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Nectar in a Sieve | Study Guide

Kamala Markandaya

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Nectar in a Sieve | Part 1, Chapter 2 | Summary



Kunthi gives birth to her son several months after Rukmani arrives in the village. None of the other women in the village are available to help Kunthi with the birth. Also the midwife doesn't arrive on time, so Rukmani stays by Kunthi's side, even though Kunthi says, "I do not want you here." When Rukmani arrives home after the long labor, Nathan shouts at her. He tells her she must take care of herself, as she too is pregnant. Nathan has never shouted at Rukmani, so his emotion shocks her. She quickly forgives him and vows to take better care of herself.

Because she's too far along in her pregnancy to work in the fields, Rukmani spends her time reading letters and tending to the vegetable garden. One day as Rukmani picks beans, her fingers graze a large cobra. Terrified, she runs screaming from the garden. Nathan rushes over to kill the snake, but it is already dead. He tells Rukmani that in the future she "only need[s] to be careful and [snakes] pass you by." A few days later Rukmani gives birth to her first child, a girl she names Irawaddy, Ira for short.


Both Kunthi and Rukmani give birth in this chapter, providing contrast to the different lives these women live. Kunthi gives birth alone, save for Rukmani who generously offers to stay with her, while Rukmani gives birth with the support of family and neighbors. Rukmani's mother visits often, and the child, despite being a girl, has a celebratory naming ceremony. Nathan delights in his daughter, but as the reader learns later he ignores his illegitimate son completely, which only fuels Kunthi's hatred toward them both.

Kunthi's deception about the paternity of her son, which she later uses to blackmail Nathan and Rukmani, is hinted at through the symbolism of the cobra. The dead snake curls in Rukmani's vegetable garden' itself a symbol for fertility—terrifying her. Nathan warns that dangerous animals like snakes, and symbolically Kunthi, should be avoided.

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