And Environmental movement
By K. Venugopal Reddy
19 October, 2006
environmental movement began indisputably in the early seventies. However,
a critical understanding of the text 'Nectar in a Sieve' published in
1954 by Kamala Markandaya implies that it had its ideological moorings
from the first decade of India's independence. Therefore the appearance
and the reading of the text acquire crucial significance for understanding
the ideological moorings of environmental movement in post-colonial
India. If one may borrow the expression of Madhav Gadgil and Ramachandra
Guha, Kamala Markandaya's lament over destruction of landscape, her
voice for preservation of nature may earn her the epithet 'Invisible
Markandaya is skeptical of
the advantages of the development of modern industry. The change it
brings is rapid, violent and disorganizing. She believes that the change
ushered in by the growth of industry marginalizes the subalterns by
displacing them from their lands and ruining their very livelihoods.
She is strongly convinced that growth of industry is not a signpost
of everlasting happiness for majority of people eking out their livelihoods
in the villages.
A critical interrogation
of the fiction reveals the writer's implicit ideas on environmentalism.
She expresses her views strongly against the industrialization and its
harmful bearing on the
natural environment. She considers that the insensitive industrialization
not only pollutes the natural landscape but also dislocates the lives
of the people in the countryside. The novel is critically relevant and
instructive in the context of the deliberate violence committed on the
nature in the name of achieving rapid economic and social progress of
human societies and the unremitting attempts to redesign the contours
of natural environment displaying the insensitiveness of human nature.
It is therefore a silent but sharp protest against the demoralizing
impact of the industrialization and is quite edifying from the perspective
of maintaining and preserving the harmony between the nature and human
To Markandaya, nature is
a vital sustaining force of human life. The survival of human life is
considered unimaginable without it. It is perceived and constructed
as being an integral part of the humans. It is depicted not only as
a regenerative force but one with an infinite power of destruction.
It is conceptualized as a trained 'wild animal', which, if not treated
sensitively or disregarded, has the ability to be more destructive in
its disposition. Untamed nature is represented to be treacherous and
ruthless. 'Nature is like a wild animal that you have trained to work
for you. So long as you are vigilant and walk with thought and care,
so long will it give you its aid; but look away for an instant, be heedless
or forgetful, and it has you by the throat.' She forcefully communicates
her ideas on how man and the nature are interlocked in a symbiotic relationship.
She demonstrates that the survival of humanity depends on the sensitive
treatment of nature. Indeed, she expresses her concern for careful husbanding
of resources. Any thoughtless approach or disregard to the dynamics
of nature and its functioning, or any move to alter or redesign its
contours would only lead to the consequences, which would be quite unimaginable
to the human mind or which would put the survival of humanity in jeopardy.
It is therefore important to preserve and protect it from rapacity of
humans. So, the narrator forcefully articulates her concern for preservation
of the nature's uniqueness and serenity.
The beginning of the industry
meant invading the villages with clatter and din. She is sharply critical
of the other consequences such as the industrial pollution and the disruption
to the tranquility of the pastoral life and landscape. Markandaya exhibits
intense awareness of the corrosive effects of the industrialization
and urbanization on the natural environment and inestimable damage to
the purity of nature. She conveys how the humans become insensitive
to the aesthetics of nature. The adverse effects of the urbanization
are seen in the growth of unhygienic conditions and the disoriented
life of humans. The irrevocable outcome of this process in the towns
is the loss of man's connection with the aesthetics of nature, the ultimate
benefactor of humanity. This view is extraordinarily communicated by
Markandaya voices her sharp
protest against the demoralizing impact of the industrialization. Her
representation of unhygienic conditions in the towns and her distaste
for highly urbanized cities
conspicuously reflect her intense anguish at the catastrophic environmental
impact of colonial and post-colonial industrialization. Her fictionalized
narrative of the changing landscape on account of the growth of industry
does indicate the emerging consciousness for the protection of the natural
environment. Her narrative becomes particularly significant in the context
of rising environmental awareness contemporaneously in different locations
of the world.
The novel is therefore appealing
to modern readers for its sensitive and moving portrayal of the human
tragedy due to the obsession for human progress unmindful of the destruction
of nature. Hence, what is striking is her respect for nature's inherent
energy and a belief in pristine nature as a necessity for human life,
a dismay at inroads (in the name of development) man has made against
the land, a conviction that man must respect the nature's sacred energy
and so must reverse the present trend toward progress at any cost, an
unwavering passion for what is nature.
It may be apt to conclude
here with an expression of the great leader of the Native American Suquamish
Tribe, Chief Seattle who said to his white conquerors: "Teach your
children what we have taught ours, that the earth is our mother. Whatever
befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. The earth does not
belong to man; man belongs to the earth. Man did not weave the web of
life; he is merely a strand in it. We do not inherit the earth from
our ancestors; we borrow it from our children." Therefore, Markandaya's
Nectar in a Sieve can be considered a critical text in terms of present
and future relations between human communities and the environment.
1. Kamala Markandaya, Nectar
in Sieve, The John Day Company, New York, 1954.
2. Christopher Hitt, 'Toward
an Ecological Sublime', New Literary History, 30.3 (1999)
3. James I. McClintock, 'Edward
Abbey's "Antidotes to Despair",' Critique, Volume.31.1 (1989).
4. Valentine T. Bill, 'Nature
in Chekhov's Fiction', Russian Review, Vol.33. No.2. (April, 1974).
5. Madhav Gadgil and Ramachandra
Guha, The Use and Abuse of Nature: Incorporating This Fissured Land:
An Ecological History of India, Ecology and Equity, Oxford University
Press, New Delhi, Oxford, 2000.
6. D. Balasubramanian, 'We
borrow the earth from our children: Protection of the biosphere and
biodiversity is relevant to all of humankind.' 7 September, 2006, The
Dr. K. Venugopal Reddy
Reader, Department of History
Pondicherry - 605 014
Share Your Insights