By Charles R. Larson, Chair, Dept. of Literature
American University, Washington, D.C. 20016
Kamala Markandaya, the Indian novelist, died in London, Sunday, May 18, 2004. Born Kamala Purnaiya in Mysore in 1924, she attended the University of Madras, beginning in 1940, where she studied history. From 1940 to 1947, she worked as a journalist and also published short stories in Indian newspapers, eventually emigrating to England in 1948. There she met her husband, Bertrand Taylor, by whom she had one daughter. Fame and success came with her first published novel, Nectar In A Sieve (1954), a Book-of-the-Month Club Main Selection and best-seller in the United States. That novel was follow by nine others, including A Handful Of Rice(1966), The Nowhere Man (1972), Two Virgins (1973), and The Golden Honeycomb (1977).
Markandaya was often linked to other Anglo-Indian novelists at mid-point in the twentieth century, including Mulk Raj Anand, R. K. Narayan, Raja Rao, and Khushwant Singh, though she was the only female of the group. That special sensitivity demarcated all of her work, especially Some Inner Fury (1955) and Two Virgins. Readers of her novels, however, were more often struck by the tensions her characters encountered when they left the rural areas for the cities. Her two most popular novels, Nectar In A Sieve and a Handful Of Rice where taught in hundreds of American courses, both in the public shools and the universities.
Always a very private person, Markandaya granted few interviews and intentionally kept out of the limelight. After 1948, England became her home, with frequent trips back to India in order to find the necessary
inspiration for her writing. She is survived by her daughter, Kim Oliver.