Fasting, Feasting by Anita Desai is a story of one Indian family and the varying fates of its two daughters and son; Uma and Aruna Arun. The story starts off with a busy domestic scene where MamaPapa were thoroughly asking Uma to order food for Arun, who is studying in Massachusetts in United States of America. Arun is a baby boy in the family, whereas Uma is a spinster, an elder sister who lives with her parents under their demanding rule, and is treated as clumsy, nearsighted and slow. However, her younger sister is treated as smart and pretty compared to Uma. As mentioned in the article by Poon, the words “fasting” and “feasting” can stand for the two parts of the novel respectively. The first part is suited in India, a country of fasting which refers not only to the religious aspect, but also to an unwilling fasting of the many poor of the country. And the second part is in the United States, the country of feasting abundance. However, there is an apparent difference concerning the nature of the perception of the two main personages.
In the post-Independence era women novelists form a distinct identity of their own. Among the women fiction writers like Ruth Prawar Jhabvala, Kama Markandaya, Nayantara Shagal, Shanta Rama Rau, Raji Nasasimhan, Bharati Mukherjee, Venna Nagpal, Arundhati Roy, Shashi Deshpande and Shobhaa De, Anita Desai occupies a unique place in the history of Indian English fiction (Tandon). In one her realistic writings Desai stated “Women think I am doing a disservice to the feminist movement by writing about women who have no control over their lives. But I was trying, as every writer tries to do, even in fiction, to get at the truth, write the truth.” (Tandon) People have a notion that when she writes stories of unprivileged, this will affect the real life of women in the society, but she writes in order to let the universal know the truth of what really the women are going through.
There are many themes like gender, class, race, inequalities and discrimination in this story. Each theme has its own essential part in the story. In case of gender, the story portrays the roles of gender and their importance in the society. For example in this story, men were more superior and important than women in the society. The story has many situations where the family even makes the comparison between their children.
Research statement: The Study of unequal opportunities between men and women in Indian families. The story contains comparisons between daughters and a son, between country to country, but my statement will focus on more of the family business rather than the country. The comparison of the inequalities is portrayed within small families, between a father and mother, between a son and daughters. The patriarchal system is practiced in many countries of South Asia, but it is most frequently implemented in the Indian society where they are still occupied by perception of those old traditions and cultural norms; men being dominant ideology of patriarchy. As stated in the book Women’s Roles in Asia, “Many of the patriarchal norms and practices are contingent on religion, culture traditions, and superstations.” This made the people to follow regardless of their likes and dislikes.
The story starts off with busy domestic scenes; it was during a dining time where the females at home have to do simple task for the male gender. In this story, Desai portrays a mother and Uma as working women at home. Mama orders Uma to bring orange and “She picks outs the largest orange in the bowl and hands it to Mama who peels it in strips, then divides into separate segments. Each segment is then peeled and freed of pips and threads till only the perfect globules of juice are left, and then passed, one by one to edge of Papa’s plate” (Desai, 23). This shows how females are made to work at home and how the males enjoy their hard work and pain. Even for peeling the orange, the simplest work, Uma and mother have to do for the father. This tells us the height of authority and the supremacy at home. An article Indian society and ways of living states that in the Indian household, lines of hierarchy and authority are clearly drawn, and ideals of conduct help maintain family harmony. However, it does not maintain the family harmony in the case of the Desai’s book Fasting, Feasting Uma was part of the family; in fact, the eldest daughter in the family who was treated as if she no emotions and desires in her life by the harmony maintainers of the family; father and mother. Instead she was treated more like a servant in the family.
In addition to the above, Anita Desai portrays the inequalities in the family within their own children. “The characters in the novel compromises of family living in small town in India, where local customs, culture and traditions state the future of the all children. It states that Girls under this region should be married off and boys should be educated.” (Desai, 34) The statement itself is so strong that, without analyzing, we can see the differences between men and women, a daughter and son. This statement “Boys should be educated” indicates that the education is must for males and not for the females and the statement “Girls should be married off” indicates that the girls have no meaning, desires and wishes in their lives. Here, the word “should” indicates a strong command or order one must follow in one’s life.
