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Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya-Online Book Summary


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Part I of the novel is set in an unnamed village in rural India. No date is given but the setting is probably some time in the first half of the 20th century. The villagers live in simple mud huts with thatch roofs and are largely subsistence farmers. The main crop and diet is rice supplemented with vegetables and some fish. They enjoy no modern convinces - no running water, indoor plumbing or electricity. Most are illiterate or have little education. Marriages are arranged and girls are married young. The arrival of a tannery (a facility for making leather) in the village disrupts the quiet village life.

Part II of the novel is set in an unnamed Indian city. Compared to the village it is crowded, loud and dirty. We see mostly the poverty stricken areas of the city where the hungry and homeless struggle to survive.


Major Characters

Ruku (Rukmani)
Ruku is the protagonist and narrator; we watch her mature from a nervous, young bride of 12 to a wise and thoughtful woman of old age. Although she faces many hardships in her life and reluctantly faces numerous changes, Rukuís spirit remains hopeful as she seeks to hold on to the small joys in life.

Rukuís loving husband, Nathan is a constant in Rukuís uncertain life. Quiet and unassuming, Nathan works hard to provide for his family but eventually loses his battle to hold onto his land and his life.

Ira (Irawaddy)
Ruku and Nathanís eldest child and oldest daughter, Ira is an obedient child who turns into a beautiful young woman. Rejected by her husband for failing to have children, Ira returns home only to later become a mother through an encounter as a prostitute.

Ruku and Nathanís fifth son - Selvam decides that despite his fatherís wishes he cannot work as a farmer. Selvam goes to work with Kenny to build a clinic in the village and will care for his mother in her old age.

Kenny (Kennington)
An English doctor who appears from time to time in Rukuís village. When Ruku is unable to conceive, Kenny helps her. Later, Kenny mentors Rukuís youngest son, Selvam. Over the years, Kenny and Ruku develop a friendship despite their cultural differences.

Minor Characters

Puli is an orphan and a leper but he displays the same courage and joy for life that Ruku does. After he helps Ruku and Nathan survive in the city, Ruku decides to adopt him and take him back to her home as her son.

Kunthi is a village woman Rukuís age whom, from the beginning, seems to bear Ruku a grudge. She learns of Rukuís visits to Kennyís clinic and blackmails Ruku; later, Ruku learns that Nathan had fathered Kunthiís sons.

Ruku and Nathanís oldest son - Arjun takes a job at the tannery and leads a strike of the workers. After he looses his job, he had his brother Thambi travel to Ceylon to work on tea plantations.

Ruku and Nathanís second son - Thambi joins his brother Arjun in working at the tannery and in leading the tannery strike. He also goes to work on the tea plantations.

Ruku and Nathanís third son - Murugan takes a job in the city as a servant. When Ruku and Nathan go to the city they hope to live with Murugan, but they learn that he has abandoned his wife and child and disappeared.

Ruku and Nathanís fourth son - Raja also takes a job at the tannery. Weakened by hunger, he dies when tannery guards beat him for allegedly stealing.

Ruku and Nathanís youngest son - As the youngest, Kuti is most affected by the familyís lack of food. Although his sister Ira becomes a prostitute to try to earn food to save him, Kuti dies, a victim of poverty and hunger.

The village moneylender and merchant - Biswas has an unsavory reputation for charging high interest on his loans and high prices for his goods, but Ruku is forced to do business with him when times are tight.

Old Granny
An old, unmarried woman who makes a living from buying and selling vegetables - Old Granny serves as matchmaker for Ira and later dies penniless and alone in the street.

The village gossip - Kali helps Ruku after she is first married and serves as a good, although sometimes overly nosey, friend.

Iraís child - Scarabani is doubly cursed - he is the bastard son of a prostitute (Ira) and an albino; despite this, Ira and her family love and accept him.

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Sinclair, Meredith. "TheBestNotes on Nectar in a Sieve". . 09 May 2017