Subscribe to FII's Telegram

India was a melting pot of activism and dissent during the first half of the twentieth century almost mirroring the current scenario of the nation. Much of literature that is extracted and labelled ‘Indian’ has been mined out of the late years of our country struggling to be a free nation. A radical movement which transformed the fight for this freedom was the Quit India Movement in 1942. There was a mass production and abundance of writers who included their journalistic integrities into their novels only for the world to realize the condition of a nation which was colonised. Amongst a myriad of writers who brought impressions of their Indian identity into play in the nooks of their words, was Kamala Purnaiya Taylor, who wrote under the pseudonym Kamala Markandaya. She was the face and catapult of the rural community of India which was facing issues due to Industrialization. She wrote extensively from a transgressive, feminist lens about people who were stuck at the bottom of the social ladder in modern India: the agricultural community.

Early Life

Kamala Markandaya was born in a small town in Mysore, India on January 1, 1924 and went on to graduate from Madras University with a degree in History. Markandaya then went on to be a journalist and writer in life. Her work, majorly short stories, were published in various Indian newspapers of that time. There was a certain shade of controversy attached to her transnational marriage. She settled in Britain after India retrieved its independence in 1948 and got married to Bertrand Taylor, an Englishman.

Amongst a myriad of writers who brought impressions of their Indian identity into play in the nooks of their words was Kamala Purnaiya Taylor who wrote under the pseudonym Kamala Markandaya. She was the face and catapult of the rural community of India which was facing issues due to Industrialization. She wrote extensively from a transgressive, feminist lens about people who were stuck at the bottom of the social ladder in modern India: the agricultural community.

Although she lived in Britain for the larger part of her life, Kamala Markandaya always labelled herself as an expatriate. Waves of her geographically bifurcated and culturally divided marriage made appearances in her work repetitively. She was the product of a country in the midst of conflict and represented the social hierarchies of such a systematically cracked place. Her marriage gave her life a certain notion of duality because it brought her out of the comfortable crevices of the identity which she was born into and put her in an alienated land.

Also read: The Martial Hill Women: Sabitri Devi & Putalimaya Devi Poddar | #IndianWomenInHistory

Markandaya’s Work: A Peek into the Lives of Women

Kamala Markandaya wrote various fictional short stories and novels, out of which ten were published. Her books deal with post-colonial themes, undertones of the human condition in a dichotomous world, marriages, social distinctions and the westernization of Indianness in Modern India. She is infamous for her novel, Nectar in a Sieve, which magnifies the struggle of an Indian woman’s life set in the backdrop of rural India which is identified by its stark agricultural tones. Her novel Some Inner Fury borrows heavily from her own personal life because Markandaya writes about a woman who is in love with an English man during the time of the Quit India Campaign and is torn apart from the idea of their love by the idea of her country’s freedom.

A Silence of Desire is a profoundly delicate work in which Kamala Markandaya tries to trace the stages and sacrifices of a middle-class Indian marriage on the brink of an end due to the difference in values between in an East vs. West mindset. The Coffer Dams is an articulate analysis and test of the activities of a British engineering firm which is building a dam in India. Her work was a sum of what she had seen in life and they were largely reflective of who she was. By writing  Nectar in a Sieve, Markandaya didn’t transgress all boundaries that were previously set for writers. She was simply writing about a woman and her struggles in a context.  

Diasporic writers face backlash for their commentary over a place they have no right over because they don’t exist in that space and their experiences won’t be similar to that of someone experiencing things first-hand in real time. However, Markandaya’s characters were round, semi-autobiographical and aware of their context. Her writing was skilled enough to provide her characters with aids for survival in a battle with her critics. Kamala Markandaya was awarded the National Association of Independent Schools Award (USA) in 1967 and the Asian Prize in 1974.

Diaspora and Death

Diasporic writers face backlash for their commentary over a place they have no right over because they don’t exist in that space and their experiences won’t be similar to that of someone experiencing things first-hand in real time. However, Markandaya’s characters were round, semi-autobiographical and aware of their context. Her writing was skilled enough to provide her characters with aids for survival in a battle with her critics. Kamala Markandaya was awarded the National Association of Independent Schools Award (USA) in 1967 and the Asian Prize in 1974. Markandaya died on May 16 at her home in London. She was 79. She passed away due to kidney failure and is survived by her daughter, Kim Oliver.

Also read: Janaki Thevar: The Woman Who Commanded Rani Jhansi Regiment Of INA | #IndianWomenInHistory

Markandaya is undoubtedly one of the most imperative writers of the Indian diaspora. Although critically mocked for the lack of context in her narratives, the hypocrisy and disparity between her lifestyle and her self-righteous and moralistic characters. What Kamala Markandaya elucidates well is the fragility of human relationships and the hierarchical nature of the Indian society. She gave a prominent representation to Indian Literature in the eyes of the western world. Her representation of who she is very well acknowledged in the western society and in the community of South Asian writers. Her visibility as a writer existed in her recognition of the state of her country and what needed to be said no matter how bitter it was to say it.


Leave a Reply