Nectar in a Sieve

Irawaddy Character Analysis

Irawaddy is Rukmani’s eldest child and only daughter. When Irawaddy is born, Rukmani is disappointed because Nathan needs sons who can help him work the land. However, she and Nathan grow fond of their firstborn. Irawaddy has the most developed character of all Rukmani’s children; her prominence in the narrative shows the extent to which the family defies traditional norms, even as they represent ordinary peasant life. Like her mother, Irawaddy marries at a young age, but her husband eventually renounces her for her failure to bear a child; Irawaddy accepts this humiliation, as well as the likelihood that she’ll spend her life as a childless spinster, with the stoic resignation she’s learned from Rukmani. When the family is starving during a period of famine, Irawaddy secretly works as a prostitute in order to buy milk for her youngest brother, Kuti, and eventually gives birth to an illegitimate child. Irawaddy’s son, who is albino and an outcast in the village, is a reminder of Irawaddy’s social transgressions. The novel characterizes Irawaddy’s actions as brave and honorable, and Irawaddy maintains her calm and dignity, as well as her close relationship with her mother, even in the face of social stigma. Her narrative is a revolutionary depiction of female sexuality and the difficulties facing women who don’t conform to social norms.

Irawaddy Quotes in Nectar in a Sieve

The Nectar in a Sieve quotes below are all either spoken by Irawaddy or refer to Irawaddy. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Suffering Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Signet edition of Nectar in a Sieve published in 2010.
Chapter 6 Quotes

She nodded slightly, making no comment, yet I knew how bruised she must be by the imminent parting. My spirit ached with pity for her, I longed to be able to comfort her, to convince her that in a few months’ time her new home would be the most significant part of her life, the rest only a preparation […] but before this joy must come the stress of parting […].

Related Characters: Rukmani (speaker), Irawaddy
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 11 Quotes

None more so than Ira: the transformation in her was as astonishing as it was inexplicable. I had feared she might dislike the child, but now it was as if he were her own. She lost her dreary air, her face became animated, the bloom of youth came back to her.

Related Characters: Rukmani (speaker), Irawaddy, Kuti
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:
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It is true, one gets used to anything. I had got used to the noise and smell of the tannery; they no longer affected me. I had seen the slow, calm beauty of our village wilt in the blast from town, and I grieved no more; so now I accepted the future and Ira’s lot in it, and thrust it from me; only sometimes when I was weak, or in sleep while my will lay dormant, I found myself rebellious, protesting, rejecting and no longer calm.

Related Characters: Rukmani (speaker), Irawaddy
Related Symbols: The Tannery
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 16 Quotes

She was no longer a child, to be cowed or forced into submission, but a grown woman with a definite purpose and an invincible determination […] It was as simple as that we forbade, she insisted, we lost. So we got used to her comings and goings, as we had got used to so much else.

Related Characters: Rukmani (speaker), Irawaddy
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:
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Irawaddy Character Timeline in Nectar in a Sieve

