Authenticity, Nationality and Gender in Meatless Days

Elora Lee Raymond '99 English 27 1997

Suleri discusses the problem of authenticity in nationality and gender in terms of kapura, breast feeding, and the example of her friend Muskatori. Suleri's discussion delineates the impossibility of defining authentic Pakistani culture and womanhood as well as the problems that imitation and representation present.

Suleri shows how easy it is to lose ones sense of being authentic in her discussion of sweetbreads.

"Sara," said Tillat, her voice deep with the promise of surprise, "do you know what kapura are?" I was cooking and a little cross. "Of course I do," I answered with some affront." "They're sweetbreads, and they're cooked with kidneys, and they're very good." Natives should always be natives, exactly what they are, and I felt irked to be so probed around the issue of my own nativity" (22)

Sara's mother's substitution of sweetbreads for kapura, and Sara's inability to know things for what they are, links to her unsureness about her own authenticity as a native Pakistani. Suleri compares the slippage between sweetbread and testicle to breast feeding: "It was almost as bad as attempting to imagine what the slippage was that took me from nipple to bottle and away from the great letdown that signifies lactation. What a falling off! how much I must have suffered when so handed over to the shoddy metaphors of Ostermilk and Babyflo" (23). This unsureness about the names and meanings of things, and thus of her sureness about her own authenticity as a Pakistani, began in infancy for Suleri. Suleri attempts to make a list of all the things that her mother told her that were wrong, but in the end is faced only with the realization that it is impossible for her to verify her own "nativity." After establishing this, she goes on to tell of her friend Muskatori, a woman who has a much less traumatized attitude towards the impossibility of authenticity.

Suleri characterizes Muskatori as a woman who has "traveled a lot", and switches names, clothes and identities easily and rapidly. She has a history of being placeless, able to imitate, and proclaim loyalty to almost anything. Suleri cites " her deep allegiance to the principle of radical separation, mind and body, existence and performance, would ever be allowed to occupy the same place at the same time" (52).

Suleri finds the fact that she was willing to accept an inferior substitute for breast feeding traumatic, but Muskatori drinks coke from a baby bottle nipple without qualm, and then moves onto sound and light switches for nipple look-alikes. Camisoles are related to nipples in Muskatori's mind, after Ifat tries to convince her to wear camisoles to show her pride in her nipples. Muskatori's most shocking substitution comes when she substitutes camisoles for sex.

The ease in which Muskatori accepts substitutes disturbs Suleri. When she talks to Muskatori about her misgivings about mimicking her friend's mother's grief as she was playing a bereaved mother, Muskatori says "but I thought all acting was taken from real experience." Suleri retorts, "Go find yourself a camisole." Suleri is debating the issue of imitation, struggling to preserve the purity and sanctity of grief as well as negotiating the impossibility of drawing exact lines and preventing slippage. Suleri both sees the need for change -- for example, she refuses to accept an arranged marriage. However, in that same situation , she sees the need to retain history, thinking, "we felt equally aghast, seeing the ritual of centuries being perverted into such threadbare honesty. Indeed I felt almost pained when doctor Sadik, with the dignity of a person rejected, gravely left;"Stop, dear man!" I wished to cry. "I am your partner in that dignity!" (59).

Suleri experiences this same conflict when her sister Ifat dies. After Muskatori breaks the news, Suleri makes a joke, referring to Faze Mackaw's advertising career, another of example Muskatori's easy acceptance of inferior substitutes for "the real thing." Suleri immediately feels remorse and horror that her "will was already convalescent, crawling back to life" (65). Suleri's questions about slippage and substitution and the impossibility of being a real Pakistani are connected to her remorse about surviving to mourn her sister and mother. Suleri uses the metaphor of slippage and breast feeding to cover her grief for her mother and sister, as well as her unsureness about her national identity. Her ambivalence about using categories such as "native" or "third world women" as concrete terms, and her love of boundary crossing and change, is limited by her desire to preserve some morals or customs as sacred. She also wishes top preserve as sacred the memories of her mother and sister, even as she knows that as a survivor, she will accept substitutions for their loss.

Main Screen Pakistan Sara Suleri Meatless Days