Fasting, Feasting

by Anita Desai

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What will happen to Uma in Fasting, Feasting?

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As the story begins, Uma is a forty-three year old spinster who lives with her parents at home. Her life is dreary, with every aspect of her existence managed by her parents; Uma calls her parents MamaPapa because they mirror each other in thought and action. It is as if her parents are one micro-managing entity pervading her life.

As the novel progresses, we learn that Uma wasn't always without options in life. In her youth, she had been an enthusiastic scholar, despite the fact that she was a mediocre student at best. At age 15, Uma was pulled out of school by her parents in order to help her mother with her new infant brother, Arun. Her parents tried to arrange a marriage for her when she turned 16, but her prospective husband fell in love with her sister, Aruna. In all, there were three attempts to marry Uma off, but none of them were successful. The worst experience by far, where grooms were concerned, was Uma's betrothal and eventual marriage to Harish.

Accordingly, Harish worked in the pharmaceutical business. He was almost as old as Uma's father and was grossly overweight, with a pock-marked face to boot. Like all the others, he showed no enthusiasm for Uma. Immediately after the wedding, Harish left for Meerut. Perplexingly, he stayed away in Meerut for the duration of the time that Uma was married to him. Eventually, Uma's father came to take her home. The news was that Harish was already a married man with four children. He needed a dowry to save his struggling pharmaceutical business and Uma's came in handy. The shame of it all was almost unbearable for Uma. Because of the stigma of three failed arranged marriages, Uma was forever labeled untouchable as a prospective bride.

Having cost her parents two dowries, without a marriage to show in return, Uma was considered ill-fated by all and no more attempts were made to marry her off.

Perhaps one of the only bright spots in Uma's life was to go on pilgrimage with Mira-Masi, one of her mother's estranged relatives. Additionally, had her parents given their assent to Dr. Dutt when the doctor offered Uma the housekeeper's position in the women's dormitory at the Medical Institute, her life might have turned out quite differently. As it appears, Uma was never given the chance to explore her options. Eventually, bereft of all hope, Uma found herself consigned to living out her life in servitude to her parents' every wish.

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