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Nectar in a Sieve | Study Guide

Kamala Markandaya

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Nectar in a Sieve | Book Summaries

See Book Summaries Chart

Timeline of Events

  • Roughly 1930s

    Rukmani and Nathan marry.

    Part 1, Chapter 1
  • About a year later

    Irawaddy is born.

    Part 1, Chapter 2
  • 6 years later

    Rukmani visits Kennington for fertility treatments and gives birth to four sons in four years.

    Part 1, Chapter 3
  • A few years later

    Men arrive in the village and begin to build the tannery.

    Part 1, Chapter 4
  • 8 years after treatments

    Irawaddy marries and moves to another village.

    Part 1, Chapter 6
  • Around the same time

    Monsoon season begins early and floods the family's rice paddy.

    Part 1, Chapter 7
  • 5 years later

    Irawaddy's husband abandons her; Arjun and Thambi start working at the tannery.

    Part 1, Chapter 9
  • A few years later

    Arjun and Thambi go on strike, lose their jobs, and then take work on a tea farm in Ceylon.

    Part 1, Chapter 12
  • Later in the same year

    A drought strikes, but Rukmani and Nathan must still pay the rent on their land.

    Part 1, Chapter 13
  • Soon after

    The rain comes, but the ruined harvest causes widespread starvation; Kunthi blackmails for rice.

    Part 1, Chapter 14
  • A little while later

    Rukmani's son Raja is killed by guards at the tannery for allegedly trying to steal a calfskin.

    Part 1, Chapter 15
  • A few weeks later

    Irawaddy works as a prostitute to try to save Kuti, but the child starves to death anyway.

    Part 1, Chapter 16
  • About a year later

    Irawaddy gives birth to Sacrabani.

    Part 1, Chapter 20
  • 5 or 6 years later

    Nathan loses his land because the owner sells it to the tannery, and the family splits up.

    Part 1, Chapter 23
  • 2 weeks later

    Nathan and Rukmani leave to seek their son Murugan in the city, hopefully to live with him.

    Part 2, Chapter 24
  • A few days later

    Thieves steal all they own and their son is nowhere to be found, so they are stuck in the city.

    Part 2, Chapter 25
  • A while later

    A streetwise orphan helps them earn money at a quarry to return home.

    Part 2, Chapter 27
  • About a month later

    Nathan dies and Rukmani returns to the village with her adopted son Puli.

    Part 2, Chapter 29

Book Summaries Chart

Book Summary
Part 1, Chapter 1 Rukmani, who is the narrator and is now elderly, looks back on her life. She thinks of her children, particularly Puli, ... Read More
Part 1, Chapter 2 Kunthi gives birth to her son several months after Rukmani arrives in the village. None of the other women in the villag... Read More
Part 1, Chapter 3 For six years Rukmani tries and fails to get pregnant. While visiting her ailing mother, Rukmani meets Kennington, whom ... Read More
Part 1, Chapter 4 One day Rukmani's young son, Arjun, rushes home to alert everyone that strange men have arrived in the village and are b... Read More
Part 1, Chapter 5 One afternoon while collecting dung in the fields, Rukmani sees Kennington in the distance. She has not seen the doctor ... Read More
Part 1, Chapter 6 When Irawaddy is just past 14 years old, Rukmani realizes she cannot wait any longer to marry off her daughter. She enli... Read More
Part 1, Chapter 7 Shortly after Irawaddy's wedding, monsoon rains destroy Nathan's rice fields. The rains wreak havoc on the family's mud ... Read More
Part 1, Chapter 8 Talk returns to the tannery. Rukmani still feels wary of the change, particularly because her friend, Janaki, struggles ... Read More
Part 1, Chapter 9 One morning Rukmani sees two figures approaching in the distance. She realizes it's her daughter and son-in-law, so she ... Read More
Part 1, Chapter 10 On Deepavali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, the family travels into town for the large bonfire and fireworks. For the fi... Read More
Part 1, Chapter 11 Nathan leaves home for the funeral of one of his family members. While he's away Rukmani secretly visits Kennington to a... Read More
Part 1, Chapter 12 Rukmani's sons Arjun and Thambi continue to work at the tannery. Their wages help the family, but because they are grown... Read More
Part 1, Chapter 13 This year, instead of the bountiful rice harvest Nathan and Rukmani hope for, the rains fail. Rukmani weeps and begs the... Read More
Part 1, Chapter 14 The rains finally arrive, and Rukmani and Nathan sow new seed. The family watches with a mixture of hope and fear as the... Read More
Part 1, Chapter 15 One day Rukmani's son, Raja, goes out to forage as usual but never comes back. A few hours later two men carry home his ... Read More
Part 1, Chapter 16 Nathan's crops are doing well, but they still need three weeks before he can harvest them. The family grows weaker every... Read More
Part 1, Chapter 17 After Kuti dies, the earth "mock[s] [Rukmani's] loss" by offering an abundant harvest. With the little strength they hav... Read More
Part 1, Chapter 18 At the next harvest the family does equally well. Rukmani grows enough vegetables to return to the market and sell for a... Read More
Part 1, Chapter 19 Selvam realizes he has no desire to take over his father's land someday. Farming does not come naturally to him—he would... Read More
Part 1, Chapter 20 The time comes for Irawaddy to give birth. Preparing for the moment reminds Rukmani of her own births, and she wonders w... Read More
Part 1, Chapter 21 The family plods along for seven years as they wait for construction to be completed on the hospital. Setbacks plague th... Read More
Part 1, Chapter 22 Selvam and Irawaddy grow even closer in their shared responsibility of Sacrabani. Despite the love and attention he rece... Read More
Part 1, Chapter 23 Nathan's health begins to fail. Kennington visits and says plainly that Nathan works too hard and eats too little. He sa... Read More
Part 2, Chapter 24 Rukmani packs up the few belongings she and Nathan have, including their sleeping mats and a single pot she hopes to off... Read More
Part 2, Chapter 25 In the morning Nathan wakes feeling optimistic and decides they should buy themselves breakfast from a street vendor to ... Read More
Part 2, Chapter 26 The next morning Nathan and Rukmani depart for the collector's house. The guard at the gate initially tries to turn them... Read More
Part 2, Chapter 27 With nowhere left to turn, Rukmani and Nathan join the rest of the beggars at the temple. Each day they go out in search... Read More
Part 2, Chapter 28 One evening, after a particularly long day in the quarry, Nathan complains about feeling tired and says he would like to... Read More
Part 2, Chapter 29 The workers lay Nathan's body on the temple floor. Someone brings an oil lamp. Rukmani sits by his side as he grows grad... Read More
Part 2, Chapter 30 Rukmani returns to her village with her "adopted" son Puli at her side. Irawaddy and Selvam greet them warmly. Selvam pr... Read More
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