Indian Writing In English: Kamala Das, Kamala Markandeya, Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri, Shashi Deshpande, Nissim Ezekiel

Indian Writing In English: Kamala Das, Kamala Markandeya, Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri, Shashi Deshpande, Nissim Ezekiel

Kamala Das (1934-2009)

Kamala Das, Malaam pen name Madhavikutty, Muslim name Kaamala Surayya.

Born March 31, 1934, in Thrissur, Malabar Coast (now in Kerala), India – died May 31, 2009, in Pune, India. 

Chronological sequence: Toru Dutt, Sarojini Naidu, Kamala Das, Meena Alexander

Poets and their works from the following:

Nissim Ezekiel – Hymns in Darkness

Kamala Das – The Sirens

R. Parthasarathy – Rough Passage

A.K. Ramajujan – The Striders.

Her open and honest treatment of female sexuality, free from any sense of guilt, infused her writing with power and she got hope after freedom, but also marked her as an iconoclast in her generation. 

Kamala Surayya was a confessional poet whose poems have often been considered at par with those of Anne Sexton and Robert Lowell.

“Gift him what makes you woman, the scent of long hair,

The musk of sweat between the breasts, the warm shock of menstrual blood,

And all your endless female hunger” – The Looking Glass

Her works are available in French, Spanish, Russian, German and Japanese.

1968: Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for story – Thanuppu

1984: Shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in Literature

Kamala Das/Kamala Surayya’s pen name was Madhuikutty, and was an Indian English poet, and leading Malayalam author from Kerala. In 2009, “The Times” called her “The mother of modern English Indian poetry”.

At the age of 15, she married bank officer Madhav Das.

“I am an Indian very brown, born in Malabar, I speak three languages, write in two, and dream in one”.

Her first book of poetry “Summer in Calcutta” was a breath of fresh air in Indian English poetry.

Her second book of poetry “Descendants” has 23 poems in all. This collection has many poems that are death-conscious, and death-obsessed. 

At the age of 42, she published a daring auto-biography “My Story” originally written in Malayalam Ente Katha and later in English. It has 50 chapters.

She changed her religion from Hinduism to Islam in 1999 and became Kamala Surayya.

Received Sahitya Akademi Award in 1985.

She is known as the founder of a political party called “Lok Sera”.

“Dance of Eunuchs” is a fine poem by Kamala Das. It has an autobiographical tone. The poet sympathizes with eunuchs. The eunuchs dance in the heat of the sun. their costumes, makeup, and the passion with which they dance suggest female delicacy. Their outward appearance and joy are contrasted with their inward sadness. Actually, there is no joy in their heart, they can’t even dream of happiness.

In “A Request”, the poetess Kamala Das realizes that her life is meaningless. She is alone and her life is colorless and designed of crumbling patterns.

The poem “A Hot Noon in Malabar” is about the climate, and surrounding in a town in Malabar. The people may be annoyed by the heat, dust, and noise but she likes it. She longs for the hot noon in Malabar because she associates it with wild men, wild thoughts, and wild love. It is torture for her to be away from Malabar.

Poetry By Kamala Das

1964 – The Sirens

1965 – Summer in Calcutta

1967 – The Descendants

1973 – The Old Playhouse and Other Poems

1977 – The Stranger Time

1979 – Tonight, This Savage Rite

1984 – Collected Poems

1985 – The Anamalai Poems

1997 – Only the Soul Knows How To Sing

1999 – My Mother At Sixty-six

2001 – Yaa Allah 

Novel By Kamala Das: Alphabet of Lust (1976)

Autobiography by Kamala Das: My Story (1976)

Short Stories By Kamala Das

1977 – A Doll for the Child Prostitute

1992: Padmavati the Harlot and Other Stories

Kamala Markandaya (1924-2004)

Kamala Purnaiya Taylor pseudonym Kamala Markandaya was an Indian novelist and journalist born in Mysore.

Markandaya is famous for writing about the cultural clash between Indian urban and rural societies. 

After India declared its independence, Markandaya moved to Britain, though she still labeled herself an Indian expatriate.

