Fasting, Feasting

Mama Character Analysis

Mama is the wife of Papa and the mother of Uma, Aruna, and Arun. Throughout the novel, her first name is never revealed—rather, she is just called Mama, defined by her roles as wife and mother. Mama is the picture of a proud, submissive wife, seldom expressing an opinion different than her husband's. She pursues her own interests only on the sly, making it her mission in life to cater to her husband's needs and to work with him in controlling the destinies of their three children. Uma can recall few instances of Mama's separateness from Papa. The most noteworthy example is her failed plea to her husband that he let her terminate her late-in-life pregnancy with Arun, which is both painful and dangerous to her health. Later, when Uma is older and complains of pain in her eyes, Mama pleads with Papa to allow Uma to visit a specialist for her eyes. On occasion, Mama shows some comradery with Uma, such as when her niece Anamika dies and Mama draws close to her daughter, realizing perhaps for the first time how lucky she is to have Uma.

Mama Quotes in Fasting, Feasting

The Fasting, Feasting quotes below are all either spoken by Mama or refer to Mama. 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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Chapter 4 Quotes

To Mira-masi, the gods and goddesses she spoke of, whose tales she told, were her family, no matter what Mama might think (…) Uma, with her ears, and even her fingertips tingling, felt that here was someone who could pierce through the dreary outer world to an inner world, tantalizing in its colour and romance. If only it could replace this, Uma thought hungrily.

Related Characters: Uma, Mama, Mira-Masi
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 6 Quotes

Uma said, ‘I hope they will send her back. Then she will be home with Lily Aunty again, and happy.’
‘You are so silly, Uma,’ Mama snapped (…) ‘How can she be happy if she is sent home? What will people say? What will they think?’

Related Characters: Uma (speaker), Mama (speaker), Anamika, Lily Aunty and Bakul Uncle
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 7 Quotes

‘Didn’t I tell you to go to the kitchen and learn these things? (…) No, you were at the convent, singing those Christian hymns. You were playing games with that Anglo-Indian teacher showing you how to wear skirts and jump around. Play, play, play, that is all you ever did. Will that help you now?’

Related Characters: Mama (speaker), Uma
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 8 Quotes

Uma’s ears were already filled to saturation with Mama’s laments, and Aruna’s little yelps of laughter were additional barbs (…) The tightly knit fabric of family that had seemed so stifling and confining now revealed holes and gaps that were frightening—perhaps the fabric would not hold, perhaps it would not protect after all. There was cousin Anamika’s example, the one no one wanted to see: but how could one not?

Related Characters: Uma, Aruna, Mama, Anamika
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 11 Quotes

A career. Leaving home. Living alone. These trembling, secret possibilities now entered Uma’s mind—as Mama would have pointed out had she known—whenever Uma was idle. (…) But Uma could not visualize escape in the form of a career. What was a career? She had no idea.

Related Characters: Uma, Mama
Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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Mama Character Timeline in Fasting, Feasting

The timeline below shows where the character Mama 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
...Uma, middle-aged 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... (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... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
...about having the family and the household servants facilitate his games and provide an audience. Mama would observe the games proudly, and she would get angry if his tennis suit hadn't... (full context)
Chapter 2
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
...has had his car driven up to the front of the house. He declares that Mama and Uma need to get some exercise, so he takes them to the park. At... (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
The novel flashes back to the past, to Uma's childhood. Uma remembers when Mama became pregnant with Arun, and she recalls this as the only time she noticed a... (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
...Arun is born, and when the nuns start sending notes home describing her bad scores, Mama tells Uma that there is no point in going to school any longer. Uma refuses... (full context)
Chapter 3
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
...bowel to her father, but Papa remains still and silent and does not take it. Mama interprets this silence as his nonverbal demand that the women peel and part the fruit... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
...learn home keeping. Uma shrieks, and has her first epileptic seizure on the convent floor. Mama blames the convent nuns for causing Uma’s seizure, using the incident to justify her decision... (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 settles into taking care of baby Arun. Mama and Papa attend nervously to Arun’s care, worrying over his diet, his every step, his... (full context)
Chapter 4
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
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... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
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
...age, her 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... (full context)
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
...Mira-Masi has grown older and weak with fever. She comes to visit the family, and Mama urges her not to travel to an ashram in the foothills. Mira-Masi insists she will... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
...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, and they... (full context)
Chapter 6
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
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
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
Right after Anamika’s marriage, Mama is sending pictures of Uma out to relatives and friends, who are all helping to... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
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
In the modern day, Mama wakes Uma to tell her that thieves are stealing guavas from their trees. Mama remarks... (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
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)
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
...no pity on Uma, but expects Uma to care for them as the “maiden aunt”. Mama and Uma unite against Aruna’s criticism, and on one occasion laugh together over Aruna’s suggestion... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
...gets angry and says that the doctor in their town should be good enough. Later, Mama tells Aruna about the doctor’s suggestion, in an attempt to get her help—but Aruna only... (full context)
Chapter 10
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
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
...is invited 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... (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)
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
The novel tells the story of Mama’s friend and neighbor, Mrs. Joshi—one of few people who Mama allows Uma to visit. Mrs.... (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)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
...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.... (full context)
Chapter 13
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
...Lila Aunty 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... (full context)