Sunday, February 6, 2011

Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya — Feb 4, 2011


Over a million copies sold, and in print ever since publication 57 years ago — how many novelists can claim such a testament to the enduring appeal of a work of theirs? Its straightforward narrative has a beguiling quality; the heroine is possessed of a wonderful resilience to cope with the complexities of life in a village in rural South India.


The style is spare like Hemingway's, said Bobby here reading

Many readers were puzzled by the sole Englishman who appears in this book, set in colonial times. Rukmani seemed to have a line to him, but he acts inconsistently – a mysterious figure who slips in and out.

KumKum and Indira  react to the readings

Many readers agreed that Nectar In A Sieve is a love story at bottom, and a joyful one at that, in spite of the suffering Nathan and Rukmani have to endure. Here are the readers at the end, including Ammu Joseph who came to try us out. Thommo had to slip out for a meeting.

Joe, Zakia, Bobby, KumKum, Indira, Ammu, Minu

To read more click below, or press here to read the full account and record.


Kochi Reading Group session on Feb 4, 2011
Nectar in a Sieve (NIAS) by Kamala Markandaya

Kamala Markandaya wrote the novel in 1954, after moving to London in 1948.
Her eminently film-able story may no longer find favour among the 'Shining India' folk.

Attending: Zakia, KumKum, Indira, Ammu, Joe, Thommo, Bobby
Absent: Soma (bed-ridden), Amita (flu), Priya (busy with daughter's wedding), Talitha (keeping company with her mom)
Trying Out: Mary Ammu Joseph, who retired from the Indian Express, and knows virtually all the current readers. She observed and participated in the discussion.

Preliminary The next session of Poetry will be held on Mar 4, 2011, same time, 5:30pm, same place, Cochin Yacht Club. The following session to read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce will be held on Friday April 8, 2011. The novel for reading after that, has to be selected by Amita and Talitha; it is overdue. Please make haste.


References:
http://books.google.com/booksid=5r53boZNp64C
New lights on Indian women novelists in English:Part 3 edited by Amar Nath Prasad
It has two articles on NIAS :
East_West Encounter in NIAS by Raghunath Kachhway
Rukmani an Ideal Indian Wife by Prasanna Sree
Postnational feminisms: postcolonial identities and cosmopolitanism in the works of Kamala Markandaya, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Ama Ata Aidoo, and Anita Desai by Hena Ahmad
Chapter II, Women, Nation and Culture in Kamala Markandaya's NIAS
http://www.beilharz.com/autores/markandaya/
Homage to Kamala Markandaya by Francis C. Assisi (Boston, 2004)


