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Book Review: Multicultural Consciousness in the Novels of Kamala Markandaya
Sudhir K. Arora, who is credited to be the author of various significant books including his creative criticism Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger: A Freakish Booker, has now appeared with his fresh criticism on Kamala Markandaya, titled 'Multicultural Consciousness in the Novels of Markandaya'. The book under review peeps into the life and works of Kamala Markandaya, the pioneer Indian woman novelist.

In this book, Arora has explored all her novels namely: Nectar in a Sieve (1954), Some Inner Fury (1955), A Silence of Desire (1960), Possession (1963), A Handful of Rice (1966), A Coffer Dam (1969),  The Nowhere Man (1972), Two Virgins (1975),  The Golden Honeycomb (1977),  Pleasure City (1982) and Bombay Tiger (2008).

Arora has divided the book into 10 chapters. The first chapter, ‘Kamala Markandaya: A Snapshot’ deals with life, career, identity and greatness of Kamala Markandaya as a novelist while the second chapter illustrates the ‘First Person Narrative Technique’ employed by Markandaya in her first two novels, Nectar in a Sieve and Some Inner Fury. ‘Third Person Omniscient Narrative’ as well as ‘Third Person Non-omniscient Narrative Technique’ is employed in the rest of her novels like A Silence of Desire, Possession, A Handful of Rice, A Coffer Dam, The Nowhere Man, Two Virgins, The Golden Honeycomb, Pleasure City and Bombay Tiger. All the novels of Markandaya have been taken one by one in these two chapters to demonstrate the application of these techniques and how far they are helpful in tracing out the trends regarding the fair sex and the contemporary landscape.

Markandaya experiments with the techniques because of her habit of employing the pluralistic approach through which she offers options to the reader who finds fresh interpretations of her texts. In Chapter 4, ‘Male Narration: Women’s Passion’, Arora has successfully deconstructed some male narrations just to trace out the forms of image of women in Markandaya’s novels. He has attempted to reveal what the male characters think of the female characters. This approach is equally valid as he believes: “If male narrations are taken into consideration, they may also be helpful in throwing light on female characters” (84).

The fifth chapter ‘Bed Narration: Sex for Sale’ clearly reveals the fact that Kamala Markandaya presents the forbidden scenes of sex boldly and while doing so, she keeps the Western reader in her mind. The author is quite candid in his opinion when he writes: “The bed-narration decodes the forbidden landscapes which reveal that Kamala Markandaya has offered the Eastern food mixed with the Western spicy nudity. The Western readers have relished these spicy dishes with pleasure and contentment.” (120) The Indian reader finds it difficult to tolerate her presentation of forbidden scenes of sex.

In chapter 6, ‘Some More Narrative Designs’, he has reflected on some other aspects of her narrative techniques which are helpful in making her proper assessment. He has explored some facets like: ‘Presentation of Dreams’, ‘Recollection of Remembrance’, ‘Stream of Consciousness’, ‘Dialogues’, ‘Monologues’, ‘Camera Scene’, ‘Movie Scene’ etc. By exploring all these narrative forms, he has tried to justify Markandaya’s narrative quality. The chapter 7 ‘The Orient and the Occident in The Pleasure City’ highlights the controversial issue of superiority between the East and the West. In contrast to this conflict, Arora shows the unique quality of Markandaya who attempts to offer a synthesis between the Orient and the Occident.

Bombay Tiger is Kamala Markandaya’s last novel, which was published posthumously by her daughter who found the complete typescript. The critic has analysed this novel at length in the eighth chapter, ‘Bombay Tiger: A Posthumous Feast’. In the ninth chapter ‘Social Consciousness through Postcolonial Lenses’, he traces out the image of social consciousness through post-colonial lenses in all the novels of Kamala Markandaya.

While in Chapter 10, ‘Kamala Markandaya in the Postcolonial Space’, he explores the novels from the postcolonial angle in order to map the identity of the female protagonists in the postcolonial space. He has tried to weave the complexities of different types of situations and their consequences occurring in an individual life and how he/she deals with it and how the novelist has presented this for the readers to understand the harsh realities of life. By doing so, he has done a true justice to her greatness. The update Bibliography on Markandaya also adds the charm of the book.

Truly, the critic in Arora has given a fresh interpretation of Kamala Markandaya’s novels right from Nectar in a Sieve to The Bombay Tiger. For this, he applies the deconstructive methods from various angles to show her in true colours as a novelist of multicultural consciousness. He is successful in tracing out her hidden dimension for the readers who will now read her texts in a new light. Though the title baffles because of its confinement to the multicultural dimensions, it is almost a complete book as it discusses Markandaya’s novels and her art from different perspectives. This is a highly recommendable book for the researchers working on Indian women writing particularly on Kamala Markandaya. 

(Reviewer: Dr Shamenaz is an Assistant Professor (English), Dept. of Humanities, Allahabad Institute of Engineering & Technology, Allahabad.)

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