Nectar in a Sieve
by Kamala Markandaya
Literary Fiction, Semi-Autobiographical
Markandaya’s novel is a literary account of a changing India. Still, it doesn’t focus on political or economic details, instead choosing to follow only one matriarch. Markandaya’s narrative is successful in eschewing specifics while still presenting symbols, events, and characters that tell us about the onslaught of modernity in India. Though the book can rightly be read as a story of India’s transition into the post-colonial era, it is important that many of these details are left out. This is a deftly crafted personal narrative that can be understood as a universal tale of family, hope, and endurance. The specific details (in some readings) can melt into the background, as there’s enough richness in the psychological complexity of the characters and the meaning of the events to supplant a purely political reading.
Some people might argue that the book is semi-autobiographical, as Markandaya was an Indian woman living around the time of Rukmani. Actually, Markandaya was the daughter of a rail transport officer, and she attended the University of Madras for writing and freelance journalism. Though she didn’t finish her degree, she did move to England, where she married an Englishman, did some secretarial work and other jobs she described as "dull but amiable," and went on to become a canonical Indian woman Commonwealth writer. That’s definitely a far cry from Ruku’s life.
Still, though Markandaya’s life wasn’t all that similar to Ruku’s. Markandaya was incredibly sympathetic to the causes of the rural poor in India, and likely saw much poverty while traveling South India with her father by rail. She was also influenced by Gandhi’s efforts to highlight the plight of rural Indians in poverty under British rule.