Nectar in a Sieve

by

Kamala Markandaya

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The Tannery Symbol Analysis

The Tannery Symbol Icon

Ostensibly, by bringing new methods of manufacturing to a region previously defined by subsistence farming, the tannery symbolizes progress and development. However, it actually destroys the traditional lifestyle that has provided Rukmani with deep joy, without providing anything to compensate for this loss. Early in the novel, Rukmani and Nathan are surprised to discover that workers have arrived to construct a large tannery in their sleepy village. While some neighbors hope the tannery will bring new jobs and prospects, Rukmani is suspicious and reluctant to accept its presence; in the end, it’s she who proves right. Over the years, the tannery drives massive change in the village, mostly for the worse. The influx of new workers drive prices up without providing increased prosperity for the villagers. Local men, including Arjan and Thambi, find work at the factories instead of farming the land their fathers have worked for generations; instead of improving their lives, the tannery makes them into wage slaves unable to negotiate for better hours or conditions. In this way, the tannery represents a brand of development that promotes economic profit for the elite without doing anything to improve the lives of the impoverished. The village was once cohesive and rooted in local practices, but workers bring vices like alcoholism, and local control gradually concentrates in the hands of factory bosses, meaning that the town no longer serves the interests of its inhabitants and is sometimes actively hostile to them; for example, Rukmani’s son Raja is beaten to death by a tannery guard while looking for food near its compound. Markandaya ultimately uses the tannery, and havoc it wreaks on the village, not to defend traditionalism but to critique visions of development that are not egalitarian in nature.

The Tannery Quotes in Nectar in a Sieve

The Nectar in a Sieve quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Tannery. 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 4 Quotes

“Never, never,” I cried. “They may live on our midst but I can never accept them, for they lay their hands upon us and we are all turned from tilling to barter, and hoard our silver since we cannot spend it, and see our children go without the food that their children gorge […].”

Related Characters: Rukmani (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Tannery
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

So they were reconciled and threw the past away with both hands that they might be the readier to grasp the present, while I stood by in pain, envying such easy reconciliation and clutching in my own two hands the memory of the past, and accounting it a treasure.

Related Characters: Rukmani (speaker), Kali, Janaki
Related Symbols: The Tannery
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

Nobody asked, “Where do you go from here?” They did not say, “What is to become of us?” We waited and one day they came to bid us farewell […] then they were gone, and the shopkeepers were glad that there was less competition […] and we remembered them for a while and then took up our lives again.

Related Characters: Rukmani (speaker), Janaki
Related Symbols: The Tannery
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
Chapter 11 Quotes

It is true, one gets used to anything. I had got used to the noise and smell of the tannery; they no longer affected me. I had seen the slow, calm beauty of our village wilt in the blast from town, and I grieved no more; so now I accepted the future and Ira’s lot in it, and thrust it from me; only sometimes when I was weak, or in sleep while my will lay dormant, I found myself rebellious, protesting, rejecting and no longer calm.

Related Characters: Rukmani (speaker), Irawaddy
Related Symbols: The Tannery
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:
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:

People will never learn! Kenny had said it, and I had not understood, now here were my own sons saying the same thing, and still I did not understand. What was it we had to learn? To fight against tremendous odds? What was the use? One only lost the little one had.

Related Characters: Rukmani (speaker), Arjun, Thambi
Related Symbols: The Tannery
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 23 Quotes

Somehow I had always felt the tannery would eventually be our undoing. I had known it since the day the carts had come with their loads of bricks and noisy dusty men, staining the clear soft greens that had once colored our village and cleaving its cool silences with clamor.

Related Characters: Rukmani (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Tannery
Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:

Tannery or not, the land might have been taken from us. It had never belonged to us, we had never prospered to the extent where we could buy, and Nathan, himself the son of a landless man, had inherited nothing. And whatever extraneous influence the tannery may have exercised, the calamities of the land belong to it alone, born of wind and rain and weather, immensities not to be tempered by man or his creations.

