Study Guide

Nectar in a Sieve Man and the Natural World

By Kamala Markandaya

Man and the Natural World

Nature is a dual force in the novel. It brings great joy but also great pain. Characters often get angry about other forces beyond their control (the tannery, their children). However, for all the grief they get from nature, they never come to resent this powerful force. One of the greatest philosophical points of the book is that nature reflects the arbitrary beauty and suffering inherent in life. One can only appreciate what there is to appreciate, and endure what must be endured. Though nature often hurts her, in the end it is the thing for which she endures, knowing that it too endures and will last long after her.

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. How does Rukmani maintain her love of nature in spite of all the hardships it brings her? Is Rukmani just being delusional or overly sentimental about her love of the land? Is she ignoring how cruel the land has been to them?
  2. How is nature symbolic in this novel? Is it a representation of the rebirth central to human hope? Is it just what it is, an inevitable but predictable changing cycle, and nothing more?
  3. How is nature tied into one’s spiritual, moral, and personal development in the novel?
  4. Might Rukmani’s disdain for the city come from the circumstances under which she’s in the city, rather than an innate dislike for the city itself?
  5. If Rukmani can romanticize nature so much, why can her children not do the same?

Chew on This

Nature is a cruel force, but it stands in contrast to the even more cruel force of urban modernity, which destroys the environment and the traditions of India. Within this paradigm, for all its challenges, nature is definitely the lesser of two evils.