Her first published novel “Nectar in a Sieve” a 1954 bestseller, translated into more than a dozen languages, is a poignant story of peasant India, the storms of Nature, and the winds of Change stoically borne by landless lessee peasants. 

Other novels include – Inner Fury (1955) semi-autobiographical the story of a young woman in love with an Englishman, in the tumultuous 1940s when India was fighting for independence.

A Silence Of Desire (1960) is about an office clerk caught between different values – old and new, eastern and western, religious and agnostic. These three novels form a trilogy as it were, of Indian society – peasants, upper middle class, and lower middle class, Possession (1963), A Handful of Rice (1966)

The Nowhere Man – 1972 – a seventh novel set in England, and her own favorite. The novel is a tragedy of alienation, centered on the racism experienced by an elderly Brahmin, Srinivas, who has lived in London for decades. 

Two Virgins – 1973

The Golden Honeycomb – 1977

Pleasure City – 1982-83

Bombay Tiger – 2008 (Posthumous published work)

The Nowhere Man – her best novel, in Indian Diaspora, foreshadows many diaspora issues with which we are preoccupied today. 

Nectar In A Sieve – 1954 – By Kamala Markandaya

The novel is set in India during a period of intense urban development. It is a semi-autobiographical novel by her.

The story is told by Rukmani, the younger daughter of a village headman, in first person, beginning from her arranged marriage to Nathan at the age of 12 to his death many years later.

The title is taken from the 1825 poem Work Without Hope by S.T. Coleridge – “Work without hope draws nectar in a sieve and hope without an object can not live”.

Arundhati Roy (1959 – )

Suzanna Arundhati Roy was born in Shillong, Meghalaya, India. Roy is an Indian writer who is best known for her novel “God of Small Things” in 1997, which won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 1997.

She is also a political activist involved in human rights and environmental causes.

She was awarded with Sahitya Akademi Award in 2006. 

She is labeled as a diasporic writer.

Studied architecture at the “School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi” where she met architect Gerard da Cunha.

In 1984, Roy met independent filmmaker  Pradip Krishen, who offered her a role as a goatherd in his award-winning movie Massey Sahib. Later the two married.

They collaborated on a television series on India’s independence movement and on two films, Annie and Electric Moon. 

Disenchanted with the film world, Roy did various jobs, including running aerobics classes. Roy and Krishen eventually separated.

She became financially secure with the success of her novel “The God of Small Things” published in 1997.

Roy has written a television serial, The Banyan Tree.

Roy has campaigned along with activist Medha Patkar against the Naarmada dam project, saying that the dam will displace half a million people with little or no compensation, and will not provide the projected irrigation, drinking water, and other benefits.

Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani and others by Delhi Police for their anti-India speech at the 2010 convention on Kashmir: “Azadi: The Only Way”.

Arundhati Roy – Algebra of infinite justice.

The following writers are involved in social activism in addition to their practice of creative writing: Mahasweta Devi and Arundhati Roy.

Non-fiction by Arundhati Roy 

  1. The End of Imagination – 1998
  2. The Algebra of Infinite Justice – 2001
  3. War is Peace – 2001
  4. The Greater Common of God – 1999
  5. Walking with the Comrades – 2010

The God Of Small Things – 1997 – By Arundhati Roy

It centers around a tragedy that sends a family apart and its lasting effects on the twins who were at the heart of it. The book explores how small things affect people’s behavior and their lives. The story is set in Ayemenem, Kerala. Fraternal twins Rahel and Esthappen were seven years old in 1969. Ammu is the most important female character. “Baba” is Rahel and Estha’s father who was divorced by Ammu when the children were very young. The story enters in 1990 as the young woman Rahel returns to her village to be reunited with her twin brother Esthappen at the age of 31. The twins used to call themselves ‘me’ or ‘us’. The day before Margaret and Sophie arrive, the family visits a theatre to see “The Sound of Music” where Estha is molested by the orange drink lemon drink man, a beverage vendor. Velutha is an untouchable, a Dalit. His family has been working for the IPE family for generations. Rahel and Estha form an unlikely bond with Velutha and come to love him, despite his untouchable status. When Ammu’s relationship with Velutha is discovered, Ammu is locked in her room and Velutha is banished. In her rage, Ammu blames the twins for her misfortune and calls them “Milestones around her neck”. 

