Study Guide

Nectar in a Sieve Chapter 2

By Kamala Markandaya

Chapter 2

  • Our heroine helps Kunthi give birth to her child: Rukmani is the lone helper as the midwife is nowhere to be found.
  • When Rukmani finally returns home to Nathan after a long day’s birthing, Nathan is very cross: his wife is pregnant herself and shouldn’t put herself or her baby in danger.
  • Since she is pregnant, Rukmani now has time to do non-work activities. We learn that her father taught all of his children to read and write. Perhaps he educated his children for prestige, but it is more likely it is because he knew reading and writing in difficult times could be a gentle pleasure.
  • Reactions to Rukmani’s literacy vary: her mom is not behind all this fancy book-learning, especially for girls. Kali (the gossipy village lady) scorns Rukmani’s writing as something she’ll have to give up once she’s busy with real women’s work.
  • Nathan’s reaction is best though. Nathan watches Rukmani write, leaves to ruminate on it, and then returns, stroking her hair and praising her for her cleverness. Rukmani notes that his reaction demonstrates his maturity – though he is illiterate, he can be comfortable with his wife’s strengths – different though they are from his.
  • We get a garden update too: as the plants grow, Rukmani shares that she is utterly delighted with the garden, where each tiny seed protects the secret of life. After a startling (but harmless) encounter with a cobra in her garden, Rukmani’s own tiny seed soon comes springing into the world. She gives birth to a baby girl, and she weeps over the misfortune.
  • The couple names the little girl Irawaddy, after one of Asia’s great rivers, the rationale being that water was the most precious thing in the world. Though Nathan, too, would have preferred a boy to be his heir and namesake, he grows to love Ira as soon as she learns to say "Apa," meaning father.
  • As a child, Ira is a marvelous beauty, which is a bit puzzling for her ordinary-looking parents. She is energetic and good-natured, too, and entertains herself while her parents go about their domestic and rural duties.
  • Ira is actually such a joy that Rukmani’s mother often endures the long ride to come and see her. Rukmani notes that she unfortunately does not go to see her mother that often, because she’s busy at home. Her mother, far from being angry, understands.