The Theme of Alienation in Kamala Markandaya's Fiction.

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  • Topic: Nectar in a Sieve, Kamala Markandaya, Novel
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Mrs. Asha Rai,
Lecturer in English,
Technocrats Institute of Technology, Bhopal.

Alienation, which means emotional isolation or dissociation, has been a very common theme among modern writers. This alienation is a major offshoot of the industrial revolution. Today, it has taken deep roots in everyday life, in science, in philosophy, in psychology, sociology and literature- covering a large panorama of almost every aspect of man’s activity. C. Sengupta says that to certain writers alienation stands for “Self- alienation (self- estrangement)”: a process through which a man become alien or strange to itself, to its own nature through its own actions. Alienation has assumed a great proportion in modern fiction, whether British, American or Indo- African. A number of writers have worked on this theme.

Kamala Markandaya has also dealt with this theme in all its varicolored forms. She shows that a man lives as long as his roots are undefiled and rootlessness or alienation becomes the cause of his death. Her five novels Nectar in a Sieve, Possession, A Handful of Rice, The Nowhere Man and Two Virgins projects the socio-psychological colour of air through this theme and the tragedy cause by it.

A Handful of Rice and Nectar in a Sieve depict alienation caused by poverty and cruel treatment by British. Possession and The Nowhere Man present this theme in the form of biculturalism whereas in the Two Virgins alienation stems from the lure for modernization.

Nectar in a Sieve, Markandaya’s first novel, draws its title from Coleridge, whose lines form an epigraph to the novel:

Work without hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And hope without an object cannot live.

It means that work, like nectar, is a source of sustenance and eternity through self fulfillment and when work is done with no hope of returns, it becomes as unprofitable as storing nectar in a sieve. When a man cannot centralize his hopes on any particular object or goal of life, they simply wear away and die. It is therefore, necessary that there should be no separation between man and his work, between endeavor and its effects, if man wishes to retain his human identity.

Nathan is a tenant farmer who doesn't know any other work except farming and when he is compelled to leave his land he feels totally empty and dispossessed. The news of the arrival of tannery makes Rukmani restless and she laments:

Change I had before and it had been gradual. My father had been headman once, a person of consequence in our village. I had lived to see him relinquish this importance, but the alienation was so slow that we hardly knew when it came. I had seen both my parents sink into old age and death, and here too there was no violence. But the change that now came into my life, into all our lives, blasting its way into our village, seemed wrought in a twinkling of an eye.1

Rukmani realizes the tannery will uproot them from their land .When her son Arjun decides to go to Ceylon to work in a tea plantation; she dislikes the idea as she anticipates the family’s disintegration. She cries out:Two sons have gone, now the third is going and not to the land, which is in his blood, but to be a servant, which he has never been. What does he know of such work?2

Rukmani’s fear come true when Nathan tells her that they will have to leave the land as the tannery owners are buying their land. Nathan is deeply attached to the ancestral land .He has his roots deep in the soil and when he is uprooted from the land, he falls like an uprooted tree and cannot survive for long. They are forced to live on the charity and shelter provided by the temple. Their last wish in this world is to save enough money to go home to their son. But Nathan’s weak body cannot survive and he passes away in Rukmani’s lap. Rukmani , however, lives on as her roots are in the soil, in her children...
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