Nectar in a Sieve

Nathan Character Analysis

Nathan, Rukmani’s husband, is a kindly and gentle tenant farmer. Although Nathan and Rukmani represent archetypal Indian peasants, Nathan’s behavior as a husband helps combat widely held stereotypes about this demographic; Nathan is a surprisingly patient and caring husband, especially at the time of their marriage when Rukmani is no more than a child. He supports her as she learns to manage a house and garden, and applauds her ability to read and write even though most husbands disapprove of educated women. Nathan dotes on their sole daughter, Irawaddy, even though sons are considered more valuable. As Rukmani grows older, she and Nathan have a remarkably equitable relationship. Nathan is even more resigned to inevitable suffering than his wife, and in times of crisis he often turns to Rukmani for guidance; by the time the couple lose their land and journey to the city, Nathan relies completely on Rukmani to lead the way. Nathan’s character is marred only by his affair with their sultry neighbor Kunthi; midway through the novel it emerges that he is the father of Kunthi’s two sons. Nathan explains to Rukmani that he was seduced by Kunthi’s “evil” sexuality, and Rukmani immediately forgives him; this incident shows the extent to which traditional norms still influence their relationship.

Nathan Quotes in Nectar in a Sieve

The Nectar in a Sieve quotes below are all either spoken by Nathan or refer to Nathan. 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 1  Quotes

A woman, they say, always remembers her wedding night. Well, maybe they do; but for me there are other nights I prefer to remember, sweeter, fuller, when I went to my husband matured in mind as well as in body, not as a pained and awkward child as I did on that first night.

Related Characters: Rukmani (speaker), Nathan
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:
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When the sun shines on you and the fields are green and beautiful to the eye, and your husband sees beauty in you which no one has seen before, and you have a good store of grain laid away for hard times, a roof over you and a sweet stirring in your body, what more can a woman ask for?

Related Characters: Rukmani (speaker), Nathan
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 2 Quotes

I think it cost him a good deal to say what he did, and he never varied his attitude once […] I am sure it could not have been easy for him to see his wife more learned than he himself was, for Nathan could not even write his name; yet not once did he assert his rights and forbid me my pleasure, as lesser men might have done.

Related Characters: Rukmani (speaker), Nathan
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 9 Quotes

“If it were your land, or mine,” he said, “I would work it with you gladly. But what profit to labor for another and get so little in return? Far better to turn away from such injustice.” Nathan said not a word. There was a crushed look about him […].

Related Characters: Thambi (speaker), Nathan
Related Symbols: The Tannery
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 12 Quotes

I do not know what reply to make—these men are strangers. Nathan says we do not understand, we must not interfere: he takes my hand and draws me away. To his sons he is gentle. Into the calm lake of our lives the first stone has been tossed.

Related Characters: Rukmani (speaker), Nathan, Arjun, Thambi
Related Symbols: The Tannery
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 14 Quotes

It seemed to me that a new peace came to us then, freed at last from the necessity for lies and concealment and deceit, with the fear of betrayal lifted from us, and the power we ourselves had given her finally rested from Kunthi.

Related Characters: Rukmani (speaker), Nathan, Kunthi
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 29 Quotes

“If I grieve,” I said, “it is not for you, but for myself, beloved, for how should I endure to live without you, who are my love and my life?” “You are not alone,” he said. “I live in my children,” and he was silent, and then I heard him murmur my name and bent down.

Related Characters: Rukmani (speaker), Nathan (speaker)
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:
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Nathan Character Timeline in Nectar in a Sieve