KumKum read out an appreciation of the novel. “I first read this novel along with my daughter when it was prescribed in her undergraduate English Literature course. I recall both of us being moved by Rukmani’s story. Reading it now has been different.
The story is still engaging. Nectar In A Sieve is a love story at bottom – between a poor, illiterate farmer, Nathan, and his educated, attractive, and intelligent wife Rukmani. She grew up in the comfortable home of her father, a village headman, but readily adjusted to her far more modest life with Nathan. Nathan was uxorious all his wedded life, and Rukmani appreciated his admiration and love, and warmed to his essential goodness.
On this second reading I could not but compare it to the Bengali classic, Pather Panchali by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay. Both are set in rural India, in different parts of the country. Abject poverty is the fate of characters in both novels; and the struggle for survival of the landless poor is their theme.
However, Pather Panchali is written in a lyrical style, different from the pure narrative realism of Nectar In A Sieve. Pather Panchali weaves a magical world of hopes and dreams, which is there in the present novel too, but in a more muted fatalistic manner. Markandaya’s novel keeps us tethered to reality, whereas Bandyopadhyay, masterful author that he is, sublimates their suffering in his prose.
Some dates: Pather Panchali was published in 1929, Nectar In A Sieve in 1954. Satyajit Ray's movie based on Pather Panchali was released in 1955.”
Then she read an excerpt from Ch XIV which is about perpetual poverty, occasional famine, trickery and despair, and then out pops the deepest secret which Nathan kept to himself all these years. It tests Rukmani's trust in her husband, adds another dimension to her already miserable existence. He reveals he has had carnal knowledge of Kunthi, making good her husband's impotence by servicing her.
Zakia commented: to think Rukmani actually went and looked after Kunthi when she was pregnant! Indira noted that Kunthi was the only one who held back. She was opaque, unlike the other village women.
Thommo wondered at the intimacy of the use of the familiar 'Kenny' for the English doctor by a mere villager. It is not explained. Yes, Kenny is an ambivalent figure at war with himself, said Indira. “He's always pushing people away.” Self-destructive too. The other characters reveal themselves, but not Kenny. He had a miracle medicine for for women with fertility problems. But once administered to Rukmani, she could not stop conceiving. Sometimes it is a matter of removing fibroid growths in the uterus, said KumKum. But no surgery is adumbrated.
Indira mentioned there are some charades on Youtube of American kids taking on NIAS. For example:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-24hYL4JMjw
It's quite hilarious. Nathan, according to one of them is a randy old soul.
But why is it prescribed in America as a text, asked Zakia? Indira said it used to be given to the Peace Corps volunteers who came to India to provide 'cultural familiarity.' There is also the exotic element. Once a neighbour of Indira's in America, came to tell how charming must have been the experiences of her daughter, Leila, in India. For she had told them she went to school on an elephant!.
Perhaps also, it is the antiquity of the novel; it's been around for 57 years, is still in print, and has over a million copies sold! How many Indian authors in English have a track record of that sort? Besides, it purveys a rustic India which still exists, but apart from Bibhuti Bhushan Bandhyopadhyay's Pather Panchali there are not many novels that treat similar themes. And thta novel was fortunate in having one good reader, Satyajit Ray, who made it into a prize-winning movie, the first of the Apu Trilogy.
The child of Ira being an albino is a little twist, said Indira. Thommo spoke about reading a novel set in Africa of a child brought up as an albino, whereas he was in truth from mixed parentage, with a European father. Joe noted that the name 'Sacrabani' given to Ira's albino son is unusual, so unusual that the only Sacrabani that falls out of a Google search is the little fellow from this novel. What does the name mean in Sanskrit? 'bani' means message and what is 'sacra'? Is the name really 'Chakrapani', meaning chakra carrier? That is a common enough name in S India and stands for Vishnu whose weapon is the Sudarshan chakra.

Zakia took off from some notes she had prepared. She said she took it more like a story, plain and simple. There are three elements:
1. Love within marriage, in a rural setting
2. A tale of the indomitable human spirit
3. Society in transformation from a traditional rural setting to a burgeoning industrial setting.
The story revolves around Rukmani, and she is the narrator. She nurtures her family.
It is instructive to note that she does not create a big issue about Nathan having been unfaithful in the past. Not even an altercation ensues. She gives space for the matter to blow over, recognising the essential goodness in her husband, weak though the flesh may be. She found the most touching part was when Nathan passes away at the end of Ch XXIX. She read the brief passage; what a beautiful fragment it is!
Zakia noted that Rukmani, though she had to marry lower, and that resulted in privation, was not disappointed, for she recounts:
my father married me to a tenant farmer who was poor in everything but in love and care for me, his wife.”
This house my husband had built for me with his own hands in the time he was waiting for me, brought me to it with pride.”
She warms to Nathan's offering. It is in many ways a beautiful love story. There's lots of pain and suffering, but they endure it together, and are not diminished thereby.
Lingering in the novel is a sense of some secret of Rukmani's. But if there is one, it is never revealed, said KumKum. Thommo mentioned her late evening visits to Kenny, for reasons unknown. Ammu too commented on this mystery: Rukmani felt guilty for some reason, she was scared, but of what we are never told. Indira opined that the cause for this may be that a man had examined her organs, albeit in a clinical way. By trusting herself to a man in this way, without the knowledge of her husband, a scruple could have arisen in her rustic mind. Then making a general statement, Indira volunteered, that half the cases of breast cancer result from women feeling queasy to show their breasts to a male doctor, who might be the only doctor available.
Indira said Rukmani was a fortunate woman: she had everything – a good husband, children whom she nurtured, even a vegetable patch.
What is the origin of the title NIAS? That is resolved in the quotation from Coleridge at the head, and was the subject of Indira's reading (see below).

