Nectar in a Sieve

Nectar in a Sieve Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Kamala Markandaya's Nectar in a Sieve. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Kamala Markandaya

Unlike the characters in her novel, Kamala Markandaya was born into a wealthy Indian family. Between 1940 and 1947, Markandaya studied at the University of Madras and worked as a journalist. After India gained independence from Britain in 1948, Markandaya married British journalist Bernard Taylor. She spent the rest of her life in England, although she visited India frequently. Nectar in a Sieve, published in 1954, was Markandaya’s first novel and quickly became a bestseller, especially in America. In the next few decades, Markandaya published ten novels. Famously private, the author gave few interviews about her personal life. She died in 2004.
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Historical Context of Nectar in a Sieve

Markandaya never specifies exactly where and when her protagonist, Rukmani, lives; this historical vagueness highlights the universality of the problems she depicts. However, according to writer Thrity Umrigar, the novel probably takes place “during the waning years of the British Raj,” the period from 1858 to 1947 when Britain possessed India as a colony and governed it directly. Before this period, the British East India Company, a private joint-stock company, ruled India on behalf of the British government. After the 1858 Indian Rebellion, during which substantial portions of the population unsuccessfully rebelled against British rule, the government began to administer colonial affairs directly. After decades of agitation for self-rule, organized in part by the famous resistance leader Mahatma Gandhi, India became an independent state in 1947. In order to avoid conflict between Hindus and Muslims in British India, the Muslim nation of Pakistan was created at the same time; however, the Partition of India displaced millions of people and lead to significant sectarian violence that still inform relations between India and Pakistan today.

Other Books Related to Nectar in a Sieve

Nectar in a Sieve takes place at the end of the colonial period, but Kamala Markandaya was part of the vanguard of Indian post-colonial writers, whose work, generally written in English, addresses the significant challenges facing India and its relationship to the Western powers that had once ruled it. Some decades later, Salman Rushdie became one of India’s most celebrated novelists for his books Midnight’s Children, about the struggle for Indian independence, and The Satanic Verses, a controversial novel that examines the life of the prophet Muhammad. Following in Markandaya’s footsteps, novelists Thrity Umrigar (The Space Between Us, 2006) and Arundhati Roy (The God of Small Things, 1997) address the challenges facing both impoverished and privileged Indian women. Indian-American author Jhumpa Lahiri has garnered acclaim for her novels The Namesake (2003) and The Lowland (2013), which address Indian politics and the Indian immigrant experience in the United States.
Key Facts about Nectar in a Sieve
  • Full Title: Nectar in a Sieve
  • When Written: 1954
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: 1954
  • Literary Period: Post-colonial
  • Genre: Semi-autobiographical novel
  • Setting: An impoverished Indian village
  • Climax: Rukmani and Nathan make an ill-fated journey to the city to find their son.
  • Antagonist: Poverty
  • Point of View: First person

Extra Credit for Nectar in a Sieve

Expat. While most of Markandaya’s work addresses India, she lived in Britain for most of her adult life, returning to her native country only to visit.

On the Road. Although she was born into a wealthy family, Markandaya traveled throughout India by train since her father was a railway official. These childhood journeys allowed her to observe the rural poverty about which she would later write.