The Character of Mustakori

Kate Cook '98, English 27, Brown University, 1997

The character of Mustakori further deploys the interpretative figure of migrancy in Suleri's memoirs. Yoking identity and performance, Suleri's childhood friend entertains multiple names, cultures and identities that map Mustakori's displacement by her very route from East Africa to Ireland to Lahore. Upon arrival Mustakori immediately intuits Pakistan's "deep historical dislike" for her most recent scripted role as a "brown European" (49) and immediately she seeks recourse through performance, and she proves successful in this endeavor. Not coincidentally, shortly after her enrollment at the Kinnaird School for Girls, Mustakori receives the title of actress accompanied by an invitation to continue her perpetual performance -- but on stages. Suleri offers a nuanced understanding of Mustakori's theatrics, "her deep allegiance to the principle of radical separation: mind and body, existence and performance, would never be allowed to occupy the same space of time" (49). Like Surraya, Mustakori accesses her creative powers in self-formation by acknowledging and then mimicking the very mode of identity formation society expects from her. That is, Mustakori and Surraya both insist upon radically separating mind and body, preferring instead a contingent selfhood.

A possible misreading of Suleri's gutted category of women and the meatless disembodiment achieved -- somewhat differently -- by Surraya and Mustakori can lead to the false conclusion that through performance one can enjoy a newfound liberation -- choosing roles and identities like outfits with ease and option. Rather, as the character of Mustakori exemplifies, performance does not connote freedom, and in her continual audition Mustakori appears always painfully aware of her incomplete subjectivity. The anxious energy that keeps Mustakori in search of some totality proves draining. So unsure of her discourse, Mustakori takes on characters without a moment's warning. Here Suleri recites Fancy's, (another name for Mustakori) blatant robbery of her proper lines:

As she talked on the voice grew more and more familiar, giving me the strangest sense of deja vu, but it was only when Fancy darted a guilty glance in my direction that I finally realized what she had done. She had pilfered my voice! In my absence, ventriloquized me to a T! I was the man making foolish faces, while she was the chatterbox on my knee! . . . "Mustakori," I said very firmly, "give it back to me." For a second, she looked as though she considered feigning ignorance. But then, "I'm glad I had you for a while," she said most cheekily. (68)

Throughout her anti-essentialist narrative, Suleri diligently divorces mind from body, locating nothing but speech as the mediation for subjectivity. Therefore, by relating Mustakori's playful treachery, "I'm glad I had you for a while," she highlights the intimacy between speech and subjectivity. Following this logic of distinction, Suleri's father refuses investigators' pleas to perform an autopsy on the murdered body of Ifat. Commending her father's decision Suleri attests, "Ifat's gold was in her speech, in language that reflected like a radiance from her: they would find nothing in her interior (174). Like the identity of women in the third world, nothing interiorizes the body by virtue of biology, but rather by virtue of speech and thought.


Suleri, Sara. Meatless Days. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Suleri, Sara. The Rhetoric of English India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Suleri, Sara. "Woman Skin Deep" in Identities. eds. Kwame Anthony Appiah, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1995.

Main Screen Pakistan Sara Suleri Meatless Days