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Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya-Online Book Summary

 

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NECTAR IN A SIEVE BOOK NOTES


CHAPTER 4


Summary

Change is the subject of this chapter as Ruku’s quiet village life is shattered by young Arjun’s excited announcement of the arrival of hundreds of men and carts of bricks at the village maidan (a communal field). Ruku and her family rush to the village center to observe the chaos; they learn that a tannery (a facility for processing animal hides) is being built. The construction crew consists of men with strange accents and ways of dressing. Soon, Ruku and the other villagers are asked to leave; some, such as Kannan the cobbler, see this as a bad sign for the village.

For two months the noisy construction proceeds. Although she doesn’t care for the commotion, Ruku benefits from the higher prices the workers are willing to pay for her produce. After the workers leave, Ruku expresses her relief to Nathan who quickly points out that others are sure to soon take their places. Ruku stubbornly refuses to acknowledge this change is inevitable and laments the loss of their quiet way of life.

As Nathan predicted, workers soon return to staff the new completed tannery. When Ruku expresses her dislike of the tannery to Kunthi, Kunthi laughs and calls Ruku a “village girl” - in her eyes, the tannery will transform their small village into a town with increased opportunities for shopping and entertainment. Ruku’s friends, Kali and Janaki, share her dislike of the disruptions to their quiet village but soon make the best of it and adapt to the changes. Janaki realizes that the tannery will provide a livelihood for her sons and the gossip Kali enjoys the increased audience for her tales.

The arrival of the tannery brings changes for 13 year-old Ira as well. Kali warns Ruku that the beautiful Ira attracts unwanted attention from the tannery workers. Wanting to protect their daughter’s reputation, Ruku and Nathan decide to keep her closer to home.



Notes

The chapter begins with Ruku’s remembrance of previous changes she has experienced - her father’s decline in importance in their village and the aging and deaths of her parents. Those changes were gradual ones, she says, that allowed her so much time to adjust she didn’t feel affected. The abrupt arrival of the tannery is different; Ruku describes it as “blasting” into the village forever changing their lives.

For a small rural village, the arrival of the tannery meant big changes. The influx of strange workers brought higher prices and drove out some local businessmen. Because many of the workers were young, single men, the social fabric of the village is disrupted. Ruku recalls the loud noises and smells of alcohol from the workers’ camp, all disruptions to her previously innocent and safe life.

At first, Ruku stubbornly clings to the past, waiting for the day when the workers will leave and the village will once again be sleepy and quiet. Nathan advises Ruku to adapt: “Bend like the grass, that you do not break.” He understands there is no going back and they must learn to live with the changes or else will not be able to live at all.

The cobbler Kannan’s remarks about the tannery builders pushing the villagers out of their own maidan symbolizes the way in which the tannery takes over the village and molds the people there to suit its needs. Ruku’s fears about the tannery will be realized as it drastically alters the future of her family.

Not everyone is angry at the tannery’s arrival. The usually aloof Kunthi expresses excitement over the changes it will bring. This once again highlights the differences between Ruku and Kunthi and sets up future events between them. Kunthi is the type who always demands more and is never satisfied; Ruku is simple and easy to please.

Kali’s warnings concerning Ira foreshadow the tannery’s impact on Ira and her family. As Ruku laments, their carefree days ended with the tannery’s arrival. Obedient Ira accepts her parents’ new rules without complainant. Ruku, too, must find a way to adjust to the changes she faces.


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