Study Guide

Nectar in a Sieve Chapter 9

By Kamala Markandaya

Chapter 9

  • Rukmani is pounding chilies one morning when she spots Ira and her son-in-law approaching. She’s ready to greet them joyfully, but soon realizes that they are not on a happy errand.
  • Ira’s husband is courteous but cool. He explains that it has been five years, and Ira has not given him a child, let alone a son. As she is unable to fulfill her chief wifely duty, she is no wife. Her husband leaves her behind.
  • Nathan takes this rejection of his daughter in stride, saying her husband cannot be blamed because he’s already been patient. Rukmani remembers the grief of her barren period and sees her daughter’s pain as her own. She tries in vain to comfort her. Her mind wanders to Kenny, and wonders if he can help.
  • Two more blows fall on Rukmani’s family. Much to Ruku’s dismay, her two eldest sons, Arjun and Thambi, decide to work at the tannery. Arjun had taken to the learning his mother had given them, and even eventually surpassed his mother in reading and writing. When he announces his decision to work in the tannery, he justifies it as a way to bring food to their family.
  • Arjun notes that there is never enough to eat, especially since Ira has returned home. Rukmani is crestfallen at his criticism, but knows there is nothing she can do to stop him. A second injury comes from Arjun’s insistence that he can get a tannery job with help from Kunthi’s son. Rukmani has grown distant from Kunthi, and she (Rukmani) doesn’t want to be indebted to her neighbor.
  • Rukmani quickly volunteers to have Kenny help. Arjun suggests that the closeness Rukmani feels for Kenny is more than friendship, implying that his mother has been unfaithful with Kenny.
  • Thambi, Rukmani’s second son, has always been very close to Arjun, so his decision to follow Arjun to work at the tannery is no surprise.
  • Thambi launches a further insult at Nathan. Nathan says he’s always wanted sons because they could work beside him on the land, but Thambi cruelly points out that the land is the Zemindar’s, so anyone working on it only helps to fill the Zemindar’s pockets.
  • Nathan is crushed: Thambi’s words confirm the sad suspicion that neither he nor his sons will ever own the land on which they’ve worked for so long.
  • Despite the terrible circumstances under which the two boys gain their employment, the family still benefits from the money they earn. Once again the family can eat properly, and Rukmani can even keep a little food on the side. She is able to keep some chilies, which offset the plainness of their rice diet. Also, she can finally fix the thatch of the roof.
  • She’s even able to buy new clothes, including garments for the children, a sari for herself, and a dhoti for Nathan, who badly needed one. She notes that she and Nathan still had the nice clothes they wore at Ira’s wedding, but they are preserving those for the happy days of their sons’ weddings.
  • In spite of everything, Rukmani looks hopefully to the future.