Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya-Online Book Summary


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Six years pass and despite her constant hoping, Ruku has no more children. Ruku goes to visit her mother who is dying of consumption; Rukuís mother prays with her, assures her sons will come and gives her a fertility symbol to wear.

While at her motherís, Ruku meets for the first time Kennington or Kenny, a white doctor who Rukuís father had summoned to ease his wifeís pain. Since she has never seen a white man, Ruku stares at this visitor with curiosity, but soon learns that he is kind and caring. After Rukuís mother dies, Kenny asks her what causes the troubled look on her face. After some hesitation, Ruku tells him of her lack of sons. Kenny instructs Ruku to come and see him, as he may be able to help; despite her fears of trusting a foreigner, Ruku eventually does go to see him.

Less than a year later, Ruku gives birth to her first son, Arjun. No one is more pleased than Nathan, who after seven years of waiting, spares no expense in throwing a celebratory feast to show off his new son. Rukuís own happiness is dampened slightly by Kennyís absence and by the fact that she has kept hidden from Nathan her visit to Kennyís clinic.

Over the next few years, Ruku gives birth to several more sons: Thambi, Murugan, Raja and Selvam. Daughter Ira acts as a second mother to the quickly growing boys. Although they are pleased with their expanding family, Ruku and Nathan can no longer afford to feed the family with milk and plenty of vegetables as they once had. Instead, Ruku sells much of her produce to Old Granny in the market. One day, Ruku is stopped by Biswas, the local moneylender. He offers to buy her vegetables at nearly twice the price Old Granny paid. Despite her dislike of the moneylender and her feelings of loyalty to Old Granny, Ruku begins doing business with Biswas. To her surprise, Old Granny does not seem to bear her a grudge.

Although times are tight, the family still has food enough to eat. Ruku even manages to save a rupee or two a month for Iraís future dowry.


Like many Indian families, Ruku and Nathan eagerly anticipated the birth of their first son. Although Ira was beautiful and well loved by her parents, she could never fulfill the role of the firstborn male child. Rukuís quiet suffering during her six childless years illustrates the silent resolve she has throughout the book.

The introduction of the white (presumably English) doctor, Kenny, sets up one of the central problems in the novel. Rukuís initial wariness of Kenny comes from her lack of exposure to people from outside her culture. Over the course of their long friendship, Kenny will challenge Rukuís ďignoranceĒ about the world; in return, she will attempt to teach him a more simplistic way of thinking.

Rukuís hesitation to go to Kenny for help and her decision to keep the visit secret from Nathan is due to the fact that she feels it is not culturally acceptable for her to share her troubles with a stranger, especially a male stranger. What Kenny does to help Ruku is never fully explained but his medical knowledge allows her to have not one but five healthy sons in quick succession.

Two other characters are introduced in this chapter that will play small but important roles in Rukuís life: Biswas, the moneylender, and Old Granny. Ruku notes that moneylenders are not well thought of - they charged high rates to their generally poor clients and grew rich off the misfortune of others. As an old, unmarried woman, Old Granny must fend for herself by trading vegetables in the village market. Rukuís guilt-ridden decision to sell to Biswas instead of Old Granny is only the first of many difficult choices she will have to make to care for her family.

With more mouths to feed, Ruku and Nathan must adjust their standard of living. Nathanís dream of owning his own land and building a better home for his family seems to have been put on hold as he works to keep food on the table. While they are not starving, the family can no longer afford ďluxuryĒ food items. This demonstrates the thin line for families such as Rukuís - one failed harvest or family crisis and the family will go hungry.

Rukuís enduring hope is illustrated again in her plans for Iraís future. Even though the family has little to spare, Ruku sets aside money for her daughterís dowry. Perhaps remembering her own girlish dreams of a fancy wedding, Ruku hopes to be able to make a strong marriage match for her daughter when the time comes.

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