Study Guide

Nectar in a Sieve Chapter 14

By Kamala Markandaya

Chapter 14

  • With the rains back, the family plants the little seed they have, and waits. There is nothing left to sell, nothing has grown to eat immediately, and Rukmani is forced to pull out the little reserve they have left.
  • In the granary, she has buried about ten pounds of rice. Measuring it out day by day, she worriedly realizes they have enough food to eat for only 24 days. She hopes God will provide after that.
  • Rukmani and Nathan are plagued with worry about what will come. Rukmani thinks of going to Kenny for help, but he has disappeared again. They’re on their own.
  • One day Kunthi shows up and demands food from Rukmani. Ruku’s neighbor is utterly delusional: her husband has left her, and it’s clear she’s delved deeper into prostitution. Kunthi declares she will be well once she is restored by the food that Rukmani must give her.
  • Ruku explains that Kunthi’s sons should take care of her, as Ruku has her own family to worry about.
  • Kunthi cryptically says "My sons are not mine alone," and then begins to make bold threats against Ruku. Kunthi implies that Rukmani has had an affair with Kenny. Our heroine quickly thinks her honesty will defend her.
  • Rukmani then remembers, though, her son’s strange suggestion that white men have power over women and Ira’s strange looks whenever Ruku was so eager to visit Kenny. Ruku also recognizes that she has deceived Nathan already about her infidelity treatment. Once Nathan learns of one lie, he can rightfully imagine many more.
  • She’s overcome with doubt and shame, and as she weeps, Kunthi hangs over her.
  • Rukmani gives up seven days of rations to Kunthi and is made miserable by the thought that not much food remains. Haunted by the thought, she goes to the grain’s hiding place to count the remaining rice. Imagine her surprise when she finds just one day’s worth of rice!
  • Rukmani is distraught, and immediately realizes that while Kunthi knew of the grain in the granary, no one but her family knew of this other secret hiding spot. Basically, if anyone took the rice, it must’ve been someone in the family. She crouches over the empty spot until dawn, when she goes in to her house accuse her own children.
  • She takes the littlest one, Kuti, outside, and returns to begin screaming at the other three, Ira, Raja and Selvam. Nathan comes in from the fields, drawn in by Kuti’s crying outside and the shouting within the house. Rukmani is cruel with madness, and Nathan intervenes.
  • To Rukmani’s shock, Nathan breaks down. He admits that he is the one who took the rice, and sobs that it was not for himself. He confesses that he had no choice to give it to someone else. Immediately, Rukmani goes to him to comfort him, but he pours out his heart, which is heavy with guilt.
  • Nathan admits that he’s the father of Kunthi’s two sons. He gave all the rice to Kunthi, who blackmailed him into giving it away.
  • Rukmani goes through a series of feelings, "disbelief, disillusionment, anger, reproach, pain." She calms herself by remembering that Kunthi is capable of evil. She then takes this as an opportunity to come clean about her own lies. Rukmani tells Nathan the truth about Kenny’s help with her infertility, and of Kunthi’s extortion.
  • With the truth out, the air is now clear. Rukmani notes that Kunthi has been robbed of her power over them. More importantly, with the rice gone, there can be no more obsession and worrying of how to stretch it out over days. There’s a freedom in this certainty.
  • The family turns to desperate measures to eat – roaming the countryside for dropped fruits, catching crabs and even going through the gutters for food. Rukmani notes they were not alone in this desperation; hunger has turned neighbors and friends into competitors.
  • Rukmani describes the onset of starvation in detail: hunger is a numbing that makes it impossible to think of anything but food. It also becomes impossible to eat since food becomes so unfamiliar.
  • Rukmani watches the people around her literally become skin and bones, and imagines she must look the same. The entire family, the village, everyone it seems, is suffering, but Kuti, the tiny baby, takes it hardest of all. He weakens to frailty, no longer asking for food, but simply weeping.
  • Ira offers her paltry breast in solace – only that can silence the starving child.