Nectar in a Sieve
by Kamala Markandaya
Nectar in a Sieve Theme of Power
Power is another important force in Nectar in a Sieve. Much of the novel is driven by the fact that the characters are often powerless against external circumstances. They are at the whim of the weather, the tannery, the landowners, and any other number of more powerful forces. However, power is also about the will of an individual. Though Rukmani and Nathan are forced into certain directions by outside power, those forces allow them to develop tremendous personal power. Nathan is buoyed by his convictions, and Rukmani has astonishing endurance and patience. The couple, though limited by external circumstance, has found that they need internal willpower in order to go on. In the landscape of the greater world, but the strength and bravery with which they face that outside world is a testament to their own personal power. They have hope in spite of everything around them, and this hope gives them the power to go on.
Questions About Power
- When Rukmani says white men have power (9.31), what kind of power is she talking about? Is there any hint that Rukmani, or any of the other characters, resent the racial power structure in Indian society of the time? Is racial power understood differently between different classes of people? Different generations? Is the injustice of racial power ever explored in the book?
- How do women have power in the book? Think about this with respect to the power of sexuality, power in the home, and power in larger society. How do different women in the book exercise their respective powers?
- Nathan has powerful as the man of the house, but he is powerless when the tannery decides to buy up his land. How do hierarchies of power operate within the novel? What other hierarchies, besides those of economics, exist in the novel?
- As Nathan and Rukmani age, power shifts from the old taking care of the young to the young taking care of the old. How do Nathan and Rukmani respond to this shift? Is there a sense that their children wield this power (and responsibility) with the same care and reverence that their parents did?
Chew on This
The tannery is a powerful force in the village, and is has power over the opportunities and economic mobility of the characters. When the tannery officials come to seek Ruku’s acceptance of their claim that they are not liable for Raja’s death, they are implicitly admitting that they only hold power so long as the people allow them to hold power. This is symbolic of the larger hold of power that Britain and industry had over India – power can only be held unconditionally so long as it is not resisted or questioned.
It is only when characters put aside their considerations of their power relative to each other that genuine loving and kindness can occur (as when Nathan eschews his power as a controlling husband, or Kenny overlooks his higher social position to befriend Ruku’s family).