of potential meaning” (Culler 8). Pure linguistics may not be engaged to make a wider point about the individual utterance. The linguistics, semantics, and the understanding of semiotic conventions that are part of the structuralist perspective do make it an important tool in interpretation, however, even though for the pure structuralist interpretation is never the aim. My focus, however, is the novel, that individual manifestation of the larger world of langue that is Bombay Time . It is best, then, to begin my structuralist analysis by choosing, a la carte from the critics who will be most useful to the task at hand: the understanding of Bombay Time's narrative structure, its gradual progression from interior space to exterior world, and the fear and stasis which is so much a part of the characters' dispositions.
I owe a great debt to Robert Scholes for my chosen method; in his work Semiotics and Interpretation , he claims that “certain semiotic approaches to fictional texts, each incomplete in itself, can be combined in a manner that facilitates the practical criticism of fiction” (Scholes 87). He chooses Tzvetan Todorov, Gerard Genette, and Roland Barthes as the principle theorists in his analysis of James Joyce's “Eveline.” For my own analysis, I will be relying heavily on two theorists. Like Scholes, I have chosen Todorov because of his use of symbolic notation. His analysis is not interpretation, but a “science” of literature, a mathematical equation for seeing patterns among related stories. Bombay Time is constructed of smaller stories, which veer away from, and then return to, the larger story, and Todorov's method will enable me to see and understand the context of the framing narrative.
Because Todorov'a method does not enable us to make a wider claim about the purpose or the meaning behind Bombay Time's complex structure, I have also chosen to examine the novel through Dorrit Cohn's narrative methods. In Transparent Minds , Cohn discusses three techniques for understanding narrative: psycho-narration , quoted monologue , and narrated monologue . Distinct from the omniscient narrator, a psycho - narrator is a distant voice that may speak from a privileged god-like position, but can also descend to the point of being indistinguishable from the character's perspective (Cohn 42). Quoted monologue is the character's mental discourse or “silent soliloquy,” and Narrated monologue is the character's mental discourse disguised as the narrator's discourse (14). Because the novel operates from an ever-shifting perspective that is constantly employed in drawing readers into the characters and then repelling them again; Cohn's method will help us see the significance behind these shifts in voice.
Bombay Time, in all its complexity, is not a plot driven novel. Most of the action that relates to the story—though still possible to map in symbolic notation—takes place in an evening, perhaps 4 or 5 hours of time. It is important, therefore, to note the incredible difference in this novel between story and discourse . Story (also called historie , fabula , or chronology depending upon the school of thought) is the action, the chronological sequence of events in a text. Discourse ( discours, sjuzet, or narrationi ) on the other hand is the way a story is told—the order, the plot line. In Bombay Time , the story begins with Rusi and Coomi Bilimoria as they leave for a wedding and ends with the entire community group's return to the Wadia Baug apartment complex after the wedding is over. Most of the story's action is the idle talk of the guests, the food, and the music, with the community group looking at photo albums after the less intimate guests depart. The largest and most important sequence of the story's action, however, is in the end of the ninth chapter and the beginning of the tenth. In these last chapters an “outsider” throws a rock into the wedding party, and a second “outsider” is severely beaten as a scapegoat for the intrusion of the first. The discourse or, for clarity's sake, narration of the story is not nearly so cut and dry. The story is repeatedly interrupted with flashbacks and reminiscences of the various characters—rather than of various actions—sometimes told from the perspective of the character, sometimes by a more omniscient narrator at a distance from the character. These memory sequences, seven in all, are stories in their own right, with their own particular narration and structure. To make matters perhaps more complex, these mini-stories intersect with other mini-stories in their journey from the past back to the present story of the wedding party.
To even begin an analysis of such an intricately bound set of characters, we are obliged to use Todorov's symbolic notation as a way of seeing each sequence in its simplest parts. The story, the chronological set of events in the main framing narrative, can be reduced as follows:
R+C-H à WP+WB à R-H-S à R+M+WB=RP à R+C+WB+S=H à +T-S-H+F à WB-W à R+C-S+W
WP=Wedding Party WB=Waudi Baug residents/community
M=Mehernosh (or the idea of Mehernosh as the future)
The story seems, from its reduced state, to be about Rusi, Coomi and the Wadia Baug community as they address their feelings of insecurity. They seem, at the point of Rusi's speech, to be regaining that security, or the idea of a secure future, because of Rusi's commission to Mehernosh, who is the symbol of that future. The illusion of this security is shattered by the stone-thrower less than a chapter later, however, and the final chapter shows Rusi the wiser for the event, while the Wadia Baug residents do not appear to have gained anything from it.
