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Authors: Rao, Shweta Namdev
Issue Date: 2010
Abstract: Food in fiction is a recent phenomenon. The seemingly mundane ritual of food preparation and consumption was deemed too trivial to be portrayed in the grand narratives of phallogocentric literary tradition. The importance of food in fiction augmented after the surge of post feminist/ third wave feminist phase where food and cookery were upheld because of their inextricable relation with women's traditional domain i.e., the kitchen. Hence contemporary fiction by women writers is replete with images related to food and consumption. These literary works capture the glimpses of food in different stages of production cycle - the inception of recipes, the process of baking, boiling, roasting etc., consumption and postconsumption rituals, anxieties related to body and signification of food per se. These images carry forth the later feminist agenda of incorporating the experience of women into literature. In addition to asserting their gendered subjectivity, the women writers also respond to the broader questions of their racial, national, ethnic identities and hence, food becomes the site which negotiates and displays the identities of the corresponding authors. It is increasingly noticed that in this globalized world a particular cuisine metonymizes a community and perpetuates essentialist association between identity and food. However, in the contemporary fictional scenario this essentialism is subverted and food is foregrounded as an empowering agency. The present study analyzes culinary images in the selected writings of the three diasporic Indian writers settled in America, viz. Bharati Mukherjee, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Jhumpa Lahiri. This study does not merely enumerate the culinary images in the selected texts but interrogates the relationship between food iv and identity. The texts selected for this study are Mukherjee's Wife (1975) and Jasmine (1989), Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's The Mistress of Spices (1997) and Queen ofDreams (2004), Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreters ofMaladies (1999) and The Namesake (2003). The selected works abound in food images and highlight the expatriate/immigrant experience in America. The central characters of almost all the texts are women who respond to immigration through cookery and food consumption. The immigrant life is beleaguered with dichotomies of inside-oustside, east-west and past-present and this study proves that these bipolarities are displayed and resolved through food images. It also delves into the bipolar world of the diasporic Indian community settled in America and insists that the repeated rendering of indigenous food preparation enables the community to reaffirm its identity and fight against cultural homogenization. This study does not draw parallels between the three writers and the food images they employ, but explores the diverse ways these writers capture the identity formation of their characters through food. Mukherjee the eldest of the three writers, who has discarded the hyphenated identity of Asian-American bestowed upon her by the critics, has an equivocal stand on cookery. One the one hand she foregrounds kitchen as the domain which perpetuates the identity of immigrant subjects shielding them from the cultural hegemony of America and on the other hand, she portrays the same space as a traditional site of women's subjugation which circumscribes their development as individuals. Dimple, in Wife, limits herself within the confines of her kitchen but desires the world outside and the novel ends with her murdering her husband with the vegetable knife in her kitchen. Cookery give her some respite from cultural alienation, albeit partially. Her neurosis is reflected in her distorted imaginings about food and body. Jasmine uses Indian food to subvert the taste of the American populace she interacts with. She is conscious about her unavoidable essentialization because of her identity, and she resorts to strategic exoticism through her cookery for her easy rite of passage into the American mainstream. This study shows that Mukherjee's selected writings feature the nexus between food and bodyand its eventual decayto implicate the process of assimilation of the immigrant community in America. Jhumpa Lahiri fictionalizes the daily lives of Bengali Americans. Their every day trials and tribulations are presented through the mediumof apparently mundane ritual of cookery. Throughthe seemingly commonplace and rather personal narrative of food, Lahiri negotiates the political question of identity of the immigrant community. In the stories ofInterpreter ofMaladies, this study observes that food is presented as an alternative medium of communication. It reflects and to some extent, affects human emotions and relationship. The study maps the complicated relationship of the second generation immigrants with the first generation as depicted through food in The Namesake. While Lahiri retrieves the political meaning of beingan immigrant in America through the mundane aspect of food consumption, Divakaruni reinscribes the significance of food and spices on identity by connecting them with magic and augury. In The Mistress of Spices, Divakaruni utilizes the colonial connotations of spices to negotiate power in the postcolonial world. The spices are portrayed as nourishing agents which give power to the Indian American community for resisting racism and facing everyday challenges in America. Queen of Dreams not only concretizes the role of food in identity preservation but also displays 'authentic' Indian food as a source of capital generation in America. vi Further, this novel problematizes the domain of the kitchen as a gendered space. Both the selected works of Divakaruni underpin the identity of the Indian community through the medium of food and magic. This study reveals that food images in the selected texts are interlaced with the sexual and racial identity of the diasporic community. Thus, these texts foreground food, making it the locus for the amalgamation of the traditional and the modern.
Appears in Collections:DOCTORAL THESES (HSS)

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