The timeline below shows where the character Nathan appears in Nectar in a Sieve. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1 
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As an old woman, Rukmani often imagines that her deceased husband, Nathan, appears to her in her sleep, and they pass the night peacefully together. In the... (full context)
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When Rukmani is twelve, her parents marry her to Nathan, a tenant farmer; everyone in the village says the match is beneath her. Like most... (full context)
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...not to cry. Rukmani herself feels sick, and after a few minutes of driving in Nathan’s bullock cart, she vomits. Nathan cares for her gently, telling her not to be embarrassed... (full context)
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During the drive, Rukmani falls asleep. Nathan wakes her up excitedly when they reach his farm, which is comprised of a paddy... (full context)
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Kali begins gossiping to Rukmani, telling her how excited Nathan has been for her arrival. She tells Rukmani that he built their hut with his... (full context)
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...Rukmani is deeply content. The weather is good, allowing for easy farming and good harvests. Nathan finds her extremely beautiful, and they are quickly growing to love each other. Rukmani gets... (full context)
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...to learn how to milk the goat and plant a garden, and she’s grateful for Nathan’s patience as she masters this task. When she raises her first crop of pumpkins, Nathan... (full context)
Chapter 2
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...and sensibly stays until the midwife arrives. By the time Rukmani returns home, it’s night. Nathan greets her with unexpected anger, asking why she stayed so long and reminding her that... (full context)
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To protect her body during the pregnancy, Rukmani leaves more of the household chores to Nathan. In her leisure time, she practices her writing. Her father had taught her how to... (full context)
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When Nathan first sees Rukmani writing, he’s preoccupied; however, he strokes her hair and says that it’s... (full context)
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...also tends to her small garden. She’s always excited to see each new crop, although Nathan tells her she’ll grow accustomed to it after many harvests. One day, Rukmani sees a... (full context)
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...and starts screaming. When she tells the story to Kali, the other woman says that Nathan should not have killed the cobra, since they are sacred, but Nathan says that Kali... (full context)
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Rukmani names her daughter Irawaddy, after a large river. At first, Nathan pays the girl little attention; he needs sons to work the land with him and... (full context)
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As she grows older, Irawaddy crawls behind her parents in the fields. While Nathan plows and Rukmani scatters the seed, the baby plays by herself or sleeps in a... (full context)
Chapter 3
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...it’s easy for them to say, as they have many children of their own. Only Nathan says nothing, even though Rukmani knows he’s deeply worried. Whenever Rukmani visits her mother, they... (full context)
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...a companion, since Kali and Janaki’s children are much older, and Kunthi remains distant. Overjoyed, Nathan invites everyone in the village to celebrate and they prepare an enormous meal to share.... (full context)
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Rukmani had hoped that Kenny would come to the celebration, but he never arrives. Nathan notices her anxiety and asks why she’s so worried about the foreign doctor. Rukmani fibs... (full context)
Chapter 4
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...house with the news that dozens of men have arrived to construct a mysterious village. Nathan says that they are building a tannery; he has heard rumors of this before. He... (full context)
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...she points out that they drive prices up, making it impossible to buy many things. Nathan warns that people will soon return to use the tannery, and she must accustom herself... (full context)
Chapter 5
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Rukmani and Nathan never see the Zemindar, or landowner, who owns their farm. Instead, they pay rent to... (full context)
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...in front of the guest, and that Irawaddy gracefully pours a bowl of rice water. Nathan is taken aback to see Kenny in the house, but when the white man greets... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...in years. Every week Old Granny brings news of a different boy, and Rukmani and Nathan discuss their merits. Eventually, they settle on a young man who stands to inherit some... (full context)
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Rukmani and Nathan host the small wedding, at which Irawaddy looks like a child in her elaborate outfit... (full context)
Chapter 7
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In the bustle of Irawaddy’s marriage, Rukmani and Nathan neglected to prepare the hut for the rainy season or protect the land from flooding.... (full context)
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...survey the destroyed crops. Many of her neighbors, including Kali, have even lost their homes. Nathan brings out the family’s small savings so that they can buy rice. (full context)
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The next day, Rukmani and Nathan return to town. However, the shopkeeper they go to see says he has no rice... (full context)
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...of suffering in “ghastly silence.” Rukmani believes that he has gone mad, and she and Nathan quickly take their leave. (full context)
Chapter 9
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Nathan says that the husband’s decision is understandable, but Rukmani points out that he himself was... (full context)
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Soon, Thambi joins Arjun at the tannery. Nathan is devastated, because he expected his sons to help him on the farm. However, Thambi... (full context)
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...pay the rent. She buys clothes for her children and even outfits for herself and Nathan. (full context)
Chapter 10
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...gathering around the bonfire in the center of the village, and Rukmani loses track of Nathan and her sons. At first she tries to look for them, but in the excitement... (full context)
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When she finds Nathan, he is giving piggyback rides to all the boys at once, to the amusement of... (full context)