The unhappiness of Rusi and Coomi, designated by the –H, is derived from the first few paragraphs of the first chapter, which is devoted to their characters. Rusi's disgust is evident from the second line, “Damn that woman, he thought” (7). In case his disgust be mistaken for mild irritation, the chapter continues with Rusi considering leaving without her, and his imagining what the result, would be—Dosamai the gossip telling the community he was cheating on Coomi. Yet, we are invited to suspect that the situation is not hopeless, though unhappy, for in one of the many flashbacks in the first sequence, Rusi reminisces about Coomi as a young woman, saying “he had found a woman who would carry his boat to the shore” (16). Unhappiness and melancholy, as well as many memories of the past, are beginning to be a theme even from the first few paragraphs, but it is important to note that the very presence of happy memories—while making the present melancholy deeper—yet have the effect of engendering hope.
The wedding party, thrown by Jimmy Kanga for his son Mehernosh, is the scene for much of the rest of the story. The Wadia Baug community members are the major representatives at this wedding, and in the latter half of Chapter One we are given the opportunity to hear their dialogue. The topic pf discussion is an act of violence performed on a member of the Parsi community by an outsider (24-25). This story draws out a collective remembrance of a different Bombay , and Rusi speaks about, “how things have changed” among general acquiesce (25). The chapter ends with Rusi's thoughts about the “Bomb in Bombay ” and his mixed desires, “he wanted to ask someone's forgiveness and he wanted to absolve someone” which, given the context could mean a number of things: the city, or Coomi, or himself (27). Significantly, however, he “just sat there, saying nothing” (28). It is this combination of agitation at the attack on his Parsi community, fear, desire for justification, and stasis that I denoted, rather slimly, as WP+WB à R-H-S. Rusi is now neither happy nor secure, and is ruminating over this state of things in his own private thoughts, where they are of no use to anyone.
This first part of the story notation is separated from the second by a long sequence of character memories, a discourse that, while continually returning to the frame story, impedes its progress for seven chapters. Rusi is left to ruminate while the lives of the other characters intervene, a device I will return to presently. When we return to the last half of the symbolic notation I have given above, we are in the ninth chapter. I have noted this section as R+M+WB=RP. This short form leaves out the photo albums, which serve to reinstate the collective memory of the group after traveling the roads of individual reminiscences in the previous seven chapters, but I felt that the real impetus of Rusi's speech is his recognition that Mehernosh is the future, while the rest, as reinforced by the albums, are the past. The speech is delivered in chapter nine:
All these old folks—all our lives, they told us God does not like proud people, that God clips the wings of those who fly too high. But I say, nobody has seen the yardstick of God. Too many people in this community of ours who will try to pull you down, who will tell you you have no right to your own laughter. They will point out all the misery of the world to you, to make their point. But listen carefully to me: You have not only a right but a responsibility to be happy…We need you to be happy, beta . For us. For all of us. It's the only way to make sense of all this—this city that's hell on earth, this life where we've all sacrificed so much, the losses and disappointments we've all suffered. Our chance has come and gone…We wish you all success and happiness to you. More important, we need this for you. And from you (249).
The “old folks” are the very people who have been reminiscing their lives throughout the story and, with the exception of Adi Patel who I shall return to later, it is they who are now moving from active youth to passive elders. Their chances have “come and gone,” they are linked, entwined, with the past—a past that is a prosperous British past, a past about youth and dreams and laughter. Mehernosh is the only child of the community to return to Bombay , and it is upon him—though his character has barely three lines of dialogue and no interior monologue at all—that Rusi and the others hang the future of their threatened Parsi community. This speech, which is seconded fiercely by Coomi, acts as a reviving agent. It reclaims in part Rusi and Coomi's unhappy marriage, and for a moment, the entire community is flushed with a feeling of interiority and belonging: “Rusi's words had anointed Merhernosh as the custodian of their future and they swarmed to that vision” (250). The first half of chapter nine ends in cheers, cheers for Rusi, cheers for Mehernosh and his wife Sharon. R+C+WB+S=H, they are happy and secure. They are insiders.
But that is not the end of the story, or even of the chapter. The latter half of the ninth chapter begins “they were being watched” (251). The happy, reunified group of insiders, middle and upper class Parsis, are being eyed vulture-like by “thirty pairs of eyes,” the poor who are forced to wait “outside the gate.” These are the outsiders. The world of the stone-thrower is a very different world from that of the others. There is no pleasant past memories in the outsider group. When the past of the stone-thrower is told, it is told by the distant omniscient narrative voice in a scant four lines. The motivation of outsiders like the stone-thrower is neither past nor future, it is present. The “huddled crowd” is driven by hunger, by the pressing present need of their bodies. The stone-thrower, however, is driven by “guilt, shame and rage” at his inability to keep the promise made to his daughter of a decent meal. Unlike the illusory unification of the insiders under the banner of Mehernosh's future, the outsiders have no further desire than those most immediate. The stone-thrower's act of freedom lies in throwing off the immediate for a moment of pride and justification; by throwing the stone he symbolically enters and crashed the interiority of the insider world.
