Nectar in a Sieve | Study Guide

Kamala Markandaya

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Nectar in a Sieve | Quotes


A poor match ... How little they knew, any of them!

Rukmani, Part 1, Chapter 1

Not able to afford a higher dowry, Rukmani's family believes she married below her station. An optimist from the start, Rukmani knows she will make the best of her situation because Nathan loves her.


The tears came ... for what woman wants a girl for her first-born?

Rukmani, Part 1, Chapter 2

Rukmani's disappointment over having a girl as her firstborn child highlights the gender preference and sexism in Hindu culture. Girls are seen as a liability because they cannot take over their father's work and require an expensive dowry to be married off. A boy, on the other hand, can inherit his father's work and earn the family a dowry from the wife he marries.


The Gods have other things to do: they cannot attend to the pleas of every supplicant.

Rukmani, Part 1, Chapter 3

Rukmani believes in the traditional Hindu gods yet recognizes that the plight of her neighbors is the same as her own. She forgives the gods for their inability to answer every prayer, maintaining her simple loyalty and forgiveness.


Bend like the grass, that you do not break.

Nathan, Part 1, Chapter 4

Nathan teaches Rukmani an important life lesson—she must adapt to change or be destroyed by it. When the tannery moves in, Rukmani cannot accept it, and it plays a large role in destroying her family.


Look away for an instant ... and it has you by the throat.

Rukmani, Part 1, Chapter 7

Rukmani describes her relationship with nature: If a person honors and respects it, nature will provide what is needed. Her words exemplify the dependency farmers like Nathan have on nature, in all its fickleness, in order to survive.


Times will not be better for many months ... Why do you keep this ghastly silence?

Kennington, Part 1, Chapter 7

Kennington feels frustrated that the impoverished peasants accept a fate of suffering and prayer. He sees Hindu traditions as ignorance and feels frustrated knowing he cannot save everyone through philanthropy alone—they must also work to save themselves.


He is justified, for a man needs children.

Nathan, Part 1, Chapter 9

Nathan accepts that Irawaddy's husband abandons her for being barren because he understands the cultural importance of children. Although welcoming Irawaddy back home puts further strain on the struggling family, Nathan feels no anger toward his son-in-law. The situation also serves to contrast Irawaddy's husband with her father. Nathan sticks by Rukmani during years of infertility while Irawaddy's husband does not.


You people will never learn. It is pitiful to see your foolishness.

Kennington, Part 1, Chapter 11

For all his good works in India, Kennington feels frustrated that impoverished peasants like Rukmani would rather blindly accept their fate than demand better from their government. Exchanges like these highlight the culture clash between Eastern and Western traditions.


You have little enough strength, without dissolving it in tears.

Rukmani, Part 1, Chapter 15

Rukmani chastises Irawaddy for mourning over her brother Raja's death. Rukmani has singular focus on the rest of her family's survival, knowing even shedding tears will weaken their ability to survive another day.


Want is our companion from birth to death, familiar as the seasons or the earth.

Rukmani, Part 1, Chapter 19

Rukmani responds to her perceived acquiescence—from Kennington's perspective—to poverty, explaining that it's all she has ever known and all her children will expect to know in their lifetimes. There's something familiar and almost comforting about it, which is why she never asks for more, as Kennington suggests she should do.


It is not enough to cry out, not sufficient to lay bare your woes and catalogue your needs.

Rukmani, Part 1, Chapter 21

Rukmani explains why she doesn't simply ask for better, as Kennington suggests she do. Rukmani recognizes that for a peasant to be saved, someone on the other side—the government or a benefactor—must be open to listening. From her experience, she sees that asking is never enough if the god or person who could help "close[s] their eyes and their ears."


The bullock cringed, but accepted the torment.

Rukmani, Part 2, Chapter 24

The description of the injured bullock pulling the cart creates strong symbolism for hardworking peasants like Nathan and Rukmani. Both work diligently, ignoring their own suffering, until they die.


One must live.

Ammu, Part 2, Chapter 26

Ammu defiantly defends her child born out of wedlock by suggesting that, like Irawaddy and Kunthi, she did what she had to do to survive. Rukmani's acceptance of Ammu's child shows how her character has changed. She understands on a new level the desperation felt when on the brink of death.


Better to starve where we were bred than live here.

Nathan, Part 2, Chapter 27

Nathan's unwillingness to die in a land not his own displays a strong tradition in Hindu culture. Even knowing how expensive a return home would be and the financial hardship it would cause his children, Nathan feels determined to return to his roots.


There is a limit to the achievements of human courage.

Rukmani, Part 2, Chapter 27

Although Rukmani's statement references Puli's initial refusal to move back to the village with them, it also provides foreshadowing for Nathan's death. No matter how courageous and determined Nathan was to survive, there is a limit to human endurance.

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