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Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya-Online Book Summary


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The years pass. Arjun and Thambi continue to work at the tannery, pausing once a week to work the land with their father. Ruku says they are good sons who turn all their earnings over to the family instead of spending it on drinking or women. Ruku had still hoped to set money aside for Ira but now realizes that is an impossibility.

One day, Nathan and Ruku go to have lunch with their sons at the tannery only to find the gates locked. The workers have asked for a raise and are being punished. Neither parent understands but it is clear their sons have a part in organizing this effort. The workers have been plotting for some time and eventually stage a strike in hopes of having their demands addressed.

As a result of the strike, Arjun and Thambi lose their jobs. Ruku cannot understand why they are fighting against forces they cannot hope to defeat. Nathan doesnít understand either but respects the decision his sons have made.

Selvam brings news that drummers are calling for men in the village. Arjun and Thambi go and return with the announcement that they are leaving for Ceylon to work on tea plantations. The journey is long and costly and they all know parents and sons will not meet again. Ruku protests but her sons are adamant - there is no future for them in the village.

Soon afterwards, Ruku loses her third son, Murugan, to the city. Kenny secures him a job as a servant there. Nathan consoles her by reminding her of the beauties and joys they do have - in each other and in nature. The crop will be ready soon and there is still hope for the future.

Kenny visits with word that Murugan has settled well in his new job. Ruku asks Kenny about his own family and gets a curt and cryptic reply - he says he had a wife and children and a home but left them and is now alone. This information only deepens Rukuís sense of bafflement at Kenny.


Arjun and Thambi represent a generation of young Indians who wanted to free themselves of colonial rule and take charge of their own futures. Markandaya was a young woman during the fight for Indian independence and was surely familiar with those feelings expressed by these characters. These young men see no hope in the path their parents have chosen but believe in fighting for their rights and a better life. In this respect they are like Kenny; Ruku understands neither.

The call of the drummers and Selvamís excited message, echo the young Arjun announcing the arrival of the tannery. Like the tannery, Arjun and Thambiís departure signals a major change in Rukuís life. Unlike daughters, sons were expected to stay close to the home; despite their promises, Ruku knows the distance to Ceylon is too far for her sons to ever return. Indian Hindus went to Ceylon (today Sri Lanka) to work on the tea plantations there. For men like Arjun and Thambi, this provided an opportunity to perhaps better their life; we never learn of their fate.

Ruku must also say goodbye to her third son who, like his brothers, seeks a new profession elsewhere. Nathanís attempts to comfort her again show the close bond between them. Like Ruku, he is able to see the joys in lifeís simplest things such as the ripening rice grains that will soon be harvested.

Ruku does not understand why Kenny appears so often in their village and wonders if he has no family of his own. She asks and learns that he did have family; apparently they left him when he became more devoted to his work than his marriage. For Ruku, family is the most important thing so once again she is left mystified by Kennyís remarks.

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