Arnab Kumar Sinha

Mapping the Relationship between the Seas and the Humans: The Symbolic Sea in Mallika Krishnamurthy’s Six Yards of Silk 

The symbolic dimension of the sea is very prominent in diasporic literature. Writers of the Indian diaspora, particularly those who have dealt with the narratives of the coolies traveling from India to other parts of the world, have often sought to represent the engagement of the diasporic coolies with the sea during their arduous journey through the sea. Thus, sea acquires a special significance in textualizing the anxiety, trauma, pain, and loss of homeland in certain Indian diasporic literary texts. Mallika Krishnamurthy’s Six Yards of Silk (2011) is a diasporic novel that is set in New Zealand. Using the sartorial imagery of wearing an Indian sari, the novel seeks to connect the life of a migrant Indian woman, Sharmila with her past. Sharmila’s house in New Zealand is very near to the sea, and this sea constantly reminds her of Ramesh. Ramesh is Sharmila’s brother, a neurotic patient, and he gets drowned at sea one night while rowing a boat in a state of abnormality. This incident of losing his brother haunts Sharmila throughout the novel, as she tries to negotiate with this loss. In this narrative of pain and suffering, the sea assumes a significant symbolic dimension. It generates hope in the mind of Sharmila that one day, quite miraculously, Ramesh may appear alive before her. The sea is considered by Sharmila as a kind figure, not keen to snatch human lives. The logic of death due to drowning at sea is challenged by Sharmila. She believes that sea has taken away Ramesh from the land, only to make his habitation possible in the deep sea. This idea is convincingly presented by Krishnamurthy in the novel, and it becomes evident in the last few lines of the text: “Rowing would clear his head, the ocean would help him. The ocean would distract him. The ocean would keep him alive” (170). Sharmila’s act of unfolding a silk saree and allowing it to fly out over the sea confirms the idea that probably the sea will act as a medium to protect and nourish the life of Ramesh. This paper will thus make an attempt to investigate the intricate relationship between the seas and the humans, and in doing so, it shall argue that novels like Six Yards of Silk are genuinely focused on the symbiotic relationship between humans and seas. To establish this viewpoint, the paper shall refer to Stefan Helmreich’s Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas, in which, Helmreich discusses the perspectives of the marine biologists, “…they see the ocean as intimately connected to the human world, providing the ecological context within which we and other living things originated and persist” (x).