Nectar in a Sieve
The meaning of life is constantly questioned and probed in this text. Life means different things to different characters: For Rukmani, it is an opportunity for endurance and spiritual cleansing through suffering; for Nathan, life is about finding little joys and simple pleasures. Kenny’s life is about helping those who suffer, regardless of the cost to one’s self. Life’s meaning is a dynamic thing, and it changes with circumstances. When harvests are good, life is not hard, and so it isn’t thought about that often. When things are bad though, there is always an opportunity to reckon with the reality that one must go on, and that life must have some innate value that makes it worth living. The characters struggle and find that meaning, each in their own way.
Questions About Life, Consciousness, and Existence
- Ruku describes "hope and fear" as the twin forces that rule her life. Is one more important than the other? Does Ruku really seem inspired by hope, or does she hint that hope is a pacifying salve that she uses because she has no other alternative, except futile despair?
- Is the religious belief that suffering brings spiritual cleansing the driving force of Ruku’s hopeful life? Does Ruku ever rail against the gods for her lifelong suffering?
- Does Rukmani think she’s had a good life? What rubric is used to measure a good life in the book?
- How does the meaning of life differ between generations? Compare the lives of Old Granny, Ruku and Nathan, and Ruku and Nathan’s children.
Chew on This
Rukmani is different from her children in that she does not view life as a dynamic learning experience. (12.23) Ruku has a firm view on the meaning of life, based on her cultural and spiritual values. Her children, by contrast, adjust their view on the meaning of life based on what’s going on circumstantially in their lives.
Each person’s view on the meaning of life is shaped by their social status in life – Kenny has the luxury of pity, Kunthi’s life is defined by her dissatisfaction as a woman of the earth, and Ruku accepts being a plain village woman.