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Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya-Online Book Summary


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The page numbers listed are from the Signet paperback edition.

1. “. . . for in the beginning I had not wished my husband to know that I was putting myself in the hands of a foreigner, for I knew not what his reaction would be. I had consoled myself that it would be time enough to tell him if a child was born; and now I found I could not do it, because he would surely ask why I had not told him before . . . What harm, I thought, if he does not know; I have not lied to him, there has just been this silence.”

Ruku seeks medical treatment from Kenny when she is unable to conceive but delays telling Nathan. The longer she waits the more difficult it becomes as she knows he will wonder why she kept the secret in the first place. Years later, the secret will catch up with her when Kunthi threatens to reveal it to Nathan.

2. “There is no going back. Bend like the grass that you do not break.”

Nathan gives this advice to Ruku as she laments the coming of the tannery. The tannery brings many changes, most are unpleasant, but Nathan realizes they cannot return to their quiet former life. If they are not flexible enough to adapt to the changes, they will be broken and unable to live.

3. “Nature is like a wild animal that you have trained to work for you.”

Throughout the novel, nature provides constant challenges for Ruku and her family. First flooding monsoon rains and then severe drought take the rice crop, driving the family to the brink of starvation. Ruku recognizes that nature is to be respected as it has the power to take life and to give it.

4. “I felt desperately sorry for them, deprived of the ordinary pleasures of knowing warm sun and cool breeze upon their flesh, of walking out light and free, or of mixing with men and working beside them.”
(p. 52)

Although her friend Kali envies the comfortable, easy lives of the Muslim wives of the tannery managers, Ruku pities them. This demonstrates her ability to find joy in the little things - for her, feeling the sun is far more valuable than the jeweled rings the Muslim women wear.

5. “What was it we had to learn? To fight against tremendous odds? What was the use? One only lost the little one had. Of what use to fight when the conclusion is known?”

Unlike her oldest sons and Kenny, Ruku does not understand the need to fight for change. This proves a great source of frustration in those relationships because she feels it is best to suffer in silence (to deal with what life gives you) while they feel you must stand up and protest or be drowned by those who would take advantage of you.

6. “it seemed to me that a new peace came to us then, freed at last from the necessity for lies and concealment and deceit, with the fear of betrayal lifted from us, and with the power we ourselves had given her wrested finally from Kunthi.”

After Ruku and Nathan confess their secrets to each other, they are able to stop Kunthi’s blackmail and emotional hold over them. Instead of breaking them apart, the truth makes their relationship stronger. Theirs is clearly a marriage based on true partnership and love.

7. “’Limited, yes,’ I agree. ‘Yet not wholly without understanding. Our ways are not your ways.’”
(p. 111)

Ruku and Kenny develop a friendship over the years but still have difficulty understanding one another. Kenny does not understand Ruku’s reluctance to stand up and fight against injustice. He sees her as ignorant; she proves to be the wiser by recognizing that their cultures have different ways of handling hardship and that her limited knowledge of the world does not make her stupid.

8. “I held him, this child begotten in the street of an unknown man in a moment of easy desire, while the brightness of the future broke and fell about me like so many pieces of coloured glass. I did not want his mother to see. . .”

Ruku hoped the birth of Ira’s child could be joyful despite his unknown father and Ira’s work as a prostitute; however, those hopes are dimmed when she sees the baby is albino. At first Ruku sees this as a sign of punishment, a further misfortune brought on Ira. Ira’s love for her child soon changes Ruku’s opinion and the family adapts yet again.

9. “In our lives there is no margin for misfortune.”
(p. 136)

This illustrates the delicate balance between survival and death Ruku and her family must keep everyday. As the novel shows, they are vulnerable to every hardship whether manmade (like the tannery) or natural (like the drought).

10. “’Would you hold me when my time is come? I am at peace. Do not grieve.’ ‘If I grieve,’ I said ‘ it is not for you, but for myself, beloved, for how shall I endure without you, who are my love and my life?’ ‘You are not alone,’ he said ‘I live in my children.’”

Nathan’s dying words to his wife; this demonstrates the strong bond between them and again illustrates the theme of hope - even in death there is hope for the future as lives on in their children.

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