Nectar in a Sieve | Study Guide

Kamala Markandaya

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Nectar in a Sieve | Part 1, Chapter 11 | Summary



Nathan leaves home for the funeral of one of his family members. While he's away Rukmani secretly visits Kennington to ask about fertility treatments for Irawaddy. Rukmani waits outside all day for Kenny as tannery workers go in and out of his office. Finally he leaves the building, and Rukmani must run to catch up with him. At first Kenny treats her coldly, saying, "It is pitiful to see your foolishness." He thinks Rukmani has come to him for more help getting pregnant, but she explains she has come about her daughter. Kennington says it is likely Rukmani will be a mother again before Irawaddy.

Before Rukmani leaves, Kenny places both hands on her shoulders and promises to help. As she turns away, Rukmani sees that Kunthi is watching them and has witnessed the conversation. Kunthi, obviously out prostituting, suggests Rukmani is up to something similar with Kenny. Enraged, Rukmani shakes Kunthi until Kunthi's sari rips open, revealing she is naked underneath and not wearing underclothes. Coolly, Kunthi tells Rukmani to watch her back.

After the treatments Rukmani tries to return Irawaddy to her former husband, but he has already taken a new wife. Devastated, Irawaddy becomes increasingly cold and angry toward her mother as Rukmani's pregnancy progresses. Rukmani gives birth to another boy, Kuti. The new baby lifts Irawaddy from her depression, and she cares for the baby as if he were her own.


Kuti's birth provides a new start for Irawaddy. Unable to have children now because of her social restrictions, she cares for her youngest brother as her own. Kuti represents hope for both Irawaddy and Rukmani because, as Rukmani notes, he was conceived at a time of happiness in her life. Just as Kunthi appeared as a bad omen before Irawaddy's birth, so does she appear before Kuti's birth. She sees Kennington touch Rukmani's shoulders and assumes they are having an affair. Her cold threat of ruining Rukmani's "perfect husband" foreshadows the way Kunthi blackmails the family during the famine that comes later in the novel.

Rukmani's physical attack against Kunthi is noteworthy for two reasons. First, it leaves Kunthi completely exposed, and not even her nakedness shames her. Kunthi has lost all shame, represented in Rukmani's tearing away of her sari. Though the reader does not know why yet, Kunthi has given up all traditional values and now lives in survival mode, which makes her even more dangerous than before. Second, Rukmani's loss of control foreshadows the impending chaos in her life. Lunging at and attacking another woman in public suggests Rukmani teeters on the edge on losing control of herself, thereby symbolizing her loss of control over the events in her life.

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