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At home, the children fall asleep quickly. Rukmani stretches out next to Nathan, aware that he’s still wide awake. She closes her eyes, trembling with desire, as her... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Shortly after, Nathan leaves for a few days to attend a family funeral. Rukmani takes advantage of his... (full context)
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...been visiting other men in the city to assuage the “passion in [her] body” while Nathan is away. Rukmani is so enraged that she throws herself at Kunthi and pummels her. (full context)
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Nathan is happy to see Irawaddy recovering, saying they should be grateful for the present happiness,... (full context)
Chapter 12
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...their day off from the tannery, Arjun and Thambi return to the farm to help Nathan. Nathan loves to see his sons working beside him and to impart his knowledge to... (full context)
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Sometimes Nathan accompanies Rukmani when she goes to the market; on these days, they visit the tannery... (full context)
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...for families of their own one day. To Rukmani, her sons seem like grown-up strangers. Nathan says that he and Rukmani are too old to understand, and shouldn’t interfere in the... (full context)
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...are Kali’s two sons. Kali frequently bemoans their lack of “sense,” in striking, but eventually Nathan lashes out at her, saying that “our children must act as they choose to, not... (full context)
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With Nathan the family’s only provider, food supplies quickly dwindle. Rukmani has to stretch her supplies to... (full context)
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Nathan and Rukmani are extremely reluctant to see their children go so far away, asking how... (full context)
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Nathan consoles Rukmani that the boys must grow up and make their own way. Still, she’s... (full context)
Chapter 13
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...hoped for a good harvest, but the rains fail to come. For weeks, she and Nathan look at the sky anxiously and watch as the water in the paddy fields drains... (full context)
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...what meager possessions they have, even the sari she wore to her wedding, to sell. Nathan says that it’s better to sell everything than to lose their land and “wander like... (full context)
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Nathan suggests that they sell the seed they’ve been saving for the next crop. He can... (full context)
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Eventually, Rukmani convinces Nathan not to sell the side. Instead, she pleads with Sivaji to take the money they... (full context)
Chapter 14
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After the rains cease, Rukmani and Nathan take their seed to be blessed at the temple and plant a new crop. As... (full context)
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At night, the children sleep restlessly because of their hunger. Once, Nathan wakes up shouting from a nightmare and Rukmani has to comfort him before he falls... (full context)
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Kunthi threatens to tell Nathan that Rukmani lacks virtue if she doesn’t give her any rice. Rukmani protests that Nathan... (full context)
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Nathan comes into the hut and tells Rukmani not to admonish the children. Sobbing, he admits... (full context)
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...Kunthi is “evil and powerful” and they should forget about the whole affair. She tells Nathan that Kunthi blackmailed her as well. After they have come clean to each other, she... (full context)
Chapter 15
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Nathan prepares a bier and puts Raja’s body on it. In the morning, funeral drums summon... (full context)
Chapter 16
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...wonders how they will manage the reaping, given that they are so weak from hunger. Nathan says that “one look at the swelling grain” will give them strength. Three weeks remain... (full context)
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...throws herself at it, hitting her furiously until she hears a voice screaming, “Mother!” Suddenly, Nathan is dragging Rukmani away and yelling, and Rukmani realizes that she has been violently beating... (full context)
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Nathan and Selvam carry Irawaddy inside and Rukmani tends to the wounds she has just caused.... (full context)
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When Nathan returns from the fields, he too demands to know where Irawaddy is going. She refuses... (full context)
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...prostitute, Irawaddy buys milk for Kuti and rice for the family. Rukmani is grateful, but Nathan refuses to eat the food his daughter brings home. At first, Kuti seems to improve,... (full context)
Chapter 17
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With the bountiful harvest, Nathan plans to pay the missing rent and plant vegetables. The family begins to plan for... (full context)
Chapter 18
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...Rukmani walks home, she reflects that Kenny’s thoughts on this subject are very similar to Nathan’s. (full context)
Chapter 19
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...quickly, as he already knows how to read and write better than Rukmani. Rukmani and Nathan are disappointed that Selvam is pursuing a different way of life, but support him nonetheless.... (full context)
Chapter 20
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When he sees Irawaddy’s son, Nathan is very troubled, calling the event “a cruel thing in the evening of our lives.”... (full context)
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...own children haven’t suffered such a fate. To put an end to the unsolicited visits, Nathan decides to hold a formal naming ceremony, after which no one will have an excuse... (full context)
Chapter 21
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...accepting the rupee from her, which could have provided food for several days, even though Nathan points out it could only have prolonged the inevitable. He says that she could not... (full context)
Chapter 23
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...as a servant, marries a girl from the city without consulting her parents. Rukmani and Nathan want to attend his wedding, but they don’t have any money to make the journey,... (full context)
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Kenny tells Rukmani that Nathan needs to rest more and eat better, but they don’t have money to buy nourishing... (full context)
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Kenny asks if Rukmani thinks about the future, when Nathan will be too old to farm. Rukmani replies that she does, but that “it is... (full context)
