Term Paper, 2007
22 Pages, Grade: 1,7
2 The Authors – Presenting Bharati Mukherjee and Meera Nair
2.1 Bharati Mukherjee
2.2 Meera Nair
3 The Stories – “The Management of Grief” and “Video”
3.1 Brief Summary on “The Management of Grief” by Bharati Mukherjee
3.2 Historical Facts on “The Management of Grief”
3.3 Brief Summary on “Video” by Meera Nair
3.4 Analysis of “The Management of Grief” and “Video”
3.4.1 Silence – A Synonym for Submissiveness or Superiority?
3.4.2 Western Intruders into the Asian World
3.4.3 Indianness vs. Indianizing
220.127.116.11 Indianizing through Language
18.104.22.168 Depiction of India
22.214.171.124 Indian Food and Clothes
126.96.36.199 Indian customs
188.8.131.52 Relationship between Sikhs and Hindus
South Asian American Literature – Comparing Bharati Mukherjee’s “The Management of Grief” and Meera Nair’s “Video”
The inclusion of Indian American authors into the genre of Asian American literature is widely discussed and criticized. In my opinion as well as in the view of a great amount of other people, “‘Asian American literature’ is not an ethically or nationally bound category of writing. Instead, it is a term which is used to refer to texts written by North American writers of Asian descent”.
This is the reason why I have chosen works by Bharati Mukherjee and Meera Nair for the following analysis. Both writers are born in India, both immigrated to the United States of America, both deal with “the urgent negotiation and re-negotiation of the problematics of gendered, ethicised and nationalised identity.” However, either one of them reveals a different attitude towards their home country, uses a different language style and enjoys different success. A brief look on the authors’ biographies may already help in finding out in how far these aspects are interrelated. Secondly, I will give a short summary on both stories, including the historical facts on the catastrophe as described in Bharati Mukherjee’s storyline. Furthermore, I will analyse “The Management of Grief” and “Video” with regard to its treatment of particular thematic concerns of Asian American literature, namely the silencing of women’s voices and the effect of Western influence on Indian societies. Last but not least, I would like to display the degree of Indianness in each story and show how the authors obviously try to Indianize their stories. Taking all these aspects into consideration, I might be able to find an answer to the question if “an expatriate writer is somehow distanced from his Indian roots and does not portray an accurate picture of Indian life” or if it is this distance which can be seen as “a special objectivity which enables [the writer] to portray details of life in India accurately.”
Bharati Mukherjee was born on July 27th 1940 in Calcutta, India. In 1947 she moved with her family to England through which she was able to refine her English language skills at a very young age. After having moved back to India three years later, Bharati received her Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Calcutta in 1959 and a MA in English and Ancient Indian Culture at the University of Baroda in 1961. She immigrated to the United States of America directly after she finished college in India and obtained her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Iowa in 1963. This is also the year in which she married the Canadian student Clark Blaise with whom she will later move to his home country. Not being very happy in Canada, Mukherjee and her family settle in America in 1980. Here, she says, she feels “far more comfortable with her ‘between worlds’ status”. In an interview with Erin Soderberg from the University of Minnesota, Mukherjee states that her “14 years in Canada were some of the hardest of her life, as she found herself discriminated against and treated […] as a member of the ‘visible minority’”. I personally think that this experience influenced Bharati Mukherjee’s depiction of Canada in “The Management of Grief”. As she writes about the main character’s time in Ireland and the people’s friendly reactions towards her (“The Irish are not shy; they rush to me and give me hugs and some are crying”, p. 336 ), Shaila states that she “cannot imagine reactions like that on the street of Toronto” (p. 336). This sentence reflects Mukherjee’s personal disappointment with the Canadian society and her bad experience in the country. A few pages later, Shaila’s mother tries to persuade her daughter to stay in India by saying that “Canada is a cold place” (p. 338). Quite an ambiguous remark by the author since it could relate to the cold temperature as well as to her perceived cold atmosphere in Canada. In summary, every reference to Canada is connected with adjectives of coldness (cf. “We are deep in the Toronto winter, gray skies, icy pavements”, p. 344) and sadness which probably reveals the author’s feelings towards the country.
Mukherjee holds the American citizenship since 1988 and presently teaches at the University of Berkeley in California. She “describes herself as American and not the hyphenated Indian-American title.” From this statement one can assume that Bharati Mukherjee is an author who is “more anglicized in [her] social, behavioural and educational backgrounds”. This anglicized background and her early perfection of the English language boots her success as a South Asian American author which will be pointed out later in this paper.
Meera Nair is an Indian American writer who has not been as successful as many of her national colleagues. Consequently, there are not a lot of facts published concerning her biography. However, I do not want to deprive the few details that are known about her.
She was born in 1963 in Kerala, India and immigrated to the United States of America at the age of 34. There, she received a MA from Temple University and obtained a MFA at the New York University. She now lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and daughter.
In contrast to Bharati Mukherjee, Meera Nair had already reached a certain age when she immigrated to America. Consequently, one can assume that she does not speak and write in such perfect English as Mukherjee who moved to England at the age of eight.
Furthermore, Bharati Mukherjee derives from a wealthy family and enjoyed a highly academical education (she holds a PhD), both aspects which have an influence on her English language skills and her writing in general.
“The Management of Grief” is taken from the short story collection “The Middleman and Other Stories” written by Bharati Mukherjee in 1988. The story deals with the grief-stricken relatives of the victims of the Air India terrorist attack in 1985. The storyline begins with the presentation of the main character, Shaila Bhave, who was recently informed about the explosion of the Air India Flight 182 in which her husband and her two sons were on their way to New Delhi. Friends and neighbors have gathered in her house and all of the attendees are in mourning for their family members and friends.