Related Characters: Rukmani (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Tannery
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Tannery Symbol Timeline in Nectar in a Sieve

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Tannery appears in Nectar in a Sieve. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4
Rural vs. Urban Poverty Theme Icon
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
...men have arrived to construct a mysterious village. Nathan says that they are building a tannery; he has heard rumors of this before. He leaves his work and takes the family... (full context)
Rural vs. Urban Poverty Theme Icon
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
...impossible to buy many things. Nathan warns that people will soon return to use the tannery, and she must accustom herself to change in the village. Angered, Rukmani says that she... (full context)
Suffering Theme Icon
Soon, different workmen arrive at the tannery with their families, under the direction of the same white foreman. Rukmani stays out of... (full context)
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
Before the tannery was built, Irawaddy was allowed to come and go from the village as she pleased,... (full context)
Chapter 5
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...doesn’t understand much about Kenny’s work; she knows that he treats the workmen at the tannery, but he often disappears from the village for days or months at a time, and... (full context)
Chapter 7
Suffering Theme Icon
Rural vs. Urban Poverty Theme Icon
In the village, Rukmani sees that while the tannery is still standing, most of the workers’ huts have been destroyed. Trees and even bodies... (full context)
Chapter 8
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
Kunthi’s sons begin to work at the tannery, bringing home high wages to their mother’s delight. Rukmani still refuses to accept the tannery,... (full context)
Suffering Theme Icon
Rural vs. Urban Poverty Theme Icon
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
The tannery continues to grow, often absorbing the small farms that lie next to it. Rukmani can’t... (full context)
Chapter 9
Family Theme Icon
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
...proud of him, but she’s disappointed when he announces his intention to work in the tannery. He points out bluntly that he’s tired of going hungry and seeing the rest of... (full context)
Rural vs. Urban Poverty Theme Icon
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
Soon, Thambi joins Arjun at the tannery. Nathan is devastated, because he expected his sons to help him on the farm. However,... (full context)
Chapter 11
Suffering Theme Icon
...end of the day, when he’s “grim and tired” from long hours of attending to tannery workers. At first he tells Rukmani sternly that he can’t see her today, but when... (full context)
Suffering Theme Icon
...Old Granny is right: “one gets used to everything.” Even Rukmani is used to the tannery, which she used to loathe. She tries to accept Irawaddy’s future in the same way,... (full context)
Chapter 12
Rural vs. Urban Poverty Theme Icon
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
On their day off from the tannery, Arjun and Thambi return to the farm to help Nathan. Nathan loves to see his... (full context)
Rural vs. Urban Poverty Theme Icon
On the other days, Arjun and Thambi work long hours at the tannery. Rukmani is proud that they bring all their wages home, instead of spending them on... (full context)
Rural vs. Urban Poverty Theme Icon
...Nathan accompanies Rukmani when she goes to the market; on these days, they visit the tannery to talk with their sons during the midday meal. One day, they arrive at the... (full context)
Suffering Theme Icon
Rural vs. Urban Poverty Theme Icon
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
Arjun and Thambi say that the tannery workers asked for better wages, and the bosses retaliated by taking away their lunch hour.... (full context)
Suffering Theme Icon
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
After a week, the tannery threatens to replace the striking workers with others; most workers return to their jobs, and... (full context)
Suffering Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...beating in town. Rukmani remembers the morning when Arjun made a similar announcement about the tannery workers’ arrival, and feels a sense of dread. As it turns out, some people have... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
...birds had lived in the paddy fields, but they no longer come because of the tannery’s proximity. (full context)
Chapter 15
Suffering Theme Icon
...son Raja doesn’t come back from his scavenging rounds. At night, some men from the tannery bring his body home; his head is soaked with blood. The men lay the dead... (full context)
Suffering Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Three days later, two tannery officials visit the house. They tell Rukmani that Raja tried to steal a calfskin, and... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
...he had been working hard and eating very little. The first man reiterates that the tannery is not responsible and Rukmani can hope for no compensation. He even says that Rukmani... (full context)
Chapter 16
Suffering Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
...of jeering men. Irawaddy says that “the truth is unpalatable,” and Rukmani remembers that the tannery official said the same thing. (full context)
Chapter 23
Rural vs. Urban Poverty Theme Icon
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Suffering Theme Icon
Rural vs. Urban Poverty Theme Icon
Rukmani reflects that she always knew “the tannery would eventually be our undoing.” It has changed not only the geography of the village... (full context)