Friday, December 28, 2007

The Management of Grief by Bharati Mukherjee

Some questions you need to answer:

What does the title "Management of Grief" mean?
How do the characters deal with their, or the others', grief?
How is Canadian government criticized?

I. Theory-- Stages of Grief Management in the story:

1. Rejection,
2. depression, (Depressed Acceptance)
3. Acceptance,
4. reconstruction

What is not considered? guilt/regret,
hope, prefers ignorance, or their own versions

mourning process: searching, waiting.

II. Characters:

The narrator (Mrs. Shaila Bhave)
Pam, escape, feeling neglected.
Kusum, accept fate.
Dr. Ranganathan, another kind of escape, while keeping the connection
the elderly couple leave it to their god; insist on their own way and believe themselves "strong."

III. The Moments: -- mourning -- release

IV. The Canadian government -- evasive, indifferent
Irish giving flowers and showing sympathy <--> not blaming on the whole group of people
because of some individuals
Judith Templeton--considers them ignorant, a mess.

On June 23, 1985, an Air India Boeing 747 left Toronto for London Heathrow, the first stop on its scheduled journey to Bombay. As the plane prepared to descend into London, it was destroyed by an on board bomb, sending the craft on a fiery path into the Irish Sea. All 329 passengers, ninety percent of whom were Canadians of Indian ancestry, were killed. From the outset, Sikh extremists were thought to be the perpetrators of the worst terrorist event in the years prior to the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

"Management of Grief" begins in the aftermath of that horrible day in June 1985. The narrative voice, and in many respects the conscience of the story, is Shaila Bhave, a Hindu Canadian who knows that both her husband Vikram and her two sons were on the plane when it was lost. In the opening two pages, images of death and horror are the backdrop to the haphazard but well intentioned attempts by the Indian community of Toronto to help the families of the victims. Various neighbors, the president of the Indo-Canadian Society and children move in and out of the scene, which is driven forward by the observations by Shaila as to the confusion about the cause of the crash, and her own fanciful but maternal hopes that her family remain alive.

The opening pages of "Management of Grief" also set out the immersion of traditional Indian values and social mores into secular Canadian society-- the agony over the loss, the strangers in her kitchen making tea "the Indian way", the coming of a reporter to conduct an interview about the disaster, Shaila's desire to scream in the midst of the confusion, and her recall as to how they had initially come to Ontario-- all woven together, where the reader can imagine the riot of emotion that day.

The first segment of the story concludes with Shaila and her neighbor, Kusum, sitting together holding hands while the other well-intentioned members of their community move about them. Kusum has also lost her husband and a daughter who were on the Air India flight. Shaila tells us of the depth of Kusum's grief, a confrontation between Kusum's elder daughter Pam and Kusum as Shaila sits with her on the stairs, a challenge from the teenager that her mother was really wondering , "why not her?" Pam is a westernized teenager, who by example declares that she will take the Canada's "Wonderland" amusement park and the North American image it projects over Bombay. Her challenge goes unanswered by Kusum - she gives voice to the feeling of most of humanity when they suffer a personal loss - " 'Why does God give us so much if all along he intended to take it away?"

The second segment commences with Shaila meeting with a representative of the provincial government, an earnest and well intentioned young social worker named Judith Templeton. Templeton has contacted Shaila in the hope that Shaila can help her reach out to members of the Indian community whose family were killed in the Air India crash, but who are more isolated from the Ontario mainstream, through the barriers of language and Indian culture, than people like Shaila. Templeton tells Shaila that she has sought Shaila out because it is the opinion of the Toronto Indian community that Shaila is a very strong, resolute person in the face her family tragedy. Shaila outwardly is polite and obliging to Templeton, observing all of the social niceties, but to Templeton's suggestion that she is a stalwart.

Shaila concludes her meeting with Templeton offering to meet with her again, conflicted between the "terrible calm" she feels and how others have perceived her in the aftermath of the tragedy.

The third segment of "Management of Grief" continues four days later, on the coast of Ireland, overlooking the place where the Air India jet crashed in to the Irish Sea. Shaila has come to this place, joining Kusum and other mourners, to grieve and to identify the bodies of victims as they are recovered.