Shaila Bhave is praised throughout the story for her calmness although she herself admits that she wishes to cope with the situation differently and her tranquillity is only due to her upbringing and sedatives. Because she has known a lot of people on the airplane and seems to react in a composed manner to the catastrophe, she is asked by the social worker Judith Templeton to assist the government in the process of reconciliation. She is supposed to act as a mediator between the two cultures in order to help with the formalities concerning Indian immigrants living in Canada who have also lost relatives in that air crash.
The next scene is set in Ireland describing how Shaila Bhave is watching the ocean, hoping that her sons have survived. Some of the mourners have come to the coast in order to say good-bye to their loved ones. Being back at the hospital, Shaila is asked to identify her sons although this identification ends with no results.
In the following passage the protagonist is flying to her parents in India, trying to decide what to do with her life and whether to stay with her parents or by herself in Canada. While being in a church, Shaila’s dead husband appears to her in a vision, telling her to “finish alone what [they] started together” (p. 339). Consequently, the thirty-six-year-old returns to Canada.
At the end of the story Shaila Bhave meets up with Judith Templeton in order to visit an older couple who has lost their two sons in the air crash. This couple refuses to sign the government’s compensation forms because they fear that this will take away everything what they have left of their children. The protagonist cannot convince them to accept the government’s offer and Mrs. Templeton wants to take her to another case. On their way to this house, the social worker is talking about the behavior of the victims’ relatives which causes Shaila to walk out on Judith Templeton without any explanation.
The story concludes with an image of the main character who has now reached the fifth state of the grief cycle by accepting her family’s death and selling her house in order to move on with her life.
In order to have a better understanding of the short story, it is necessary to have some brief background information on the airplane crash which is only vaguely described in the text itself.
The terrorist attack on the Air India Flight 182 took place on June 23, 1985. The Boeing 747 was on its way from Toronto to London as a stopover to its final destination in India. Close to the Irish coast, an onboard bomb exploded and killed all 329 passengers. Due to the fact that 85 percent of the victims were Canadian citizens of Indian descent, the Canadian government handled the criminal investigation. Furthermore, the Canadian authority was accused of having ignored terrorist threats of sabotage. An allusion to this fact is made in “The Management of Grief” when the social worker Judith Templeton asks Shaila Bhave for help in order to not make any mistakes in the process of reconciliation with the relatives. The protagonist replies with a provocative “More mistakes, you mean” (p. 333), saying that the government has already failed concerning a possible prevention of the attack. Whereas shortly after the incident it was not sure whether it was “an accident or a terrorist bomb” (p. 329), the government “at least admit[s] it was a bomb” (p. 344) in the process of investigation.
Until the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, the Air India bombing was the deadliest terrorist event in world history and it still is “the largest mass murder in Canadian history.”
Mukherjee herself has lost a friend in this Air India disaster. Consequently, she put a lot of emotions into “The Management of Grief” and admits in an interview with Dave Weich from powells.com that “[i]t was a very sad story to write.”
Meera Nair’s “Video” is about Naseer who once sees a pornographic video and ever since wishes that his wife performs oral sex on him.
The short story begins with the presentation of the problem. The reader finds himself in the bedroom of Naseer and Rasheeda, listening to her complaints about her husband directed to Allah.
The next scene, a flashback, describes the day when the main character goes to his cousin’s house and there unexpectedly watches a pornographic video in which a foreign blonde woman performs oral sex on her male movie partner. Naseer is very amazed at this act and the images and his thoughts arouse him highly. That same night he tells his wife about the video and entreats her to do the same on him. She, however, is extremely upset and insists that she will never do such a thing. Rasheeda is avoiding her husband ever since and he takes her birthday as an occasion to reconcile with her. They have a good time at the movies, make love afterwards and their marriage seems to have overcome the crisis. But being driven by his fantasies about the girl from the video, Naseer puts his penis into his wife’s mouth while she is asleep. However, Rasheeda awakes and runs out of confusion and shock into the bathroom and stays there for the rest of the night.
 Grice, Helena: Negotiating Identities. An Introduction to Asian American Women’s Writing. Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York, 2002, p.2
 ibid. p. 16
 Jussawalla, Feroza F.: Family Quarrels. Towards a Criticism of Indian Writing in English. American University Studies. Series IV. English Language and Literature. Vol. 17. Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., New York 1985, pp. 133-134
 ibid., p.152
 Grice, Helena: Negotiating Identities, p. 210
 VG: Voices from the Gaps: Bharati Mukherjee.
http://voices.cla.umn.edu/vg/Bios/entries/mukherjee_bharati.html; as of September 10, 2007
 All in-text citations refer to the following source: Hagedorn, Jessica: Charlie Chan is Dead 2. At Home in the World. An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction. Revised and Updated. Penguin Books 2004
 http://alumni.eecs.berkeley.edu/~manish/authors.html, as of September 10, 2007
 Jussawalla, Feroza F.: Family Quarrels, p. 135
 cf. Hagedorn, Jessica: Charlie Chan is Dead 2, p. 362
 Dowd, Allan: Air India trial accused face trial next year. Independent.ie. http://www.independent.ie/national-news/air-india-slaughter-accused-face-trial-next-year-348496.html; as of September 10, 2007
 cf. cbc.ca: Flight 182. http://archives.cbc.ca/IDC-1-70-1018-5771/disasters_tragedies/air_india_investigation/clip1; as of September 10, 2007
 Wikipedia: Air India Flight 182: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_India_Flight_182; as of September 10, 2007
 Weich, Dave: Bharati Mukherjee Runs the West Coast Offense. http://www.powells.com/authors/mukherjee.html; as of September 10, 2007
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