Fasting, Feasting

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Papa Character Analysis

Papa is a proud, yet insecure middle-class legal magistrate, the husband of Mama and the father of Uma, Aruna and Arun. Papa grew up in great poverty, and delights in reminding his children that he worked very hard in school to climb the social ladder and make a better life for himself and his family. Threatened by modern ideas of women's liberation, Papa is content to allow Mama to wait on him and obey his requests. Yet, he supports Mama's authority before his children, and the two have a complicit, cooperative marriage. Papa ignores people and ideas who challenge his authority, such as Dr. Dutt and, on occasion, Mama. After his retirement, he dedicates his energies to acting as an academic drill sergeant for Arun, forcing him through school and college. He habitually criticizes and neglects Uma, particularly her physical needs.

Papa Quotes in Fasting, Feasting

The Fasting, Feasting quotes below are all either spoken by Papa or refer to Papa. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Houghton Mifflin edition of Fasting, Feasting published in 2000.
Chapter 1 Quotes

MamaandPapa. MamaPapa. PapaMama. It was hard to believe they had ever been separate existences, that they had been separate entities and not MamaPapa in one breath.

Related Characters: Mama, Papa
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the protagonist of the novel, Uma, thinks about her parents, Mama and Papa. Uma is an adult at this point, but she thinks of her parents as one collective being, not two individuals. Uma struggles to remember if there was ever a time when she thought of her parents as separate people.

The passage, which sets in motion the flashbacks that constitute the bulk of the first half of the book, also establishes some of the book's key themes: including the importance of family, and the potential collectivism of identity within family and tradition. Growing up in a strict Indian household, Uma is treated severely--her parents have strong expectations for her, and they think of themselves as filling a specific role (i.e., raising their children and making sure they find spouses). Mama and Papa are one character, then, insofar as they fulfill the same basic role (of Mama going along with everything Papa decides), which revolves around supervising their children. 

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One could be forgiven for thinking Papa’s chosen role was scowling, Mama’s scolding. Since every adult had to have a role, and these were their parents’, the children did not question their choices. At least, not during their childhoods.

Related Characters: Mama, Papa
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the narrator offers a trivial distinction between Mama and Papa: Mama scolds, Papa scowls. The point of making such a distinction, of course, is to remind readers that there really is no difference between Mama and Papa: they're two sides of the same coin, united in their loyalty to their children and, at times, their harsh rejection of their children's feelings and dreams.

The passage is also significant insofar as it alludes to the flashback structure of the book. Uma is now an adult, but she's beginning to think about her parents more critically than she ever has before. It's worth asking why Uma hasn't pondered her parents' lives in more detail before--i.e., why the novel is beginning now. Perhaps the narrator's point is that Uma has always felt both tyrannized by and inextricably tied to her family; it's only now that she's an adult that she feels more objective distanced from them and free to think about whatever she wants.

Chapter 2 Quotes

No doors were ever shut in that household: closed doors meant secrets, nasty secrets, impermissible. It meant authority would come stalking in and make a search to seize upon the nastiness, the unclean blot.

Related Characters: Mama, Papa
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator here depicts the household in which Uma was raised. Uma was raised by her parents to be totally honest and transparent; she could never have secrets of any kind. While Mama and Papa raised their children this way, presumably, because they thought it would help their children be virtuous and honest, their child-rearing methods had some unexpected effects. Mama and Papa make their daughter Uma weak and fragile: Uma was so "policed" in her home (to the point where she couldn't even keep a door closed) that she couldn't even think freely.

This kind of "honesty" regarding Uma and her siblings is then contrasted, in this scene, with the sudden secrecy regarding Mama's new pregnancy. The pregnancy is not discussed because by its very nature it is a reminder of female sexuality, something seen as shameful. For Mama, any kind of sexuality and independence is the "unclean blot" that must be kept behind closed doors.

Mama was frantic to have it terminated. She had never been more ill (…) but Papa set his jaws. They had two daughters, yes, quite grown-up as anyone could see, but there was no son. Would any man give up the chance of a son?

Related Characters: Mama, Papa
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

The passage describes one of the few times in Uma's life when she witnessed her parents disagreeing about anything. Uma's mother was pregnant with a child, and Papa wondered if the child might be a boy. Because Papa wanted a boy (a badge of honor in India, far more than having a girl), he insisted that Mama go through with the pregnancy, even though Mama didn't want to go through the pain of birth one more time (especially now that she's older), or raise a third child.

