Academic | Essay Contest
William Jennings Bryan once said, "Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved." In this statement, Bryan voices the core belief of Dr. Kennington in Kamala Markandaya's novel, Nectar in a Sieve. Dr. Kennington, or "Kenny," is a Western doctor living amongst the impoverished peasants of agrarian India. In light of this fact, Kenny's ideals often clash with the cultural ideals of his neighbors. While the rural Indian laborers seem content to work tirelessly in the lot life has given them without struggling against the bonds of injustice and inequality, Kenny firmly advocates challenging the obstacles that hold them back and breaking free. Undying faith in the generosity of the earth keeps the agricultural community of India rooted to its land; Kenny is in favor of defying this faith and taking fate into one's own hands. As far as Kenny is concerned, the future is a thing to be forcefully controlled, not submissively accepted.
Throughout the novel, Kenny demonstrates a certain incongruity in his attitude toward the Indian people. At times fully accepting, at times scornful and condescending, Kenny embodies a cross between two vastly different cultures. As far as matters of the heart go, Kenny and his neighbors are essentially on the same page; all humans share fundamental emotions and concerns, and his ability to appreciate this is what links Kenny so strongly to others. As the protagonist, Rukmani, notes in her narration, "He would have helped us in our need with food and money and skill, yet it was something more than this that he offered us, and I could not find the words for it" (105). This something for which Rukmani "could not find the words" is compassion. Kenny understands the plights of the indigent Indians, and the sincere compassion he feels for them emanates from his mere presence, in spite of his imposing facade.
On the other hand, some aspects of Kenny's language and behavior seem to indicate a degree of derision where the peasants of India are concerned. Unable to comprehend why the Indians refuse to rise up and fight against their oppressors, Kenny calls them "acquiescent imbeciles" (111). He finds their docile philosophies perplexing, and believes them to be the result of limited perspective. He is entirely incapable of comprehending why they will continue to suffer in their "eternal, shameful poverty" (70). As he speculates to Rukmani, "Do not the sick die in the streets because there is no hospital for them? Are not children born in the gutters? I have told you before...I will repeat it again: you must cry out if you want help. It is no use whatsoever to suffer in silence. Who will succour the drowning man if he does not clamour for his life?" (111). These concepts clash harshly with the Indian agrarians' view on life. They believe that "[they] would be pitiable creatures indeed to be so weak, for is not a man's spirit given to him to rise above his misfortunes?" (111). These basic differences in ideology create a barrier between Kenny and the Indians that he is never quite able to cross. Frustrated by the rift separating them, Kenny reacts with condescension and irritability.
In spite of Kenny's slightly patronizing attitude toward Indian culture, the good he does for the individuals he comes to know and love far outweighs his flaws. Without Kenny, Rukmani may never have borne a son, Selvam would have been reduced to seeking a job amongst men he did not respect, and Puli would have lost his remaining limbs to the disease that claimed his fingers. Selfless and benevolent, Kenny has given up his own home and family in an effort to improve those of the less fortunate. If nothing else does so, this proves that in the depths of his soul, Kenny is truly a good person; his generous deeds and sacrificial actions more than compensate for the occasional abruptness in his manner. If one chisels past his exterior of stone, he will discover a heart of gold.