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Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya-Online Book Summary

 

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CHAPTER 14


Summary

After the rains, planting begins. Now the family must wait for the rice to mature; in the meantime, they will go hungry. With no money left, Ruku turns to her emergency supply of rice - 10 ollocks or about 10 pounds. She says this must last 24 days and then they will be in Godís hands to survive.

Nights and hunger conspire to bring nightmares and suspicions. Ruku counts her rice obsessively, wondering it will be enough to sustain them until the harvest. She considers going to Kenny for help but cannot find him. They can only wait.

On the eighth day of the rice ration, a half-starved Kunthi stops by and demands food from Ruku. For a moment Ruku pities her adversary; Kunthiís husband has left her and she has lost all of her good looks. She demands food from Ruku who offers her rice water but no more. Ruku suggests Kunthi look to her sons for help but Kunthi refuses; they are married now and have families of their own. Besides, she believes she can care for herself if her looks return. Kunthi threatens to go to Nathan with lies about Ruku and Kenny. Ruku, who fears her husband may believe such lies, gives in and provides Kunthi with 7 days worth of their rice.

That night, Ruku returns to her rice stash; instead of the 9 days worth she plans to find, only a dayís worth is left. Enraged and crazed with hunger, Ruku turns on her family - one of them must have taken the rice. Finally, Nathan admits he was the thief but that it was taken for another. Kunthi had threatened him too.

Nathan reveals he fathered Kunthiís sons, the first before his marriage to Ruku but the second afterwards. Ruku admits Kunthi had blackmailed her as well. Neither feel anger, but only relief - Kunthi no longer holds power over them and now that the rice is gone, there is no worrying about how long it will last.


The next weeks are spent searching for whatever scraps of food can be found. They even eat grass in an effort to stop the pangs of hunger. Ruku describes the stages of starvation - first pain and then a dull ache and then utter exhaustion. All of them suffer and turn to near skin and bones but little Kuti suffers most. Ira tries to soothe him but there is little left to do.


Notes

At the sight of the newly sprouted rice, Ruku feels pulled by both hope and fear - hope that the future will bring better fortune and fear that this crop too will die and the family along with it. Rukuís rice ration comes out to about 1/2 cup of rice a day per person. The starchy cooking water is used to try to trick the stomach into being full.

Hunger affects the family physically and mentally. They are plagued by nightmares in their sleep and suspicions and short tempers during the day. When the rice is gone, they desperately eat anything remotely edible and even things that arenít. Ruku describes hunger as a stalker, a presence that cannot be escaped.

The mystery of Kunthi is finally solved in this chapter and a shocking truth revealed. Kunthi clearly is nearly mad; she has become a whore and has been abandoned by her family. Ruku gives in to Kunthiís demands out of an irrational fear. Because she never told Nathan the truth about her visit to Kenny about her infertility, she fears he will believe Kunthiís lies about her alleged affair.

Rukuís shock at learning her husband took the missing rice pales in comparison to her shock at his admission he fathered Kunthiís sons. Suddenly, it all makes sense - from the beginning, Kunthi was cold towards Ruku; now we know why. The child Ruku helped her deliver was actually Nathanís son. To think that gentle loving Nathan was unfaithful to his beloved wife is shocking. However, Ruku finds forgiveness easily and is relieved to reveal her own long held secret.

Their relief at escaping Kunthiís shadow is followed by their relief at the end of the rice supply. Odd as it sounds, they now know there is nothing more they can do to save themselves. Only mental resolve will hold them until the harvest; Ruku only hopes that time comes before it is too late for Kuti.


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