Study Guide

Nathan in Nectar in a Sieve

By Kamala Markandaya


Ruku says she always called her husband "husband," because calling him by his first name would be inappropriate in her culture. For the purposes of her narrative, though, she calls him Nathan.

Nathan is a tenant farmer who labors his whole life on land he doesn’t own. He’s the loving and wise husband of Rukmani. Nathan begins in the novel as a hopeful young man – he dreams of one day owning his own land, and he constantly points Rukmani towards the rice, which hold the seeds of their hope and future. Like Rukmani, Nathan goes to the earth for replenishment, finding a spiritual anchor there.

Nathan is gentle and loving with his wife and children, but he does go to emotional extremes that Ruku doesn’t often reach. At Deepavali, he is comfortable being simply joyful, without the thought of anything else. On the other hand, he’s capable of abrupt moments of incredible anger, as when he pulls Rukmani off of Ira, or when he declares that his sons must act for their benefit, or when he curses Sivaji and the Zemindar. Nathan is capable of feeling deeply, whether love or anger. His feelings give him strength and often give Rukmani pause to think.

Rukmani is still in control of the story, so we don’t get Nathan’s personal reflections on his life, but we have a sense of what he believes, and that he holds deeply to those convictions. He is ashamed of his infidelity with Kunthi, he refuses to eat the food brought in by Ira’s prostitution; and when his life is brought to a close, he embraces the notion that happiness has been the most important part of it. In the novel, if Ruku represents thought, then Nathan is feeling. He faces strife constantly, and he endures it with a quiet acceptance, valuing what he’s got over what he’ll never have.