Undilute East had always been too much for the West; and soulful East
always came lap-dog fashion to the West, mutually asking to be not too
little and not too much, but just right. (Prasad 37)
The struggle of individuals caught between tradition and modernity, or between
India and the west, is a very common theme in Indian literature. This struggle is evident
in Nectar in a Sieve, as Rukmani often finds herself battling between her traditional
views and opinions, and the various modern forces that seem to be taking over her life.
On the one hand, Rukmani yearns for the traditional way of life she has always known
and loved, while at certain times she acknowledges the benefits modernity can bring. In
contrast, in The Painter of Signs, Daisy is the symbol of modernity as she does her best to
fight against traditional ways of life; however, she is met with opposition by people who
adhere to a more traditional lifestyle.
The conflict between tradition and modernity becomes a force in Rukmani’s life
even when she is a young girl. Rukmani’s father is the headman of their village, which
gives her family prestige. This prestige allows for Rukmani’s elder sisters to have grand
weddings and marry fittingly. However, with the abolition of zamindari system, “the
headman of the village was no longer of consequence” (Srivastava 9). Because of this,
Rukmani was without a dowry, and had to be married off below the family status, to a
tenant farmer “who was poor in everything but in love and care for [Rukmani]”
After Rukmani has her first child, a daughter named Irawaddy, she does not
conceive again for about seven years. This is tragic because in Indian culture it is very
important to have many children, especially sons (Srivastava 14). During this time,
Rukmani’s mother takes her to a temple and together they pray before the deity
“imploring for help” to conceive sons (Markandaya 22). Rukmani’s mother also gives
her a small stone lingam, the symbol of fertility, to wear for good luck. When this
traditional approach to conceive does not seem to be working, Rukmani seeks the help of
Kenny, the Western missionary-doctor in her village. After Kenny gives her fertility
treatment of some kind, Rukmani bears many sons. This becomes Rukmani’s first
experience with the benefits that modernity can brin...
... middle of paper ...
... epics” (Narayan 26). Her “old cherished values begin to show
cracks” when she find out Raman is going to “marry a casteless girl with a Christian
name” (Sharan 284).
When an individual is faced with change, they have two choices: they can either
embrace the change or struggle against it. Rukmani demonstrates that while she is a very
traditional woman and struggles against the modern forces that are enveloping her
traditional way of life, she is willing to accept that some of the changes modernity brings
are beneficial. In contrast, Daisy is a character that embraces modernity with full force as
she constantly battles against traditional ways of life, even if it means clashing with
people who follow a more traditional way of Indian life.
Markandaya, Kamala. Nectar In A Sieve. New York: Signet Fiction, 1995.
Narayan, R.K. The Painter of Signs. London: Penguin Books, 1976.
Prasad, Madhusudan. Perspectives on Kamala Markandaya. India: Vimal, 1984.
Sharan, Nagendra Nath. A Critical Study of the Novels of R.K. Narayan. New Delhi:
Classical Publishing, 1993.
Srivastava, Ramesh K. The Novels of Kamala Markandaya: A Critical Study. Amritsar:
Guru Nanak Dev University, 1998.
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