The eldest daughter Uma was forced to give up her convent school education in order to look after the only son in the family. “ When Uma pointed out that Ayah had looked after her and Aruna as babies, Mama’s expression made it clear it was quite a different matter now, and she repeated threateningly, ‘Proper attention’” (Desai, 30). Ayah is the servant in the family, who looked after the previous younger daughter Aruna, however this time mother wants Ume to look after him instead of Ayah. Uma was protesting and fighting back against her mama to make her understand that she needs to be educated rather than being a baby sitter at home, but all her efforts of fighting back seems to be in vain when mama was condemned to her decision to make Uma look after her younger brother and sacrifice going to the convent. Mama feels that Aurn, being the baby boy in the family needs a good attention, care and guidance, so she insists that Uma to look after him. Here the word ‘proper attention’ is more emphasize since Uma, at a very young age was not able to handle the baby Arun properly, Mama was keeping her eye on her and reminds her to be more attentive and careful. In the article In a Transnational World: Exploring Gendered Subjective, Mobility, and Consumption in Anita Desai Fasting, Feasting,Poons believes that , Uma’s unpaid labor translates directly into cultural capital for Arun, the son who Papa is determined should achieve greatness through earning academic qualification from a prestigious American university .Forced into a sacrificial role as care giver, Uma is the one on whom Arun is made to “feast” in a macabre act of consumption that is echoed on different levels in various incidents throughout the novel. Poon also added that the most evocation of the act of gender discrimination was portrayed when baby Arun bites Uma’s finger and draws blood as she tries to feed him. Even from a very young age, gender differences are drawn between the female and the male. This shows the unequal opportunities in a family were practiced from a very birth of a child.
For the girls in India, their future is to marry and get a good, qualified husband. Most of the marriages are arranged by their parents, and they do not have the freedom to choose their whole life partner, so is the same condition with Uma. “You will be happier at home. You won’t need to do any lessons. You are a big girl now. We are trying to arrange a marriage for you.” (Desai, 22) Uma was a little clumsy girl in the convent school. “Her record book was marked red for failure. The other girls, their own books marked healthily in green and blue for success and approval, looked at with pity on the day the record book was haunted out. She wept with same and frustration.” (Desai, 12) As a student she was not a successful in upgrading her progress in study, however she was a really interested to learn and she has a thirst for education. Mama threatens her to be married with the man they arranged for her. This shows mother do not believe in resiliency. This is apparent that she favors her son than the daughter, when daughter fails for one time she feels that she will fail forever, never giving a second chance to prove herself, whereas Arun was sent to prestigious university without knowing his performance. Nadeau and Rayamajhi the author of Women’s Role in Asia states that in South Asia parents do not invest much in their daughters. This shows parents choose son over their daughter .This gives a slight hint of women participating in patriarchy, where mother dominating over daughter in other sense women dominating women, thus making daughter to stay home enclosed in a private sphere to do household work and the son is sent outside the country, having an indulgent life in the United States. Anita Desai points out that the unequal opportunities among the children were created by the parents. As a result, it can bring lots of impact in their lives unknowingly. For example Arun, who was sent to study abroad as undergraduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was considered to be privileged compared to his sister. However, Arun, at this very young age, has some negative impact on his own life with this privileged opportunity. “It was first time in life away from MamaPapa, his sisters, the neighborhood of old bungalows dusty gardens and straggling hedges where he had grown up, the only town he had know.” (Desai, 172) He landed in an isolated area for the first time, having a tough time mingling with the new environment since he does not have any idea of the lives in United States. On the one hand, he was privileged he was privileged to be in abroad, since he will get experiences, knowledge and exploration of a new culture and tradition ,but on the other hand, he was like exile from his own family and country, living in a new environment where he knows no one and has no experience at all. He has no choice over the discussion made by the parents. This is not his fault, since their parents were so orthodox and this hampers the lives of their children. Children have no idea and no hand in the creation of the unequal opportunities between themselves; it was the custom, the tradition, the orthodox minded people in their community and in their family that made them suffer, and experience the differences between the genders. Poon also stated that in the new culture into which he has been transplanted and shunning even his own fellow countrymen, he stands as an observer of, rather than a participant in an American society running on its own tribal rhythms and energy. Poon added that instead of experiencing a sense of openness, however, Arun looks upon the new society before him with the appalled gaze of increased self-consciousness and a heightened sense of difference. The statement indicates that he was not really happy with the opportunity that was considered to be the privileged.
