Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya-Online Book Summary


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Ruku recalls that their land agent, Sivaji, was a good man who set fair rates and allowed them to collect the dung from the land. At the start of the chapter, Ruku sets out on the early morning task of dung gathering - she can both sell the dung and use it in her home. As she finishes, she encounters Kenny whom she greets as her benefactor. While he rejects the title, Kenny gently teases Ruku about the number of sons she has had. As they go to the house to see her children, Kenny questions Rukuís decision to take dung from the land. He feels it should be left as fertilizer; she replies they have no choice but to use it for fuel and for patching their homes against the damp.

At Rukuís hut, Kenny is welcomed as an honored guest and in return praises Rukuís children. When she introduces Kenny to Nathan, Ruku again feels the guilt of her secret - she still has not told her husband of how Kenny helped her with her infertility.

After that day, Kenny becomes a frequent visitor to Rukuís home, often bringing treats for the children. When he sees Ruku is still nursing her three year-old son for lack of cowís milk to give him, he supplies that as well.

Ruku recalls that Kenny never spoke of his family and that she never knew where he went or what he did when he was gone from the village. Because she fears offending him, Ruku never asks questions but continues to nurture this unusual friendship.


Ruku briefly mentions Sivaji, their landlordís agent - a reminder that she and Nathan ultimately are at the mercy of those who own their land and can not make decisions about the land on their own. They are fortunate and have a landlord who does not extract every penny as some do.

While we may find it unpleasant to think of gathering cow dung, families like Rukuís knew the dung had valuable uses - it provided fuel, patched cracks in their mud walls against rain and insects and could be sold. Kennyís questioning of Rukuís decision to take the dung instead of allowing it to fertilize the fields, shows a misunderstanding between them. He thought like someone who could afford the luxury of fertilizer; Ruku understood that, although it wasnít best for the land, her family needed to put the dung to other uses. The poor often must make choices that will hurt them in the long run - this is only one of several Rukuís family will make.

Even though they have a budding friendship, Ruku still shows deference to Kenny - she calls him ďbenefactorĒ and refrains from asking questions about his mysterious personal life. The precious rice and salt Ruku offers Kenny when he visits, demonstrate Rukuís pride - she wants to do her best for guests - and generousness - she shares even what she cannot afford to share. There is also a comfortable banter between the two as Kenny teases Ruku about her ďexcessesĒ in having five sons.

Kenny seems to adopt Rukuís family as he brings her family necessities - such as milk for the youngest - as well as treats for the older children. Presumably, Kenny spends his time working among the poor of various villages. Ruku knows only that he disappears for long periods of time, perhaps to work elsewhere or to return to his home. Ruku senses that home life is unhappy for Kenny, as he seems withdrawn when he returns from his trips.

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