Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 995
The narrator, Mrs. Bhave, is attempting an impossible task. She has just lost her husband and their two sons in an airplane crash caused by a terrorist bomb, and she carefully reports the interactions going on around her in an effort to understand and communicate her own experience. She seems at a great distance from her surroundings, yet anything can bring her back to the disaster and thoughts of her family. For example, while she lies in bed, a stranger making tea in her kitchen brings back the days when her sons made her breakfast.
Mrs. Bhave relives the disaster in a stream-of-consciousness monitoring of the constant activity surrounding her. As some people listen for the latest theories on why the airplane blew up, such as space debris, Russian lasers, and a Sikh bomb, she suddenly realizes that the radios she hears in the background belong to her sons. This thought leads her to recall how funny her neighbor Kusum looked as she ran to her door to tell her what had happened. Mrs. Bhave becomes aware of the voices of preachers speaking on the television, going on as though nothing had happened, yet cannot voice her own thoughts about this phenomenon. She hears the phone ringing and realizes that someone is talking about her condition and her medication. She feels like screaming but cannot. Instead, she hears the voices of her family screaming.
Mrs. Bhave speaks out very little and seems unable to judge anything, in view of the disaster. She appears to question her own customs, remarking to Kusum that she never once told her husband Vikram that she loved him. Kusum replies that modern women have to say it because their feelings are fake. As if to emphasize this judgment, Kusum’s youngest daughter, Pam, who dates Canadian boys and works at a McDonald’s, appears, urging her mother to dress herself for the reporters. Pam expresses survivors’ guilt, part of her own grief, accusing her mother of wishing that she herself had died instead of her sister.
Soon, Judith Templeton, an appointee of the provincial government, visits the household. She describes her job to Mrs. Bhave, requesting her assistance in communicating with other survivors, having heard that Mrs. Bhave has taken it more calmly. Mrs. Bhave represents the human touch that Judith needs in order to manage the grief of all the survivors. She represents a bridge between the Canadian government and the Indian Canadian culture. From the beginning, there is a gap between Templeton’s and Mrs. Bhave’s understanding of the experience of the survivors. For Mrs. Bhave, it is true only in Templeton’s judgment that some of the women survivors are hysterical, in contrast to Mrs. Bhave’s calm. Mrs. Bhave nevertheless agrees to another meeting with Templeton, to be held after her return from Ireland, where the survivors journey in order to identify family members.
Four days later, Mrs. Bhave joins Kusum on a rock overlooking the Irish Sea. Kusum appears bewildered and stranded. The survivors and the people helping them try to find explanations that will make the disaster possible to cope with, but these pieces, when placed side by side, are of no comfort. In fact, they become a pool of endless pain and irony. The passengers had just finished eating breakfast; Mrs. Bhave’s boys loved eating on airplanes. They were only a half hour from the airport when the bomb exploded. Someone assures them no one suffered. Someone else believes it possible that there were survivors. Mrs. Bhave’s boys are good swimmers. Sharks are mentioned, and the fact that women float better than men because they carry more body fat. Another man reminds them all that it is a parent’s duty to hope. Kusum tells Mrs. Bhave that her swami says it is fate. Mrs. Bhave thinks of her tranquilizers.
Mrs. Bhave never identifies her family among the photographs. She reports that many of the photos look like her boys, but none of them are. She cries but claims not to know why; she is ecstatic, she says, because she cannot be certain of her loss. She flies to India with Kusum, becoming suddenly vocal as she screams at airport officials who might want to search the coffin of Kusum’s husband. Once in India, Mrs. Bhave tries to lose herself in travel. She realizes that she is caught between two worlds, the Indian and the Indian Canadian, too old to start over but too young to give up.
Mrs. Bhave sees others making changes in their lives. Some of the men remarry, as is expected of them. One day, as she offers prayers in a temple, Mrs. Bhave’s late husband, Vikram, appears to her, urging her to continue the life they began together in Canada. She plans to leave India, but Kusum remains there while her daughter, Pam, moves to Hollywood. Soon after Mrs. Bhave returns to Toronto, Templeton visits again. She tells Mrs. Bhave that most of the survivors, after six months, have moved into the two middle stages of grief, which, according to her textbook, consists of four stages: rejection, depression, acceptance, and reconstruction. Mrs. Bhave does not tell Templeton that her family is no less real to her now than when they were living.
Mrs. Bhave agrees to help Templeton with a Sikh couple who refuse to sign anything that implies their sons are no longer alive. Templeton cannot understand the cultural duty to hope, and Mrs. Bhave cannot explain it to her. Unable to relate to Templeton’s frustration and categorization of the couple as stubborn and ignorant, she parts company with her, refusing to explain. For a while, Mrs. Bhave tries other measures to make sense of the disaster, writing letters, selling her home, and looking for charities to support. Then one day, she hears the voices of her family again, this time telling her to go and be brave. She begins walking.