Nectar in a Sieve | Study Guide

Kamala Markandaya

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Nectar in a Sieve | Part 2, Chapter 25 | Summary



In the morning Nathan wakes feeling optimistic and decides they should buy themselves breakfast from a street vendor to celebrate how they will reunite with their son today. Rukmani reaches for her small bundle of money and realizes, to her horror, that it, too, has been stolen. With nothing left, the couple trudges into the "terrifying" city to continue their search for Murugan. They ask passersby for assistance but are sent in conflicting directions, until they feel they will be condemned to walk in circles for eternity. Finally they ask a leprous child beggar to guide them. The boy demands payment for his service, but when he sees they have nothing he offers to do the job on credit. After days of wandering, the couple feels overwhelming relief when the boy, Puli, drops them off at Murugan's place of employment, Birla's. Unfortunately, the doctor informs them that Murugan left his station two years earlier in search of better pay. The doctor allows them to stay overnight in the service quarters and offers them a welcomed meal.


Despite the fact that starvation strips people of their dignity and humanity, there are still those who offer kindness along the way. The doctor and her servants treat Rukmani and Nathan with respect, offering them a welcomed meal and place to sleep peacefully. Their kindness feels especially foreign when considering that the couple has literally nothing to offer them in return. Everything has been lost or stolen, and the couple has no prospects for returning the favor in the future.

Rukmani's stolen money highlights her vulnerability in the city. As an "ignorant" villager, she lacks the street smarts to survive in the dog-eat-dog world. Not only does she expect the temple workers to simply trust her story about Nathan needing food, she leaves her bags unattended, accidentally flashes the money in her sari, and trusts those around her too easily. With the exception of Kunthi, who at least had the decency to blackmail Rukmani to her face, Rukmani's village was filled with family and friends. She knew whom she could trust and whom she should avoid. In the city everything is new, leaving the couple vulnerable.

Interestingly, Rukmani's visit with the servants highlights how progress doesn't always equal betterment. Rukmani feels repulsed by the latrine outside the servants' quarters. Although the latrine is considered more "advanced" than using in a hole in the ground, Rukmani rightly recognizes the stagnant latrine as something unsanitary.

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