The resulting reaction for those on the inside is one of fear and resentment; the notation T-S-H+F is the symbol of the lost illusion. The interior space is not a safe space after all. It is not secure; it is surrounded by violence. That violence, however, comes also from within the insider circle. Jimmy Kanga reacts to the intrusion by threatening the chowkider with the loss of his job—the same as sentencing him to live in wait like those poor outside the gates. The chowkider responds by revisiting that violence on a hapless youth, a member of the outsider group that had nothing to do with the event at hand. The youth “flutter[s] on the ground, like a dying fish,” and Jimmy Kanga is a helpless “ghost” (261). Though it is the youth who is injured, it is Jimmy who seems “broken;” the violence that came from outside is already present on the inside of the circle. It is Rusi's perspective that reveals this to the reader, he looks on Jimmy Kanga and the others and thinks: “what the chowkider had done was ten times worse than what had been inflicted on poor Sheroo” (262). And though the worst of the violence came from his side of the gate, he is visited with a vision: “the invisible outsiders tearing open the iron gates and pouring into the reception hall, seeking to avenge what had been wrought upon the man on the ground” (262). Rusi is caught in the recognition that terror and violence come from both sides of the gate. His perception has changed. Jimmy Kanga is “nothing but a little boy;” the outsiders terrified him but also made him ashamed, “fleeing like common criminals;” the chowkider was only “acting on their behalf;” and Jimmy had been the source, his “unreasonable wrath” was part of the ensuing violence (265-266). Yet the others are already forgetting, putting it out of their minds, remembering Wadia Baug and “forget[ting] the city it is housed in” (271). It is Rusi alone who chooses to remember: “somehow he had to learn to navigate between contentment and complacency, between caution and fear, between the known safety of Wadia Baug and the unknowable world outside its wall;” Rusi must become the “custodian of memory” (270).
Yet, though this places him at last as R+W, the possessor of wisdom, it does not give back to his character the happiness and security lost by the intrusion of the outside world. In fact, while Rusi is separated from the warm interior of the circle in the beginning, in his longing for them, his desire to forgive and be forgiven, he continues on the outside to the end. In truth, he is perhaps more on the outside; he has chosen to remember while all others forget. To be the only one with that unique perspective means also to be the only one —to be alone. Rusi plus wisdom is not, spacially and relationally, a different Rusi. He has ended in much the same place he began, but with a perceptional difference. He must learn to live on the border between in and out.
We have faithfully notated and analyzed the chronological story which forms the framing narrative and discovered that Rusi must live between the knowable and the unknowable. But what does it tell us? And if the kernel of meaning is discernable from the story as it exists in chapters one, nine and ten, what is the purpose of the intervening seven chapters? Todorov's method of notation has provided us with a general explication of the narrative structure, but it does not help us answer these questions. After all, with the symbolic notation we constructed, it scarcely leaves room for chapters two through eight, much less the additional meaning those chapters might impart to the story as a whole. We cannot leave out more than half of the novel, yet the intervening chapters are not chapters of action , and therefore cannot be mapped in symbolic notation. This is where the methods of Dorrit Cohn are most useful. Cohn can provide what Todorov cannot; her theory is more inclusive in that it gives as much attention to character's interior states of consciousness as it does to the actions of the story—perhaps more. These chapters of memory and interiority are vitally important, and their importance to the novel is two-fold. First and perhaps most important, they give a much fuller glimpse of the interior world of the Parsi characters, allowing the reader to see, hear and understand the dilemma faced by this community under siege. Second, the organization—the spatial structure—of these intervening chapters is important to the theme of insiders and outsiders. It is possible to track the movement of the story—from the interior to the exterior—by studying the way those chapters have been placed.
We cannot understand the interior world that the Parsi characters represent, unless we better understand the narrative voice that constructs it. Cohn begins her work on narrative voice by commenting on “the paradox” of narrative fiction, “that narrative fiction attains its greatest ‘air of reality' in the representation of a lone figure thinking thoughts she [or he] will never communicate to anyone” (Cohn 7). That lone contemplative figure in Bombay Time is Rusi; it is his inner thoughts that the reader is made privy to. The very inner-nature of Rusi's character is what makes him most real to the reader, while yet revealing his thoughts in a way they could never be extracted in reality. This complexity, often overlooked and taken for granted, is part of what makes a story like Bombay Time work for readers who could not possibly be familiar with the situation of Bombay Parsis. At the same time, Cohn feels that this “nonverbal realm of consciousness” and the “problematic relationship between thought and speech” is precisely what is lacking from linguistic approaches to narrative—and, I would argue, from structuralist approaches like Todorov's (11). Her solution is more “literary” than “linguistic,” which is what makes her approach to psychology, context, and stylistics such a welcome addition to my structuralist analysis (11).