Bobby said 'Markandaya' was a pseudonym taken by the writer whose real name was Kamala Purnaiya; she later married an Englishman called Taylor. Homage to Markandaya came after her death in 2004 by which time she had written ten novels, all from London, and mostly about India. NIAS is a short book but a critic said it is so packed, that if you blink when reading you are liable to miss something. He was quoting from the Introduction to an edition of NIAS by Indira Ganesan.
Bobby read from Ch XX where Rukmani is brooding; she has fears for the health of Ira's child, and who who may have fathered it. It begins with a description of spring flowers (jasmine and champak) ceding to the splendour of summer (jacaranda and gul mohur).
The style is spare like Hemingway's, said Bobby. There is attentiveness and observation of nature. Minu said Markandaya describes a great many details. Has the farmer's life changed? They still owe debts. But Joe remarked that a principle of Nathan's was not to get into debt over weddings and so forth, but to spend only what they could afford with ready cash. Contrast this with today's high consumption culture that afflicts the poor as much as the rich. Consumption, as the economist Veblen observed, is a sign of status.

Thommo read from the same chapter as KumKum, but took a passage describing the dire hunger that overcomes the family of Rukmani when the rains fail. It is a searing narrative, pitiless in its anatomy of hunger's progression, and the desperate attempts to fill the belly with whatever is at hand, even grass.
Joe found it difficult to read. Hunger, sad to say, is very much there today in India. “India’s record on hunger is worse than that of nearly 25 sub-Saharan African countries and all of South Asia, except Bangladesh,” according to the International Food Policy Research Institute. The state of Madhya Pradesh is the worst, ranking between Chad and Ethiopia. India now has worse rates of malnutrition than sub-Saharan Africa: 43.5% of children under five are underweight and India ranks below Sudan and Zimbabwe in the Global Hunger Index. See:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/sep/14/hunger-india-actionaid
And then, said Bobby, you have all those obese Indians, and India ranking as the diabetes capital of the world. Indira mentioned The Little House on the Prairie. I don't know what that it is but it seems weather plays a large part. So it does in The Grapes of Wrath (GOW) where poverty and internal displacement occur as farm folk move to find work and food. The winds over the drought-ridden prairie take away the topsoil and turns the land into a 'dust bowl' over Kansas. KumKum recalled the scenes in GOW and Indira thinks Steinbeck had the kind of writing to match the scenes of distress.
Indira thought this book should be translated into all the Indian languages because the situation today is not very different in the countryside compared to the time Markandaya is writing about. It's a good yarn, a good story, said Indira
Thommo noted that toddy and drunkenness would play a large part if the novel was set in Kerala. It seems there's less of that in this novel, because Nathan is not a victim of alcohol addiction.
Nathan is a very human guy, someone said; but how can you be a man without liquor, asked Bobby, laughing.

Joe confessed that Zakia had usurped the very reading he planned for this session, so he would read another among the several he had kept in reserve. But before that he chose to supplement Zakia's reading with his discovery that the end of Ch XXIX where Nathan dies, has a striking parallel to Romeo's words on Juliet's death. Zakia's reading ended with these words:
"You must not cry, my dearest. What has to be, has to be.”
”‘Hush," I said. "Rest and grow better."
"I have only to stretch out my hand," he said, "to feel the coldness of death. Would you hold me when my time is come? I am at peace. Do not grieve."
"If I grieve," I said, "it is not for you, but for myself, beloved, for how shall I endure to live without you, who are my love and my life?"
"You are not alone," he said. "I live in my children, " and he was silent, and then I heard him murmur my name and bend down.
"Have we not been happy together ?"
"Always, my dearest, always. "
"It is slipping away fast," he said. "Rest with me a little.”
And so I laid my face on his and for a while his breath fell soft and light as a rose petal on my cheek, then he sighed as if in weariness and turned his face to me, and so his gentle spirit withdrew and the light went out in his eyes.


