Kamala Markandaya

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Kamala Markandaya Biography

Kamala Markandaya had great hopes for India. Her most famous novel, Nectar in a Sieve, told the story of a woman who faced incredible hardships yet never ceased to dream of a better life. Nectar, which takes its title from a poem by Samuel Coleridge, is typical of Markandaya’s forward-thinking perspective. It became an instant classic and a staple of college literature coursework. Drawing comparisons to Thomas Hardy’s novels, Nectar in a Sieve is anchored by a strong female character. The protagonist’s optimism serves dual purposes. It allows Markandaya the writer to imagine a better future both for the characters and the country, yet it also renders the realities and disappointments all the more real in light of such blind faith.

Facts and Trivia

  • The name “Kamala Markandaya” is actually a pseudonym. The author’s real name is Kamala Purnaiya Taylor.
  • Markandaya came from a very upper-class family. They were members of the Brahmins, the highest order of the Indian caste system.
  • Markandaya studied history while at the University of Madras and later worked in journalism. Both disciplines had a major impact on the cultural examinations that characterized her work.
  • Much of the criticism devoted to Markandaya’s work has been focused on its postcolonial overtones and the ways in which India has evolved since its independence from British rule.
  • Despite her interest in writing about Indian identity and culture, Markandaya herself was an expatriate, living in England for most of her life. She died there in 2004.

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Kamala Markandaya (mahr-kahn-DAH-yah), the pseudonym of Kamala Purnaiya Taylor, one of the most talented woman writers of Indian fiction in English, was born to a well-connected Brahman family. Her early education was intermittent because her father, a railway officer, was frequently transferred, but she traveled widely with him both in India and abroad. At the age of sixteen, she entered Madras University as a history major but left without a degree to pursue a career in writing and journalism. After working briefly as a journalist in India, she emigrated to England in 1948, where she married an Englishman and settled in London as a freelance writer. With the publication of her first novel, Nectar in a Sieve, in 1954, she began a successful career writing novels.{$S[A]Taylor, Kamala Purnaiya;Markandaya, Kamala}

Like most writers of the Indian diaspora, Markandaya is preoccupied with the conflict between East and West, or that between tradition and modernity. She also ruminates on the contemporary Indian scene, both rural and urban, and in her fiction she explores its economic, sociocultural, and spiritual aspects.

Nectar in a Sieve is a moving saga of peasant life in India presented in a reminiscent mood by Rukmani, the narrator and female protagonist. The wife of a poor tenant farmer, she has been the helpless witness to the destruction of the pristine beauty of her quiet village and of the old way of life when a tannery is set up near the village. With great faith and a capacity for both love and suffering, this simple, courageous woman survives the calamities of nature and industrialism as well as personal sorrows. Based on the author’s knowledge of Indian village life, the novel received wide critical acclaim and became a best-seller.

Nectar in a Sieve was followed by Some Inner Fury, a tragic novel in which Markandaya dramatizes the East-West conflict against the backdrop of India’s struggle for independence from British rule. Here the narrator is a highly educated and Westernized young Brahman woman who has defied Brahmanic tradition by falling in love with an Englishman. The narrative is a painful recollection of racial barriers and nationalistic fervor that force her to sacrifice her personal love.

A Silence of Desire is an exploration of the East-West conflict in a more subtle form, the conflict between faith and reason in the context of a marital relationship in a Brahman family. Markandaya shows...

(The entire section is 1,515 words.)