Though all three types of narration are present in Bombay Time, Psycho-narration and narrated monologue play important roles in Thrity's novel. Psycho-narration with its rapid shifts of time and space, allows a wedding party four hours long to contain several lifetimes of the Parsi bourgeoisie, while still detailing the interior thoughts of the characters, while narrated monologue functions in a more distinct way in the novel, forcing us to identify with the very center of a character's unmediated thoughts. Yet, by allowing us to view the interior of some characters to the exclusion of others, Umbrigar can also enforce distance—a technique that becomes more important as the novel progresses from “insiders” to “outsiders.”
The first chapter of Bombay Time is an example of psycho-narrations rapid shifts. In the story—the framing narrative of the novel's fictional present—Rusi is contemplating leaving for the wedding without Coomi: “you should leave, Rusi thought ” [my emphasis] (9). The construction “Rusi thought” tips off the reader; this is a passage that is narrated in third person about the thoughts of a character within the story. Yet, at the end of the paragraph, the narrative perspective shifts to that of Dosamai Popat, the gossip: “But Dosamai had decided years ago that it was not in her best interest to encourage harmony between Rusi and Coomi” (10). This is not a thought of Rusi's, but of Dosamai, psycho-narrated by that same distant voice. The perspective shifts quickly back to Rusi, with “Rusi could imagine,” but half way through his “imaginings” the tense shifts from “Coomi would say” to “Coomi had murmured” (10-11). What had been the thoughts of Rusi's imagination become actualities, and the conversation between Dosamai and Coomi is narrated as though it had already occurred, even though the event of Rusi's leaving—or even the decision to do so—has not yet taken place in the story. The mixing of a distinct narrator that is not the character, and yet which manages to merge from one character's perspective to another, even from one fictional tense to another, is part of the variety and importance of psycho-narration. Umbrigar's narrator constantly zooms in and out of the interior thoughts of various characters; she wants us to see the world from the limited Parsi perspective, yet at the same time to view those characters from the outside —from the perspectives of other characters. As Cohn suggests, this use of psycho-narration “may be regarded as the most direct, indeed the unique, path that leads to the sub-verbal depth of the mind” (56).
To analyze in detail each of the memory stories contained in Bombay Time is beyond the scope of this project, but it will suffice to look at those near the beginning and end of the novel. Dosamai Popat and Jimmy Kanga are the representatives from the inside of the circle; Dosa because she is mentally central (she knows about everyone's lives) and Jimmy because he is physically central (he is wealthy, and it is his son who returns to Bombay ). Tehmi Engineer and Adi Patel are the representatives from the outside edge of the communal circle, and their stories progressively move further from the safe “belonging” the other characters experience. By analyzing the way narration functions in these representative characters, as well as by paying close attention to their spatial location in the novel, the symbolic movement from inside to outside can be seen in a wider context of cultural identity.
It is interesting that Dosamai's perspective is the second perspective narrated after Rusi's, because it is her character that is revealed through the psycho-narration of the second chapter. This chapter, the first of the seven chapters of character memory, begins with Dosamai Popat, in the present of the novel, on the day of Mehernosh's wedding. After a page and a half of Dosamai's judgements about the wedding day and her various neighbors, the narrative perspective shifts to Dosamai's very recent past. Her reflections about her daughter-in-law shift from psycho-narration to narrated monologue at important moments—from Dosa's suspicious thoughts, narrated in third person, to the sentence revealing her interior mental discourse, “Must be putting something in his food to make him forget his poor widowed mother” (31). We know that this is Dosa's own thoughts, because it so closely mirrors her speech in the next paragraph, “If you were wanting to know what was happening in your poor mother's life you'd be able to read not only Gujarati but German and Italian as well” (31). Yet, the narrator does not designate the first sentence by telling the reader that it is what Dosa thought , or said . The sentence hangs in the middle of the psycho-narration, making the distance between narrator and character—and by association, reader and character—strikingly unclear.
The distant psycho-narration continues virtually without interruption after the brief confusing moment, but the “present” is replaced by a long string of events that mark Dosa's past. Her betrothal at age 12 to Sorab, her feelings of betrayal to a father she had worshipped, her near sexless marriage, her father's death, and her son Zubin come flooding into the text for the next twenty-three pages. The distance of the narrator is apparent, all is explained through third person, even the terrible racking emotions of Dosa at her father's death. After relating in direct quotation her feelings toward her husband, “I have destroyed your manhood,” the narrator relates everything else about Dosa in a third person summary: “she was inconsolable…she told him everything: How she'd won a book…How she still had the blue ribbon…How she had been the best student,” etc. (42). Still, the detailed history even in these rapid revelations makes the elder character whose sentiments about her daughter-in-law we are invited to share closer to the reader who is now sharing not just her thoughts, but her past as well. The psycho-narration brings the reader into the character by compressing huge chunks of time in a way that quoted and narrated monologue cannot, but its usefulness is even more apparent in the way it includes the lives of other characters. Dosamai's story intersects with Rusi's story through her son, Zubin.