In this reading one can hear the echo of Romeo grieving over the body of Juliet. The monologue in the play starts:
O my love, my wife.”
just as here the words are:
.. you who are my love and my life
Appropriately, the word is 'wife' in the play, for Romeo had not known Juliet at all after his wedding. And 'life' in this novel, because Nathan has known Rukmani fully as his wife, and but now the life, which he can only associate with her, is ebbing away.
Then says Romeo:
Eyes, look your last!
Arms, take your last embrace! and, lips, O you
The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss
A dateless bargain to engrossing death!”
In this novel the words, less dramatic, less coloured by imagery, are just as poetic and poignant:
Nathan:
It is slipping away fast,
Rest with me a little.
Rukmani:
For then I laid my face on his
And for a while his breath fell soft —
And light as a petal on my cheek;
Then he sighed as if in weariness
And turned his face to me,
And so his gentle spirit withdrew
And the light went out in his eyes.
Joe said: “I am glad I saw this parallel, for it made me think they are both love stories that end tragically, this one in fulfilment, the other unfulfilled. And both end in a burst of poetry. I venture that Markandaya should have ended the novel right here, at this scene.”
The novel reeks of amour, said Joe, who then went on to read the happy celebration of Deepavali from Ch X, the brightest chapter in the novel. The reading ends with Nathan hoisting Rukmani high in a dance with all the people “twittering with pleasure.” Twittering would mean something else today.
Regarding the novel itself Joe had this prepared note:
“Little is known about the private life of the author. We can focus on the text therefore, without troubling ourselves with psychological interpretations of the author's life. She wrote ten novels about India while living in England, after emigrating there in 1948 and marrying a British man called Taylor.
About Nathan, Rukmani says in the first few pages “my father married me to a tenant farmer who was poor in everything but in love and care for me, his wife.” That sentiment is the backdrop for the whole novel. A poor landless peasant farmer, who not only survives, but thrives in the care of the spirited and clever woman who becomes the jewel of his life.
There are two happy notes making music throughout the novel. One is the love and understanding of Nathan for his wife. The other is the energy and joy Rukmani devotes to her twin roles of mother, and helpmate of her husband.
The little that Nathan and Rukmani have to eat, their few possessions, the prevalent attitude toward daughters versus sons, the exploitation of landless peasants, trade-unions, death, harlotry, infidelity, the happiness of seeing the green paddy growing contrasted with the privations of starvation when the rains fail ― all these form the medley of sensations in this story. The women are etched in greater detail than the men. All of them stand out, from Old Granny, the vegetable seller, to Kunthi who takes to prostitution. I confess that I longed to hear snatches of the conversation in the villagers' language, Tamil.
Kennington remains a shadowy character, who flits in and out. His exchanges with Rukmani have a harsh edge on occasion. The author does not seem to know how to treat him. His compassion is tinged with a contempt for people who bear up and endure their lot, as Rukmani and Nathan do. He says:
There is no grandeur in want – or in endurance.
He continues: “Acquiescent imbeciles! do you think spiritual grace comes from being in want, or from suffering? What thoughts have you when the belly is empty or your body is sick? Tell me they are noble ones and I will call you a liar.”
Kenny has a line to Rukmani and she is forward enough with him, but the relationship lacks internal consistency.
There a small sprinkling of humour in the book in an exchange with Kenny. Rukmani says:
You are my benefactor. … Have I not five sons to prove it?
“Am I to blame for your excesses?”said he, grimacing, but his eyes were alight with laughter.

Minu passed because she said her prepared reading had been preempted. (need to prepare three readings, I think to accommodate these clashes).

Indira chose not to read from the novel at all, but to recite the entire poem of Coleridge, two lines of which are inscribed at the front:
Work without hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And hope without an object cannot live.
Coleridge was a depressive, Indira said. He wrote the poem Xanadu under the influence of laudanum. Indira found this to be a “disagreeable” story. Perhaps that is why she chose to recite the poem, rather than read from the book. Indira conceded the descriptions of nature are very “photographic.” She found the people of this novel are of two kinds, those who resist fate, and those who accept.
Ammu retorted: “Isn't that true to life?”
Indira called Rukmani “ignorant” for conceiving so many children. That bothered her, considering Rukmani is relatively educated and intelligent.
Joe said: "If you recall the novel is set in the 1920's or so, there is hardly anything unusual about that. Indeed my own parents had a minimum of six siblings, and they were educated, and let's assume they possessed intelligence."
But that's the Catholic faith at work,” said Indira.
Others chimed in to note a similar multiplicity of siblings. Thommo exclaimed he had probably a hundred cousins. KumKum said the same was the case for her parents, and she reminded Indira that child mortality was quite common even among the relatively well-off. A number died. Ammu nodded and said it was not felt as a great tragedy when a young child died.
Indira drew attention to the novel's theme of women as sufferers and nurturers. Bobby thought women in an urban setting are fairly liberated. Not so in the countryside, where hidebound traditions live on. But women are strong.
But what about male and female sexual freedom, asked Indira? As usual, males are free to do what they please, with few consequences, but if a female tried the same things she would soon be ostracised or worse. This may be universally true, for one has heard the same abroad. Cohabiting before marriage seems accepted in USA, though not yet in India, a few exceptions aside, said Indira. But it may be coming about in the big cities where young men and women live shielded from the supervisory influence of family or parents who live far away, in another city.
Referring to the cloistered nature of gay sex or extra-marital affairs in Kerala (a state which Indira thinks is particularly hostile to homosexuality, illicit affairs, and women's liberation), she asked Joe if he had ever come across a gay man. Yes, said Joe. In Kerala? Yes. A Keralite? No – an American who was looking to have a gay time in Kerala. Laughter. KumKum explained that the foreigner had inveigled himself into a young married man's family, and it happened the local guy had a same-sex orientation, although married.
From there the discussion became colourful, veering off into the prevalence of liberated sexual mores, clandestinely, in some of the most strait-laced parts of Kerala. 
 
