Study Guide

Nectar in a Sieve Chapter 5

By Kamala Markandaya

Chapter 5

  • Rukmani and Nathan live as tenants on the land that belongs to a Zemindar, (landowner). Still, the couple has never actually met the Zemindar, because a messenger named Sivaji acts on his behalf. Sivaji is kind and judicious and treats the tenants fairly. He doesn’t demand bribes or steal from the fields.
  • Rukmani is collecting dung from the fields one day when she spots Kenny, whom she hasn’t seen in a long time. She and Kenny have a characteristic exchange – sharp but still light. Kenny notes that the dung belongs to the land, and is good for it, but Rukmani has a quiet rejoinder. The dung is used as a fuel and seal for the houses, and protects them from damp, heat, and pests. While Kenny criticizes the negative environmental impact, he has no response when Rukmani’s asks what else the people might use.
  • Kenny then visits Rukmani’s modest home. He’s gracious, especially with Nathan, and compliments him for having a household rich in good women and many sons. Rukmani hears this and panics, because she still hasn’t told Nathan about the fertility treatments. To date, Rukmani has only spoken of Kenny as a great help to her parents.
  • Kenny quickly becomes a friend of the house. While he is quiet about his own personal life, he adapts easily to of the love of Rukmani’s children for him, and he returns it in his own quiet way. He would even bring gifts, such as coconut. Kenny also learns that things are getting harder for Ruku’s family. They’ve had to sell the goat and cannot otherwise afford to buy milk. As a result, Ruku is still breast-feeding her three-year-old son. Kenny does not pity them openly, but he then brings milk for the baby when he can.
  • For all this new friendship, Kenny remains mysterious. As far as Rukmani knows, he works for the tannery on occasion and spends his long days tending to the sick, only to go return to his empty house. Kenny also has a penchant for disappearing without explanation. No one knows where he goes, but it’s clear that he returns in a worse mood every time.