Rusi's piece of the story is from Zubin's perspective, not Dosa's. She sees Rusi only as a threat to the calm of her son, someone “instigating her son to dare to dream his way out of his middle-class existence” (49). Zubin's perspective, however, reveals Rusi as an unlucky but honest man of business, struggling against the dishonest world. The narrated monologue returns during Zubin's discourse; after revealing that Zubin thinks about Rusi averting one crisis, it continues with the thoughts directly from Zubin's head: “But without any money put aside, he'll be in the same boat next time. He's still living from one contract to another” (51). Once again, we are invited into the character's interior monologue, to share in the personal thoughts as they come directly from the character. Even with the immediacy and temperance of Zubin's praise, however, the narrative perspective returns once more to Dosa as the memory sequence comes to an end by suggesting that “Dosa had an inroad into the innermost chambers of Rusi's red heart” (51). Zubin's direct discourse is not as powerful as Dosa's third-person avowal because with it, we recognize that Dosa, like us, is a reader. Just as we can see the innermost thoughts belonging to Dosa, Dosa claims to have an “inroad” to Rusi. It is important to see and understand Dosamai Popat as central to Bombay Time . She is a reader of people, as well as the general of “an army of gossip” (29). Despite the fact that she is not at the wedding, not a partaker in the interior community that is depicted there, she is one of the most mentioned characters. She appears in every story except Adi Patel's, and is always a central figure when Rusi and Coomi's life is being related. She is at the heart—that red, beating heart—of her community; a gossip, but central just the same.
Dosamai's story ends once more at the “present” of the wedding day. She falls asleep in her living room and does not make another appearance in the story as story; no more action is attributed to her, all the references to her after the second chapter appear in the memory stories of other people in her Parsi community. The story which follows Dosa's, however, is that of another central figure: Jimmy Kanga. It is Jimmy who is throwing the reception for Mehernosh, his son. It is Jimmy who is the wealthy lawyer, the figurehead, the leader. In the first part of the chapter detailing his life, the psycho-narration that begins the novel in joined almost seamlessly to narrated monologue, which was glimpsed but briefly in characters of Dosa and Zubin. The first paragraph is a strange mixture:
The wedding reception was going swimmingly well. Jimmy Kanga surveyed the bejeweled crowd before him, his chest sticking out with pride. Like a jadoogar, he, Jimmy, had turned the squalor of Bombay into something beautiful and refined. A shimmering refuge from the outer world. What were the lines from that song Camelot ? Something about a brief shining moment? That is what he had created at his son's wedding—Camelot. Unconsciously, he hummed the tune to himself . From the elegantly dressed women in their jewels and silk saris, to the twinkling lights on a stage decked in rose petals, to the food and drink that were flowing as freely as the Ganges, everything was perfect. Perfect. No hint of the menacing, shadowy city that lay outside the tall iron gates. Jimmy Kanga had, with one wave of his magic wand, made that world disappear [my emphasis] (55).
I have italicized those passages that cannot be Jimmy Kanga's direct thoughts—he is referred to in these passages in the third person. The other lines, however, are the mental discourse of Jimmy Kanga himself, in the guise of the narrator's discourse. The effect of this is similar to the effect in the passages of Dosamai's narrative, it makes the division between narrator and character unclear and draws the reader closer to the character, as if one had a window directly into the “transparent mind” of the character (Cohn). It has here, however, a second effect. The passages which are direct narration from the third person psycho-narrator explain Jimmy's accomplishment of the reception as magic. Jimmy's thoughts, however, compares the reception and its bejeweled interior circle to Camelot . That Jimmy takes pride in his Camelot, that he feels he has created something beautiful without seeing in it the internal flaw, invites the reader to make a judgment. Camelot, referring to the King Arthur legend, is a kingdom which destroys itself from within. As my earlier Todorovian analysis supports, the Camelot reference is an entirely accurate one, but it is significant that Jimmy Kanga is unaware of the future just as he is unaware of the rest of the Camelot song. The “one shining moment” has an end which Jimmy does not foresee or reference. He is all pride, all happiness. And, on the interior of his circle of friends, he sees the outsiders as threats only—disgusting, bothersome, and conveniently swept away by the wand of money and security guards.
