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Themes

Transformation has many facets in Nectar in a Sieve. Characters are transformed by hardship, learning how to endure and transcend difficulties. The town is transformed by the tannery, which disrupts caste traditions and the environment. The world is becoming modern and industrial, a change from rural and agricultural. Characters’ values change when faced with the reality of what poverty drives people to do (prostitution, thievery, etc), and their own hopes for themselves are gently dimmed and often redirected throughout the novel. Change is inevitable, and the story directs its focus toward watching people grow and adapt to the world as it changes around them. They have no choice but to transform if they are to survive, and this transformation occurs socially, but also personally.

Questions About Transformation

  1. As narrator, Rukmani has control over the shape of her own story, but do we get any indications from her about how she’s changed throughout the story, if at all?
  2. In what ways does the tannery transform the town? Is it forcing people and customs to change, as Ruku might argue, or is it just giving people some opportunity to try something new, which they were looking for anyway?
  3. Is it important that this novel be happening in the mid-20th century, a time of great change in India? Are the transformations going on (both external and internal for the characters) better understood before the backdrop of post-independence India, or could these changes be happening at any time, regardless of political circumstances?
  4. Ira changes from a loving and obedient daughter to a prostitute, and back again, through the course of the novel. What prompts these changes?
  5. Do Ira’s transformations reflect at all on the changing role of women in India, or are the changes purely a product of Ira’s personal circumstances?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

It’s not India’s political situation alone that changes in the book, it’s the Indians themselves. Note that all Nathan and Ruku’s children do exactly the opposite of what’s expected of them, and their parents are powerless to do anything about it. The book is about changes that were occurring with the new generation of Indians, as India was going through its own national growing pains.

Rukmani has changed over the course of the story; the woman she describes at the start of the novel is young and flush with hope. The reason the book is so focused on suffering and failure is because Ruku, retrospectively, realized those things were the greatest influences in her life, and they’ve changed her into a resigned (but content) old woman.

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