Study Guide

Nectar in a Sieve Chapter 3

By Kamala Markandaya

Chapter 3

  • Ira is now approaching her sixth birthday, and she is still an only child. Rukmani quietly worries that she and Nathan will only have one child, and a girl at that.
  • The village women gossip and pray, and Rukmani’s mother even gives her a tiny stone sculpture for good luck. Unfortunately, nothing seems to work.
  • Ruku’s mother begins to die of the consumption. Kennington, affectionately dubbed Kenny, is a doctor who mysteriously appears. Kenny speaks their language and strives to makes himself useful.
  • Kenny is the first white person Rukmani has ever seen, so she stares at him. Ruku’s appreciates Kenny’s efforts, but believes that he’s powerless to actually do anything useful.
  • Rukmani’s mother passes away peacefully, and Rukmani goes to thank the doctor. Kenny somehow understands that Rukmani is having fertility issues."
  • At first, Rukmani hesitates to tell Kenny anything. In the first place, he’s a strange man she doesn’t know. More importantly, however, she hasn’t told anyone about what’s going on. Finally, though, Rukmani’s grief pours out as she explains she has only one child, and a daughter at that.
  • After her confession, Rukmani shrinks away from being so open, as she realizes she’d never seen a doctor of his kind before. Kenny senses her fear and calls her foolish. Rukmani slinks away, but eventually comes back to seek treatment.
  • Soon after, Rukmani has her first child in seven years and it’s a boy. Even though he is quite advanced in age, Rukmani’s father journeys six miles in a bullock cart just to see his grandson. Nathan is overjoyed and organizes a big feast so that the whole village can meet the new son.
  • There’s cooking and eating and music, and even Kunthi (who has grown distant with time) came to celebrate the new child. Rukmani is happy during the feast, but she notes the absence of the person she most wished to see: Kenny. It was the doctor, after all, who made the baby possible.
  • Rukmani then reveals that she hasn’t been honest with Nathan about the medical help she got from Kenny. Initially, she didn’t know what Nathan’s reaction would be. She reasoned that she would tell her husband about her visits to the foreigner only if she succeeded in having a baby.
  • Of course, now that Rukmani has had the baby, were she to tell Nathan about he help she had, Nathan would wonder why she had deceived him. Basically, to not have to deal with admitting a lie, Rukmani decides to keep lying. She then asserts that it isn’t lying so much as "preserving silence."
  • Rukmani proceeds to have five sons in a row. Thambi, Murugan, Raja, and Selvam follow Arjun. Ira, meanwhile, is growing up. Rukmani confides that Ira only began to wear clothes when she turned five. Since that time, Ira has been a tremendous help in raising the boys, especially as she is so good with children.
  • With six kids to feed, things really begin to change around Ruku’s house. Rukmani begins to sell the best vegetables she grows, keeping only the bruised and spoiled ones to feed her family. Old Granny (remember the old lady who sells at market?) is Rukmani’s chief buyer, and she’s always full of praise for Rukmani’s healthy vegetables.
  • Rukmani is happy to do business with Old Granny too, until the day when she is stopped by Biswas, the crude moneylender. For her vegetables, he offers her nearly twice what Old Granny pays. Though Rukmani is reluctant to change her allegiance, money talks. Rukmani begins to sell nearly everything to Biswas, leaving only a little for the old woman out of kindness. Old Granny never complains, though Rukmani feels compelled to explain that things are getting harder at home.
  • Recently, they’ve been cutting down on nicer things, like milk (except for the baby) and butter (except on special occasions). Still, unlike many other families, they’ve never gone hungry. They grow their own plantains and coconuts, and they always manage to put aside a little rice from the harvests. There’s even fish to be had from the rice paddy fields. With a little resourcefulness, they are getting by, and Rukmani seems especially grateful that every month, she can even save a rupee or two for Ira’s dowry.