Study Guide

Nectar in a Sieve Chapter 21

By Kamala Markandaya

Chapter 21

  • Selvam becomes increasingly occupied with the building of the hospital, and Rukmani wistfully notes in retrospect that the hospital would take seven years to build, though none of them knew it at the time. Kenny and Selvam have poured their hearts into the project, and the delays leave them frustrated, though they plow on.
  • Rukmani seems pained as she says if the hospital had been built faster, perhaps Old Granny would’ve had a decent place to die. She had lived on the street and died on the street, without relatives or anyone to care for her. The people of the town could see it happening, but it was easier to have a surface relationship than actually ask how the old lady was doing.
  • Old Granny’s body had been found outside, on a path near a well. She had died of starvation.
  • Many from the town and village attended the cremation. Rukmani wryly notes that even if no one is there to take care of you in life, many show up for your death. Death removes the frightening responsibility that anyone might have had to take on for your ailing life.
  • Rukmani takes Old Granny’s death especially hard, as she knows now that the rupee Old Granny gave to Ira’s baby, Sacrabani, was her last one. Nathan scolds her for being foolish, as that one rupee wouldn’t have held her long.
  • Rukmani sadly wishes Old Granny could’ve gone to the hospital, but Nathan cuts her off sharply – hospitals are for the sick. For the old, there is nothing.
  • The hospital carries other troubles besides building delays. Even as it is only being built, people begin to harass Kenny, Selvam, and even Ruku, trying to secure a spot once the facility opened. Rukmani is pained by the fact that not even a tenth of those seeking help can get it – there is just too much need. These fears go unspoken, and Ruku does the best she can.
  • The building process is plagued by hiccoughs: the contractor is changed twice, alternating shortages of labor and materials, the theft of bricks, a fire, and inexplicable work stoppages. Kenny and Selvam are increasingly frustrated, and Ruku doesn’t seem to know how to talk to either of them about what’s going on.
  • Finally, Ruku talks to Selvam and learns that when Kenny goes away, he’s still collecting money for the project.
  • Rukmani again marvels at what she sees as foolishness. There is no purse big enough, not enough compassion in the world, to help all those who are in need. She concludes Kenny is wrong for his optimism in people. She doesn’t understand how Kenny and Selvam manage to fund the project, but the work always seems to crawl on anyway.
  • Ultimately, Selvam begins his actual training with Kenny in Kenny’s whitewashed little cottage. Selvam picks up quickly, and by his second year he’s able to treat less complicated cases himself. Kenny begins to pay Selvam a small wage when he can. Rukmani one day questions Kenny about how he will manage to pay a full staff, but Kenny is brash and darkly hopeful. He is certain he will find ways and means.