I have noted that Dosa's centrality comes as a result of her “reading,” her prying and searching into the lives of others until she has an “inroad.” For Jimmy Kanga, the centrality comes from two sources. His need for the community places him inside it, his money—which keeps the masses outside the iron gates—places him near the center. Jimmy is one of the characters in whom the ties to community are most directly revealed. Like Rusi, Jimmy is capable of revelation, only his revelation relates almost entirely to his own family situation. Shortly after moving with his wife Zarin and son Mehernosh to Cuffe Parade and leaving the Wadia Baug community behind him, Jimmy must face his wife's nervous collapse. She wanted to return to Wadia Baug, and planned to leave with or without Jimmy. Jimmy's nighttime revelation states emphatically what is an undercurrent in many of the stories of Bombay Time : “Even the strongest of marriages were made up of more than just the two people involved…He had foolishly thought that Zarin and he were married only to each other. In reality, they were married to an entire group of people, a neighborhood, a way of life” (74). The group of people surrounding Jimmy make him what he is; he creates Camelot because of them , they are the ones who care, it is only at Wadia Baug that Jimmy Kanga is the elite Arthur-like figure that is presented in the first paragraph of his chapter. He is listed so close to the opening of the novel because of his centrality; he is a representative from the interior of the group—the insider's insider, the Parsi's Parsi.
The structural movement from inside to outside is perhaps hard to discern from this side of the spectrum. As the novel proceeds towards its conclusion, however, the reader encounters characters like Tehmi Engineer and Adi Patel. Tehmi's story, one of the most intriguing and mythic, is of a figure who literally inhales the scent of death and grief, only to carry that smell forever on her breath: “she had smelled the distinct, unmistakable smell of charred flesh from a body that used to smell of rose water and eau de cologne…[and had] the right to turn away from all things ugly” (165). Though the largest part of Tehmi's story is told in psycho-narration, the smell of death is in her own mental discourse: “But some stenches never die. Once inhaled they stay buried in the guts of the person inhaling them, sending up their ghastly vapors at inopportune times” (165). For Tehmi, the stench “required her to sacrifice most of humanity” (165). The directness of her thought, unmediated by the third-person narrator, draws the reader into the discourse, even while it is revealed that Tehmi repels, rather than draws the others. Her regress from the community was two-fold; first, because “some stenches never die,” and second, because she chose the dead living inside her rather than the life living around her (165). When her husband Cyrus is killed in a chemical explosion and Tehmi identifies the body, she carries away from it a terrible odor, yet the text never reveals entirely whether this odor is a true medical problem. It seems to elude diagnosis, and the treatments she first uses from Dr. Poonawala fail to help (191). Even Tehmi's character recognizes the oddity of her condition, saying “she could not believe it was a disease; there were no other symptoms” (192). The mythic element of Tehmi's disease become most evident when, after leaving the doctor's office, she realizes that “she was tasting Cyrus in her mouth,” that “she had tricked death somehow, found a way around the finality of death to hold on to Cyrus” (193). For Tehmi Engineer, ostracization was only partially enacted by her community. The real separation was enacted by herself: “Tehmi ignored the doorbell until it stopped ringing. Or she acted so strangely toward [the community members] that it took them months to screw up the nerve to return” (194). She began pulling away from others to hold onto a memory that became strangely tangible and real.
By the present of the wedding, however, Tehmi is wondering at the justice of her choice, reminiscing about “the day she had decided to withdraw inward, to shun the living in favor of the dead” (194). She is an “insider” because of her culture, Parsi, but she is so far inside herself that she is distanced from the community she is part of. Strangely, however, though Tehmi has forced herself from the community, she is still made happy by the thought of Dosa's gossip, as if that were proof of her existence in a wider world. Her enforced seclusion is accompanied by a need to belong still, so much so that she speaks a good word to Jimmy about Mehenosh, and is still included in the small circle of people who receive the photo-album. With the character of Tehmi, the story has begun to turn down a different path. There is much less laughter in Tehmi's story than in the others, and she is much more alone. Unlike Dosamai, another single older woman, Tehmi does not have an “army of gossips.” She is on the outer edge of her community; she had achieved “mythic status,” as a “figure of derision and pity, mystery and awe” (199). Even though she is at the wedding, she is not central, not a part of the group in the way characters like Jimmy, Rusi, or even Dosa are. Her estrangement is the first step toward the outside of the circle; Adi Patel's distance and separation is the second.