The Readings

KumKum: Nathan's infidelity is outed
Ch XIV
Amidst perpetual poverty, famine, trickery and despair, pops out the deepest secret which Nathan kept to himself for all these years. It tests Rukmani's trust in her husband, adding another dimension to her already miserable existence.

The ration of seven days to Kunti, and eight already eaten. There is still enough for nine days, I thought, Not with comfort but with desolation, and hatred came welling up again for her who had deprived me of the grain, and contempt for myself who had relinquished it.
I waited a long time that night before going out, for fear that Kunti might be watching. ‘There is nothing she would not do’, I thought, lying there in the darkness. ‘I must wait, and walk with care, and return unseen. I will match my wits against hers’, I thought cunningly, lying and listening to uneasy slumber about me, ‘and I will yet win; clever though she is, she shall not have all.’ I rose at last and went out softly, and looked about me, and went quickly to the hole I had dug, and clawed away the earth until I saw the bundle, white under starlight. I squatted down, I knew then there was no more than a handful left --- a day’s supply, no more, not the nine days’ supply I had looked to find.
My stomach lurched, blood came pounding to my head, I felt myself going dizzy. Who could have known, who had done this to me ?..............
Who could have done this ? My own family ? No, I thought with despair, thrusting aside the small core of suspicion each time it formed. ‘Surely not. Who else? Who?
She accuses her children and said: ‘ I must know, I must know who has done this thing.’
They looked at me as if I had lost my senses. Ira said timidly, “We would not take what belonged to us all.”
Tell me I am imagining the loss,” I stormed at her,“ or that I myself have eaten it.”
They stared at me in silence, amazed. Outside Kuti was bawling. Attracted by his cries, Nathan had come up, now he called to me.
See to the child,” he said frowning. “Can you not hear him? He will choke.
So much the better,” I said. “ it will be one less mouth to feed.”……….
My heart is sick,” I said. “I have been robbed, and by one of my own children, of rice, which above all things is most precious.”
Is that what you have said to them?”
I nodded. I saw his face wither.
I took it,”he said at last.
You ? My husband? I do not believe it!”
It is true.”
Silence fell like shroud. I listened to it locked in my own brooding bitterness. Then it was rent by a sound so raw, so painful, that my nerves began screaming in response, I looked up and it was Nathan. His face was working, from his throat came those dry hideous sobs.
Not for myself.” “for another. I took it for another. There was no other way. I hoped you would not notice. I had to do it.”
I went to him. I did not want to know any more why he had done it or for whom, it was no longer important; but he was still speaking: it was as if he could not stop.
Kunti took it all, I swear it. She forced me, I did not want you to know.”
Presently he was quiet.
She has a strange power, this woman,” I said, half to myself.
Not strange,”, Nathan said. “I am the father of her sons. She would have told you, and I was weak.”
Disbelief first; disillusionment; anger, reproach, pain. To find out, after so man years, in such a cruel way. Kali’s words; she had fire in her body, men burn before and after. My husband was of those men. He had known her not once but twice; he had gone back to give her a second son. ‘And between, how many times,’ I thought, bleak of spirit, ‘while her husband in his impotence and I in my innocence did nothing.’


