Study Guide

Nectar in a Sieve Chapter 12

By Kamala Markandaya

Chapter 12

  • Things seem to be going well at home. The family is able to live: Rukmani’s sons dutifully bring her home their rupee per day, and Nathan continues to work the land. Ruku is able to put food aside for her family. She does, however, finally resign herself to the fact that she cannot save up for another dowry for Ira.
  • Things take a turn for the worse when Ruku and Nathan visit Arjun and Thambi at the tannery. The parents learn that the workers (including the boys) are creating strife.
  • Arjun and Thambi explain that they’re being punished for agitating for better wages. The boys add that they are only doing what’s right: they’re thinking of their own livelihoods and the desire to start their own families.
  • The workers’ strife escalates, and eventually the boys join the other workers on strike. Ruku believes the boys have become spokesmen for the strike movement because they know how to read and write. Arjun and Thambi are out of work for a week before the tannery calls a meeting for scabs to replace the striking workers.
  • Ruku rails that it is futile to continue to fight, but the boys are prideful, and they say people will never learn if they cave in.
  • Kali’s sons have also been caught up in the strike, and she comes to complain. Nathan silences the squabble: the boys have made their own choices and that’s that.
  • Arjun and Thambi begin to come and go as they please, visiting the town at all hours. Their parents have lost control of them. One day, Selvam announces that new drums are being beaten in the town, and they are calling for workers. The boys go to investigate.
  • When Arjun and Thambi return home, they speak with their parents, and confirm that the drums indeed beckoned workers. Nathan warily replies that he heard they were looking for workers in the far-off land of Ceylon.
  • The boys are unperturbed – Ceylon or not, the wages are good, and the company will pay for the travel.
  • Rukmani pleads that money isn’t everything, but the boys counter that money is enough, especially since they have no land now. They are young, and work abroad calls. It does not suit young men to be idle.
  • Arjun and Thambi assure their mother they will be back, but Rukmani fears they only make empty promises. She knows that if they leave, she will never see her two sons again. By the next morning, they are gone.
  • We learn that Rukmani’s third son, Murugan, has also left. He’s gone to a city two days away to be a servant, and Kenny has helped him to get there with a recommendation.
  • Nathan does his best to comfort Rukmani, who is near despair. He sits her down in the sunlight on the earth, and has her look around at the beauty of the land that keeps them. She notes that the tannery has driven away much of the wildlife.
  • Still, Nathan shows her the grain growing in the rice stems, and once again encourages her to trust in the land, which promises a good harvest. Together, the two make hopeful plans to eat well this season and even to make enough to visit their sons.
  • Kenny later meets Rukmani and brings good news that Murugan’s employer is happy with him. In the closeness of the moment, Ruku inquires if Kenny does not have his own family he should be tending to. She momentarily seizes in a panic about being so forward, but Kenny responds. He wonders why it’s taken her so long to ask.
  • Kenny reveals that he has a wife and children back home. They wish he were not abroad, but has resisted their attempt to constrain him. He comes and goes as he pleases and is free to pursue his interests abroad. Still, he says he can only handle all the traveling in small doses.
  • Kenny catches himself too, and saying he has revealed too much, and makes Ruku promise to never reveal the very personal information he has told her. He slinks away, and she only wonders after the mysterious, lonely figure.