Study Guide

Nectar in a Sieve Chapter 28

By Kamala Markandaya

Chapter 28

  • It was a particularly good day at the quarry, and Nathan and Ruku managed to earn one whole rupee. Rukmani is elated, they’ve already earned six, and their journey back to their village seems to be closer than ever.
  • There is a pleasant drizzle as the three walk back from the quarry. Nathan says he is tired, so he’ll go ahead to the temple, but Rukmani and Puli go to the bazaar to buy the usual rice cakes.
  • The vendor Rukmani usually buys rice cakes from is kind to her (even though she can’t buy much) and he sometimes even gives her a little butter for the cakes. He’s happy for Ruku’s little extra earnings when she announces today she might be able to buy some more than usual.
  • Ruku and Puli eye all of the delicacies they usually avoid looking at, and they finally settle on buying fried pancakes, spending ten annas (more than a usual day’s earning) on pancakes and rice cakes.
  • On the walk home, Ruku and Puli spot a hawker selling little pull carts carrying drums. Puli is enamored of the toys, and he begs Ruku to stop and watch them for a bit.
  • The hawker is smooth-tongued, and Puli is desperate, so before long he’s convinced Rukmani to spend two annas on the cart for him.
  • Rukmani softens when she remembers he is only a little boy, and he’s had a hard life. As thoughts of home have been on her mind, she adds one more extravagance, deciding to buy a cart for her grandson, Sacrabani too. She thinks of how it will excite him, and make Ira smile.
  • In the end, Ruku is left with two pull-carts, pancakes, rice cakes, and only two annas for the day’s work. She’s panicking in her mind over how to explain this wastefulness to Nathan, but when she sees him she realizes there are bigger problems to address.
  • Rukmani tries to present the pancakes to Nathan with fake cheer, but already he’s looking ill. When he returns from vomiting, Nathan says seeing the food made his stomach turn. He admits he’s been sick and feverish since the morning.
  • They eat the rice cakes in silence. As the rain gets heavier and Nathan’s chill worsens, Rukmani tries to convince him to stay out of the rain at the temple. Nathan refuses to stay behind, because the rain is likely to go on for days and he doesn’t want to miss work. In the end, he goes to the quarry with them, still sick.
  • The quarry is a big muddy wet mess. While the wealthier people could afford slickers to cover themselves, Nathan and Ruku are exposed to the downpour. It’s been seven days of continuous rain. Even when Puli decides he won’t go to the quarry, Nathan insists on going to work in the bare hillside in the pouring rain beside Rukmani.
  • One rainy day, without Puli, Nathan, and Ruku are at the quarry, and dusk is falling. Nathan tells Ruku she should go collect their day’s pay, while he goes home without her. Ruku, left on her own, can’t keep thoughts of home out of her head. She wonders whether home will still be there, and wonders wistfully whether Puli will stay behind after all.
  • Rukmani then stumbles down the wet hillside, and halfway down she notes a small crowd of people. At first she ignores it, until one of the crowd calls out to her that she must come see to her husband, who has fallen.
  • Rukmani’s senses leave her for a moment, but she’s soon by Nathan’s side. He’s been carried to the side of the road, where he’s lying in the mud, jerking, twitching, and breathing hoarsely. His body is cold to the touch.
  • It continues to rain mercilessly, and Ruku tries to pull off some of her sari to cover him, but it gives way to her touch, as it is so old. No others have anything to lend Nathan to cover himself – they are all in equally pitiful circumstances. Finally, two men begin carrying Nathan to the temple, hoisting him by his arms and legs. A knot of women follow behind with Ruku, saying comforting things, but Ruku is so distracted and numb that it’s as if nothing is said at all.
  • Only when Ruku licks her lips from the rainwater does she realize that she’s been crying.