Nectar in a Sieve


Kamala Markandaya

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The Hospital Symbol Analysis

The Hospital Symbol Icon

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

The Nectar in a Sieve quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Hospital. 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 19 Quotes

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?

Related Characters: Rukmani (speaker), Kenny
Related Symbols: The Hospital
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Hospital Symbol Timeline in Nectar in a Sieve

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Hospital appears in Nectar in a Sieve. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1 
Suffering Theme Icon
Rukmani’s sight is fading, but she can still see the hospital where Selvam and Kenny work together. The hospital has been growing slowly over the year,... (full context)
Chapter 19
Family Theme Icon
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon on the farm, and that Kenny has offered him a job in the new hospital he is building. He can learn quickly, as he already knows how to read and... (full context)
Suffering Theme Icon
...for helping Selvam and asks about his new project. He shows her blueprints for a hospital much bigger than the town’s tiny dispensary. Rukmani is perplexed, asking where the money will... (full context)
Chapter 21
Suffering Theme Icon
Selvam spends less and less time at home now that he works for Kenny. The hospital encounters many delays in building, and Selvam and Kenny alternate between enthusiasm and dejection. Rukmani... (full context)
Suffering Theme Icon
In the meantime, Old Granny dies on the street. If the hospital were finished, she could have spent her last days there, but she has no relatives... (full context)
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
...only have prolonged the inevitable. He says that she could not have stayed in the hospital for very long; after all, it’s a place for sick people, not a soup kitchen.... (full context)
Suffering Theme Icon
As the hospital progresses, people begin to seek jobs and assistance from it. Rukmani knows that Kenny won’t... (full context)
Suffering Theme Icon
...him a small wage. Rukmani wonders how he will pay a staff to run his hospital, and Kenny doesn’t seem to have an answer to this question. (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... (full context)