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Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya-Online Book Summary


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The next morning, Ruku and Nathan set out once again to find their son. They pass by a food stall and decide to buy some potato pancakes. When Ruku goes for her money to pay, she realizes it’s gone. They return to the temple but find only casual comments of sympathy. Ruku realizes pickpockets must have struck in the night. They hurry on to find their son, hoping no more misfortune comes their way.

Ruku and Nathan wander the city aimlessly, asking directions but feeling more lost with each passing minute. They stop to rest and watch street children playing nearby. The children have bellies blown with hunger and are covered in dirt and sores, yet they still play with the freedom of childhood. Ruku notes that they quickly turn savage when food drops near them and fight over it or turn sweet with beggars’ eyes when someone with money passes by - these children are no innocents. Ruku wonders if they too will be reduced to begging.

Nathan asks one of the boys for directions and learns that there are several streets by the name they are seeking - thus the cause of their confusion. Nathan gives the boy the name of the doctor Murugan works for; the boy claims he knows the place and offers to take them there for a price. When Nathan tells him he has no money the boy offers to show them the way in exchange for the promise of future payment. He tells them his name is Puli and that he is well known on the streets and the leader of the boys. Ruku notices that his fingers have been eaten away by disease and that he has only nubs.

Puli leads them to the house. The servants try to send them away at first, thinking they are beggars, but then seeing that they carry no begging bowls, they ask what they want. They ask about their son and are told he does not work there. The doctor arrives - Ruku and Nathan are shocked to see the doctor is a woman and wearing pants. They learn their son has taken a new job at the Collector’s house on Chamundi Hill.

Before they go, the doctor instructs them to have a meal with the servants. A man named Das and his wife welcome the tired couple warmly. Before the meal, Ruku goes to wash up and is baffled by the latrine she finds - the ways of the city are indeed foreign to her. Das and his wife tell Ruku the food is provided by the doctor, so she feels no guilt in sharing a meal with these kind people. They persuade Nathan and Ruku to stay the night and rest before trying to find their son the next day.


Ruku and Nathan once again fall victim to thieves. Ruku cannot imagine such dishonesty, especially in the temple, a holy place. Now the search for Murugan grows more desperate or they will be reduced to begging like the children they see playing in the filthy streets.

The beggar children strike Ruku as at once innocent and wise beyond their years. It is apparent they have had hard lives - they are dirty, hungry and experienced beggars - yet they still can play with the carefree air of children. Puli, their leader, is clever and a quick talker but, as Ruku notices, suffers from leprosy - a disease that literally eats away at the flesh. Ruku has always known poverty, but the poverty of the city seems harsher and more cruel as here there is no clear sky overhead or kind neighbors to help in your time of need.

The doctor proves quite a surprise. Life in the city is more advanced than in the rural villages; here women not only wear pants but also can become doctors - both things traditionally associated with males. Although they don’t find their son, Ruku and Nathan do finally find some kindness in the welcome from Das and his wife.

Ruku’s latrine experience illustrates yet another difference in city and country. Although many might consider the use of a latrine more “advanced” than using a hole by a river, Ruku finds it foul and unclean. She’s right too; with little sanitation and open sewers, poverty stricken cities are hotbeds of stench and disease.

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