Fasting, Feasting


Anita Desai

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Fasting, Feasting: Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

After MamaPapa have Uma write the letter to Arun, they begin ordering Uma to do many chores at once. Uma finally snaps and storms away from them, running to her room and slamming the door. She finds the book of poetry from the Christmas bazaar, and she feels her emotions stir as she reads the poems: one about a rosebud that once ‘passionately waltzed’, though now it has ‘wilted’; another in which a young man beckons to the girl he loves that she ‘fly’ away with him to see the world rather than remaining in the dark room where she stays. When Mama calls her through the door, Uma stomps out, throwing the book at her mother. She brings her father his coffee, while muttering to herself words from the poems. When she sets it down, she says to her father, ‘this, this is what I know. And you, you don’t.”
Fed up with her parent’s demands, Uma is briefly driven by a built-up rage that tells her to listen to her own inner voice and to see her situation for what it is. While at some points in the novel it is unclear whether Uma is aware of how unique she is or of how unjust her life has been, in this passage, she is acutely aware that she has something her parents do not. The poetry she reads speaks to her own situation—she is like a rosebud that is in danger of wilting, but she never had the chance to waltz, she was never beckoned to fly away by anyone except herself.
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
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Mira-Masi makes one of her final visits to Uma’s family. Uma asks the now aged Mira-Masi whether she has found her “little lord”, a little statue of Shiva that she had lost, and Mira-Masi only wails hysterically. Some time after Mira-Masi leaves, Lila Aunty comes to visit, and tells Mama and Uma that after much searching, Mira-Masi did eventually find her little lord, in a bazaar in the south, and that she scared the shopkeeper into giving it to her through a great show of anger and loud prayers, drawing a crowd of people to follow her down to the sacred river to worship. Though Mama and Lila Aunty laugh, Uma reflects with sadness and joy that Mira-Masi finally found what she was looking for.
The lost statue of Shiva is Mira-Masi’s object of desire—the one thing she can’t imagine living without, and without which she feels angry and incomplete. Everyone in the novel is looking for something that they think will make life complete – whether it is a good marriage for their daughters, a good education for their sons, higher social status, or in Uma’s case—her own life. Mira-Masi’s hysterics echo the hysterics that often stir in Uma when she is most aware of her own lack. She is both happy for Mira-Masi and sad for herself.
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Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" 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 her social rank, he feels he must entertain her. A ‘no-nonsense’ woman, she tells MamaPapa that she needs a capable lady to run the boarding house for her nursing school. She invites Uma for the job, and Uma’s heart races with hopefulness. MamaPapa try to politely hide their anger at the invitation, and Mama sends Uma away to the kitchen. When Uma returns, Mama is seeing Dr. Dutt off. She overhears Dr. Dutt telling Mama something about coming to the clinic for hysterectomy tests, and how sorry she is that Uma must stay at home to care for her. Later, when MamaPapa aren’t looking, Uma calls Dr. Dutt, to tell her that Mama is lying. Dr. Dutt promises to call Mama, but Uma never hears anything more.
Dr. Dutt represents a new kind of woman in Indian society. Like Mira-Masi, Dr. Dutt has no authority figure in her life, and no family to look after. This leaves her free to pursue her vocation, just like Mira-Masi. Yet, Dr. Dutt is much more threatening to Papa. Because Papa relies on his dominance over women to reaffirm his importance, Dr. Dutt’s success disproves all of his convictions about male superiority. Knowing that their reasons won’t seem right to the progressive Dr. Dutt, Mama and Papa can’t even admit to her why they deny Uma her own career, so they lie, keeping Uma from the only opportunity for a new life she is ever given.
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