Zakia: CH XXIX – Nathan dies
Midnight, and, as always before, his paroxysms eased. The fits of shivering stopped, the stiff limbs fell limp and relaxed. In the calm stillness I saw him open his eyes, his hand came to my face, tender and searching, wiping away the unruly tears.
"You,must not cry, my dearest. What has to be, has to
”‘Hush," I said. "Rest and grow better."
"I have only to stretch out my hand," he said, "to feel the coldness of death. Would you hold me when my time is come? I am at peace. Do not grieve."
"If I grieve," I said, "it is not for you, but for myself, beloved, for how shall I endure to live without you, who are my love and my life?"
"You are not alone," he said. "I live in my children. " and was silent, and then I heard him murmur my name and bend down.
"Have we not been happy together ?"
"Always, my dearest, always. "
"It is slipping away fast," he said. "Rest with me a little.”
And so I laid my face on his and for a while his breath soft and light as a rose petal on my cheek, then he sighed as if in weariness and turned his face to me, and so his gentle spirit withdrew and the light went out in his eyes.



Bobby: Ch XX – Rukmani fears for the health of Ira's child
NOT in the town where all that was natural had long been sacrificed, but on its outskirts, one could still see the passing of the seasons. For in the town there were the crowds, and streets battened down upon the earth, and the filth that men had put upon it ; and one walked with care for what might lie beneath one’s feet or threaten from before or behind; and in this preoccupation forgot to look at the sun or the stars, or even to observe they had changed their setting in the sky: and knew nothing of the passage of time save in dry frenzy, by looking at a clock. But for us, who lived by the green, quiet fields, perilously close though these E were to the town, nature still gave its muted message. Each I passing day, each week, each month, left its sign, clear and unmistakable.

The tender budding of our new year, the periwinkles and the jasmine, the soft, scented champak blossom, had yielded place v to the fierce flowering jacaranda and gold mohur, before Ira’s time came for giving birth, When my daughter was in labour I erected the bamboo paling outside to warn my husband and son, as is the custom for those who have only one room and one dwelling; and when I had scoured the hut and poured wet dung on it I brought out the pallet of plaited straw I myself had used, for Ira to lie on; and went and gathered the petals the trees had shaken about them and took them into her, a vivid basket of layer upon layer of gold and red and mauve and purple.

"A child of summer," I said "should be sturdy."
She smiled and laid her hands on the petals,
"He is. I feel it."

While I waited I thought of the other births this very hut had seen. First Ira herself, then the long, long interval and after that almost every passing year I bore a son. There had been hope and expectation , perhaps some anxiety, before each birth; they were l natural feelings. But now fears came swarming about my head like the black flying ants after a storm, and cowered from the beat of their wings. A child conceived in an encounter fares no worse than a child born in wedlock...so Kenny had said; but could one be sure? A man takes his wife with passion, as is his nature, yet he is gentle with her: amid the fire of breast on breast and bared thigh on thigh he still can hold himself, and give as much as he takes, leaving the exultant flesh unbruised. The woman is his, his wife, not only now for this surging experience. but tomorrow and neat year. She will carry his seed and he will see her fruitful, watch while day by day his child grows within her. And so he is tender and careful, and comes to her clean that their fulfilment may be rich and blessed.

But the man who finds a woman in the street, raises an eyebrow and snaps his fingers so that she follows him, throws her a few coins that he may possess her, holds her unresisting whatever he does to her, for this is what he has paid for – what cares such a man for the woman who is his for a brief moment? He has gained his relief, she her payment, he merges carelessly into the human throng, consigning her hack into the shadows where she worked or to the gaudy streets where she loitered.


