Home and the World
Amitava Kumar’s Bombay, London, New York is a meditation on the self, the home and the world as experienced in books. While the theme of Diaspora runs memorably through his work, Kumar uses it to explore what home means in poignant, complex ways. « What I am always going back to is the moment when I was going away, » he writes in Bombay, London, New York. « The movement I am most conscious of now is the movement of memory, shuttling between places. One place is home, the other the world. »
Langues : anglais
Type de document : Ouvrage
The different journeys Amitava Kumar makes in the book — actual and from memory — are insightful, deeply moving and clarifying for both the reader at home and the reader abroad. His perspectives are tough minded, unsentimental, nuanced. For instance, in the chapter « Traveling Light », he writes that what he is asking for is not that we turn our backs on the past but, « Rather, the point is to ascertain what our narratives of travel are going to be… what I’d like to know more about are the day to day struggles, successes, failures, and confusions of the ones who leave home to seek better fortune elsewhere. And equally crucial, what I want to see are accounts of what is suffered as well as celebrated in the most ordinary of ways by those who do not leave, those who stay behind, whether because they want to or simply because it cannot be otherwise… What if we were to replace all the hypocritical, self- mythologising accounts of expatriate fiction… with imaginative maps of toils and tales of small, unnoticed triumphs ? »
The book’s structure is beguiling: moving back and forth in suspenseful and surprising ways from personal narrative to marginalia on contemporary Indian fiction to cultural and political criticism. The photographs (by the author) that accompany the book are lovely — both the pictures themselves and the idea to use them that way. (One photograph in it — two young, striking looking South Asian women taking a cigarette break on a stoop — is remarkable. The epilogue titled « Indian Restaurant », an account of an older, burnt-out academic, Shastriji, befriending a younger Kumar at an American university, reads like a wonderful chapter from a novel you don’t want to see end.
I have a favourite passage in the book: a visit Kumar makes to the Khudabaksh library in Patna, his hometown. With my love for descriptions of the holding and handling of books, I found myself seduced. The library, the author tells us, is perhaps the richest manuscript library on Islam in the world and it is full of hidden treasures, such as 22,000 handwritten books, out of which at least 7,000 are rare manuscripts. The old, gentle librarian with his shaky right hand shows Kumar a « priceless book of poems by the Persian Hafiz » that was « presented by the Mogul ruler Humayun to the emperor of Iran… The librarian’s dark finger hovers over the lines that the emperor had inscribed. The page is filigreed in gold, the bare portions stained with age. I want to touch the page myself. I ask the librarian’s permission, and he says yes, I gently place my index finger where the emperor has signed his name. »
What is particularly remarkable about Amitava Kumar’s writing (to read his essays look at www.amitavakumar.com/) is the way he puts himself on the line over and over again in a way few Indian writers would. He writes in the tradition of the best personal essayists such as Philip Lopate, Joan Didion and Vivian Gornick, who write about the self and the world with a sense of discovery and intrepid candour. Kumar takes himself as the starting point and then goes on to examine his relationship with the world with even rarer, brutal, moving honesty. And yet the personal details in his books don’t amount to self-absorption or self-promotion : more remarkably, his presence in the narrative, because of the risks he takes, feels self-effacing, illuminating, heroic.