Study Guide

Nectar in a Sieve Love

By Kamala Markandaya


My spirit ached with pity for her, I longed to be able to comfort her, to convince her that in a few months’ time her new home would be the most significant part of her life, the rest only a preparation… (6.9)

On the one hand, Rukmani is giving away her first-born child, but on the other, she went through this same process of being given away. It’s bittersweet that a mother must think on her own abandonment by her mother as she gives away her daughter. When a daughter does set up her new home, she will focus more on her new family than her old. We can’t tell if Rukmani accepts this reality about "losing" the love and attention of her daughter because that’s the way it is, or whether she’s sad even though she knows Ira must go.

"I do not blame him," Nathan said. "He is justified, for a man needs children. He has been patient."

"Not patient enough," I said. "Not patient like you, beloved." (9.10)

Nathan shows himself to be a wonderful lover to Ruku. His observation here shows that he knows his "rights" as a man, or at least what he can deservedly expect out of a wife (namely children). But even as he admits that, it’s still clear that he has sacrificed for Ruku, and to him it’s been worth the wait. Ruku, too, acknowledges that she appreciates Nathan’s patience and understanding. Their relationship is one of equal maturity, respect, and even adoration. Only this kind of loving devotion could sustain them in hard times.

Words died away, the listening air was very still, the black night waited. In the straining darkness I felt his body moving with desire, his hands on me were trembling, and I felt my senses opening like a flower to his urgency. I closed my eyes and waited, waited in the darkness while my being filled with a wild, ecstatic fluttering, waited for him to come to me. (10.21)

The passion that’s in Ruku and Nathan’s relationship is quite beautiful – they are more than economic and financial support for each other, they’re real lovers.

As my pregnancy advanced she turned completely away from me. Sometimes I saw her looking at me with brooding, resentful eyes, and despite myself I cold not help wondering if hatred lay behind her glance. (11.39)

It seems like the reasonable thing for a loving mother to do would be to reach out to Ira. Though Ruku went so far as to bring Ira to Kenny for fertility treatment, it seems she treats Ira like a lost cause since her husband won’t take her back. Perhaps Ira has hard feelings because she can feel that her life is essentially over. Ruku doesn’t seem to do anything to dispel those feelings – it’s a little surprising how little comfort and love she seems to give Ira in these hard days.

"It is as you say a long time ago," I said wearily. "That she is evil and powerful I know myself. Let it rest." (14.80)

Ruku and Nathan have already built their life together. They’ve known each other long enough that it’s worth it to look over the indiscretions (Nathan’s children with Kunthi, Ruku’s visits to Kenny) if they want to sustain their marriage. Ironically, the relationship they’ve built is why they stay together, even though they’ve learned that relationship was built on some lies. Apparently the good parts of love are enough to get them through the bad parts. They’re emotionally mature, but they’re also really comfortable with each other.

"A baby is no worse for being conceived in an encounter."

"You may be right," I said bitterly, "but you do not realize the shame of it. People have not spared us." (18.69)

Rukmani has chosen to concern herself with the talk of others, instead of choosing to do right by her own daughter. She always knew Ira was meant to be a mother, and she knows what drove Ira to prostitution. Still, she cannot bring herself to be happy or supportive of her daughter. Again, her love of Ira seems compromised, perhaps because she values her own feelings above her love for Ira.

"I am not unaware," he said quietly. "But is it not sufficient that you have the strength and I have the trust?"

"It is indeed," I said with relief. "I wanted only that you should know."

We smiled at each other in perfect understanding. (19.17)

The love between Ruku and Selvam goes beyond that of mother and son. It’s not just obedience or familial obligation that bonds them, but a real understanding of each other. This sheds some light on Selvam as a son, especially as he’s different from his brothers. Ruku admits that she doesn’t know him completely (like Ira does), but at least he sticks around. By contrast, her other sons, (whom she didn’t know completely either) took this isolation from her as a good excuse to abandon the family. Selvam, though he has grown beyond the family, still stays with his parents out of love. The kind of understanding exhibited here is good proof that not just obligation, but real love, is what makes his relationship with Ruku work.

The woman is his, his wife, not only now for this surging experience, but tomorrow and next year. She will carry his seed and he will see her fruitful, watch while day by day his child grows within her. And so he is tender and careful, and comes to her clean that their fulfillment may be rich and blessed. (20.6)

Ruku worries that since Ira has no such love, her baby and her life are not going to be as blessed as what comes of a loving partnership. Ironically, she’s thinking of her relationship with Nathan, even though she knows that Nathan has fathered two of Kunthi’s children (which he obviously hasn’t raised with the attention he’s given his other children). Love is not a given for men, and even her own beloved man has fathered two children outside the bounds of love. Ruku doesn’t think of this as she worries over Ira, but it’s something to think about in the backdrop of these thoughts.

"Would you hold me when my time is come? I am at peace. Do not grieve." "If I grieve," I said "it is not for you, but for myself, beloved, for how shall I endure without you, who are my love and my life?" "You are not alone," he said "I live in my children." (29.9)

Ruku’s love for Nathan is overwhelming. After most of their family has left them, and they’ve been forced to abandon their home, it’s only reasonable that she should think of him as her only anchor in the world. Nathan’s words here are a bit suspect. Of their seven children, three have disappeared, two are dead, and one has ruined her life as a prostitute. Nathan’s comment should give us pause. We might wonder whether he only says it to comfort his wife (and doesn’t believe it), or whether his love for his children and his family (in spite of everything that’s happened) is still deep enough that he’s willing to feel good that they are all he has as a legacy.

"My son," I said. "We adopted him, your father and I."

"You like tired and hungry," Ira said, taking his arm. "Come with me and rest, I will prepare the rice." (30.5)

Ira eases the situation of Puli’s acceptance by being her usual loving self. That Ira takes him in immediately is another mark of her incredible emotional generosity (which is actually in stark contrast to her mother’s attitude towards her). Ruku hesitated to accept Sacrabani, and even didn’t want to sign on to taking care of Puli, but Ira will unhesitatingly love all children. Her gentle love promises to be an important part of holding the family together.