After one of his long absences from the village, Kenny tells Rukmani that he has been raising money from British donors to build a hospital that will provide medical care to people in the region. Kenny’s project represents a vision of rural development diametrically opposed to that which the tannery provides. The free hospital is unlikely to profit Kenny or anyone else, but will improve local conditions significantly. Local employees, like Rukmani’s son Selvam, are given the opportunity to obtain an education and strive for a better future, rather than becoming pawns of factory bosses. Kenny’s vision shows how development and foreign intervention should function, but its unfinished state at the end of the novel, compared to the flourishing tannery, reflects the author’s uncertainty that this vision will ever thrive.
Moreover, the hospital reflects the ongoing conflict between Kenny and Rukmani’s approaches to suffering. Kenny often chides Rukmani for mutely accepting everything that happens to her; his devotion to improving medical care in a desperately underserved region represents a commendable impulse to fix the problems he sees around him. However, Rukmani doubts that the hospital will ever live up to Kenny’s promises, and in some ways she’s right; construction frequently stalls due to funding issues, and in the meantime villagers like Granny continue to die of preventable illnesses. The hospital’s uncertain fate shows that a blind embrace of development, no matter how well-intentioned, cannot singlehandedly address the challenges India faces. Moreover, it suggests that Rukmani’s attitude towards suffering does not reflect a lack of ingenuity but is a brave coping mechanism against challenges that often prove intractable.
The Hospital Quotes in Nectar in a Sieve
Privately I thought, Well, and what if we gave in to our troubles at every step! We would be pitiable creatures indeed to be so weak, for is not a man’s spirit given to him to rise above his misfortunes? […] What profit to bewail that which has always been and cannot change?