The ending of the book can be seen as an open-ended passageway asking the reader to imagine the rest of Ruku’s life. Within the context of the narrative structure, the ending marks the completion point in the circle of Ruku’s story. Ruku literally begins chapter one by telling her story in hindsight. The present captures the final days of Rukmani’s life as she reminisces on what has come before. As narrator, Rukmani takes us on a tour through the past events that lead up to the present.
The ending of the novel is satisfying as a closure to one chapter of Ruku’s life, but the beginning of the novel marks the close to Ruku’s real life story. At the beginning of Nectar in a Sieve we see that she is with her children and grandchildren, and that her adopted son, Puli, is still with her, having staved off fatal leprosy. Ruku has lost her husband and is losing her sight, and her life is coming to a close.
It’s important that the book opens, but doesn’t end, with Ruku’s consideration of her dying days. If Ruku faced death at the structural end of the novel, the whole affair would be a clear story about the fruitlessness of suffering, a tale of misery capped by death. Instead, Ruku ends the novel on a hopeful note. She has returned home to her happy place, has her family by her side, and a new chapter of her life lies before her. We know she is aging, and so her dying days are inevitably upon her, but Markandaya doesn’t want her death to be the take-home message of the whole novel.
Instead, as scholar Indira Ganeshan notes in her introduction to the novel, the book ends with the word "later," which can be taken to indicate promise and hope of the future. The end of the book invites the reader to imagine the future. To learn what actually happens "later," one need only to flip to page one. But to feel the inspiring promise and endurance of the future-which is the real gift of Markandaya’s novel-one needs only to close the book, and rest thoughtfully on its final word.