How is Indian culture portrayed in "A Stench of Kerosene?"

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Indian culture is depicted in a harsh, but somewhat realistic manner.  The love between wife and husband, Guleri and Manak, is depicted as a powerful one, but one that is subservient to the traditional social mores of the community.  This is valid in the traditional elements of Indian culture and Indian society, where custom, practice, and honor are larger than that of the individual.  The custom, something that Guleri enjoys, of going to her parents' home after the harvest is also shown as something larger than that of the individual.  Manak pleads with her not to go and is reflective of this idea that his own individual wishes is secondary to the larger configuration of tradition.  Manak, himself, proves himself to be futile and helpless in the face of tradition, for he says nothing and does nothing when his mother brings in his second wife, someone "he happened to marry:"

Obedient to his mother and to custom, Manak's body responded to the new woman.  But his heart was dead within him.

This "dead" inside Manak reflects Pritam's assertion throughout the short story that Indian society and culture hold primacy over the wishes of the individual.  It is for this reason that Manak is silent and cannot seem to do much of anything about the death of his wife, his role in it, and the fact that he is a part of that which he hates.  His small rejection of his child at the end who "smells like kerosene," is small action against this traditional configuration against which Manak can muster up enough resistance.  In this, Pritam is suggesting that the individuals who fail to actively break from this social and cultural reality of oppressive tradition are as much a part of it as those who benefit from it.  In this, a harsh and somewhat honest depiction of Indian culture is revealed in such a portrayal.


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