Study Guide

Nectar in a Sieve Chapter 15

By Kamala Markandaya

Chapter 15

  • One day, Raja doesn’t come home as usual. Eventually he’s brought home dead. The two men who carried Raja home mutter an unsatisfying explanation about something having to do with money, and the fact that Raja fell as soon as they laid hands on him, as he was weak from hunger. Rukmani is too shocked by this point to hear their explanation, and Ira has begun to cry.
  • Ruku at first chastises Ira, saying she should save her strength for more than tears. Soon, though, Ira’s grief pools and flows in Rukmani.
  • She observes Raja’s body with an incredible degree of detachment. She explains though, that what she sees before her is only the body. She will worry only about caring for his body: tying up the jaw before rigor mortis sets in, and closing his dead eyes.
  • Rukmani is matter-of-fact about the washing and bandaging of Raja, because the thing that matters is the spirit. The spirit of her son is gone, and it is for his spirit that the mother grieves.
  • Rukmani describes the cremation of Raja. (Note the sudden present tense of her narrative.) Nathan prepares the funeral bier to carry the body, and the funeral drums summon neighbors and friends to the service. At sunrise, the men leave with the body to burn it, and the women stay behind. With the last beat of the funeral drum, the women know the body is all ashes. Raja is gone.
  • Less than three days later, two men from the tannery come to see Rukmani and Nathan. They excuse that the tannery’s no role in Raja’s death. One man says the watchmen were only doing their duty to protect their property. Raja had stolen a calfskin, and only the necessary amount of violence was used against him.
  • Rukmani notes her son would’ve had no use for a calfskin, but she does concede that it might have brought some money. She admits they themselves have no wealth.
  • The real truth of the men’s visit comes out finally as they batter Rukmani with reason: her sons were known troublemakers. Raja shouldn’t have stolen anything, but he was caught and had to pay the consequences.
  • Ultimately, the tannery is worried that Rukmani will bring some legal claim against them, perhaps seeking compensation. They came to make it perfectly clear that Raja’s death was his own fault, and that they can be blamed for nothing.
  • Rukmani is confused, as there is no compensation possible for death. The more timid of the two watchmen speaks up finally. He says very gently that Raja wasn’t brutally treated; he was just tapped with a bamboo stick, and he fell, likely from hunger and weakness combined. He tries with quiet desperation to show sympathy and sorrow for Rukmani.
  • The other man, though, is hell-bent on emphasizing that Raja’s death was not the tannery’s fault, as if he fears any sorrow on their part is some admission of guilt.
  • The meaner man goes so far as to suggest that it’ll be a little easier for Ruku, with one less mouth to feed. The thinner, meeker man makes a sudden and surprising act of raising his hand to check his more aggressive companion.
  • Things simmer once Rukmani, still in shock, agrees with the aggressive man that the tannery is not to blame.
  • As the men ready to leave, it is Rukmani who must do the comforting. The smaller man is clearly uneasy about the sleazy work they’ve just done. Ruku assures him that it does not matter, but the man quietly replies that he is terribly sorry for her. He leaves, visibly clouded by shame and misery.