Wednesday, February 2, 2011

World of Words Wednesdays - Fasting, Feasting by Anita Desai - a review

Fasting, FeastingFasting, Feasting:Fasting, Feasting tells the story of the two main characters, Uma and Arun, in two parts. Uma, the eldest daughter in the family, is clumsy, myopic, prone to fits, and largely unsuccessful in life (report cards at school, cooking, marriages where her family is duped resulting in lost dowries and humiliation) though not for lack of effort or enthusiasm to succeed on her part. She thinks of her parents as a single entity – mamapapa – and after two failed marriages, mamapapa decide to stop making any efforts and start t their lifelong duty to ensure she is busy looking after them. Whenever Uma finds an avenue for freedom – a pilgrimage with the forever on the move Mira Masi, a job offered by an empathetic Dr.Dutt – it is rejected or cut short by MamaPapa. Her only solace is in brief moments of blankness or in her collections (glass bangles she never wears, old Christmas cards whose words cheer her). In spite of her lot in life, she does not seem to begrudge others their joys – her sister Aruna’s charmed marriage, Arun’s college acceptance in the US – but instead is the only one who notices that with all their joys, they are still unhappy. Aruna strives for a dream and Arun has become so mechanical that nothing brings out emotion in him. Desai portrays the differences between the siblings in a few sentences describing one of Aruna’s visits to her maternal home with her in-laws after marriage: “She(Aruna) spent the entire visit hissing under her breath at Uma,’Can’t you bring out a clean tablecloth? Don’t you see this one is all stained?’” and “she (Aruna) could not believe he (Arun) existed, as he did, and preferred to act as if he did not (which suited him very well”
The book suddenly shifts from Uma to show us what Arun is up to in Massachusetts. As he spends his summer with the Pattons (Mrs.Patton being the sister of Mrs.O’Henry from his hometown in India), Arun still strives to remain anonymous but realizes it is impossible to do so fully. He realizes that in his attempt to escape, he has stumbled into a ‘plastic representation’ of his life at home. He sees his family in the Pattons. He does not understand the excesses in the Pattons’ lifestyle – the loaded shopping carts, the fridge drooping with the weight of all the frozen food that no one eats, the bags of candy consumed. As Desai puts it so well ‘For the first time in his existence, he found he craved for what he had taken for granted before’ (the meals that were always there for him).
Between Uma and Arun, between MamaPapa’s family and the Pattons, between Mira-masi’s sparse meals and the Pattons’ fridge full of food, Desai cleverly integrates the title of the book.
Also brought to mind for me the part of the first line of Anna Karenina: ‘every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’
This was the first book by Anita Desai that I read. I enjoyed the wonderful play of words and the way everyday characters and happenings are brought to life here but the book left me oddly dissatisfied too, waiting for some sort of closure for the main characters at least. 

Words of the week:
I am reading Pride and Prejudice on my Kindle for PC this week and the words are from the book:

panegyric(from TheFreeDictionary)

1. A formal eulogistic composition intended as a public compliment.
2. Elaborate praise or laudation; an encomium.

preferment  (from TheFreeDictionary)

1. The act of advancing to a higher position or office; promotion.
2. A position, appointment, or rank giving advancement, as of profit or prestige.
3. The act of preferring or the state of being preferred.


A Thank you for our dedicated gardener.. the roses bloom thanks to him.


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