As a women being born in Indian society, they even don’t have the privileged to work outside and take up their own desire job. Desai has mentioned in her story how the mothers react when their daughters are offered to do job. ‘Our daughter does not need to go out to work, Dr Dutt,’ she said. ‘As long as we are here to provide for her, she will never need to go out to work.’ Mama was so selfish that she does not like her daughter to take up the job when she was offered with a job; it seems that Mama was jalousie of her daughter being on her own feet and being independent in her life since Mama herself was not independent, she was under the control of her husband. So it was hard for Mama to bear the freedom her daughter will enjoy if she was sent out work. When Dr. Dutt was shocked and said “But she works all the time! At home. Now you must give her ca chance to go out to work.” Dr. Dutt was pity on Uma seeing her condition at home. But Papa interrupted and said “There is no need” Dr. Dutt was persisted and said “Shouldn’t we ask Uma for her view? Perhaps she would like to go out and work?”Dr. Dutt was requesting Uma’s parents and explaining in his own best way to persuade them, at the end what Mama says to Uma is that “go and take the tray away” and as a daughter she has no right to fight back in front of the guest so “Uma’s head was bobbing, her lips were fluttering: yes, yes please yes.” She wanted to say yes to Dr.Dutt when he offered her to work, but she could not. She has to let go off the opportunities that comes to her due to her parents.
Unequal opportunities were not just bounded to Uma but with all the Indian families around her premises. Anamika, a cousin to Uma, was a bright student, who was privileged to be enrolled in Oxford University on a scholarship. “She did so brilliantly in her final school exams, that she won a scholarship to Oxford. To oxford, where only the most favored and privileged sons could ever hope to go!” (Desai, 67) The statement itself shows strong differences between the genders, it says “Favored and Privileged sons” as if the daughters were not a human. The height of discrimination is overloaded in this statement. Even though Animka has obtained such privileged opportunities. She won’t be allowed to take up that opportunity since their tradition and culture has a strong norm that “Every girl should be married off “(Desai) regardless of how brilliant she is. The other reason will be like Uma’s parents Animka won’t be send abroad to study since it is her age to be married off. “So the letter of acceptance from Oxford was locked in a sealed cupboard in their flat on Marine Drive in Bombay, and whenever visitors came, it would be taken out and shown around with pride.” In that case, the visitors would come to know that she got an opportunity to study abroad and her qualifications, and that the intention of her parents to get a good marriage proposal for her instead. But at the end, her marriage turns out to be a disaster where she was burnt alive by her mother in-law and her husband. This could be the reason of her being so qualified in an orthodox family, where the men are looked down on by her and her abilities. Being in orthodox family, men were not able to digest the higher qualification of “Daughters” then their “son”. In Animka’s case, she was married off instead of persuading the higher education in the most privileged university. She has to stay back and obey the commands passed by her parents to her. Women are portrayed as victims; there are no equal opportunities among men and women. Just as Uma, an elder daughter in the family, who has to bear all the unprivileged opportunities and sacrifice her life in the demand of her parents, even a bright and brilliant student Animka has to sacrifice her scholarship in Oxford University. These are just a few minor cases that are portrayed in the novel; there may be tons and tons of Indian daughters who are going through the same situations as Uma and Animka within their families.
This story is set in India, but there may be same problems faced in many different countries.
Do you want our own family to differentiate between you and your brother??
Drop your comments below in order to find a suitable solution.
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