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Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya-Online Book Summary


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Ruku and Nathan return to the temple; at least there they can get a meal and have shelter for the night. Although some welcome their return, others greet them with the same selfish hostility Ammu did. There are few resources to feed the many poor. Ruku witnesses acts of violence against those unable to defend themselves - the sick, the crippled and the old.

Each night they sit wondering how they will be able to return to the village. The city has nothing but hatred to offer them. But where to get the money? Ruku decides to offer her services as a reader and writer of letters. Although Nathan doubts anyone will hire a woman, she plans to offer lower prices to attract customers. They count the days until there will be enough, 10 rupees, for the return journey.

The first day does not go well. Ruku sits by the road calling for business all day but attracts mostly laughter and crude remarks. She makes only enough to buy rice cakes for their breakfast. Time passes; Nathanís old illness returns and Ruku grows more desperate to earn the money.

One evening on the way back to the temple, Ruku encounters the boy Puli who claims he has come to collect his payment. Puli follows Ruku back to the temple and shares their dinner and their sleeping space. Ruku asks if he will not worry his mother; he tells her he has none. Ruku feels a motherly instinct to take care of the child, especially because of his deformed hands, but Nathan points out the boy is probably better able to survive in the city than they are.

Ruku tells Puli she earns a bit of money by her letter writing. He tells them of work at the stone quarry where they could earn much more. The work is hard but anyone can do it - they must break and collect stone in exchange for pay. Because of his hands, Puli cannot do the work himself, but he leads Nathan and Ruku there and shows them the ropes.

All sorts are working the quarry, breaking the rocks into fist size pieces. With no hammer the work takes some practice. Puli sits and watches and scolds Ruku and Nathan when they fail to run when the blasting whistle sounds. At the end of the day they must go to the overseerís hut for sacks to bring back the stones in. While there, Puli breaks out his begging bowl. Ruku thinks he will be unsuccessful but to her surprise he soon has coins rattling in his bowl. Although they were slow with the work, they earned more in one day than Ruku earned in a week with letter writing.

Puli continues to stay by their side, begging while they work in the quarry. Ruku and Nathan turn their money over to Puli; they trust that he will be able to keep it from thieves as clever as he is. They figure that in two months they will have enough to return home. Nathan offers Puli a home in the village but he claims he will stay in the city - village life will be too small and quiet for him. Puli wonders how they will fare better in the village. Nathan tries to explain that at least there he will starve among his familiars and not die unnoticed in the unfriendly, overcrowded city.


The longer they are in the city, the more Nathan and Ruku see the cruel struggle for survival among the poor there. Even in the temple, there is theft and violence against the helpless. They are determined to return to the village where they can at least die in peace but have no money for the return trip.

Letter writers and readers were common as most people could not read and write for themselves. A woman reading and writing was uncommon and thus Ruku receives more rude comments than customers. Luck gives them a good turn, however, with the return of the child Puli.

Ruku feels a mixture of pity and awe for Puli. His disability and his youth are pitiable but his cheerful spirit and quick mind are enviable. Nathan correctly observes the boy is well equipped to care for himself in the city, but Ruku is also correct that the boy craves nurturing - why else would he adopt Ruku and Nathan as his own. Soon it as though they have always been together and Ruku even trusts Puli enough to give him their money for safekeeping. The affection is mutual as Puli could easily have gone on his way but Rukuís motherly feelings for him keep him near. Even Nathan feels for the boy and tries to convince him to return to the village as their kin.

Puliís knowledge of the city allows Ruku and Nathan to find work at the quarry and a quicker way to earn their passage home. Again, Puli demonstrates his resourcefulness by collecting alms even from the poor quarry workers. Hope grows as the money Puli hides away increases slowly but surely.

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