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Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya-Online Book Summary


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Construction begins on the hospital but the going is slow. Selvam continues to live with his parents but is consumed with the building of the hospital. Ruku says the building will take 7 years although they did not know this at the outset.

Old Granny dies alone in the street. She had no relatives to turn to and died of starvation. Ruku bitterly observes the mourners at her funeral and remarks that only in death is one sure of attention.

Ruku feels especially saddened by Old Granny’s death since she had accepted the rupee from her for Ira’s son, Scarabani. Nathan tells her not to be foolish. Ruku wonders if the hospital had been completed if Old Granny might not have had to die in the street. Soon, it becomes clear that the hospital will not be able to meet the demands of the villagers as already they are lining up and it is nowhere near completed.

Over the next few years the building continues in fits and starts. Selvam begins his medical training as well and soon treats some patients on his own. Ruku still wonders why people give and wonders if there will ever be enough money to finish the project. After all, you can cry out for help, but you cannot force people to listen and to help you.


The death of Old Granny hits Ruku hard. Perhaps her old fears about Ira’s fate resurface - she can imagine her daughter old and homeless, dead in the street. Ruku’s comment that only in death is one sure of attention connects to her later statement about those who would donate to the hospital. She recognizes that despite Kenny’s advice to cry out for help when you suffer, it is likely that no one will bother to listen when you call.

Several years pass in this chapter as the hospital is slowly built and Selvam settles into his new path in life. Clearly, he is forward thinking and intelligent despite his humble upbringing. It seems that at least one of Ruku’s children will find some measure of success in life. In the meantime, the need for a hospital grows clearer, as the poor and sick beat down the door before it is even up. Although Kenny is well intended, his efforts may not be enough to save everyone.



Although they are years apart in age, Ira and Selvam have a close brother sister relationship. Ruku feels she does not fully understand her children and wonders if it is because they have become more educated and knowledgeable about the world than she is.

Even though his mother and his uncle Selvam accept him and treat him as a normal child, Scarabani cannot have a normal childhood. Ostracized for his appearance and limited by his weak skin and eyes he cannot fully participate in childhood activities.

One day, Sacrabani comes to Ira with a question she has dreaded: “What is a bastard?” Ira responds it is a child whose parents did not wish for his birth. Ruku notes the pain in Ira’s voice at the question and remembers Ira’s attempts to abort her pregnancy.

Days later, Sacrabani asks his mother about his father. She lies and tells him his father is away and that he will understand when he is older. Ruku suggests Ira should have told the boy his father was dead. Ira is clearly upset; she was not prepared for her young son to ask such difficult questions. Ira leaves; Nathan later goes to comfort her and Ruku hears her daughter crying.


Sacrabani is doubly cursed - he cannot led a normal life as being an albino forces him out of the sun and he must deal with fact he is a bastard child in a society that is not accepting of children born out of wedlock. Ira tries to protect her son and lies to do so but it is clear that one lie leads to another and that one day, the painful truth must be told.

We also see further that Ira has struggled with the consequences of her prostitution and in fact tried to abort her baby. Outwardly to her child she is strong, but relies heavily on the support of her family to deal with the difficultly of being a single mother to an albino child.

Ira is fortunate to have a family who chose to support her instead of turning their backs on her as many would have done. Her brother Selvam increasingly acts as her protector and confidant and a surrogate father to her son. Her parents too are supportive, even her father who clearly disapproved of her prostitution, comforts her in her time of sorrow.

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