Unconventional While Female
December 18th, 2017
The Diversity of Grieving
The short story “The Management of Grief” by Bharati Mukherjee describes the Air India bombing, an event of terrorism that drastically affected many lives. The narrator, Shaila, demonstrates that one’s grieving could lead to identifying more about oneself. The main idea of this story is that grieving could be dealt in different ways for every individual. Mukherjee portrays this idea by using the protagonist’s point of view, symbolism and the story’s setting.
Firstly, the story revolves around Shaila and her family, who immigrate to Canada from India. Even after moving to Canada, Shaila still remains to be bound by the expectations that her Indian culture places upon her. On June 23rd, 1985, her life changes completely. Sikh terrorists bombed an aircraft with 329 passengers and crew members found dead, including Shaila’s dear husband and son. Shaila is not certain about how she will be able to continue living without her husband and son, the two most important people in her life. Due to her religious beliefs, Shaila was unable to show her husband the love she had for him when he was alive. She states, “I never once told him that I loved him. I was so well brought up I never felt comfortable calling my husband by his first name” (290). At first, she is unsure how to react to the situation. This is shown when she is approached by a social worker, Judith Templeton, who emphasizes how much she admires her for the way she is handling the situation. The social worker tells Shaila, “you are coping very well. All people said, Mrs. Bhave is the strongest person of all” (291). However, the narrator realizes that she is not reacting appropriately. She feels like she is acting like “a freak” since she is so composed. Kusum, Shaila’s neighbor who as well lost the majority of her family in the plane crash, is dealing with the situation extremely differently. Kusum yells to her daughter Pam, the only family member she has remaining, “if I didn’t have to look after you now I’d hang myself” (290). The narrator is trying her best to help Kusum get through this horrible time in her life. Shaila decides to travel to Bombay with Kusum from Ireland to bury Kusum’s family even though she is not able to find her loved ones. Shaila handles her emotions differently than most other widows. She believes that she is not able to be upset about the loss of her husband and son when she states, “I tell myself I have no right to grieve” (292). After all, Shaila was the one that held responsibility for healing many people who are affected by the terrorist attack along with the people who are severely affected by the loss of a relative. She even helps a Sikh couple who had lost their son. Shaila states, “they are Sikh. They will not open up to a Hindu family” (297). This is the way Shaila was able to deal with her grief by helping others. This time period for Shaila was as difficult for her to handle as for everyone else, but she shows it differently.
Secondly, Bharati uses symbolism to depict the narrator’s relation to her culture and the spiritual side of her life. When Shaila travels to Ireland after preceding the plane crash, she encounters Dr. Ranganathan, who lost his wife in the crash as well. The doctor decides to bring flowers with him as he explains that these were his wife’s favorite kind of flowers. The flowers represent the connection of love that is shared between Shaila and her husband along with many of the other mourners. Red and pink flowers in the Indian culture is a symbol of love. They demonstrate the love Shaila had for her husband which she was never able to express to him due to her religious customs. The flowers are also able to help form a connection between Shaila and Dr. Ranganathan. After he explains how important and significant the flowers are to him, Shaila is able to realize that she is not in this alone. She is able to stay in touch with Dr. Ranganathan and Kusum during this time of grief for all of them. Both Dr. Ranganathan and Kusum always go to Shaila when they are grieving. The narrator states; “talk is all we have” (296). This is their way of handling sad times in their life. Dr. Ranganathan “calls her twice a week from Montreal” to discuss what how is life is evolving ever since the plane crash (296). The flowers in the story help represent the connection the mourners had with their deceased loved ones. They also create long lasting friendships between the widows who are able to help each other get through this awfully rough period.
Finally, the setting of the story creates a connection between the narrator and her way of identifying herself along with her customs. When Shaila first immigrates to Canada, her life is not that pleasant as she is required to abide to her customs and traditions forced upon her. Her life only begins to change once the plane crash occurs. Shaila’s journey from Toronto to India is where she begins to realize the internal attachment she still feels with her husband and her son. When she first receives the news, she is very overwhelmed and unsure of how to react to the situation. Shaila is unable to express the grief she feels internally as the social worker commends her on the way she is dealing with the situation. The reason why Shaila is reacting like so is because her customs don’t allow her to react in a certain way. She doesn’t want to feel like this; she wishes she is able to display some emotion. Meanwhile, when Shaila travels to Ireland, she feels much more accepted and at home. She feels like the people want to help her find her son and husband. The narrator states, “the Irish are not shy; they rush me and give me hugs and some are crying. I cannot imagine reactions like these on the streets of Toronto. Just strangers, and I am touched” (293). Shaila demonstrates that the Canadian society did not allow her to grieve as they do not understand how many lives it affected. The Irish people try to give them hope that they are still able to find their relatives. They bring Shaila and Kusum close to the shore to give them the chance to try and find them. The Irish people are giving Shaila the hope she needs. Kusum is able to find her family members, but unfortunately, Shaila could not find both her husband and son. Following Ireland, Shaila and Kusum travel to Bombay, India, where Kusum is able to find closure between her and her loved ones. When they arrive to India she begins to feel a relation with the people there as she states, “in India, I become, once again, as only child rich, ailing parents. Old friends of the family come to pay their respects. Some are Sikhs, and inwardly involuntary, I cringe. My parents are progressive people; they do not blame communities for a few individuals” (294). This statement reveals how she feels accustomed to return back to Canada with a new husband since that is how she is brought up. On the other hand, Shaila says that she is, “trapped between two modes of knowledge. At thirty-six I am too old to start over and too young to give up. Like my husband’s spirit I flutter between two worlds” (295). Shaila is unsure about how to act during her time in India. She feels a connection with her husband’s spirit and has a moment where she truly believes he is still there with her. When Shaila is travelling to the temple in the Himalayas, she has her final words with her husband. Shaila says;
My husband takes my hand in his. You’re beautiful, he starts. Then, what are you doing here? Shall I stay? I ask. He only smiles, but already the image is fading. You must finish alone what we started together. No seaweed wreathes his mouth. He speaks too fast, just as he used to when we were an envied family in our pink split-level. He is gone (295).
Shaila is finally able to find the closure she needs between her and her husband. She accepts that he is gone and will no longer return. She is able to find her place in the world as she finally realizes the independence she acquired. On Shaila’s journey back to Toronto she decides that when she returns she will begin to help others. This is her final step in her grieving period as she acknowledges everything that happened in her life recently.
To conclude, Bharati conveys the message that everyone grieves differently. He demonstrates this using the literary techniques of point of view, symbolism as well as the different settings Shaila visits throughout the story. The Air India bombing tragically changed the life of Shaila, Kusum, Dr. Ranganthan along with many others forever. Shaila decides to react differently than most other people because of the way she is accustomed to. The different societies in which she lives in creates completely different lifestyles for Shaila. She feels much more at home when she is close to where the plane crash occurred, in Ireland and India. Whereas in Canada, she feels distanced from the ones whom she loved the most. Her family’s final words to her were, “your time has come, they said. Go be brave” (299).
Mukherjee, Bharati. “The Management of Grief.” From literature and the Writing Process.
Canadian Edition. Elizabeth McMahan et al, eds. Ontario, Canada: Pearson Education, 2005. ISBN 0-12-120309-6. Pages 289-99 of 872 pages.