Study Guide

Nectar in a Sieve Chapter 19

By Kamala Markandaya

Chapter 19

  • Selvam, the last son with the family, comes home one day to announce that working the land is not for him. He has been patient with it, but the land doesn’t take to him, nor he to the land. Rukmani is naturally worried about what Selvam will do to sustain himself after his parents are gone, but then comes the big news.
  • Kenny is building a hospital, and he’s invited Selvam to be his assistant. Selvam took to the little education he got from Ruku, and surpassed her learning through his own effort and enthusiasm. He reasons that he’ll be a good assistant, and anything he doesn’t know, Kenny will teach him.
  • Mother and son then have a frank conversation. Selvam has already gotten his dad’s good wishes to proceed with Kenny, but he hesitantly prods the question of whether his decision displeases his mother.
  • She admits she’s a bit disappointed, as his decision means none of their sons will go to the land that has been the mainstay of their parents’ lives. Still, Rukmani assures Selvam she knows that this is the best thing for him.
  • There’s a moment of quiet recognition between the two of them: Rukmani pauses, wondering in her mind whether she should tell Selvam that people will talk, and say that Kenny’s favor to Selvam is because of the "special relationship" Kenny has had with Selvam’s mother. She decides not to say anything because she doesn’t want to put a damper on his achievement and optimism.
  • Selvam, though, is wise beyond his years. Without ever explicitly bringing up the rumor of Rukmani’s infidelity, he assures his mother that he knows what gossip he might face, and he doesn’t care. He insists that everything will be fine, so long as Rukmani keeps the strength to ignore such talk. Most importantly, Selvam says he trusts his mom. The two share a silent smile of understanding and relief that the topic has been addressed.
  • Ruku then visits Kenny and thanks him for the favor to Selvam. Kenny shows her the plans for the new building—a big hospital, fit for the needs of the growing town. Rukmani doesn’t quite grasp the details, but she gets that this is a big deal.
  • She wonders where the money will come from the finance the thing, and Kenny announces that he has thousands of rupees. Rukmani is reasonably surprised, as Kenny has been living in poverty like the rest of the village people, but Kenny explains that the money isn’t his. He’s been raising funds from abroad and from within India.
  • Then there’s a big "meaning of life" talk – Ruku is puzzled at why people who don’t know them would care enough to contribute money to a hospital to help the poor town.
  • Kenny gets exasperated and goes into the old refrain that people who need help should cry out for it.
  • Rukmani thinks to herself that this is foolish – man is given a spirit to rise above his needs. She thinks people should just accept want as a reality, and not ask for help from others.
  • Though she doesn’t speak a word of this, Kenny seems to sense that she’s thinking it. He becomes irate as usual at the self-imposed suffering that he never can seem to understand. He argues that he doesn’t grasp why the people around him seem to think of suffering as noble.
  • Ruku counters that the people learn to bear suffering, as the priests have taught them to, and all of the suffering is central to cleansing the spirit.
  • Kenny then proverbially throws up his hands, essentially admitting that he’ll never understand the ways of the people around him.