Fasting, Feasting

by Anita Desai

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How is Uma characterized in Fasting, Feasting?

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Uma represents the "other" in the traditional notion of Indian femininity.  In many ways, Uma represents how traditional Indian society views women that do not conform to the immediate reality of marriage.  Desai depicts the world in which Uma lives as one where women have to get married and their doing so reflects a status.  In an almost bizarre world of "marriage draft," the lower one falls in the order, the worse they are viewed.  Uma's characterization is the result of what happens when the reality of marriage does not work out:  "We are looking for someone taller/fairer/more educated, for Sanju/Pinku/Dimpu.”  For Uma, she lives the reality of "this other," a condition in which rejection of marriage results in a myopia that others impose upon her.  Reflective of her own nearsighted being, Uma lives a life where she tends to her parents and their wishes, while hers are almost uniformly denied because she is not married.  She takes to looking after her siblings, having to tend to functions that only enhance the pain of her own life.  

While she is not married, Uma is shown to not experience the very worst of what life has to offer, but rather must find a way in which the twin pains of "plenty" and "not" are navigated.  Uma's characterization is a reminder of how challenging being a woman in different parts of the world are and at the same time, how challenging it is to be a human being in the modern predicament.  Her characterization is simultaneously universal and specific in its scope.

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Describe Uma in Fasting, Feasting.

Desai's depiction of Uma is one of unremarkability.  Uma is shown to be someone whose life has been devoid of spark or the sense of the remarkable.  Perhaps, it could have possessed one or two flickers of intense luminosity.  Yet, Uma's life is one that can be faced by many a girl child in India.  She is a spinster, one that has ventured out to try to carve out her own identity only to have forces conspire against her to fail.  She lives her life not for herself, but for others.  Whether it is to ensure that Uma lives to take care of Arun, the baby boy of the family, or to guarantee her parents' comfort, Uma's existence has ceased to be for her own self- actualization. As a girl, Uma's social condition was one in which she was to get married.  Having seen this attempt fail multiple times and being denied the chance to carve out her own sense of being in the world, Uma is left to a life that involves tending to others' needs as opposed to her own.   In many respects, Uma's path is the "fasting" experience to the awareness of self, whereas Arun's is the "feasting" experience.  

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