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Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya-Online Book Summary


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The family enjoys the Deepavali festival; Ruku splurges and allows her children to buy their own fireworks for the first time. With the exception of Ira and Selvam, the family goes into the village to enjoy the bonfire and other festivities. For a brief moment, Rukuís happiness is marred with the thought of her friend Janaki but it soon passes.

The celebration is exhilarating; dancing, the bonfire, and shouts of laughter are everywhere. The usually reserved Nathan surprises Ruku with his dancing and joyous behavior. To the amusement of the crowd, he sweeps her off her feet, remarking that he has much to be joyous about. The happy family returns home; the tired children fall quickly asleep but Ruku and Nathan enjoy an intimate, happy moment.


This is the most carefree and joyous chapter in the novel. Deepavali, or the festival of lights, is an annual Hindu celebration of the triumph of good over evil. Traditionally, it is celebrated with bonfires and fireworks. Rukuís good mood persuades her to splurge on her children; she feels it is a frivolous use of money but wants to create a happy memory for them.

There are two brief moments of sadness: Iraís reluctance to join in the celebrations shows her continued depression over her failed marriage, and Rukuís remembrance of her friend Janaki reminds her of the ill effects of the tannery. However, the overall mood is one of extreme joy.

Even Nathan joins in the revelry. His unabashed declaration of love and public display of affection for his wife and children cause Ruku to blush but inwardly she feels very blessed. The chapter ends with the tired but happy family settling in for the night under the open sky with Ruku and Nathan enjoying the passion of their marriage. Although their marriage was arranged, it has blossomed into a true love match.



Ruku takes advantage of Nathanís absence to take Ira to see Kenny; she worries that Nathan would not approve of his daughter being treated by a white man. Ruku finds Kenny near the tannery where he has been treating patients. He does not recognize her at first and shoos her away. When he does recognize her, he reprimands Ruku for her timidity in coming to see him. He also smiles to see Rukuís belly once again big with child.

On the way home, Ruku encounters Kunthi who is dressed seductively and wearing makeup. Kunthi insinuates that Ruku has been seeing Kenny in a romantic way. Ruku responds by angrily striking at her; she accidentally knocks Kunthiís sari down and notices that Kunthi has painted herself like a whore. With last threats to each other, the women part.

Ruku later goes to Iraís husband and asks him to take her back but he cannot as he has already remarried. Ira becomes increasingly withdrawn, expressing interest only in her brother Selvam. Ruku worries that Ira resents her for the baby she carries.

When the baby is born, he is nicknamed Kuti as he is small. Ira takes a great interest in the boy and becomes like a second mother to him. Although Nathan feels Ira has recovered from her melancholy, Ruku still worries about her daughterís future. A visit to Old Granny reminds Ruku further of her daughterís possible fate - to be abandoned without a family and a means to care for herself.


The fact that Ruku has kept secret from her husband her visit to Kenny all those years ago still hangs heavy on the narrative. She still believes her husband will not understand or approve of his wife and daughter being treated by a white man, so Ruku takes Ira to Kenny in secret.

Kenny again expresses his failure to understand Rukuís ways when he scolds her for coming to him in secret. He does not understand why she must keep this from her husband but promises his help anyway. Although it is not mentioned, it seems Ira does go to Kenny for the same treatment her mother once received. What exactly that treatment was is never clarified.

Kunthi has been slinking in the shadows for the whole novel as well. The rumors about her immoral behavior seem well founded as Ruku catches her painted like a ďstrumpetĒ and sneaking around late at night. Whatever grudge Kunthi bears for Ruku causes her to threaten to spread rumors about Rukuís behavior with Kenny, turning an innocent friendship into something immoral. Ruku strikes back at Kunthi with uncharacteristic anger. She feels Kunthi threatens not only her but also her family and so she lashes back. Kunthiís threats make clear this is not over yet.

Iraís husband cannot take her back despite Rukuís efforts. Ruku worries as her daughter slips deeper into depression, especially as she herself is about to give birth. Ira clearly has a strong desire to be a mother as is evident in her behavior towards Selvam and later towards Kuti. Even though Kutiís birth seems to brighten her spirits, Ruku still worries. With no dowry and a failed marriage, Ira will be hard pressed to get a new husband. Without one, she remains dependant on her parents. Ruku wonders if Ira will become like Old Granny, dependent on strangers for her survival.

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