The timeline below shows where the character Irawaddy appears in Nectar in a Sieve. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
Rukmani names her daughter Irawaddy, after a large river. At first, Nathan pays the girl little attention; he needs sons... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
As she grows older, Irawaddy crawls behind her parents in the fields. While Nathan plows and Rukmani scatters the seed,... (full context)
Chapter 3
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
Years pass after Irawaddy’s birth, and Rukmani cannot become pregnant again. The neighbor women tell her not to worry,... (full context)
Suffering Theme Icon
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
When Irawaddy is six, Rukmani’s mother becomes ill with consumption and draws near to death. Rukmani returns... (full context)
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Irawaddy is seven when Rukmani’s first son, Arjun, is born. She’s very interested in the baby... (full context)
Rural vs. Urban Poverty Theme Icon
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
As Rukmani bears more and more children, the family’s resources are stretched thin. Irawaddy and Arjun are fed well during their childhood, but the succeeding sons—Thambi, Murugan, Raja, and... (full context)
Rural vs. Urban Poverty Theme Icon
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
...hungry, like many of their neighbors. Every month, Rukmani stashes away a little money for Irawaddy’s dowry. (full context)
Chapter 4
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
Before the tannery was built, Irawaddy was allowed to come and go from the village as she pleased, just like her... (full context)
Chapter 5
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
Rukmani is proud that her children behave well in front of the guest, and that Irawaddy gracefully pours a bowl of rice water. Nathan is taken aback to see Kenny in... (full context)
Chapter 6
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
When Irawaddy is fourteen, it’s time to find a husband for her. Rukmani picks Old Granny to... (full context)
Suffering Theme Icon
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
Irawaddy accepts her marriage without protest. Wistfully, she asks Rukmani how often she will visit, and... (full context)
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
Rukmani and Nathan host the small wedding, at which Irawaddy looks like a child in her elaborate outfit and makeup. Rukmani cooks food that she... (full context)
Chapter 7
Rural vs. Urban Poverty Theme Icon
In the bustle of Irawaddy’s marriage, Rukmani and Nathan neglected to prepare the hut for the rainy season or protect... (full context)
Chapter 9
Suffering Theme Icon
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
...morning, she sees two figures approaching the house. As they grow closer, she makes out Irawaddy and her husband, but understands immediately from their troubled faces that something is wrong. Irawaddy... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
...understandable, but Rukmani points out that he himself was far more patient with her. Meanwhile, Irawaddy seems exhausted and depressed. She tells Rukmani that it’s easier to endure this disappointment than... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
...going hungry and seeing the rest of the family without food as well. Especially since Irawaddy returned, food has been scarce. Rukmani has to admit he’s right, even though she hates... (full context)
Chapter 10
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
...telling Rukmani that that he’s afraid. Selvam refuses to come into town after dinner, and Irawaddy stays with him; when she sees people in the village, she feels the humiliation of... (full context)
Chapter 11
Suffering Theme Icon
...to attend a family funeral. Rukmani takes advantage of his absence to consult Kenny about Irawaddy’s infertility. She doesn’t think Nathan would approve of seeking medical care from a male foreigner,... (full context)
Suffering Theme Icon
...see her today, but when Rukmani pleads with him he agrees that she can bring Irawaddy to his office soon. He apologizes for frightening her with his gruff tone, and tells... (full context)
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
After Kenny treats Irawaddy, Rukmani visits her daughter’s husband and entreats him to take her back. The husband informs... (full context)
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Meanwhile, Rukmani herself is pregnant again. Sometimes, she sees resentment in Irawaddy’s eyes and wonders if her daughter hates her for her ability to do what she... (full context)
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
Nathan is happy to see Irawaddy recovering, saying they should be grateful for the present happiness, but Rukmani worries about her... (full context)
Suffering Theme Icon
...Rukmani is used to the tannery, which she used to loathe. She tries to accept Irawaddy’s future in the same way, and to banish the worry from her mind; however, when... (full context)
Chapter 14
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
...and now he cries all the time and refuses to eat even what they have. Irawaddy is tirelessly gentle with him, soothing his wails and coaxing him to eat most of... (full context)
Chapter 15
Suffering Theme Icon
...been “caught,” and they say “something about money,” but Rukmani is too dazed to understand. Irawaddy starts to sing and cry, but Rukmani numbly tells her to stop and preserve her... (full context)
Chapter 16
Suffering Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...continues to sleep peacefully and Rukmani thanks the Gods for their beneficence. Alongside her mother, Irawaddy watches the little boy sleep. (full context)
Suffering Theme Icon
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
...is dragging Rukmani away and yelling, and Rukmani realizes that she has been violently beating Irawaddy, her own daughter. (full context)
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
Nathan and Selvam carry Irawaddy inside and Rukmani tends to the wounds she has just caused. Seeing long cuts on... (full context)
Suffering Theme Icon
Rukmani returns to the hut, where Irawaddy and Kuti are lying. Irawaddy tells Rukmani to use the rupee in her sari and... (full context)
Suffering Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
When Irawaddy’s wounds heal, she gets ready to leave the house again despite Rukmani’s injunctions to rest.... (full context)
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
When Nathan returns from the fields, he too demands to know where Irawaddy is going. She refuses to tell him, even though she’s normally an obedient daughter. Nathan... (full context)
Suffering Theme Icon
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
By working as a prostitute, Irawaddy buys milk for Kuti and rice for the family. Rukmani is grateful, but Nathan refuses... (full context)
Chapter 18
Suffering Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
As Rukmani stands to leave, Kenny asks after Irawaddy. Rukmani says that she is pregnant, but that the baby’s father is unknown. Kenny says... (full context)
Chapter 20
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...the changing seasons can be seen in the green fields and the night skies. When Irawaddy goes into labor, flowers are blooming to signal the new year. In preparation, Rukmani scours... (full context)
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For her own part, Irawaddy is unafraid and anxious to become a mother. Rukmani tends to her during her labor... (full context)
Rural vs. Urban Poverty Theme Icon
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
When he sees Irawaddy’s son, Nathan is very troubled, calling the event “a cruel thing in the evening of... (full context)
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
News of Irawaddy’s baby spreads, and people often come to see him for themselves. Some are kind, but... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
...arrives at the ceremony, garrulous as ever. She wants to gossip about the baby, but Irawaddy simply holds out Sacrabani, refusing to act as if he is abnormal. Kali tactlessly points... (full context)
Chapter 22
Family Theme Icon
Selvam and Irawaddy have always been extremely close, always sharing the same opinions even when they oppose their... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
One day, Sacrabani asks Irawaddy what a bastard is; apparently, another child has levied this insult at him. Irawaddy explains... (full context)
Chapter 23
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
...rest more and eat better, but they don’t have money to buy nourishing food. Moreover, Irawaddy and Rukmani can’t tend to the land alone. Kenny understands that things would have been... (full context)
Suffering Theme Icon
Rural vs. Urban Poverty Theme Icon
...family has lost much. Her sons have left after the strike or been killed, and Irawaddy has “ruined herself” by consorting with foreign men, while men native to the village would... (full context)
Rural vs. Urban Poverty Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
Irawaddy decides that she and Sacrabani will stay with Selvam rather than starting a new life... (full context)
Chapter 24
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...ride with a bullock cart traveling towards the city. After saying goodbye to Selvam and Irawaddy, they depart the village, watching the familiar fields recede. Rukmani leans on Nathan for comfort. (full context)
Chapter 30
Family Theme Icon
From the hospital building, still unfinished, Selvam rushes out to embrace her. Soon, Irawaddy and Sacrabani join. Rukmani introduces Puli as her son, explaining that she and Nathan have... (full context)
Suffering Theme Icon
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Irawaddy takes Puli in her arms, promising him food and a rest. Selvam assures Rukmani that... (full context)