The difference between loneliness and being alone is a tension that affects many characters throughout the novel. Loneliness affects many characters—yet, togetherness, especially within families, doesn’t always solve the loneliness of the individual. Balancing the needs for both community and solitude is a constant struggle, especially for Uma and Arun.
Within Indian society, individuals experience mental isolation within tight-knit families. The obligation to maintain a pretense of family harmony is isolating because individuals have no recourse for expressing their true desires without rebelling against the family. Uma is constantly in the company of her parents or other family members - yet she is lonely and isolated within those relationships, because true friendship is lacking: Uma, social and curious in nature, hungrily seeks any opportunity to make new friends and interact with people outside of her nuclear family home. Arun is similarly isolated within his family, as he too has no friends, and his obligation to study takes up all of his time and energy. Yet, unlike Uma, Arun develops a preference for being alone, resisting groups and people who try to include him.
Within American society, the breakup of the family manifests itself more obviously on a daily basis. The barbecue dinner featured in the Patton’s house within the novel is a total flop- neither of the Patton children are present, the father is angry, the mother must cover her unhappiness about being forced to eat steak, and the feeling that members of the household are disunited appears stark. Rather than spending time together, the family spends their meals as well as their leisure time apart. Melanie is isolated in her feelings and her struggle in the same way as Uma, except that in the American context, Melanie is openly defiant and individualistic as a way of covering her loneliness, while Uma appears obedient in comparison. Uma’s loneliness goes unnoticed by her parents, just as Melanie’s. The warmth of the Indian family, however, can be a safe haven during sad times. When Anamika dies, Uma and Mama hold hands in mourning. There is no such mutual consolation to be found among the Pattons.
Loneliness and Togetherness ThemeTracker
Loneliness and Togetherness Quotes in Fasting, Feasting
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.
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.
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?
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.
He had at last experienced the total freedom of anonymity, the total absence of relations, of demands, needs, requests, ties, responsibilities, commitments. He was Arun. He had no past, no family, and no country.
We don’t sit down to meals like we used to. Everyone eats at different times and wants different meals. We just don’t get to eating together much now that they’re grown. So I just fill the freezer and let them take down what they like, when they like. Keeping the freezer full—that’s my job, Ahroon.
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.
Now that he is contributing to the din, he begins to feel pleased. Surprisingly, it is due to the water, an element that removes him from his normal self, and opens up another world of possibilities.