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Nectar in a Sieve | Study Guide

Kamala Markandaya

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Nectar in a Sieve | Part 1, Chapter 19 | Summary



Selvam realizes he has no desire to take over his father's land someday. Farming does not come naturally to him—he would rather read and write. He announces that Kennington has offered him a training position once the new hospital is complete. Although Rukmani feels saddened that none of Nathan's sons will inherit his profession and his rented land, she seeks out Kenny to thank him for offering Selvam a new future. He describes the new hospital to her and even shows her the building's blueprints, but she doesn't understand them. Again Rukmani questions why they need a large hospital when the village already has a dispensary, to which Kenny replies, "acquiescent imbeciles ... I do not understand you."


The underlying question in the novel—about which is a better way to live—traditionally or progressively—continues as Rukmani and Kennington discuss the new hospital. Kenny feels excited that he can bring progress and true help to those in need, while Rukmani, who has suffered horrific losses in her lifetime, doesn't understand the need. Despite all her suffering, Rukmani still believes the gods hold her fate. Kenny nearly explodes with frustration, calling faithful people like Rukmani "acquiescent imbeciles." Like Arjun and Thambi, Kenny recognizes that the only way impoverished Indians will see change is to either demand it or educate themselves about it. Rukmani does neither for fear of losing what little she has, as her sons did, and because she recognizes that for the peasant, "want is our companion from birth to death, familiar as the seasons or the earth." In Rukmani's experience, no good comes from fighting fate. It is far better to accept the burden of poverty and find small joys within the sadness.

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