Nectar in a Sieve


Kamala Markandaya

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Nectar in a Sieve: Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Although the town is becoming clogged and congested, on the outskirts where Rukmani lives nature is still dominant, and 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 the hut and gathers flowers to celebrate the birth. She remembers the births of all her own children, which occurred in this hut as well; she’s sorry that Irawaddy’s child is born not out of a loving marriage but a transactional encounter in which no human connection occurred. The baby’s father could be anyone, and they have no way of knowing his character or morals.
Even though Irawaddy’s extramarital pregnancy is highly unconventional and probably brings social stigma to the family, Rukmani is supportive—she prepares to celebrate the birth just as if Irawaddy was married. It’s important that she worries about the baby’s conception not out of social anxiety but because she wants the child to grow up in a loving family. Although she’s often unable to provide material resources, Rukmani is cognizant of the psychological advantages that a calm and loving upbringing gives her children.
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For her own part, Irawaddy is unafraid and anxious to become a mother. Rukmani tends to her during her labor and she soon gives birth to a healthy child. However, while Irawaddy is consumed by exhaustion and delight, Rukmani immediately sees that the baby is albino, a serious deformity.
By this point in the novel, even the happiest events are marked by some suffering. Not only will the baby’s deformity cause social stigma, underlining its unusual parentage, but albinism involves serious health risks for a child in such a hot climate.
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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.” He worries that Irawaddy, who doesn’t seem to notice her child’s affliction, has lost her mind, and says he should have prevented her from prostituting herself. Already the baby seems uncomfortable in the hot sun. Rukmani tells him not to worry, although she notices how easily the child burns outside.
Although Irawaddy is technically an adult, Rukmani and Nathan still find themselves the decision makers and providers of the family. Their children’s inability to pursue independent lives as their parents did will eventually erode the couple’s confidence in the rural farming economy they’ve long loved.
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News of Irawaddy’s baby spreads, and people often come to see him for themselves. Some are kind, but all are clearly relieved that their 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 to visit. They name the boy Sacrabani and all the neighbors come to the celebration; Old Granny brings a rupee for the child, saying she still feels guilty for the dissolution of Irawaddy’s marriage.
Sacrabani’s naming ceremony mirrors Arjun’s at the beginning of the book. At the time, Rukmani was thrilled to bear a son and fulfill the conventional role of wife and mother. Now, she has to accept that Irawaddy will never achieve the same conventional security and happiness.
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Kali 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 out his pink eyes and strange appearance. Seeing Irawaddy’s troubled face, Selvam says stoutly that “it is only a question of getting used to” his appearance, and that “a pink-eyed child is no worse than a brown-eyed one.” Chastened, Kali hurries away, and Selvam cuddles Sacrabani.
Selvam and Irawaddy’s friendship is the closest of all the siblings. Even though the children can’t set off for their own lives and households as Rukmani did at a young age, they reproduce the tenderness and unconditional love that their parents have long modeled.
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