A month or two back I was entrapped by the capitalist regime of discounts. In happiness and excitement I had bought six books of certain writer. I have had heard so much about her that when she was selling herself on amazon I was seduced in moments. With ten books and fame for unorthodox life style, she had intrigued me for years. Yet I had never read her. Then on that particular day she was giggling on my cart, riding to my place.
Kamala Markandaya sits on my bed in glorious colours and different names. The amount of pages she had bound in those paperbacks is worth a glance. I pick up her debut novel Nectar in a Sieve and the words of the only man whom I follow blindly pooped in my head. He calls her an average writer filled with irritating pathos. He had similar warning about Doris Lessing as well, he had warned me she was depressing in a twisted way and boy he was right! Grass is Singing left me so depressed that I refused to touch any new book for a week. I recommend that book to anybody who comes with a negative mind to annoy me.
Nectar in a Sieve presents the story of most hapless of the lot ‘Rukmani’ a woman from some nameless village in an India, which has just gained her freedom. This hapless protagonist marries and keeps toiling her body with her husband, goes on giving birth to children to dig her own grave to extreme poverty. It’s a Greek Tragedy in Indian garb, fatalism prevails the book. Though hailed by few as the representative of the rural condition of India, I have to disagree. Poverty yes is universal in the book but the rural condition is air brushed. Markandaya is an excellent creative writer, she subtly avoids caste though it peeks now and then. She kept her protagonist aware of scripts and importance of education but deprived of medium and means. In a way she presented her audience the mass scale hunger and human puniness in a chaotic country. The book has its charm in its movement of time, no matter how depressing the condition gets for Rukmani and Nathan, their hope against hope has clung to a satisfaction. A satisfaction aroused from the feeling to have survived another day.
This satisfaction has an eerie feeling to it. It’s a satisfaction that comes from having nothing, to owe nothing, to poses nothing. These characters are so humble and mite like in this vast world that the most drastic situation to them is like a breeze, a passing phase where happiness is a luxury. I could relate and understand tale of Rukmani’s a little more few days later after I was done with the book. I understood about this mite like condition of hers when we were being taught Counter Culture in American Literature. The condition of the African Americans during the time of Great Depression and other economic meltdown had not deteriorated much, because they were already poor to begin with, that the drop in value of currency hardly mattered to their basically battered situation.
The satisfaction of have not is a haunting one.
I could further relate Rukmani in the woman who cleans my landlord’s house and my room once in a while. When the girls living above me asked her to stop cleaning their room, she made no hue and cry over the loss of eighty rupees a month. Rather she gladly stopped working for them, when I asked her, why? The reply shut me up- I live a day each, there is no future for us. Those eighty rupees were not making me rich its loss won’t make me poorer than I already am.
Some may call my approach to reading this book a bit Marxists rather communist (I refuse with all my might) but my biggest complain with Markandaya remains and relays a popular thought. It is the only book of hers I have read, I think she has romanticized hunger and poverty. My professor from graduation days had mentioned a notion- Glorious Championing of Poverty and in one of Gandhi’s philosophy he had warned against this tendency. He believed that chanting and projecting an image of I have nothing and I have suffered so much is harmful. Though Rukmani remains a satisfied woman till the end, she definitely takes pride in her poor condition to have had nothing. She never complains or cries, only once she is furious when her hidden stock of rice is stolen and its acute hunger and source of betrayal taking over her rationale. Yet her living spirit never breaks.
I have never been much of a person who thinks about the poor and deprived. I am a very self absorbed person who has always seen an affluent lifestyle. My complain against Markandaya may get nullified on this very ground. Yet my eyes are aware, I know the condition of my country well. Poverty has always been glorified is a constant complain I have registered since grade sixth. There was this particular poem called Street Play which compared children from slums and skyscrapers. It had been interpreted to us as- the street children were truly happy and not the video games playing toddlers. I had disagreed with my soul sister backing me up. We were asked to live the class that day. Reading Necter in a Sieve I am left with many complains. Biggest of all that remains why is human suffering the most lucrative study and why we cling to depression so much and zoom it?
Today in Dalit Literature class one of the juniors asked why should acceptance from someone in higher strata be given more value over self acceptance (well the fellow did not say self acceptance, he got stuck in first part). This question has nothing to do with Rukmani, yet somehow I had a feeling her condition did seek acceptance, though she herself never did. Her son chose to fight, her daughter found an independence in prostitution. And again I agree with the person above, Marandaya has an irritating pathos in her pen. A sweet fragrance that tickles your nose is what I feel after reading her.
After reading this book my only question remains, why did Rukmani never gave into despair?
|the Common Man walks on....|
I compare Rukmani to our favourtie Common Man. But the true understanding of this book will only happen if we read P. Shivkami's- The Taming of Women, which follows Markandaya's narrative technique and presents all the vices left out from Rukmani's tale. But both Rukmani and Anandhayi keep on living in a humble and not so humble world.
P.S- if one wants to feel privileged and thank their luck, Nectar in a Sieve is a weekend read.
thanking you to bear with me