Study Guide

Nectar in a Sieve Chapter 13

By Kamala Markandaya

Chapter 13

  • The family hits yet another crisis, as the rains fail and the crops dry out. The time for harvesting arrives, but there is nothing to show for it. Sivaji, the man who collects dues for the Zemindar, arrives promptly to ask for Nathan’s rent. Of course, there is nothing to give him.
  • Hearing that Nathan has nothing to offer, Sivaji threatens that the land will be rented to another tenant who can pay.
  • Nathan and Rukmani plead and argue, and finally Sivaji relents deciding that they can pay half now and the other half later.
  • As Sivaji leaves, Nathan has a rare moment of angry despair: he curses that men like Sivaji are hired to protect the overlord from seeing the fact that people must starve in order for him to be fat. Rukmani gently reminds Nathan that Sivaji is only doing his job.
  • With this small hope of making half the rent to keep their land, Nathan and Rukmani count up all of the things they have to sell: pots, vessels, the eldest boys’ shirts left behind, the bullocks that plowed the land, the new clothes bought for Deepavali, the last of their reserves of food, and even their wedding clothes, which they were saving for the boys’ weddings.
  • Basically, everything they had, except the land, is to be sold. The land, they hope, will eventually provide enough for them to recover.
  • Rukmani bundles up all the goods and takes her bundle to Biswas, the cruel moneylender, to see what she can get. He delights in how far she’s fallen, and he has little sympathy for her since everyone is in a similar condition of desperation.
  • Rukmani is not to be out-smarted though, and when he undervalues her goods at 30 rupees, she demands 75, saying she knows a Muslim woman that will pay that much for them (which she doesn’t). Ruku nearly walks out after she’s made the bluff, but Biswas takes the bait and begrudgingly pays what she asks.
  • When Rukmani sums up what she and Nathan have sold they count out 125 rupees, less of half of what is owed. Rukmani and Nathan then have a rare fight: Nathan would sell the seed they have left for a few rupees, while Rukmani says that would mean they would have nothing to harvest. It would be sacrificing the future for an uncertain present. Nathan finally comes down on Rukmani’s side, and in the morning they face Sivaji with less than half of their promised sum.
  • Again, there’s a bit of a tiff with Sivaji. The collector eventually agrees that next time Nathan will pay what’s owed and then some. As he is leaving, Sivaji has a moment of pause, and apologizes for his harshness. He explains gently that he only does what he must to feed his own family. He wishes them the best, and Rukmani, humbled by his humility, returns his warm wishes in hard times.
  • The rains finally come, but everything in the fields has already died. It is too late.