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Nectar in a Sieve | Study Guide

Kamala Markandaya

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Nectar in a Sieve | Part 1, Chapter 23 | Summary



Nathan's health begins to fail. Kennington visits and says plainly that Nathan works too hard and eats too little. He says Nathan needs "milk and vegetables and butter, not plain rice day after day." To Rukmani, Kenny might as well be asking her to feed Nathan gold coins. Kenny wonders why they have no one to help with their land, and Rukmani sharply reminds him all her sons have either died or moved on to other careers. Nathan rests for a few days and then returns to the fields. Then one day, a year later, Nathan returns from the fields to find the landlord's collector, Sivaji. Rather than asking for money, the collector delivers the message that the landlord has sold the land to the tannery.

The family has two weeks to move. Devastated, Nathan and Rukmani scramble to figure out their options. Desperate and hopeless, Nathan and Rukmani decide to visit their son Murugan, who lives over 100 miles away. Selvam vows to look after Irawaddy and Sacrabani back in the village.


Nathan's illness highlights the plight of impoverished workers. Although Nathan clearly suffers and may even be near death, he has no choice but to continue working. Kennington's suggestion that Nathan eat richer foods seems as absurd to Rukmani as his suggestion that peasants ask for better treatment from their government. For families like Rukmani's, life and death is a matter of fate, not choice.

Fate deals the family the worst blow when their landlord sells the land. This sale not only highlights how the insidious tannery has slowly erased Rukmani's livelihood, it pushes the couple into desperation. They have no possibility of survival without their land. Rukmani has nothing to sell at the market and no other job options. Nathan will never secure another plot of land given his age and health, nor do they have money to rent a room elsewhere. The family will be homeless. They have no choice but to split up and do the best they can to save themselves.

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