Nectar in a Sieve has no single antagonist (traditionally the character who presents an obstacle or major difficulty to the protagonist). This novel is rife with all sorts of difficulties and obstacles, many of them coming from entirely different places. Nature is the primary difficulty for Rukmani and Nathan, and the uncertainty of nature is an utterly destabilizing factor in Rukmani’s life.
Rukmani views the tannery as a negative force of change. Like nature, the tannery ushers in good and bad tidings. Though it pollutes the village and takes three of Ruku’s sons away from her, it also provides a little income that helps the family get through some of their hardest times. Still, the tannery symbolizes the negative economic changes that Ruku associates with ruining her village and dividing her family. Ultimately the tannery is the great evil that buys Nathan and Ruku’s land and takes their home from them. The tannery is not inherently evil but provides obstacles that are destabilizing to Ruku’s life and happiness.
Kunthi can also be looked at as an antagonist, as she holds threats over both Nathan and Rukmani. Kunthi extorts the family’s final supply of rice during a time of great need by threatening to expose the secrets that husband and wife have kept from each other. Ironically, once the truth comes out between Ruku and Nathan, they’re able to forgive and love each other again. We discover that the source of antagonism is not so much Kunthi, as it was the deception between them. Kunthi is antagonistic, but she is also a means of exploiting honestly in any relationship.