Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya-Online Book Summary


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Kunthi seems to be one of the few Ruku knows who appreciates the arrival of the tannery. Her sons have gone to work there and Kunthi herself spends much of her time in the village among the tannery workers. As a result, she is developing an unsavory reputation; Janaki calls her a trollop and there are plenty of whispers about her need for attention from strange men.

Janakiís family falls victim to the tannery; her husband, the owner of a small shop, can no longer compete with the bigger businesses brought in by the tannery and so the family must leave.

The tannery continues to expand and Ruku marvels at the amount it produces. More workers are brought in, including Muslim supervisors. Ruku wonders at the lives of the Muslim women; they have money and wear rich jewels but can never show their faces in public and rarely leave their homes. Although Kali says she would gladly trade freedom for a life of ease, Ruku disagrees and feels her own life is better.


Kunthi continues to remain a bit of a mystery. She and Ruku had an uneasy start to their relationship for reasons unclear to Ruku. Kunthiís desires to be more than just a poor village woman are apparent as the revels in the changes brought by the tannery. Her desire to flaunt her beauty before the men at the tannery hints at her ultimate fate and reveals her questionable morals.

The tanneryís unfettered growth does benefit those who work for it but takes a toll on those who try to avoid it as is demonstrated with Janakiís family. Ruku remarks that Janakiís departure was soon forgotten, a fact that illustrates their need to adapt and move on.

The arrival of Muslim workers at the tannery is something of a novelty. Most Indians, like Ruku are Hindu; she is baffled by the Muslimsí unfamiliar customs such as the veiling and seclusion of women. Although Kali feels freedom is a fair price to pay for wealth and servants, Ruku pities the Muslim women who never enjoy the simple pleasure of feeling the sun on their bare skin. This demonstrates Rukuís simple nature - she has no desire for material things but rather finds joy in the simple pleasures of life.



Several years after her marriage, Ira returns to her parentsí home along with her husband. Her husband is divorcing her as she has yet to bear him any children. Nathan does not fault her husbandís decision; it is, after all, a womanís duty to bear children. Ruku feels sharply her daughterís pain and decides to ask Kenny to help Ira as he once helped her.

Meanwhile, Rukuís oldest son Arjun announces he is taking a job at the tannery. Ruku is dismayed as he should be a farmer like his father, but Arjun sees no future in that path. Ruku has taught her children to read and write and Arjun has used this skill to gain insight about his situation - he tells his parents he is tired of hunger and struggling for survival. Ruku offers to have Kenny help secure Arjun a job but he will not have it.

Thambi follows his brother to the tannery, telling his father he will not work the land that does not belong to his own family, as it will bring them nothing. Nathan is hurt by his sonsí words and rejection of his lifestyle but does not protest their decision.

The family benefits from the increased income and is once again able to afford a few luxuries such as new clothing. Ruku notes that she and Nathan have their best clothes tucked safely away for the day when their sons marry.


Children, especially sons, were of utmost importance in Indian families. A wife that did not bear children was a failure, no matter what her other skills may be. Ruku points out to Nathan that he had great patience during her own years of infertility but, sadly for Ira, most men were not so understanding. Ruku hopes that Kenny will be able to help her daughter as he helped her but does not stop to consider the fact that Iraís husband has already abandoned her.

Arjun and Thambiís decision to work in the tannery hurts Ruku and Nathan. Ruku abhors everything about the tannery and doesnít want to become dependant on it. Nathan would like to see his sons follow in his footsteps. The caste system in India dictates that a man is supposed to follow in his fatherís profession - thus Rukuís comment that her sons are not of the tanner class and society will not like their decision to work as a tanner.

Unlike their parents, Arjun and Thambi see no point in laboring on land they can never hope to own. Although they do not speak of it, Ruku and Nathan must now realize their old dream of owning the land is dead. In educating her children, Ruku has given them the tools to reach beyond the life of a simple peasant - Arjunís mysterious scribblings and secret readings suggest he may be doing just that. Arjun resents his motherís offer to ask Kenny for help; his comment that white men have power over women shows his distrust of those he perceives as being in power.

The extra money is welcome. Sons are expected to help provide for their families and Rukuís sons hold true to their family responsibility. The money is spent frugally. Rukuís continued hope is seen in her insistence in setting away their wedding finery for the day when their sons marry.

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