A HANDFUL OF RICE by Kamala Markandaya


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Kamala Markandaya, whose Nectar in a Sieve (1955) was a miniature epic about India's poor, returns to the earlier concerns of that book in A Handful of Rice. Ravi is a village son who has left his desolate, destitute home for the promise of the city. There he falls into the company of similarly rootless young men, presided over by the wily city boy, Damodar, who appears fitfully through the book as a seducer to criminal and get-rich-quick schemes which Damodar is clever enough to survive and thrive by. By a chance misdeed, Ravi becomes acquainted with the tailor Apu and his family; Apu's daughter Nalini wins his heart and brings him from the streets into the already crowded household, first as Apu's apprentice, then his son-in-law. The author recreates the life of the respectable poor with moving fidelity as they face the problems of food, illness, unemployment. When Apu dies, the still rebellious but worn Ravi, now a father of three and head of the household, cannot keep his customers. After the death of his son, he reverts to the street, but Damodar now discards him as unfit for dangerous enterprises, and he ends storming the rice supplies with the mob. A portrait in poverty, which is part of the history of our times. It is less compelling than the earlier book as a novel while managing the same concerned compassion.

Pub Date: Aug. 11th, 1966
Publisher: John Day