Throughout her book Meatless Days, Sara Suleri examines language, in many cases specifically discussing names -- the naming of both places and people. At one point near the end of the book she comments on the cultural and social importance of Pakistani names:
"Oh!" said Ifat and listened, white as ice. She listened to her father-in-law, the brigadier, a polo-playing man, tell her that he wanted his four sons to be gentlemen, he did not want them to be cads. She listened to all of this, and then she taught herself the most significant task of them all. She learned the names of Pakistan.
For never has there been, in modern times, such a Homeric world, where so much value is pinned onto the utterance of name! Entire conversations, entire lives, are devoted to the act of naming people, and in Pakistan the affluent would be totally devoid of talk if they were unable to take names in vain. Caste and all its subclassifications are recreated every day in the structure of a conversation that knows which names to name: "Do you know Puppoo and Lola?" "You mean Bunty's cousins?" "No, Bunty's cousins are Lali and Cheeno, I'm talking about the Shah Nazir family -- you know, Dippoo's closest friends." "Oh, of course, I used to meet them all the time at Daisy Aunty's place!" For everyone has a family name and then a diminutive name, so that to learn an ordinary name is not enough -- you must also know that Zahid is Podger, and Seema is Nikki, and Rehana is Chunni, and on and on. To each name attched a tale, and the tales give shape to the day . . . We had felt too supercilious, in our youth, to bother with this lingo, so it was somewhat of a surprise to hear such names to hear such names on Ifat's lips. An energetic lady, Aunty Nuri, undertook to mediate between the brigadier and Pip until -- under her auspices -- a reconciliation of the clans was tautly staged. "I can't stand it," Shahid told me afterward, "when Ifat talks Punjabi or does this Nikki Pikki stuff!" "Well, it must have been hard work," I mused. In any case, I was distracted. For when we met again, how strange I felt to notice that Ifat's beautiful body, which I had missed so much, was now convex with child.
Naming has been an important theme throughout the book, yet this explanation is given near the end. In her writing, Suleri alternates between different names for characters, such as Papa and Pip, without explaining her choices. What is the function of providing background information on a social phenomenon after implicitly demonstrating it through one's writing? Does this passage help to make parts of the book clearer in hindsight?
Suleri often uses the technique of ending a paragraph with what seems like an introductory sentence for the following paragraph. What effect does this have on the flow and argument of the narrative?
Last modified November 2003