In India, the book was criticized especially for its unrestrained description of sexuality by E.K. Nayanar, then Chief Minister of Roy’s home state Kerala, where she had to answer charges of obscenity.

Jhumpa Lahiri (1967 – )

Her nickname is Jhumpa.

Nilanjana Sudeshna Lahiri, an English-born American author of Indian origin was born on July 11, 1967, in London, England, UK.

She was born in London and her family moved to the U.S. when she was only 2.

Her father Amar Lahiri is the basis for the protagonist in the closing story of Interpreter of Maladies.

The second story collection Unaccustomed Earth 2008 was declared as no. 1 on the New York Times best seller’s list. It also won the 2008 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award.

Jhumpa Lahiri once said: “I always felt so embarrassed by my name….. You feel like you are causing someone pain just by being who you are.”

In Lahiri’s essay My Two Lives, she writes: “When I first started writing I was not conscious that my subject was the Indian American experience what drew me to my craft was the desire to force the two worlds I occupied to mingle on the page as I was not brave enough, or mature enough to allow in life”.

Her debut in the Italian “Interpreter of Maladies” 1999, a collection of 9 short stories, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2000 and the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award in the year 2000 and has sold over 15 million copies worldwide. The stories are about the lives of Indians and Indian Americans who are caught between their roots and the “New World”. The chief characters are Shukumaar and Shoba. 

Her first novel “The Namesake” 2003, was adapted into the popular film of the same name. It explores many of the same emotional and cultural themes as her Pulitzer Prize-winning short story collection “Interpreter of Maladies”. Moving between events in Calcutta, Boston, and New York City, the novel examines the nuances involved with being caught between two conflicting cultures with highly distinct religious, social, and ideological differences.

Unaccustomed Earth is a collection of 8 short stories from American author Jhumpa Lahiri. It is her second collection of stories, following Interpreter of Maladies (which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction). As with much of Lahiri’s work, Unaccustomed Earth considers the lives of Bengali American characters and how they deal with their mixed cultural environment. The title of the collection is taken from a passage in “The Custom-House”, the preface to The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The story is about Ruma, Romi, and their father. 

The Lowland – 2013

It was nominated for the Man’s Booker Prize and “The National Award for Fiction”.

In this novel, the female protagonist Gauri falls in love with and marries Udayan Mitra. 

Udayan is caught up in the banned Naxalite movement and is eventually killed by the police in stark views of his parents and wife. 

Udayan’s elder brother Subhash marries Gauri and takes her to America to save her from the police’s unnecessary inquiry about her husband’s death.

She gives birth to a daughter Bela, but continues to be hunted in the memories of her first husband, the real father of her daughter. 

Gauri feels suffocated by staying continuously at home and finally finds a teaching job. 

Subhas opposes this and thus Gauri left both her daughter and her husband. 

After this, Bela suffers a lot. She is forced by the school counselor to visit a psychologist.

Gauri’s sudden departure has left a permanent scar on 12-year-old Bela. 

Throughout the novel, Gauri is haunted by the memories of her first husband. 

Interpreter of Maladies – 1999

  • A Temporary Matter
  • When Mr. Pirzada Came To Dine
  • Interpreter Of Maladies
  • A Real Durwan
  • Sexy
  • Mrs. Sen’s
  • This Blessed House
  • The Treatment Of Bibi Haldar
  • The Third And Final Continent

Unaccustomed Earth – 2008

  • Unaccustomed Earth
  • Hell-Heaven
  • A Choice Of Accommodations
  • Only Goodness
  • Nobody’s Business
  • Once In A Lifetime
  • Year’s End
  • Going Ashore

Novels By Jhumpa Lehri

  • The Namesake – 2003
  • The Lowland – 2013
  • Dove mi Trovo (Italian) – 2018

Shashi Deshpande (1938-2016)

