Suffering is fact of life in Nectar in a Sieve. Characters suffer financially, but they also suffer in deeper and more personal ways. Rukmani watches as her children starve, and her family breaks apart. She even holds her husband as he dies. There’s a message that suffering, because it is a natural part of life, must be borne. There’s also a lot of interesting discussion between Kenny and Rukmani about whether suffering can be fought. These characters question whether there’s any purpose in being angry about the injustice of suffering if there’s nothing they can do about it. Ultimately they come down on different sides. Rukmani accepts suffering, while her last son devotes his life to trying to alleviate it. Suffering brings spiritual cleansing, but it also inspires people to hope that there is something beyond suffering.
Though Rukmani purports throughout the novel to have a system of beliefs that appreciates the meaning and value of suffering, the greater thrust of the novel suggests that the author, Markandaya, may actually believe the amount of suffering in the story to be needless.