The Management of Grief

by Bharati Mukherjee

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In "The Management of Grief," Shaila describes herself as "trapped between two modes of knowledge" (par. 84). In what ways is the character "trapped" and in what ways liberated or even empowered by that situation?

The story is set in Toronto, Canada and is about a woman named Shaila who lost her husband and two sons in the bombing of an Air-India flight. It's been 20 years since the incident and she still feels a sense of pain within her. She was an Indian immigrant who married a Canadian man and lived a middle class life along with her husband, children, and mother-in-law. Shaila was not able to acknowledge that she was in fact sad or that she felt lost without her family. Her mother-in-law saw this as being ungrateful for the life that she had now as opposed to what she used to have before immigrating to Canada.

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The Management of Grief by Bharati Mukherjee was written as a tribute to the people who died on Air India Flight 182 on 23 June 1985. The plane was flying from Montreal, Canada to Delhi, India via London. A bomb placed by Sikh extremists exploded as the plane was in Irish airspace near Shannon Airport, killing 329 people, mainly Canadians of Indian descent.

Shaila is a fictional character, living in the Indian community in Toronto, whose husband and sons were killed in the crash of Flight 183. She is portrayed as trapped between the Canadian and Indian cultures, not able to fully exist in either. In particular, she is trapped in the way she is constrained in emotional expression. She contrasts Indian ways of knowing grief, which include profuse public forms of sorrow, with the more reserved white Canadian forms of grief, but at the same time, notes that she never told her husband that she loved him (which would have been improper for an Indian woman) which is something white Canadians and a westernized younger generation do easily. 

In the story, many of her neighbors of an older generation retain Indian traditions and ways of knowing while the social worker Mrs. Templeton is traditionally Canadian. As Shaila begins to mediate between Mrs. Templeton and her neighbors and talk with Dr. Ranganathan, she begins to recognize that her place between the two cultures is not one of weakness and isolation, but a place of strength, from which she can assimilate and appropriate the ways of knowing of both worlds. 

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