Nectar in a Sieve

Nectar in a Sieve Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Murugan, who has been working 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, and Nathan is getting older and is too weak to travel.
While Selvam and Irawaddy play important roles in keeping the family together, Murugan’s increasing distance from his parents is a reminder of the family’s dissolution.
Themes
Family Theme Icon
Kenny tells Rukmani that Nathan needs to 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 easier if Selvam remained on the farm, and apologizes for taking him away, but Rukmani says that “Selvam never belonged to the land,” and she is glad to see him engaged in a meaningful occupation.
This episode shows Kenny in a moment of insight and cultural understanding. At the same time, it shows Rukmani gradually changing her views on the role of education. While she originally thought it was dangerous for her sons to venture off the land, now she sees that such a choice can be beneficial.
Themes
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
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 not within our means” to plan. She shrugs off her worry, saying that there are many other families in the same situation, and that God will provide. Rukmani keeps the conversation secret from Nathan, simply telling him not to worry about the family.
Theoretically, Rukmani’s sons should provide for her when she and Nathan are too old to work. However, none of her sons are in a position to do so. This predicament shows how the rural farming economy doesn’t actually provide the security it claims to give poor farmers.
Themes
Rural vs. Urban Poverty Theme Icon
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
One day while 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 farm to the tannery, and Sivaji has just informed him that they have two weeks to leave. Rukmani rails against the injustice of eviction after thirty years on the land, but Nathan points out bleakly that the landlord will make a large profit by selling.
This moment marks the height of Rukmani’s disillusionment with her agricultural lifestyle. Not only is the natural world often unable to provide sufficient resources, it’s now clear that the social system leaves poor farmers vulnerable to the whims of landlords and without any legal protections.
Themes
Rural vs. Urban Poverty Theme Icon
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
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Rukmani reflects that she always knew “the tannery would eventually be our undoing.” It has changed not only the geography of the village but the fortunes of its inhabitants. Some people have grown rich from it, but Rukmani’s 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 never have touched her. However, even in her grief, she acknowledges that the tannery is not to blame for everything. The vagaries of the land led to starvation and Kuti’s death, and the landlord could take away the farm at any moment.
Rukmani attributes their eviction to the tannery, but in fact it’s due to the social system she’s toiled under her whole life, long before the tannery arrived. She’s finally realizing that her poverty and desperation are deeply unjust, but she doesn’t know enough to attribute these problems to their actual causes.
Themes
Suffering Theme Icon
Rural vs. Urban Poverty Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Blue quotation bubble icon linking to an important quote associated with this summary and analysis.
Still, Rukmani feels unmoored 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 that it will now belong to someone else.
This moment provides a contrast to Rukmani’s arrival on the farm, when she was hesitant to begin life as a rural farmwife. As this phase of her life comes to a close, she poignantly realizes how much she’s loved it.
Themes
Rural vs. Urban Poverty Theme Icon
Selvam takes the news stoically, but soon becomes angry with the landlord. He can’t believe his parents are accepting 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 can support his parents. They can no longer provide for themselves, as they are too old to acquire another plot of land and have no other skills. Rukmani doesn’t like to hear Nathan talking of his age, but he strokes her temples to soothe her.
In their conception of the injustice of their lives, Rukmani—if not Nathan—is growing closer to her sons’ viewpoints. However, she stops short of actually questioning the landlord’s decision, as Selvam does.
Themes
Rural vs. Urban Poverty Theme Icon
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
Reluctantly but genuinely, Selvam offers 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.
It’s important and touching that Nathan always prioritizes his son’s future happiness, even when doing so may leave him homeless and penniless.
Themes
Family Theme Icon
Irawaddy decides that she and Sacrabani will stay with Selvam rather than starting a new life elsewhere and being a burden 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.
Finally, Irawaddy and Selvam are becoming independent. However, they’re doing so under harsh and heartbreaking circumstances. Rukmani finally sees that the rural lifestyle in which she’s had such faith can’t provide the life she’s imagined, or the future she wanted for her children.
Themes
Rural vs. Urban Poverty Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon