By Ashok Kumar
The well-known Indian writer, Kamala Markandaya, passed away on May 18 at her home in London. She was 80.
Born in a Brahmin family in 1924 in Mysore, Markandaya studied history at the University of Madras. From 1940 to 1947, she worked as a journalist and as a social worker. In 1948 she moved to London and married Bertrand Taylor.
As a journalist, Markandaya'sstories were published in Indian newspapers, but she earned name and fame with her first novel, Nectar in a Sieve, which was written in 1954. The novel proved to be a bestseller in the United States and earned her a $ 100,000 prize when the book was declared as a ?Notable Book? by the American Library Association. She wrote nine more novels, including A Handful of Rice in 1966 and The Nowhere Man in 1972.
Homage to Kamala Markandaya who, breaking the routine presented the woman in lead roles in her novels.
She helped build an image of India for American readers in schools and book clubs from the 1950s through the 1970s. This can be gauged by the fact that her two most popular novels, Nectar in a Sieve and A Handful of Rice were taught in hundreds of American public schools and universities.
Her another significant contribution was to portray woman as the main character in her novels. For a long time, the woman was portrayed in a secondary role by the first generation of Indian English male writers such as R.K. Narayan, Raja Rao, Mulk Raj Anand, etc. It was only with the advent of fiction by Indian women writers that the woman became the protagonist in the novel.
Nectar in a Sieve is a relatively short novel that introduces Western students to life in rural India and the changes that occurred during that country'sBritish colonisation.
This was Kamala Markandaya'sfirst novel to be published, although it is actually the third novel that she wrote. This novel, published less than a decade after India won Independence, is clearly influenced by this event, portraying some of the problems encountered by the Indian people as they dealt with the changing times. The novel was translated into more than a dozen languages.
The Nowhere Man foreshadows many diasporic issues with which the Indian American is preoccupied today.
Despite having settled in London, Markandaya'spersonality was imbued with the Indian cultural ethos. She wrote 10 novels in all, written over a period of three decades. She did not produce any novels in the last 22 years of her life because in this period she struggled to find a publisher as new writers, including Amitav Ghosh and Salman Rushdie, took the centre stage to redefine Indian culture through their writings. What could be more regrettable than that a writer of Markandya'sstature, who through her novels championed woman'scause, raised Indian diasporic issues and moulded American view on India, was not given coverage on her death in any Indian or American newspaper.