Nectar in a Sieve
How we cite our quotes:
To the children I handed out two annas apiece, to be spent on fireworks. I had never been able to do so before -- in previous years we had contented ourselves with watching other people's fireworks, or with going down to the bonfire in the village, and even now I felt qualms about wasting money on such quickly spent pleasures; but their rapturous faces overcame my misgivings. It is only once, I thought, a memory. (10.1.)
Ruku is usually very frugal, so her decision to spend on a little extravagance is quite meaningful. It’s a reminder of what it really means to be in poverty, and it helps the reader to see the characters as more than archetypes of people living in dire poverty, anonymous faces crowded together in food lines at refugee camps. Poverty is about worrying how you’ll provide simple necessities for your family. This is why things that are small, like fireworks or the dum-dum cart, are so meaningful. Though they seem like nothing, they come at great costs.
"What is it that calls you?" I said. "Is it gold? Although we have none, remember that money isn’t everything."
"It is an important part of living," he answered me patiently, "and work is another. There is nothing for us here, for we have neither the means to buy land nor to rent it." (12.50)
Ruku has resigned herself to living in poverty, and she says it’s because she’s come around to realizing that money isn’t everything. From her narrative, we know she enjoys living on the land, and she gets her pleasure from it. Her sons, by contrast, show no such proclivity for the land. Because they do they not share her pleasure in the land, they don’t share her comfort with the consequent poverty of living on the land.
At one time there had been kingfishers here, flashing between the young shoots for our fish; and paddy birds; and sometimes, in the shallower reaches of the river, flamingoes, striding with ungainly precision among the water reeds, with plumage of a glory not of this earth. Now birds came no more, for the tannery lay close—except crows and kites and such scavenging birds, eager for the town’s offal… (12.63)
Poverty is bigger than just economic poverty. The novel mainly focuses on the financial troubles of Ruku’s family caused by the tannery, but the tannery’s impact is even greater. The land has been robbed and become poverty-stricken by the tannery’s actions. The birds are gone, the water is polluted, a stench pervades the town – ultimately the landscape suffers as irrevocably as the people.