Adi Patel's memory story is unlike the stories of any other character in Bombay Time . Like Tehmi's story, Adi's is another kind of ghost story, only he feels the grasp of a dead woman on him: “after ten years of living with the thought of Saraswati, he knew that he would never be free of the dark-skinned woman who continued to haunt him after all this time” (206). Also like Tehmi, Adi Patel is an outsider in the insider's circle, but the similarities between the stories end there. Adi's tale is different; he is an outsider from the beginning. Coming from the farming country, he is not even a native of Bombay . He led the privileged life of a landowner's son, the heir of a chikoo farm. He does not come to Bombay until after he is grown, after his nineteenth year when he rapes, at the behest of Nari Uncle, a peasant woman named Saraswati. Saraswati's suicide, the result of Adi's attempt at reconciliation, only serves to seal his fate, he must always see “Saraswati's black face in front of his eyes” (230). Adi is severed from the Parsi community group of Wadia Baug in two ways, then. First, because of his country home, his life (and story) never intersects with the other members of the Wadia Baug group—not even Dosamai, who has infiltrated everyone else's. Second, he is trapped by death and the deep wound delivered him by that death forces the others away; Adi keeps them intentionally at a distance. Even Soli, whose kindness and pity encourage him to reach out to Adi at the wedding, is forced away, with Adi's voice “sounding harsh even to his ears” (234). Despite Adi's “sin,” it is he who seems the victim. He is “fragile and insecure,” so though he creates his own isolation, he is an object of pity rather than scorn (230).
It may seem strange, then, to consider that Adi's thoughts throughout his story come to the reader either as psycho-narration or quoted monologue, rather than the narrated monologue which brought us nearer to the voices of the other characters. Even in his hope of the change Bombay may make on his life, we are not invited to confuse narrator and character: “ Bombay . The word came to him like a beacon of light, like a shimmering jewel from out the void. Bombay . A new city , a fresh start, a place to rest his head without the torment of dreams. And why not? He thought excitedly” [my emphasis] (219). When, at the end of this short speech, Adi's voice does shine through, it is Adi's voice directly in quotation, “If ordinary begaaris and laborers can go to this city and become millionaires, why will I not be successful and happy there?” (220). Much later in the story, after sleeping with Philomena and realizing his inability to be happy, the following paragraph reveals Adi's thoughts:
Nothing to do now but go through the motions. Nothing to do but smile and say, Darling, that was so good, hope you enjoyed it, too. Nothing to do but pretend to be spent and roll onto your side and take an afternoon nap. Nothing to do but to be wide awake, to feel a single line of sweat trickle down your face and know that you are doomed. To admit to yourself that even love cannot save you. To know that your sin is too great, the stain too deep, that even this sweet generous, bighearted girl breathing next to you cannot save you from your old nemesis. To know that Saraswati is here, in this room, souring it with her presence, her blank dark eyes staring accusingly at you, ruining you only shot at happiness. To know that an illiterate peasant woman has finally managed to destroy you, you, the son of a landowner [my emphasis] (231).
It seems as if we are, for the first time in Adi's memory-story, hearing the narrated monologue. For a moment, there seems a conflation of the narrator's distant voice with words that could be directly from Adi's thoughts. But the final line, a line about Adi's “destruction,” destroys that illusion with “you, you, the son of a landowner.” Here, the repeated “you” stands out like an accusation. It is you , Adi, not the narrator. The reference which ties this “you” to the “son of a landowner” makes the distance complete. Even in his own story, Adi is left on the outside, mediated to the reader by the narrative third-person.
Adi's extreme distance from the other characters is also what makes him important—even necessary—to the structure of Bombay Time . As I noted in the symbolic structure, the first half of the frame story is about interiority and the search for security while the last half is about the destruction of that illusion, the fear and danger which threaten the community from the outside. Jimmy Kanga's unknowing premonition, his perception of the wedding party as a Camelot, become reality when the hungry and disgruntled outsiders hurl a rock into their midst. Adi's story becomes an important barrier; he is unlike the other characters in so many respects: he is younger, he is from the country, he has nothing to do with any of their lives. In effect, the only tie which unites him to the group is that of his cultural heritage—he is a Parsi. This small thread is all that binds him to the interior group, his circle is the furthest orbit one can inhabit and still be “inside.” This is important for two reasons. The first should be obvious from the structural analysis we have already completed; he is the next to last step on the progression from inside to outside, his story is the last memory story before the rock-thrower. The second, however, is related to his very Parsi-ness and to the inherent danger that Rusi recognizes as coming from within the group as well as from without. The Parsis are considered, anthropologically and socially, as a culture under siege; but it is understood also to be a community that is falling apart from within.
Anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann explained the Parsi “fate” as part of their enforced separation: “they live in Parsi areas, they eat Parsi food, they often socialize primarily with Parsis” (31). He describes the Wadia Baugs of Bombay as “complexes” where they inherit flats for generation, “having their own “self-contained, self observing worlds” (32). They are intelligent, well educated, and well off, but one in five Bombay Parsis are over the age of 65(32), and the population falls approximately 10,000 a year (Robben 175). The Parsi community, descended from the non-proselytizing Zoroastrians which escaped religious persecution in Iran in the tenth century and survived and prospered for hundreds of years, is suddenly faced with the prospect of dying out (159). Figures like Soli and Tehmi (childless), and Rusi, Jimmy, and Dosa (all having only one child) are representatives for the problem that faces all Parsi's; they are the “old men” Rusi laments, the generation that has lost their chance. And though the novel produces one young man, Mehernosh, which the characters may hope in as a member of the next generation who seems to hold promise, there is also Adi Patel. To be Parsi is not enough; Adi's Parsi blood has not saved him. The love of the non-Parsi Philomena has not saved him. He is stuck in the outer circle of an interior which contains fewer and fewer people, and the reader is never encouraged to hope for him; he is, as he himself suggests, “doomed.”
Lurhmann's work in Bombay has left him with a handful of frightening statistics and the following lament:
Parsis are Indian and that is bad (they don't care enough about the community to maintain its purity and assets); they are not Indian and that is bad (they keep to themselves, they don't allow conversation); they are too western (their westernness has destroyed them); the problem is that they are not western enough (if they were more westernized, like their grandparents, they would work harder). The feelings expresses are contradictory, incompatible, and fervent (49).
These sentiments are reflections of the very stories and statement appearing in Bombay Time ; from the lament of the older Parsis about their sons and daughters' exodus to the yearning for a British past that they do (like Rusi's mother, Korshed) and do not (like Rusi) want to revisit. The contradictions are evident throughout the text. Rusi's need to be both the absolver and the absolvee, Dosa's exclusion in form but inclusion in content, Jimmy's unthinking premonition of the final chapter, and the strange reverse of victim and victimizer in Adi's story; they are all pieces of the powerful binary that seems to be inherently Parsi. There cannot be insiders without outsiders, and there cannot be Parsi's without the surrounding huddled masses of non-Parsis outside the iron gate.
“What a people we are” remarks Rusi Bilimoria in the final few pages of the novel. The recognition, tempered with the sadness of a Diaspora and fading people, that they are still fighters gives Rusi back that feeling of belonging, if only momentary. He feels a “rush of affection,” yet “he knew that something important had happened” (270). What has happened? Rusi has not changed; he is still the same struggling business man with an ache for his fellow creatures that he was before. And, aside from the bruise on Sheroo's arm, the others are even beginning to forget the rock that crashed into their midst. As we noted earlier, Rusi's realization—his becoming a “custodian of memory” does not put him closer to the interior of the group, but rather a man living “in the no-man's-land between the rage of the stone thrower and the terror of the stoned” (270). What the story—it's circling and returning structure of concentric rings moving from the inside out—has achieved is realization , rather than action. The situation, the maddening situation of a middle-class Parsi stuck between the inconceivable misery of the poor Hindus and the melancholy of the declining race of Parsis, must be recognized before it can be navigated. The novel gives the realization, but it does not give the answer. Rusi doesn't “have a clue,” and the reader is not invited to find one for him; there are too many problems and too few solutions.
It could be argued that the only possible reconciliation is on the relational level. Perhaps the author intends us to rejoice in small victories, in the possible reconciliation between Rusi and Coomi, the upcoming meeting between Soli and Mariam (a set of star-crossed lovers mentioned in the fifth and sixth chapters), and the future life of Mehernosh and Sharon. This is certainly what the characters seem to be doing. Yet, there is something further to consider. Both methods we have employed—Todorov's symbolic notation and Cohn's narrative theory—have lead us to the same place, a resolutely outward journey, to the “no-man's-land” Rusi desires to navigate. One method brought us there through the mere actions of the text, the other through the interior thoughts and perceptions of the characters themselves. Neither method leaves the reader there, however. The final paragraph of the novel mirrors the prologue; it is a litany of actions: They will climb the stairs, they will check on Sheroo, they will wake up refreshed, they will argue with the butcher, they will forget this “badness” (271). The characters—aside from Rusi (and perhaps Coomi)—have returned to where they began, a fact that is reflected as much by their actions as by their thought less ness juxtaposed with Rusi's thought ful ness. A perfect circle. But the reader's locution is not quite so perfect, for the narrative voice in this final piece is far away, the voice of one above and beyond, a criticizing voice that ends: “Yes, they will remember Wadia Baug and they will do their best to forget the city it is housed in. They will choose memory over imagination. It is less dangerous that way” (271). Rusi has chosen imagination, and is left in the wilderness of mediation. The rest have chosen memory, stasis, and the shrinking interior space where 20% of Parsis never marry, reproduction is below the replacement rate, and they are threatened by their own superiority (Robber 175). In the end, Rusi alone realizes that danger exists either way. Culturally, socially, and structurally, it is the only progression the novel allows.
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