Nectar in a Sieve
Kenny to Rukmani
Kenny’s perspective on life serves as a foil to Rukmani’s. He constantly states that people who suffer should cry out for help. Guided by her religious beliefs and her own quiet pride, Rukmani sees the world in a fundamentally different way. People who don’t know her have no burden (and likely no inclination) to help her. To her, suffering is a natural and inevitable part of life, and bearing it with dignity is an important part of spiritual purity. Kenny is frustrated by what he sees as acquiescent suffering in the culture around him. While Ruku may suffer in many other ways, she does not suffer from this frustration.
Kunthi to Rukmani
Kunthi and Rukmani represent opposite sides of femininity. While both are sexual creatures, Ruku confines her sexuality to her husband, while Kunthi has sexual experiences with anyone who possesses willingness and an able pocket. While Ruku guards her sexuality as a sacred expression of love for her husband, Kunthi sees it as an opportunity for physical affirmation and economic progress. Unlike Ruku, Kunthi blames her suffering on other things and people, and naively believes her life will get better once she gets her beauty back. Ruku refused to both place blame and expect charity and bears her suffering with dignity.
Kunthi articulates the difference between her and Ruku early on in the novel: Ruku is a creature of the earth, and proud to be so, while Kunthi views the earth disdainfully, and thinks of herself as fit for greater things. Where Ruku is a modest-looking creature of natural inner beauty and goodness, Kunthi is outwardly beautiful and inwardly ugly, becoming a creature of pitiful and hopeless evil. It’s fitting that Kunthi disappears from the story, while Ruku leaves us with a gentle sense of hopeful endurance.