The passage offers an interesting twist of the theme we've been studying so far: while it's true that Mama and Papa seem to be the same person, united in their "policing" of their children, it's also true that Papa exercises comparable authority over Mama: even though it's her body, Papa makes the final call to have the child (and the child ends up being a boy). The authority and unity between Mama and Papa, it's suggested, is a kind of illusion--or it's only a reality because Mama has surrendered her own agency to her husband.

Chapter 3 Quotes

More than ever now, she was Papa’s helpmeet, his consort. He had not only made her his wife, he had made her the mother of his son (…) Was this love? Uma wondered disgustedly, was this romance? Then she sighed, knowing such concepts had never occurred to Mama: she did not read, she did not go to the cinema.

Related Characters: Uma (speaker), Mama, Papa
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Uma--now a teenaged girl--contemplates the loveless marriage between her parents. Uma is used to seeing her parents work as one unit, and she suspects that they work so well together because her mother has surrendered her freedom to Papa. Papa, Uma thinks, is a bully--he's married Mama because he wants a wife, not because he loves Mama. Uma is disgusted with her Mama for surrendering to Papa so easily: Mama, Uma thinks rather smugly, has no knowledge of romantic love, since she doesn't read or watch movies.

The passage is a good example of how the narrator both makes fun of Uma and suggests that she has a point. Uma sounds a little naive here (why, exactly, does Uma know anything more about love than her Mama--and is it really possible to understand love by watching movies?). And yet we've already seen plentiful evidence that Uma is partly right: Mama has surrendered control over her body and her life in order to marry Papa--because, of course, doing so is a part of life for a woman in India, as it's portrayed in the novel. So perhaps it's too simple to say that Mama doesn't love Papa, even if it's true that she's surrendered her freedom to him.

Chapter 12 Quotes

She sloshes some milk into the coffee. ‘Rosebuds. Wild Waltz. Passionately,’ she screams at them silently. She tosses in the sugar. ‘Madly. Vows. Fulfill,’ her silence roars at them. She clatters a spoon around the cup, spilling some milk into the saucer, and thrusts it at Papa. ‘Here,’ her eyes flash through her spectacles, ‘this, this is what I know. And you, you don’t.’

Related Characters: Uma (speaker), Mama, Papa
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Uma attempts a small but powerful rebellion against her family and her entire culture. Uma has been reading poetry; the words of the poem inspire her to celebrate her own experiences, instead of submitting to the authority of men in general and her father in particular. Here, in the middle of pouring coffee for her father (as is her duty as a daughter), she angrily thinks of (and perhaps also mutters aloud) words from her favorite poems. In doing so, Uma seems to be trying to demonstrate what has happened to her: like a character in the poem, she ended up wilting away because she tried too hard to find a suitable husband for herself. The passage culminates in Uma telling her father that she knows things that he doesn't--not just the literal practice of pouring coffee, presumably, but the general experience of being a woman, having to base one's entire life around men, etc.

Uma has often been meek and frightened around her father, but here she seems to be lashing out against him, even if mostly in her own mind and her domestic sphere (the only places she has any kind of control). Her father, she feels, doesn't understand the pain that she goes through: he looks down on her, and even feels ashamed of her for "failing" to get married. Uma, however, is learning to celebrate her own life: she seems not to see herself as a failure any longer. Her experiences have inherent worth, and her father needs to recognize that.

Chapter 19 Quotes

When she finally brought herself to tell him that Arun was a vegetarian and she herself had decided to give it a try (…) he reacted by not reacting, as if he had simply not heard, or understood. That, too was something Arun knew and had experience of (…)—his father’s very expression, walking off, denying any opposition, any challenge to his authority…

Related Characters: Arun, Papa, Mrs. Patton , Mr. Patton
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:

The more things change for Arun, the more they stay the same. Arun is staying with an American woman named Mrs. Patton--a gracious host who makes every effort to make Arun feel comfortable, even buying him vegetarian food. When Mrs. Patton tries to convince Mr. Patton, her husband, to consider vegetarianism, too, Mr. Patton ignores her altogether. Arun is immediately reminded of the way his own father would ignore his mother--many American families, it's implied, are just like their Indian counterparts: the men are harsh and authoritative, and the women are meek and submissive. Thus Desai rebuts kind of racist critique of Indian society as "inferior" by showing how the same sins exist in all cultures--here Mr. Patton finds it inconceivable that someone could decide to not eat meat.

Arun chooses to focus on the similarities between his life in India and his life in America, instead of focusing on the myriad differences (too many to name). While Arun may be correct to notice that Mrs. Patton is timid around the harsh, brusque Mr. Patton, it's indicative of his cynicism and joylessness that he sees only misery in Mr. and Mrs. Patton's relationship.

