Uma Quotes in Fasting, Feasting
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.
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.
In this flashback scene, Uma meets with her distant relative Mira-masi, a surprisingly independent woman who has devoted herself to worshipping the god Shiva. Uma's parents are (in some senses) modern, practical people, and they don't have a lot of patience with Mira-masi. Uma, however, is naturally attracted to Mira-masi: she's mystical, creative, dreamy, and generally the opposite of MamaPapa. Where MamaPapa encourage eating meat (the "modern" way), Mira-masi practices traditional Hindu vegetarianism.
Why, exactly, does Mira-masi's way of life seem so attractive to Uma? Uma doesn't like her life with MamaPapa, and she itches for an escape of any kind. Mira-masi is different enough from Uma's parents that she must be better: Uma is hungry for adventure, excitement, and sincere emotion, and Mira-masi seems to have plenty of all three.
Only Uma tucked her frock up into her knickers and waded in with such thoughtless abandon (…) It had not occurred to her that she needed to know how to swim, she had been certain the river would sustain her.
In this flashback scene, Uma and her siblings go down to the river with Mira-masi, their distant relative. There, Mira-masi engages in a ritualistic bathing ceremony, a reflection of her worship of the god Shiva. While her siblings hang back, afraid of the water, Uma wades in in an effort to be closer to Mira-masi, whom she idolizes.
Uma's behavior is reckless, dangerous (she nearly drowns), and also deeply revealing of her personality. Uma feels so sheltered and lonely at home with MamaPapa that she's hungry for escape of any kind. By walking straight into the water, she's both active and passive: she makes a brave, dangerous choice, crossing her fingers and trusting that the water will be gentle with and "sustain" her. Uma's entire life will be full of "leaps of faith" of a similar kind: for all her repression, she's still full of life and vitality, and wants to find adventure.
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?’
In this passage, we learn what happens to Uma's stunningly beautiful, intelligent cousin, Anamika. Although she's awarded a prestigious scholarship to Oxford, Anamika is forbidden to attend university--instead, she's married off to a rich, cruel man, beaten, and rendered infertile. Uma wishes that Anamika's husband would send her away (i.e., back home to her mother); but when Uma raises such a possibility, Mama calls her a fool. Anamika must remain with her husband, Mama insists, or "people will talk."
The passage illustrates Mama's insensitivity to people's individual suffering when it doesn't fit her worldview, as well as her slavish devotion to public opinion. It doesn't matter to Mama that Anamika is suffering, or that she was denied a life of education and liberty at Oxford--the only thing Mama cares about is the opinion of other people (who would, supposedly, be shocked if they heard that Anamika had left her husband). Mama's horizons are so narrow, so confined to the opinions of her neighbors, that she can't conceive of a world in which Anamika's going off to Oxford independently would be the "right thing."
‘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?’
As Uma grows older, her mother becomes increasingly angry with her. Because Uma genuinely enjoyed studying in school (despite the fact that she wasn't much of a student, to say the least), she never spent much time learning how to cook, clean, or dress from her Mama. Mama is furious that Uma is so ignorant of how to "be a real woman"; she doesn't respect Uma for trying to learn, or for enjoying herself at school with her friends. For Mama, the only business women have is learning how to serve husbands domestically; everything else is just frivolity.
Here Mama is basically encouraging her daughter to abandon her interest in education altogether, and dismissing Uma's interest in studying at a convent as "play." Mama is so devoted to the idea that women are made to be wives that she can't see anything but laziness in Uma.
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?
In this passage, Uma has been married off to an old, fat man, who immediately runs off with Uma's family dowry and never returns. Uma's Mama is humiliated by the experience; she mourns that she'll never marry Uma off to anyone. The experience is especially crushing for Uma because Uma's sister, Aruna, is beautiful, and has lots of handsome, wealthy suitors to choose from.
Uma's thought process is complex: she's both embarrassed by her experience with the old man, and relieved. Uma lives in a community where to be a woman is to be married: her failure to find a husband is treated as a hideous problem, almost a crime. And yet Uma recognizes that marriage, for all the emphasis that her culture puts on it, doesn't seem so great: even the beautiful Anamika had her life ruined when she married. Maybe the single life isn't so bad after all.
When it was that she had plunged into the dark water and let it close quickly and tightly over her, the flow of the river, the current, drew her along (…) It was not fear she felt, or danger. Or rather, these were only what edged something much darker, wilder, more thrilling, a kind of exultation—it was exactly what she had always wanted, she realized.
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.
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.’
She had been married for twenty-five years, the twenty-five that Uma had not. Now she is dead, a jar of grey ashes. Uma, clasping her knees, can feel that she is still flesh, not ashes. But she feels like ash—cold, colourless, motionless ash.
Then Arun does see a resemblance to something he knows: a resemblance to the contorted face of an enraged sister who, failing to express her outrage against neglect, against misunderstanding, against inattention to her unique and singular being and its hungers, merely spits and froths in ineffectual protests.
In this passage, Arun walks into the Pattons' house to find Melanie eating an entire tub of ice cream when her parents aren't watching. Arun realizes that Melanie and his own sister, Uma, aren't all that different: they're both frustrated, repressed people who feel angry and misunderstood. Uma is repressed by her parents' emphasis on marriage and pleasing men; Melanie is repressed by her parents' emphasis on health and beauty. Both sets of parents, Arun seems to realize, err in focusing too exclusively on outward appearances, thereby neglecting their children's psychological stability and inner peace. (It's also no coincidence that Melanie and Uma are both women: in Indian and American culture, women are more harmed by the overemphasis on superficiality than men are).