Study Guide

Nectar in a Sieve Chapter 24

By Kamala Markandaya

Chapter 24

  • Faced with leaving, Rukmani begins to collect the few belongings they plan to take with them. She packs their sleeping mats, a little food, and two bowls. Then she begins to survey the implements of the kitchen that she cannot bring.
  • Wistfully, she notes that her cooking days are over, and she thinks fondly of the daily rituals of food preparation in which she will no longer participate. The journey to Murugan and his wife will take two days, so she takes the proper supplies: bellows for the fire and six dung cakes, (for cooking fuel on the journey).
  • Rukmani goes to the granary and digs up the bundle of money that is left. It’s sixteen rupees total, three of their own, three from Selvam, and a ten-rupee note sent from Kenny.
  • The bullock cart arrives in the morning (already packed with skins from the tannery), and Nathan and Rukmani climb in. Selvam, Ira, and Sacrabani see the cart off. Nathan and Rukmani look back at all they’re leaving behind. The journey is long and dusty, and Nathan and Rukmani are comforted by each other.
  • Finally, on the second day, the driver of the cart announces he has taken them as far as he can. Rukmani and Nathan are a little daunted: they are faced with three roads and have no idea how to find their son. They choose a road at random and trust they’ll find their son with the kindness of strangers’ directions.
  • When they finally run into somebody who can direct them, they hear the bad news that the street they’re looking for, Koil street, is some fifteen miles away. They are crest-fallen, but they have no choice except to continue. While they walk, many carts pass them. No one offers them a ride, though, because the carts are already full.
  • Nathan and Rukmani are growing weary of their bundles, which seem to get heavier. They stop frequently to marvel at how busy and bustling the city is. There are people and traffic far greater than they’d ever seen.
  • Finally, they reach the city center, and, knowing Koil Street is still some six miles away, they stop to rest. After a light meal of plantains, darkness falls around them, and they know they have stayed too long. A man they saw sleeping in a doorway earlier tells them that they can go to a nearby temple for food and a place to sleep. Rukmani and Nathan are buoyed by the prospect of some proper rest.
  • The temple complex is bustling, and it seems the temple is a familiar place to many others who are also heading there for food and shelter. The atmosphere is jovial and familiar enough for the people who are used to it. Nathan and Rukmani chat with the other pilgrims, eagerly talking of visiting their son, though no one has heard of him.
  • The couple arrives at the inner part of the temple, and they stop to pray in a service led by two priests. During the service, Rukmani is distracted. As she tries to focus on her prayers, all she can see are the images of her past: her children, her hut, Old Granny, Kenny, Sacrabani. Finally, her mind calms, and she prays amid the reverent silence.
  • The atmosphere of the place entirely changes once the prayers are over. The people for whom this is a nightly routine know that the food offerings placed before the gods and goddesses in the temple are given to the poor after the food is blessed. There is a throng of people who push and jostle for a place in the line for handouts.
  • Rukmani makes it into the crush, but Nathan, who has never been one for crowds, stands to the side with the old and crippled. She thinks she can ask for her husband’s portion to be given to her, but when she finally makes it to the front of the line, she is sharply rebuked for asking for a second portion. The people who hand out food chastise her for "making capital of charity," and in the end Rukmani walks away with only one portion to share between her and Nathan.
  • Still, it’s good to have food. After she and Nathan have eaten, they contentedly feed the temple goats the banana leaf plates and cups that held their evening’s meal. Only then do they remember their bundles, which they’ve forgotten in the temple.
  • Along with a small party of helpers, they search for the bundles in vain. They know it was foolish to leave the bundles unattended, but they aren’t accustomed to the city, where nothing is safe.
  • Though they resign themselves to their loss, Rukmani is terribly uneasy – she will go to her daughter-in-law like a beggar without so much as a cooking pot. She decides she will spend a little of their money on wares to bring to her daughter-in-law, and she settles into an uneasy sleep. While sleeping, she’s awakened twice by the feeling that fingers are tugging at her arms and face. The first time, she thinks it’s only Nathan, but the second time, she finds she cannot go back to sleep.
  • Awake in the dark, she marvels at the statues in the temples. They almost seem to move, and only with the falling light of the dawn does it seem that the figures return to their carved stillness.