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Nectar in a Sieve | Study Guide

Kamala Markandaya

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Nectar in a Sieve | Part 2, Chapter 28 | Summary



One evening, after a particularly long day in the quarry, Nathan complains about feeling tired and says he would like to lie down rather than go to the market for rice cakes. For some inexplicable reason Rukmani feels overwhelmed with optimism at the market and decides to buy fried pancakes in addition to the rice cakes and to buy Puli a little toy cart. She spends in a "frenzy" of optimism, vowing to work even harder the next day to make up for her indulgence. On her return to the temple, Rukmani sees Nathan outside. She offers him food and stammers that they will make up all the money she just spent, but a dizzy spell seizes Nathan. The smell of the rich food causes him to vomit, and his forehead burns to the touch. They go inside, where Rukmani tells Nathan to lie down and rest.

The next day the monsoon rains start, which chill them to the bone. Nathan rests for a few days but determinedly returns to the quarry. He works weakly through the relentless rainstorms. At the end of the day Rukmani offers to carry both their bags of rocks to the payment station. When she returns, Nathan has collapsed in the mud on the side of the street. A few workers help her carry his body back to the temple.


Nathan's physical weakness once again reminds readers of the burdened bullocks pulling the cart to town. Although the couple has neared their goal of raising enough money to return to their village, Nathan cannot stop working, even long enough to recover from illness. Just as in earlier chapters when the rains flood the land and the drought withers the crop, to stop working would mean certain death. The driver's rebuke that his bullock would "soon be fit for nothing" ominously overhangs all of Part 2, foreshadowing Nathan's death in the next chapter.

Puli's toy cart reintroduces the drum motif that runs through the novel. Drummers are part of Hindu culture, particularly ceremonies and celebrations. They are also a means of communication, and throughout the device signals change in Rukmani's life. Drummers announce the arrival of the tannery, for example, as well as the call for men to work the tea fields in Ceylon. Drums build to a frenzy on the night of Deepavali, when Kuti is conceived, and they solemnly mark the funeral procession after Raja's death. Puli's toy cart, which doesn't stop drumming even after Rukmani notices something is wrong with Nathan, marks another turning point in Rukmani's life: life without her beloved husband.

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