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...Rukmani is gathering cow dung, Sivaji comes to the hut. When she returns, she finds Nathan alone, looking dazed and terrified. He tells her bluntly that the landlord is selling their... (full context)
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...and helpless without the land. She looks around her hut—it is bare and primitive, but Nathan built it with his own hands, and she’s lived there for decades. She cannot believe... (full context)
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...the decision without question, but they point out there’s nothing else to do. Rukmani and Nathan have decided to set off in search of Murugan, who has a good job and... (full context)
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...to return to the land and rent another farm to work with his father. However, Nathan firmly rejects the offer, saying he doesn’t want Selvam to sacrifice his future. (full context)
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...to her parents. Selvam promises to look after her, despite his slim wages. Rukmani and Nathan are too exhausted and bewildered to argue with their children. (full context)
Chapter 24
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The next morning, Rukmani and Nathan hitch a ride with a bullock cart traveling towards the city. After saying goodbye to... (full context)
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The next afternoon, the carter drops Nathan and Rukmani at the outskirts of the city. They have no idea how to reach... (full context)
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After hours of walking, Rukmani sees Nathan flagging and suggests they rest. They sit down in a quiet alleyway, and as the... (full context)
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...the front of the line, the priest refuses to give her a second portion for Nathan, so they have to share one meal. She is shocked and dismayed that he doesn’t... (full context)
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After Rukmani and Nathan eat, they remember that they have left their bundles of possessions in the temple entrance... (full context)
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Nathan says they shouldn’t be upset by the loss of mere belongings, but Rukmani is disturbed... (full context)
Chapter 25
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As dawn breaks, Nathan wakes up as well. Rukmani is happy to see he looks healthier after a good... (full context)
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Rukmani and Nathan make their way through the city, hoping to find Murugan before sundown. Many times they... (full context)
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Rukmani decides to ask the children for directions. Nathan calls them over and asks where Koil Street. One boy explains that there are four... (full context)
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...house, Puli quickly disappears. Assuming they are beggars, a servant tries to dismiss them, but Nathan explains that they are looking for their son. The servant says that no one named... (full context)
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The servant brings Rukmani and Nathan to a small cabin and introduces them to his friendly wife, who is caring for... (full context)
Chapter 26
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...everyone knows of the Collector, who is Murugan’s employer now. Approaching the house, Rukmani and Nathan are again dismissed as beggars, but when they mention Murugan’s name the gatekeeper directs them... (full context)
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...out of the cottage carrying a baby. She’s unfriendly and suspicious, even when Rukmani and Nathan introduce themselves as Murugan’s parents. Without preamble, she tells them that Murugan abandoned her two... (full context)
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After this blow, Rukmani and Nathan have no idea what to do. They sit down in Ammu’s cottage, which is much... (full context)
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Nathan says that he and Rukmani must leave soon and prepare to return to their village;... (full context)
Chapter 27
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The beggars at the temple recognize Rukmani and Nathan and tease them, asking if they’ve encountered trouble with their son. The couple stays there... (full context)
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One day, Rukmani decides to set up a stall as a scribe in the market. Nathan is skeptical, pointing out that no one will believe a woman can read. However, it’s... (full context)
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Rukmani grows increasingly worried about Nathan, who frequently has bouts of fever and rheumatism. One day, as she’s returning to the... (full context)
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In the morning, Puli suggests that Rukmani and Nathan work at a stone quarry outside the city, where they can make more money. He... (full context)
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Accompanied by Puli, Rukmani and Nathan work in the quarry every day. They always give their earnings to Puli, since he... (full context)
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Nathan tries to explain the country is his home, and he can only be happy there,... (full context)
Chapter 28
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As Rukmani and Nathan earn more money, they anticipate their return home more and more. Even Puli shares their... (full context)
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When they reach the temple, Rukmani shows Nathan her purchases, both excited and ashamed to have spent more money than usual. However, Nathan... (full context)
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It rains the next day, and Rukmani urges Nathan to stay behind while she goes to the quarry, but he refuses. Because of the... (full context)
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...in line for payment one evening, Rukmani finds that a small crowd has gathered around Nathan, who has fainted on the side of the road. Two men pick him and carry... (full context)
Chapter 29
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...usually burns has been put out by the rain. The men from the quarry place Nathan on the floor, and Rukmani sits down beside him, wiping the mud from his body... (full context)
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By midnight, Nathan’s body seems to calm, and he stops shivering. Eventually, he opens his eyes and recognizes... (full context)
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Rukmani asks how she will go on without Nathan, but he reminds her that she’s not alone, because he lives on through their children.... (full context)
Chapter 30
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...Soon, Irawaddy and Sacrabani join. Rukmani introduces Puli as her son, explaining that she and Nathan have adopted him. (full context)
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...Rukmani that even with his small wages they will manage to survive. He understands that Nathan has died, even though Rukmani has said nothing. She tells him that it was “a... (full context)