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Kamala Markandaya and Bharati Mukherjee

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As far as Kamala Markandaya and Bharati Mukherjee are concerned, they are two distinguishedwomen novelists of the post-modern era in the realm of Indo-Anglian fiction. There is greataffinity between the two regarding the themes prevalent in their creations. Let’s take them one byone.Born as ‘Kamala Purnaiya’ in 1924 in Chimakurti, a small southern village in India, KamalaMarkandaya learned traditional Hindu culture and values. She was an elite Brahman. Betweenthe years of 1940-1947, Markandaya was a student at the University of Madras, where shestudied history. While studying at the University, she worked as a journalist, writing short fictionstories. In 1948 Markandaya decided to further pursue her dream of becoming a writer bymoving to London, where she met her husband Bertrand Taylor, a native Englishman.In her lifetime, Kamala Markandaya published ten novels, all dealing with post-colonial themesin modern India. She is most famous for her novel Nectar in a Sieve, which was her third novelwritten, but the first novel published. Nectar in a Sieve became a bestseller in March, 1955,earning her over $100,000 in prizes. Some of her other novels include: A Silence of Desire,Some Inner Fury, A Handful of Rice, Possession, The Coffer Dams, The Nowhere Man, TwoVirgins, Pleasure City, and The Golden Honeycomb.Kamala Markandaya is respected by many for her outspoken voice among the Indian people andhas often been credited by many for bringing recognition to Indian literature. Charles Larson ofAmerican University in Washington wrote, “Most Americans’ perception of India came throughKamala Markandaya; she helped forge the image of India for American readers in schools andbook clubs.” After Markandaya’s husband died in 1986, she made frequent trips to India, whereshe continued to write. On May 16, 2004 Kamala Markandaya died in London at the age of 79.Although she is no longer alive, her voice will always be heard through her novels. She willcontinue to raise awareness about India and teach others in the West about a culture otherwiselargely unfamiliar.Through her novels, Markandaya brings to light the complication of post-colonial and traditionalIndian social hierarchy as well as the implications prevalent within both systems. These themesare most noticeable in her novel A Silence of Desire, where she addresses the issues of socialclasses of India and the controversies surrounding this social hierarchy.A Silence of Desire tells of a life journey of a loving, wealthy, middle class family, livingcomfortably and enjoying many luxuries. However, things quickly worsen when Dandekar losesrespect for his wife, Sarojini, after finding a mysterious picture of a strange man, whom hebelieves to be her secret lover. This story focuses on the strong bond of love and dedicationbetween the family, and the willingness they have to make things work between them.Her novel A Handful of Rice is one of the first novels to exemplify the plight of rural peasants tothe new urban lifestyle. She traces the path of the antagonist in the novel, Ravi, a rural peasantwho moved to the city to escape the vicious cycle of starvation in his village. When he moves tothe city he befriends an orphan who grew up in the city. Ravi's life becomes full of robberies,alcohol, and prostitutes. He sleeps on the sidewalk and eats perhaps one meal a day. Thingschange when Ravi falls in love with Nalini, the daughter of a man he robs. Ravi begins to changehis ways and begins working for Apu, Nalini’s father. Ravi marries Nalini and realizes that evenwhile working, it is very difficult to make a decent living. Ravi becomes obsessed with greed andconstantly battles between going back to his old way of life with easy money and freedom andliving a middle class life. Markandaya conveys the stress of society’s standards throughJayamma, Nalini’s mother. Jayamma never seems to care about the hardships their familyencounters but is more concerned that the neighbors do not find out about their struggles. AsRavi and Nalini have children, financial stresses increase and Ravi becomes more stingy andgreedy. He then associates with his old gang friends and starts to abuse Nalini. Finally, Ravi isforced to choose between his money and his son, a choice that in the end claims his fate.Whereas in A Handful of Rice, Markandaya wrestles with issues of social hierarchy, in the novelShalimar she accurately portrays two parallel societies in India. The main character, Rikki, isintroduced to both of these societies during his adolescence. Rikki was born into the life offishing. His father, brother, and cousins were all fisherman. However, at a young age his entirefamily falls victim to the might of the sea. Rikki is taken in by a family of missionaries. Thesenew guardians show Rikki a completely new life. Markandaya shows that the presence of bothcultures has painted the beautiful picture of what has become India. This novel depicts theevolution and development of Indian society and culture by describing the changes of Shalimar.This novel is a nice addition to her already extensive list of work.Markandaya’s best-known work, Nectar in a Sieve, is a heart wrenching tale that depicts thehardships and joys of a woman’s life in rural India. The story follows the life of a girl,Rukumani, throughout her whole life and all that she witnesses growing up in a changing India.Ruku marries at thirteen to a man she has never met before and moves far from her family to thecountry. There she has many children whom she and her husband struggle to feed when droughtstrikes and numerous crop cycles are destroyed. Ruku witnesses the impact that post-colonialinfluences have on India when a tannery is built in their village and changes their life drastically.Ruku watches her children struggle to survive on what little food they have and her infant babyeventually dies of starvation. Her daughter, rejected by her husband for being unable to bear achild, resorts to prostitution to help supplement the family. Finally, Ruku and her husband leavetheir village for the city, only to find more depravity and hardship.Markandaya’s bulk of work is symbolic of her own life duality: born and raised Indian andmarried to a British man. In Some Inner Fury, Kamala concentrates on traditional India in earlypost-colonialism and the struggle to create their own identity, separate from the British. In thisstory, which is semi-autobiographical, she talks about a young Indian


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