Study Guide

Nectar in a Sieve Chapter 25

By Kamala Markandaya

Chapter 25

  • Nathan awakes from a good sleep. He notes how it seems Rukmani has had a harder time getting rest. They set off, but it’s not long before Nathan is eyeing up all the savory food being sold from the stalls. They know it’s a splurge, but Nathan thinks they should spend a little money on food.
  • Rukmani resolves to buy something to eat, and only when she reaches for the pouch tied into her waistband does she realize the money is gone.
  • They return to the temple to look for the money on the floor where they slept, but it is not there. A few people in the temple recognize them from the last night and cruelly tease them that free food is only given in the evening, not the morning too. When they hear of the stolen money, they soften a little, but the general consensus is that this is the usual stuff that happens in the city. Their money is definitely gone, and they have only the clothes on their back.
  • Nathan and Rukmani steel themselves from hunger enough to continue their journey. Since the city is a big and confusing place, they feel utterly lost and are constantly misdirected.
  • Finally, they stop to rest at a roadside, where they watch about a dozen street children at play. The children are merry in spite of their apparent malnourishment.
  • Though they play enough like children, they turn into animals when a scrap of bread is dropped, snarling and scrapping amongst each other for the smallest morsel. When they see rich men, they become beggars, knowing the wiles of what the street requires.
  • Rukmani can’t help but compare these street urchins to her children. Though she knows that her own children have been this hungry, she feels comfort that her children acted quite like this.
  • After watching a while, Nathan suggests they ask one of the street-smart kids for directions. They find one who explains that there are actually three or four Koil Streets (hence all the confusion). The little boy is able to work off of the detail that Murugan works for a well-known man named Birla. Though he doesn’t know Murugan, he says he’ll take Nathan and Rukmani to Birla. If they prosper there, they can pay him for his trouble.
  • The little boy announces that he is called Puli ("lion"), after the king of the animals. He says he is well known, and from the way he deals with the other children, it’s clear that he’s the leader of the pack. For all his confidence and impudence, Nathan and Ruku find something really appealing about this clever boy, who could well be one of their own grand-children.
  • Only then do they notice that the boy has stumps where his fingers should be. He is diseased leprosy, which will continue to eat away at his body. Puli leads them to a street with a whitewashed house and church, and he tells them that this is the end of their journey.
  • Some servant men come to shoo away Nathan and Rukmani, whom they take for beggars. Nathan explains that he’s looking for his son Murugan, only to learn that no one living there has that name. With no further information, the servants try to rush away the couple, especially as the doctor is just arriving back to the house.
  • Nathan has not come so far to turn back now, and he insists he’ll speak to the doctor. To Nathan and Rukmani’s surprise, the doctor is a woman. She remembers Murugan, and asks for news of their village hospital and Kenny (who sent Murugan to her in the first place).
  • Sadly, though, she tells them that Murugan hasn’t worked for her for two years. She senses their desperation and says that he was a good worker, but that he went to seek higher wages working for the well-known Collector, who lives on Chamundi Hill. She promises anyone can direct them there.
  • Rukmani and Nathan are at the gate, about to continue on this harrowing journey, when the doctor calls them back. She can tell they look hungry, and she invites them to have a meal. They are taken to the servants’ quarters by a manservant, named Das, and he brings them to a woman (presumably his wife) who is busy preparing a meal.
  • The young woman is nursing a chubby baby, and she warms immediately to Nathan and Rukmani, hearing that they are the parents of the one whom her husband replaced. For Rukmani, the woman’s kindness is a breath of fresh air, and the old couple is comforted for the first time in a long while.
  • They wash up, and Ruku fills us on in the filthiness of the latrine (a thing she has never used before). This bathroom doesn’t provide the cleanliness of nature alone. Nathan tells her she’ll have to get used to things being like this in city life.
  • Back at the cooking pot, the rosy young woman holds the baby on her hip, and she introduces three more babies. Ruku holds the baby, a little girl, as the woman scoops out generous portions of rice for her guests.
  • The woman informs the couple that they are given free rice and dhal from the doctor, and the doctor has sent her extra on account of the unexpected company. Ruku eats happily, especially once she knows she’s not taking food from a family that already had so many little mouths to feed. Das’s wife is so kind that she convinces Nathan and Ruku to spend the night, and sleeping mats are soon spread out for them.
  • They leave in the morning after thanking the lady doctor, as well as Das and his wife. Ruku says when she thinks of Das’s wife now, she sees her just as then, surrounded by her children, sunny and warm, a bit of comfort in an unfamiliar world.