Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya-Online Book Summary


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When Kunthi goes into labor, Ruku is forced to tend to her as Janaki is ill and Kali away. Kunthi protests but Ruku stays anyway. After Kunthiís son is born, Ruku returns home to find Nathan is angry at her for having neglected her own health in staying so long - Ruku, too, is now pregnant.

Nathan insists Ruku takes things easy now that she is expecting and she uses her down time to practice her writing - a skill she was taught by her father. Although Rukuís mother had found her fatherís lessons foolish (she could not write), Ruku intends to teach her own child when the time is right. Janaki is amazed by Rukuís skill but Kali finds Rukuís writing a foolish waste of time. Nathan, who cannot read and write himself, encourages Ruku to continue her practice and finds her clever for having the skill. Ruku realizes this must cost her husband a great deal to say as in her culture it is not right for a woman to be more learned than her husband.

Ruku continues to hone her skills in the garden and is constantly amazed at the way in which things grow and change. One day while tending her pumpkins, she uncovers and accidentally touches a cobra. Rukuís frantic flight and screams bring Nathan who kills the cobra and laughs good-naturedly at the sight of his heavily pregnant wife running through the field.

A few days later, Ruku gives birth to her first child, a daughter. Although the baby is healthy and strong looking, Ruku cries over the disappointment of having a girl. Kali tries to consol her that there will be others but Ruku doesnít feel comforted.

Kali remains to help Ruku adjust to the first few days of motherhood. While in the garden, Rukuís fear over her cobra encounter comes flooding back and she relays the story to Kali. Kali comforts her but says itís a pity the cobra was killed as they are sacred - Nathan disagrees with the wisdom of allowing even a sacred snake to harm his wife. Ruku considers destroying the pumpkin patch; fortunately she doesnít, as the patch produces wonderful pumpkins from then on.

Ruku and Nathan name their daughter Irawaddy after an important river although she is soon nicknamed Ira. At first Nathan is not interested in Ira as she is a girl, but soon he is taken in by her charms. Despite the fact that neither Ruku nor Nathan are blessed with good looks, Ira is a beautiful little girl and grows quickly.

Life continues well for Ruku and Nathan who remain busy with their crops and home. Ruku notes her visits with her mother become more infrequent as her responsibilities as a wife and mother grow.


Kunthiís strange attitude towards Ruku appears here again. Although Ruku tries to comfort her, Kunthi seems agitated or annoyed by Rukuís presence. For now, Ruku remains at a loss as to what this behavior might mean.

Nathanís care of the newly pregnant Ruku is apparent in both his annoyance at her long stay with Kunthi and his insistence that she not help in the fields. This was somewhat unusual, as women often worked at heavy labor right up until giving birth. But Nathan feels his wife is special and treats her accordingly.

Rukuís ability to read and write is very unusual for a rural villager and even more so for a woman. Rukuís mother and Kali hold the attitude of many that a woman has no time for reading and writing when she has a home and children to tend to. However, Rukuís father was forward thinking and thought that this skill was the least he could give to his youngest child as he had little to give for her dowry. Most husbands in Nathanís position would have allowed their shame at having a wife more learned than they to cause them to put a stop to her practice. Instead, Nathan expresses his pride in having a ďcleverĒ wife and encourages Ruku to continue. Once again, Nathan shows his true care and consideration for Ruku as it was within his rights as her husband to force her to stop if he wanted. Ruku understands and appreciates ďwhat it costĒ Nathan to allow her to continue and the bond between the two grow.

Rukuís wonder at the growth of her garden shows her appreciation of the simple miracles of life. The episode with the cobra demonstrates Nathanís practical side - although the cobra is a sacred animal in India, he kills it in order to protect his wife.

The birth of her first child should have been a joyous occasion for Ruku; however, the baby was a girl. In India, boys were far more valued than girls, especially as the firstborn. Rukuís initial disappointment soon gives way to pride and joy; the baby is blessed with beauty and a charming personality. Nathan, too, gives in to the babyís charms again showing his somewhat unusual male behavior. In naming the baby Irawaddy, after a river, Ruku and Nathan acknowledge the importance of water in their lives. As we will soon see, water is the one thing they cannot survive without.

As time passes, Ruku becomes more and more at home with Nathan and slowly grows apart from her family, as it is difficult to travel the distance that separates them. Although this saddens her, she is happy and satisfied with her life with Nathan and Ira.

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