Study Guide

Nectar in a Sieve The Home

By Kamala Markandaya

The Home

A few days after our conversation the shop finally closed down. Nobody asked: "Where do you go from here?" They did not say, "What is to become of us?" We waited and one day they came to bid us farewell, carrying their possessions, with their children trailing behind, all but the eldest, whom the tannery had claimed. Then they were gone, and the shopkeepers were glad that there was less competition, and the worker who moved into their hut was pleased to have a roof over his head, and we remembered them for a while and then took up our lives again. (8.9)

In order to maintain her own home, Ruku cannot afford to worry about the homes of others. This is an important moment to recognize that the home is a self-contained unit. People don’t compete like they do in the city, but each woman must fend for her home and her home alone.

My husband especially had been looking forward to the day when they would join him in working the land; but Thambi only shook his head. (9.35)

Nathan envisions his sons will continue on the tradition of their agricultural profession. Their rejection of the land is more than a career choice. When they walk away from the family land, they’re walking away from their family and their place in the home. (Ironically, Nathan had wanted sons to work alongside him, and he endures and sacrifices to raise them, only to be deserted by them.)

They spoke soothingly—of how much they would earn, and how one day they would return—as one does to a child; and I listened to them; and it was all a sham, a poor shabby pretence to mask our tortured feelings.

They left at first daylight, each carrying a bundle with food in it, and each before he went kissed Nathan’s feet, then mine, and we laid our hands on them in blessing. I knew we would never see them again. (12.56)

The eldest boys, who had almost specifically been bred to work alongside their father, and keep up the family tradition and home, are the first to leave. Ruku knows she’ll never see them again, but she is silent about their desertion. Ironically, while boys were supposed to stay and keep the family, girls were meant to go off and become part of their husband’s families. While Ruku slowly loses son after son to one thing or another, Ira is the one left behind (with Selvam) to hold together the family.

"I have the usual encumbrances that men have—wife, children, home—that would have put chains about me but I resisted, and so I am alone. As for coming and going, I do as I please, for am I not my own master?" (12.77)

Kenny, interestingly, will be echoed by Puli, who will later say he has no mother to worry over him or to worry him. With Kenny, there’s always the tendency to interpret his words thinking about race or colonialism. When we think about what it means that Kenny and Puli share some of the same tendencies, we might recognize that both are just boys with wanderlust – they have no sense of home, maybe because they never could, or maybe because they didn’t want it.

"We can do without these, but if the land is gone our livelihood is gone, and we must thenceforth wander like jackals." (13.25)

When the land actually is sold much later in the novel, Rukmani takes the time to reflect on all the memories she’s had in her home. Nathan, by contrast, shows here that he’s perhaps more practical and less romantic. Nathan’s first concern is a roof and a livelihood – the home means a different thing to him than to Rukmani.

"…You live and work here, and there is in your heart solicitude for us and love for our children. But this is not your country and we are not your people. If you lived here your whole life it still would not be."

"My country," he said. "Sometimes I do not know which is my country. Until today I had thought perhaps it was this." (18.56)

The only thing that changed today was that Kenny actually arrived back in the village. It seems deep down, he has a tendency towards romantic optimism, as evidenced by his undying hope about building the hospital. Kenny likely thought of India as his home while he was away in his England because he didn’t fit in there either. Kenny is perhaps too judgmental of every place to really comfortably fit in anywhere. He’s at home in his own dislocation.

"I will not be a burden to you. I am happy enough here, people are used to me and to my son. I cannot start a new life now." (23.85)

Ira is at home in the village, even though it has been an unhappy place for her. Home is not always where one is joyful, but rather where one is comfortable. Ira has grown accustomed to hardship, and she’d rather face it at home than go seek it elsewhere. Ironically, her parents will also come to the same conclusion.

The promise of shelter had been kept however: food, and somewhere to sleep. (24.80)

The bundles contained the last remnants of Nathan and Ruku’s old life. Losing them is a symbolic break with the old home. The new requirements for comfort are not as major as a place for family, security, and joy. Now, even basic accommodations, like food and shelter, are a comfort.

The children giggled delightedly, wriggling with pleasure. Their mother was peering into one of the pots on the fire, stirring and tasting. "Ready now," she said with satisfaction, wiping her streaming eyes with the corner of her sari. (25.74)

Markandaya subtly paints a picture in this paragraph. Rukmani is essentially observing an idyllic home, and you can bet she’s imagining what it would be like to be sitting across from Ira, surrounded by her own grandchildren with a warm full pot on the stove. It’s enough to comfort Ruku for the moment, but it’s still a shining example of what Ruku and her family never will have.

"You had better go home," I said, nudging him. "What will your poor mother think if you stay here all night?"

"I have no mother, poor or otherwise," he said. "There is no one to worry about me and none to worry me either, which is a good thing," and turning on his side he fell instantly asleep. (27.54)

It’s funny that after declaring he likes to be without an anchor in the world, Puli becomes attached to the old couple. Ruku’s narration makes it seem like they depend on him more than he does on them. In the end, however, Puli returns to the village with Ruku. Though the boy is without an actual dwelling, he finds something of a home in the care and love of Rukmani and Nathan.

"You are too young to understand," said Nathan. "This is not my home, I can never live here." (27.125)

Nathan links his notion of home to his age. Strictly speaking, Nathan doesn’t actually have a home to return to – no land belongs to him, and his hut is no longer a roof for his head. Home is metaphorical, more a memory from a past time than any certainty Nathan actually has to return to.