Study Guide

Nectar in a Sieve Chapter 7

By Kamala Markandaya

Chapter 7

  • With all the preparation for Ira’s marriage, Nathan did little to weatherproof their house and prepare for the coming monsoon season. Rukmani notes that nature is like a wild animal that strikes when you’re unprepared. Ironically, the rains strike early and more fiercely than ever.
  • The rain is incessant, and the hut itself (made of mud walls) would have been washed away had Nathan not built it on high ground. The house is filled with vessels to catch the rainwater, but soon leaks outnumber pots in the house. The family tries to make do with a little firewood left over from Ira’s wedding, but their problems do not end.
  • As the rain worsens, the paddy fields drown and the crops become destroyed. Nathan, characteristically lean of words, simply declares that there will be little eating this year. There was already a shortage of food, and the prospect of having even less breaks the boys, who sit in a huddle on the wet floor and weep.
  • The storm gives way to lightning on the eighth night. The paddy fields are already ruined, and now the coconut tree, which fed the family often, is struck by lightning. Yet another food source is lost.
  • After the fiery night, the world seems to have calmed, and Rukmani and Nathan come out to survey the damage. The garden, the cornfield, and the rice paddy are now gone.
  • Many neighbors lost even more: six men died and Kali’s hut is completely destroyed. Kali even comes to Ruku’s house to ask for some coconut palms so that she might thatch her house again. Rukmani cannot help, as what little is left of the burnt coconut tree must be used for her own home.
  • Nathan and Rukmani prepare to go to the market to get rice and palm leaves from the village.
  • Nathan inspects their bundle of money buried in the granary, and Rukmani remembers how it was once heavy at the time of their wedding. Now it is a limp and sad bundle, amounting to only twelve rupees. They plan to use no more than two rupees for the repairs.
  • The couple set off to market. On the way they survey the debris of the storm. Shacks and huts, trees, sticks, and stones lie in a ruckus on the streets, but the tannery building stands strong.
  • As Nathan and Rukmani encounter more signs of the disaster that has struck the village, they decide to return home, as it’s likely no one will yet have anything to sell.
  • At home, they meet their hopeful children empty-handed, and again the children weep from despair and hunger. With nothing to tell the little ones, Rukmani simply lays awake and listens to the drums of calamity beating doom over the whole land.
  • The couple set out again the next day, and find Hanuman the rice merchant. They try to negotiate a fair price for the rice. Food is in short supply, though, and everyone is seeking it: their two precious rupees must be spent on a mere two pounds of rice. Even this is a bargain, Hanuman contends, as the workmen from the tannery would pay more.
  • On the way home, Nathan and Rukmani run into Kenny, who looks a straight mess. Despondent but straight-shooting, he concludes that this family is starving and hears Rukmani reply that they have a little rice, enough to tide them over for now. Kenny flares up at this, and then begins to curse them for their meekness. He contends that things won’t get better quickly, and that they should be crying out for the help they so badly need.
  • Kenny seems in utter despair about the country of India and the people who live here. Rukmani and Nathan interpret Kenny’s outburst as pure madness. They leave him to his raving.
  • Things start to look better at home though: there is ample fish in the drowned paddy and some of the grain has survived. Still, there is not much available food.
  • The family stays up late cleaning the fish and separating the rice grains from the husk. When they eat, it is with a pleasant surprising feeling that they have enough food for now. Rukmani dreams of what their food stores, and the new vegetables she’ll grow. She falls into a deep peaceful sleep.