Nectar in a Sieve
Written in the early 1950s by Kamala Markandaya, Nectar in a Sieve reflects a time of intense turbulence in rapidly developing India. Indian independence from Britain after World War II was flourishing, and India suffered some of the worst, cultural, economic, climatic and social shocks an infant nation has ever witnessed. This fictional tale follows the plight of Indian villagers who battle nature, struggle through poverty, endure personal hardships, and encounter the harsh realities of India's industrialization and hence, modernization. The protagonist, Rukmani, and her loving husband heroically cling to their "traditional" way of life - living according to nature, adhering to family, saving face, keeping upright moral conduct. Fate and their trust in nature fuel their higher spirit. Other villager's spirits are not as strong and some fall prey to the physical temptation of survival. What happens in Rukmani's life and village is a microcosm of what is happening to a developing India.
Although there are many characters in the novel, the three main characters who personify the concept of modernization are Rukmani, Nathan, and the Doctor. Rukmani and Nathan represent India while English physician, Kennington (called Kenny) represents the British attitude towards India, a child state. Kenny portrays the notion of "White Man's Burden"; he appears to exhibit compassion for the Indian peasants, yet he continues to fail to understand them and culture. He is angered by the peasants' acceptance of fate. I found the doctor to be a stereotype for Kamala Markandaya to express her opinion. In one quote about building a hospital for the village, Kenny explains his point to Rukmani. "I will repeat it again, you must cry out if you want help. It is no use whatsoever to suffer in silence. Who will succour the drowning man if he dose not clamor for his life?" p.111 The doctor identifies "Indian philosophy" as fatalism. Kenny feels that fatalism is an obstacle to modernization and technology, both being huge areas that can improve conditions for India.
Rukmani exhibits the Hindu concept of Karma. Her struggle is a path to Nirvana through enduring suffering. Her ambition is a modest and not modern one - to live in simple harmony with nature (tradition). Better to feed the soul than to feed the body at the soul's expense. The title of the novel, "Nectar In a Sieve," hints at the book's plot. Nectar, representing hopes and dreams is never contained. Instead, the sweetness strain through a sieve and go do the drain. "The truth is unpalatable," p.97 is repeated twice to Rukmani, first by the men that killed her son Raja, and next by her daughter Ira, who indirectly reveals her prostitution. Through all the hardships she never gives up her faith in nature/tradition or her hope that life will get better.
The narrator and protagonist, Rukmani, fulfilled an arranged married to Nathan, a poor peasant tenant farmer. ...