In this segment, Shaila recounts the contrasts between the hard facts of the ongoing police investigation - the cause and the fact that death would have been instantaneous, with the fanciful, abstracted words of Kusum as she sits on the edge of the sea, looking across the water. Shaila seeks relief from Valium; Kusum has consulted with a swami in Toronto, who has told her that all of the victims, Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Muslim, Parsi and atheists - all were fated to die together here in the Irish Sea..."They are in a better place than we swami says that depression is a sign of our selfishness"

Shaila, half fanciful, tells us that they pretend to spot their loved ones on the waves at sea from their vantage point on the cliff. At one point, both Kusum and Shaila go into the water, hoping for a miracle, that perhaps there are survivors pinned under a rock close by, or that the swimming prowess of Shaila's sons might have resulted in a miraculous escape from the crash. Another mourner, an electrical engineer, joins them and asserts that he had not yet surrendered hope. Moments later, the engineer while talking about how a good, strong swimmer of 14 years of age might be able to rescue a younger child, he throws rose petals on the surface of the sea, the ancient Indian symbol to honor death.

Shaila returns to the hospital where the bodies of the crash victims are being taken for identification. It is the intention of those who can identify a loved one that the body will be transported to India for a proper burial ceremony. Shaila is asked to identify photographs of a boy recovered from the water - she cannot. Shaila says that it is only the "unlucky ones" who leave without their children's bodies. She travels to India with Kusum, to assist her with her own efforts to honor and bury her dead family members.

Shaila describes her return to India. On arrival, with Kusum, who had the carriage of the coffins of her husband and daughter, Shaila engages in a bitter row with a customs official - "Once upon a time we were well brought up women; we were dutiful wives who kept our heads veiled, our voices shy and sweet" - a contrast to the horror of the Air India crash and the stark sense of loss described in Ireland.

In India for three months after the disaster, Shaila then sets out some thing of a reversion from her Canadian life - she returns to the role of the only child in a family of wealthy, ailing parents. Shaila describes herself in this life of conflict between her Indian roots and her newer Canadian reality, as "I am 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 worlds." Shaila describes the imperatives of custom felt by some of the men widowed by the Air India crash, the pressure to immediately re marry, and her own comparative luck in that no one will be seeking her, an unlucky widow, as a new bride.

Six months after the crash, Shaila describes how she saw her husband while making an offering at a temple to animist gods. Her husband is wearing the clothing he wore prior to the flight, and he tells Shaila, "You must finish alone what we started together." Shaila resolves to return to Canada.

In the next segment, Shaila describes how the relatives and loved ones of the Air India crash victims maintain their own sense of connection and community. She speaks with some affection for the efforts of those left behind to persevere. She also details her further contacts with Judith Templeton, the social worker who continues to endeavor to assist members of the Toronto Indian community who either refuse to accept the loss of their family members, or who have no ability to operate effectively in a Canadian culture of legal requirements, bank documents and government forms.

Templeton tells Shaila that the government want nothing more that to help the family members "accept" loss - acceptance she defines by moving ahead, taking college courses and receiving support from various agencies in the community. Templeton asks for Shaila's help in reaching out to a particular couple whose sons were killed, but who have evidently refused to sign anything presented by the government for fear such an act truly means there is no hope for their son's lives.

Shaila agrees to assist Templeton, with her own undercurrent of misgivings - the couple are Sikh, as were the alleged bombers of the Flight 182. As they sit having tea in the small apartment, Shaila describes the contrast between the attitudes of Templeton, who is sincere in her desire to advance what she sees as the interest of people who have suffered a loss, and the Sikh couple, whose attitude to Templeton and her efforts is stated as "God will provide, not government. . . When our boys return. . . . I will not pretend that I accept (their deaths)."
Templeton is hopeful that Shaila will similarly assist her with other of her difficult cases in the Indian community. Shaila does not; she simply walks away from Templeton and the efforts of officialdom to reach out to these people.

The story concludes with Shaila's observation regarding the irony in her families initial arrival in Canada to avoid religious and political problems, and the fact that they in fact became victims of that precise issue. She describes her walk on a winter day in Toronto, when she heard voices of her family telling her that her time has come and that she must be brave. Shaila, uncertain as to her direction, heeds their advice.


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