To begin with, let us state that the story under consideration is the short story under the title “The Management of Grief” by an outstanding American writer Bharati Mukherjee. She was awarded a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1988 for her book “The Middleman and Other stories”. We should admit that the story under consideration is a remarkable piece of writing that deserves our attention.
It is the only story about immigrants in Canada in her collection. In “The Management of Grief” Mukherjee analyzes the catastrophe that is based on 1985 terrorist bombing of an Air India jet occupied mainly by Indian immigrants that live in Canada.
The story is written in the first person, it makes it moving and realistic. It is the mixture of narration and dialogue. The text abounds in special terms, naming traditional Indian clothes and dishes. This creates realistic atmosphere and makes the understanding of the theme easier for the reader. We feel as if we were members of their community of immigrants ourselves. So, the setting is Indian community in Toronto struck by a heavy lost.
The central theme of the text may be clearly observed in the title, that is why we can say that it is suggestive. “The Management of Grief” tells us that there exist such grief that every person has to face sooner or later, that is death of our near and dear people, people who represent all lovely qualities of life for us, people who are the sense of our lives.
And our task is to accept and manage this grief properly, but for the characters of the story the task is even more complicated, because they live in a foreign country with different traditions and mentality.
The message of the story can be formulated like this: every person is free to decide how to act in his life. The most important thing is peace in our soul that will come sooner or later even if we have experienced a very serious grief. We have to look for the answers in our soul, not in traditions and customs of our country.
As we have already mentioned, the story is told in the first person, the storyteller is Shaila Bhave, a Hindu Canadian who knows that both her husband Vikram and her two sons were on the cursed plane. She is the storyteller and the protagonist at the same time, so the action unfolds around her.
Shaila makes us feel her grief, it is natural that tears may well up in our eyes while reading. Speaking about other characters of the story, we should mention Kusum who is opposed to Shaila. Kusum follows all Indian traditions and observes the morning procedure while Shaila chooses to struggle against oppressive traditions and she rejects them, because she is a woman of the new world. Josna Rege says that “Each of the female protagonists of Mukherjee’s … recent novels is a woman who continually “remakes herself” (Rege 399).
And Shaila is a real exception to the rule, she is a unique woman who is not like other Indian women, we would say that she is rather an American or European woman: strong, struggling, intelligent, with wide scope and rich inner world.
The initial two pages give us the idea of Indian values. It becomes clear from the very outset, from the opening sentence: “A woman I don’t know is boiling tea the Indian way in my kitchen” (Selvadurai 91).
The storyteller depicts with much detail the grief and sorrow of those who have experienced this terrible tragedy using such word combinations as “monstrously pregnant” (Selvadurai 91) and “deadening quiet” (Selvadurai 92). The atmosphere becomes more and more tensed; we can see that among all those people who have come to help Shaila wants to scream.
In this part of the story we also get acquainted with Pam, Kusum’s daughter who stayed alive, because her younger sister had flown instead of her. Here we see the misunderstanding between the mother and the daughter, because Pam is a westernized teenager and that is the reason for their detachment. She is closer to Shaila than to her own mother.
In the development of action that covers the major part of the text we can see Shaila’s meeting with a representative of the provincial government Judith Templeton. Shaila goes to the coast of Ireland in order to look once again at that very place, where the crash of the Air India jet took place.
She is accompanied by Kusum and several more mourners, who grieve too much, but still have to identify the bodies. Here the atmosphere is very tragic, the mother cannot accept the reality, she still thinks that her family is alive, because the boy on the photo does not look like her son and, moreover, he is a very good swimmer, so he can be alive. It is very hard to be the witness of the tragedy of a woman who has lost her children.
Then we come to know that Shaila decided to return to India and there she understood that she had to come back to Canada. This is the climax of the story. We understand that the woman has chosen the right way, though she is still not sure and wants to ask her family for advice.
To conclude, let us say that “The Management of Grief” is a tragic and melancholic story, but after all it creates the impression of an open door, that is the optimistic note of the story. A person, who will manage the grief, will never be alone.
Rege, Josna. “Bharati Mukherjee (1940– ).” The Columbia Companion to the Twentieth-Century American Short Story. Ed. Blanche H. Gelfant and Lawrence Graver. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.
Selvadurai, Shyam. Story-Wallah: short fiction from South Asian writers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005.