  • She was born in Karnataka and known as the ‘Daughter of Kannada’
  • She is a recipient of the Sahitya Akademi Award for the novel ‘The Long Silence’ in 1990.
  • She published her first collection of short stories in 1978 and her first novel ‘The Dark Holds No Terror’ in 1980.
  • She was awarded Padma Shri in 2009.
  • Her novel Shadow Plaay was shortlisted for The Hindu Literary Prize in 2014.
  • She has written 4 children’s books, 9 novels, and a number of short stories and essays.
  • In 2015, she resigned from her position on the Sahitya Akademi General Council and returned her Sahitya Akademi Award. 
  • She joined the protest against Akademi’s perceived inaction and silence on the murder of M.M. Kalburgi.
  • Shashi Deshpande denied accepting that she is a feminist writer by saying “I don’t like to call myself a feminist writer. I say I am a feminist but I don’t write to propogate an ‘ism’.

Important Works Of Deshpande

  1. The Dark Holds No Terror – 1980
  2. If I Die Today – 1982
  3. Come Up And Be Dead – 1989
  4. That Long Silence: The Unavoidable Silence of an Indian Woman – 1989 
  5. Small Remedies (2000)
  6. In The Country of Deceit – 2008
  7. Roots And Shadows – 1973

Children’s Books By Deshpande

  1. A Summer Adventure
  2. The Hidden Treasure
  3. The Only Witness
  4. The Narayanpur Incident (1995)

Nissim Ezekiel (1924-2004)

Nissim Ezekiel was a Jewish (Bene Israel) Indian poet actor, playwright, editor, and art critic.

He was a fundamental figure in postcolonial India’s literary history especially for Indian writing in English. Known as the father of modern Indian English Poetry.

The Night Of The Scorpion, and the anti-jingoism poem The Patriot, are standard verses still studied in some British and Indian schools.

Nissim was well educated and had a particular liking for the poetry of such as T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. 

He got the Sahitya Akademy Award in 1983 for his poetic collection Letter-Day Psalms.

Padmashri in 1988

Ezekiel’s first book, The Bad Day, appeared in 1952. 

Ezekiel’s another volume of poem The Deadly Man in 1960.

He co-founded the literary monthly Jumpo in 1961. 

He became an art critic of The Names of India (1964-66) and edited Poetry India (1966-67). 

The Exact Name, his fifth book of poetry was published in 1965. 

In 1969, his “The Damn Plays” was published.

His poem “The Night of the Scorpion” is used as Study Material in Indian and Colombian schools.

He was honored with the Padma Sri award in 1988.

He addressed the “Questions of Time” in his poetry.

A Morning Walk – In this poem, Ezekiel talks about a barbaric city sick with slums and deprived of seasons/blessed with rains/ its hawkers, beggars, iron-lunged/procession led by frantic drums, and this city is Bombay. 

Night Of The Scorpion – It is a poem by Nissim Ezekiel included in the AQA Anthology. It starts in a house at night where it is raining and a scorpion, in order to take some shelter, comes to the house. This poem is about how the scorpion stung the poet’s mother and the mother’s love for her children.

“The Poem Philosophy” by Nissim Ezekiel talks about Philosophy and Poetry. The poet is of the view that philosophy and science have certain limitations. They fail beyond a certain limit and it is the poetry that takes over these two disciplines. 

Important Works Of Nissim Ezekiel

  1. Enterprise (similar to Eliot’s Journey of Magi) – “A home is a place where we have to gather grace”.
  2. Time to Change – 1952
  3. Sixty Nine Poems – 1953
  4. The Discovery of India – 1956
  5. The Third – 1959
  6. The Unfinished Man – 1960
  7. The Exact Name – 1965 (It contains 20 poems)
  • Hymns in Darkness
  • The Patriot
  • Letter Day Psalms
  • How the English Lesson Ended
  • The Railway Clerk
  • Goodbye Party for Miss Pushpa T.S
  • Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher (included in the volume The Exact Name)

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