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Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya-Online Book Summary


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Rukuís son Murugan gets married but she and Nathan are unable to afford to go. Ruku notes that Nathanís health is starting to fail and Kenny tells her Nathan needs more to eat than plain rice every day. Ruku replies that this is all the family can afford. Kenny also believes Nathanís health is affected by his worrying over Ruku and the children; Ruku tells him there is no one but Nathan to care for the family now that their sons are all gone. Kenny expresses guilt over taking Selvam from the land but Ruku tells him this was for the best as Selvam was no farmer at heart. Ruku concludes that they can do little to plan for the future and must take their lives as they come.

Nathan recovers and all seems well again. Then one day while Ruku is out in the fields, Sivaji comes with terrible news. The land is being sold to the tannery owners and the family has only days to pack and leave. Ruku is in disbelief - the tannery, which has plagued them for so long, has finally dealt them a deathblow and taken away the only way they know how to live.

Even though Ruku finds much blame in the tannery and curses the changes it brought to the village, she realizes that their hold on the land had always been weak. As tenant farmers, they were always at the mercy of the landlord who could sell at any time. Weather, too, had played a role in much of their misfortune and made it difficult if not impossible to ever get ahead.

As Ruku looks around the mud hut that has been her home for over 30 years she wonders at the cruelty of those who would force her from her home.

Selvam does not understand why his parents have made no protest against the sale of their land. He sees injustice where they do not. Nathan says they will go to Murugan in the city, as he is too old to rent another piece of property and beyond learning another skill. Selvam offers to quit his job with Kenny and help his father farm but Nathan will not hear of it. Ira declares that she and her son will stay in the village where at least people are now used to them. Selvam pledges to look after his sister and her son.


Just when things were looking stable for the family, they get the word that their land has been sold. The threat of it had hung over them their entire lives and yet the shock of it actually happening throws Ruku off balance.

At first her blame falls squarely on the tannery, which caused so much change and now takes from them the only thing they have left. Even Ruku must admit that people such as they who live hand to mouth and rent their land are easily affected by all forces of change whether natural, like drought, or man made, like the tannery.

Nathanís poor health and advancing age (50 is old in a society where physical labor and poor nutrition abound) leave them little alternative for the future. As it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to do the necessary farm work, he knows no one will rent him a new patch of land. As is custom, they must rely on their sons in their old age. Since Murugan has a job in the city, it is to him they will go.

Selvam nobly offers to sacrifice his own future to help his parents stay in the life theyíve always known but they refuse his offer knowing that their time has passed and his is yet to come. Ira has no wish to start over again with stares and uncomfortable questions and so she too will remain behind.

This is the storyís climax, the final breaking point for Ruku. The only life sheís ever known is over and she must find a new way in the twilight of her life.

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