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Papa Character Timeline in Fasting, Feasting

The timeline below shows where the character Papa appears in Fasting, Feasting. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
...and still unmarried, at home in India in the summer, taking orders from Mama and Papa, (or MamaPapa, as she thinks of them). At first, they are instructing her with great... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
Uma struggles to remember a time when MamaPapa had 'separate existences'. She recalls that Mama and Papa have offered few memories of their... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
Uma remembers the only example of Mama having a separate life from Papa as being when Uma was young and Papa was still working as an attorney, and... (full context)
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Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
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Uma recalls that in Papa's younger days when he played tennis, he made a very serious ceremony about having the... (full context)
Chapter 2
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Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
Still in the modern-day, and Papa has had his car driven up to the front of the house. He declares that... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
...pregnancy is painful, and she wishes she could terminate it. But with just two daughters, Papa wants a son. So Mama feels she has no choice but to go through with... (full context)
Chapter 3
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
...in India. Uma’s mother tells her to pass the fruit bowel to her father, but Papa remains still and silent and does not take it. Mama interprets this silence as his... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
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Uma settles into taking care of baby Arun. Mama and Papa attend nervously to Arun’s care, worrying over his diet, his every step, his progress, and... (full context)
Chapter 4
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
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Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
In the modern day, Mama and Papa have left home to attend a wedding. With few chances to be home alone, the... (full context)
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Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
...the country, visiting different relatives and different Hindu temples. Uma loves Mira-Masi’s visits, even though MamaPapa disapprove of Mira-Masi’s traveling lifestyle, her vegetarianism, and her “old-fashioned” religious devotion. Uma recalls curling... (full context)
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
Mira-Masi carefully cooks her food separately in her own stone oven outside, and while MamaPapa frown, Uma feels honored if Mira-Masi lets her help in her food preparation. Every evening,... (full context)
Chapter 5
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
...rebellious cousin Ramu surprises the family with a visit after adventuring at sea. Mama and Papa are unhappy to see Ramu, for this son of Lila Aunty and Bakul Uncle is... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
...Arun, a young boy at the time. Ramu tells Uma that he has come on Papa and Mama’s instructions to reclaim her, for she has stayed much longer than they expected,... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
In the modern day, the local jeweler has come to MamaPapa’s house to show his spread before Mama and Uma, as he does every year. He... (full context)
Chapter 7
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Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
MamaPapa respond to an ad in the newspaper for a family looking for a bride for... (full context)
Chapter 8
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
...danger. Back in time, marriage proposals flood in for Aruna, but Uma’s unmarried state keeps MamaPapa from pursuing them. Aware of her own appeal, Aruna begins to act with greater confidence... (full context)
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MamaPapa make a last effort at marrying Uma off. The old man from the newspaper ad... (full context)
Chapter 9
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
Uma is at home alone in the modern day, while MamaPapa are out at a bridge game. Rarely by herself, Uma enjoys the opportunity to go... (full context)
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Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
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...optometrist, who says she has a bad condition and must see a specialist in Bombay. Papa gets angry and says that the doctor in their town should be good enough. Later,... (full context)
Chapter 10
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
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Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
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...to a coffee party thrown by Mrs. O’Henry, the Baptist missionary she admires. Mama and Papa say there is no good reason for Uma to go. Uma argues that Mama and... (full context)
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Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
The novel flashes to an overview of Arun’s childhood, which centers entirely on school. Papa allows him no rest: All year round, Arun has a series of tutors hired to... (full context)
Chapter 11
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Uma is writing to Arun on behalf of MamaPapa, and Papa criticizes Uma for her slow writing and her inability to keep up with... (full context)
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
...the Christmas bazaar to help Mrs. Henry run her Christmas booth. Against the complaints of MamaPapa, Uma goes, and she describes the entire event as heaven. The paper crafts, the treats,... (full context)
Chapter 12
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
After MamaPapa have Uma write the letter to Arun, they begin ordering Uma to do many chores... (full context)
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Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
Dr. Dutt comes to visit Uma’s house. Papa disapproves of Dr. Dutt as an unmarried woman with her own career, but because of... (full context)
Chapter 13
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
...and Bakul Uncle do not speak, or eat; they only look down, while Mama and Papa try to cheer them up and to arrange everything. Uma cannot stop thinking about how... (full context)
Chapter 17
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
...room to rent for the summer. Just as he begins to get desperate, he receives Papa’s letter in Uma’s handwriting, informing him that Mrs. Patton has offered her home to him... (full context)