Thommo: Ch XIV – Hunger
Now that the last of the rice was gone it was in a sense a relief: no amount of scheming and paring would make it go any further: the last grain had been eaten. Thereafter we fed on whatever we could find: the soft ripe of the prickly pear; a sweet potato or two, blackened and half-rotten, thrown away by some more prosperous hand; sometimes a crab that Nathan managed to catch near the river. Early and late my sons roamed the countryside, returning with a few bamboo shoots, a stack of sugarcane left in some deserted field, or a piece of coconut picked from the gutter in the town. For these they must have ranged widely, for other farmers and their families, in like plight to ourselves, were also out searching for food: and for every edible plant or root there was a struggle -- a rate competition that made enemies of friends and put an end to humanity.
It was not enough. Sometimes from sheer rebellion we ate grass, although it always resulted in stomach cramps and violent retching. For hunger is a curious thing : at first it is with you all the time, waking and sleeping and in your dreams, and your belly cries out insistently, and there is a gnawing and a pain as if your vitals were being devoured, and you must stop it at any cost, and you buy a moment’s respite even while you know and fear the sequel. Then the pain is no longer sharp but dull, and this too is with you always, so that you think of food many times a day and each time a terrible sickness assails you, and before know this you try to avoid the thought, but you cannot, it is with you. Then that too is gone, all pain, all desire, only a great emptiness is left, like the sky, like a well in drought, and it is now that the strength drains from your limbs, and you try to rise and find you cannot, or to swallow water and your throat is powerless, _' both the swallow and the effort of retaining the liquid tax you the uttermost.
lt will not be long before the harvest,’ Nathan would murmur and I would agree with him, stifling the query whether our strength would last till then, saying, ‘Ah yes, not long now; a little time before the grain is ripe.’
lt happened to me too, but I could not see myself, only what happened to others: saw their flesh melt away and their ski _ and sink between their jutting bones, saw their eyes retreat their skulls, saw their ribs curve out from under the skin: and what withered the young bore doubly hard on the old and they were emaciated twice over.
But of us all Kuti suffered the most.


Joe:Ch X – The Deepavali mela
In the throng I lost Nathan and the boys, or perhaps they lost me—at any rate we got separated. I pushed my way through the crush, this way and that, nobody giving an inch, in my efforts to find them; and in the end I had to give up. Before long, in the heat and excitement, I forgot them. Drums had begun to beat, the fire was blazing fiercely, great long orange tongues consuming the fuel and thrusting upwards and sometimes outwards as if to engulf the watchers. As each searching flame licked round, the crowd leaned away from its grasp, straightening as the wind and the flames changed direction; so that there was a constant swaying movement like the waving of river grasses. The heat was intense—faces gleamed ruddy in the firelight, one or two women had drawn their saris across their eyes.
Leaping, roaring to climax, then the strength taken from fury. a quietening. Slowly, one by one, the flames gave up their colour and dropped, until at last there were none left—only a glowing heap, ashen-edged. The drumbeats died to a murmur. The scent of jasmine flowers mingled with the fumes of camphor and oil. and a new smell, that of toddy, which several of the men had been drinking—many to excess, for they were lurching about loud-mouthed and more than ordinarily merry. I looked about for my family and at last saw my husband. He seemed to have gone mad. He had one son seated on his shoulders and one son at each hip and was bounding about on the fringes of the crowd to the peril of my children and the amusement of the people. I fought my way to him "Have you taken leave of your senses ?" I cried out above the din.
"No; only of my cares," he shouted gaily, capering about with the children clinging delightedly to him. "Do you not feel joy in the air?"
He sounded so light of heart I could not help smiling.
"I feel nothing," I said, going up to him. "Perhaps it is the toddy that makes the feeling."
"Not a drop," he said, coming up to me. "Smell !"
"You are too tall — I cannot," I replied.
"Lift her up," somebody yelled, and a dozen voices repeated cry : "Lift her up, lift her up ! "
My husband looked at me solemnly. "I will," he said, and dropping his sons he seized me and swung me high up, in front of all those people. Several of the women were laughing at him indulgently, the children were twittering with pleasure.
"Whatever will they say," I said, my face burning as he let down again. "At our age too ! You ought to be ashamed ! "
"That I am not," he said winking, to he vast delight of the onlookers. "I am happy because life is good and the children are I , and you are the best of all."
What more could I say after that ? Nathan sang loudly an the way back. He was in high spirits.


Indira: Coleridge's Poem Work Without Hope
All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair--
The bees are stirring--birds are on the wing--
And Winter, slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
And I, the while, the sole unbusy thing,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.


Yet well I ken the banks where amaranths blow,
Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.
Bloom, O ye amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,
For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!
With lips unbrighten'd, wreathless brow, I stroll:
And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul?
Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And Hope without an object cannot live
.

No comments: