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A Handful of Rice by Kamala Markandaya Summary

by Litinbox

A Handful of Rice‘ is a Kamala Markandaya‘s haunting novel about the plight of poor and wretched life – a novel about the struggle for survival. It was published in 1966.

The protagonist finds life a struggle everywhere he goes. Everything he needs is a handful of rice, but the struggle to gain it is not very easy for a poor. The protagonist is every poor in and around an Indian village at the time when the novel was written and the readers can witness its relevance even today.

A Handful of Rice Summary

The protagonist of the novel, Ravi, the son of a peasant, moves from a background plagued by poverty and hunger to an urban materialistic milieu in the hope of a better life there.

In the city, he acquires the friendship of Kannan, a blacksmith. Though Ravi is a literate, he struggles very hard to find a job of his choice in the city at all odd ends. His hopes of finding a decent job for his little education diminish. His primary struggle is to find a space where he can breathe freely and earn a livelihood.

Unable to bear dire poverty and when he is forced to search for a marsel of food at each and every moment, he gets ready to pursue an unprotected life among criminals. Caught at the hands of destitution and mental instability, Ravi falls into a gang of hoodwinkers under Damodar, who live a life deceiving people. He involves in trades of underworld suchlike smuggling, gambling and deceiving.

As an educated, Ravi degrades himself loosing his morale and conduct. Left with no food and boarding, he seeks for settlement by hook or crook. He strives but aimlessly in a dream (in a hope) that one day he would acquire the life he wants. None is to blame but the poverty and starvation makes him take part in all the evils of underworld.

A strong misdeed leads to an unanticipated acquaintance with Apu, a tailor, and joins as an apprentice under him. Even though the house is overcrowded, he finds boarding there somehow. A relationship develops between him and Nalini, Apu’s daughter, that cease to be a love between them. Ram, Ravi’s father, comes to his help to hold Nalini’s hand in marriage. At first Apu hesitates, but finally he agrees.

Ravi leads a satisfied life as the husband of Nalini. Thereby his conduct begins to refine little by little. The other members of the family are Jayamma – Apu’s wife, Thangam – Nalini’s sister, Puttana – Thangam’s husband. Puttana is a lazy who always wants to suck others’ perspiration. Soon Nalini gives birth to a male baby and is named Raju. Burden increases on Ravi’s shoulder as a result of it. He aspires to work hard more. Nalini again gives birth to twins, two females this time. The burden grows more.

At this situation Apu has met with an accident and passes away soon. The sudden demise of his father-in-law leads Ravi to face the socio-economic pressure again as all the responsibilities come to weigh on his shoulders. One day Ravi beats up Nalini in a rage. When he comes back from work, Nalini is missing in the house. Jayamma doesn’t answer where Nalini has gone. He rapes her in anger and goes in search of Nalini. Nalini is found at Puttana’s home. He brings her back home.

To add to his pressure, his little son dies one day due to his negligence in calling the doctor on time. Owing to this, his wife begins to reject him silently. It is for his wife, Ravi has reformed his way of life. But her imminent rejection leads to frustration. This brings back Ravi into the evils of underworld. After much hesitations and dilemma, Ravi reverts to Damodar. But Damodar rejects him. Eventually he tries to loot a granary with the mob, but his conscience holds him back. The novel ends here with Ravi still struggling for a handful of rice.

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