Nectar in a Sieve | Study Guide

Kamala Markandaya

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Nectar in a Sieve | Part 1, Chapter 20 | Summary



The time comes for Irawaddy to give birth. Preparing for the moment reminds Rukmani of her own births, and she wonders what will become of Irawaddy's child, conceived through prostitution. For all Rukmani's reservations, Irawaddy approaches labor with determination. She gives birth to a son, whom Rukmani notes as being "Fair! ... too fair." She immediately recognizes the baby as an albino, but Irawaddy pays no notice. In the following days Rukmani and Nathan question what should be done about the child, but neither wants to break Irawaddy's happiness. Rukmani feels particularly bothered that the baby cannot tolerate sun since all her children were raised in the open sunshine. The neighbors gather for the baby, Sacrabani's, naming ceremony, with many flocking just to see his milk-colored skin. Kali makes a comment about the baby's "peculiar" pink eyes, and Selvam snaps back a retort, sticking up for Irawaddy who had been silenced by embarrassment.


Sacrabani's birth forces everyone in Rukmani's family once again to accept their fate. Irawaddy has lost whatever dignity remained when she turned to prostitution, so rather than wallow in her position as an unwed mother she delights in her son in much the same way Rukmani did during poverty. Irawaddy has lost everything—her husband, her prospects, and her dignity—so she drinks "nectar in a sieve," meaning she enjoys the small joys of motherhood before they slip away. Perhaps because she herself has been labeled, Irawaddy refuses to dwell on Sacrabani's albinism, treating him instead as a happy, healthy baby. The rest of the family also adjusts to the questions, judgments, and gossip about Sacrabani's skin color. While Rukmani worries whether the gossip about Sacrabani is true, Selvam boldly stands up to his neighbors and accepts the boy into his family.

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