Rural India & Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandya

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Realistic Treatment of Rural India in Kamala Markandaya’s Nectar in a Sieve

By – R. Sangeetha (introduction at the end of the paper), Vol. III, Issue. XXVI, March 2017




Mrs. Kamala Markandaya has international recognition as a novelist. Her first novel Nectar in a Sieve brought great fame to her. In all novels of Mrs. Markandaya, we observe the element of realism. Her main purpose is to present social problems which are closely related to human life. She uses Indian words in order to create a typical Indian atmosphere. Mrs. Markandaya give a true picture of rural India. She develops her characters beautifully. In Nectar in a Sieve the development of characters, such as Rukmani and Ira is made beautifully and in the end, we find a complete image of these rural women. In Nectar in a Sieve, Nathan the head of the family died due to starvation. He was unable to earn bread for himself as well as his family. She has a firsthand knowledge of South Indian villages, the real conditions of the villagers, their, miseries, and three real ways of life.

Key words : cultural interaction, miseries, social problems, realism of life.


Kamala Markandaya travelled widely abroad, married an Englishman and then settled in England. But before taking to writing novels, she lived for some time in a South Indian village and thus acquired a firsthand knowledge of the conditions of life that prevail in the village of India. This makes her a great novelist of Indian rural life. The present chapter aims at studying only those of her novels which deal with poverty, hunger and exploitation as their major themes. Mrs. Markandaya’s first novel, Nectar in a Sieve, was published in 1954, and has been translated into fifteen languages.

This novel deals about Indian life and character. As the English poet words worth told us long ago, in the cities and the educated the crust of artificiality hides the essential reality of human nature, and hence it must be studied in the simpler and more elemental village communities. Kamala has also studied the basic traits of Indian national character in rural settings.

Indians are extremely conservative and orthodox. The process of social change is a slow one, particularly in rural India. The old customs are meticulously observed, and any deviations from them are frowned upon. If any deviations occurred it would treated as a sin, sure to bring catastrophe and debacles. Marriages are orchestrated by the parents, and the prominence of the bridge groom depends upon the enormity of the dowry which the bride’s father is able to bestow. In Kamala Markandaya’s Nectar in a Sieve, the protagonist Rukmini’s elder sisters were well – married because their father could provide them with suitable dowries; but when her turn came her father could not arrange for a suitable dowry and so at the age of twelve she was married to a tenant – farmer, and it was considered a poor match.

Mrs.Markandaya analysis various social problems in her novels. the sufferings of the villagers and the workers, their poverty and destitution and their miseries in the wake of unemployment have been described by her. This novel also presented the problems of beggars in the novels. It realizes the sufferings of growing children brought up in utter poverty. Poverty can lead people to moral downfall. The sufferers forget all morality when they are the victims of poverty. Under the impact of poverty kunthi in Nectar in Sieve blackmails Rukmani for her visit to Kenny. In possession, Ellie has to take resort to prostitution under the pressure of poverty. In Nectar in a Sieve Ira also comes a prostitute by poverty. The conflict between the rich and the poor classes finds a good expression in her novels.

            In Nectar in a Sieve when Rukmani and Nathan go to the tannery to see their sons, they find its gate closed. Their sons return with angered faces at dusk. When Rukmani asks what the matter is, they reply in brief,

“We asked for more money, they took form us our

eating time”. (P-66)

Later on they go on strike in the tannery. Then firmly decide, “We shall not go until our demands are met” (P-67). Thus, the conflict ends with the failure of the labourers. In a handful of Rice Ravi prepares the clothes with labour and sells them for Rs.80 per dozen, while the rich shopkeeper doing no work that he could see, got Rs.125 for one. It shook him. The lack of understanding, sympathy and cooperation between the rich and the poor is the root cause of the conflict between them. Mrs. Markandaya lays emphasis on the fact that the clash between the rich and the poor is the result of inequalities in society. She always has a soft corner for the lower classes. Her most novel describe inequalities of society.

In Nectar in a Sieve, she discusses the poverty of Indian villages. It is the story of the conjugal life of Nathan and Rukmani, the peasants! Poverty forces them to wander from door to door in search of rice. In a Handful of Rise the novelist opens the novel with the problem of beggars. In her novels, under the pressure of hunger and poverty, characters have to leave their native villages in search of food and they meet a tragic end. In Nectar in a Sieve Arjun and Thambi Ceylon to get jobs. Murugan also goes to city to become a servant. In a Handful of Rice Ravi has to leave his house because he had to live between bouts of genteel and acute poverty, the kind in which the weakest went to the wall, the old ones and the babies. The novelist also presents a graduate through the eyes of Ravi in A Handful of Rice.

            Poverty and hunger whether urban or rural moves the heart of the novelist and its tragedy and pathos were fully brought out with rare art and skill. The poor suffered whether in the village or the city whether at home or on a journey. Kamala Markandaya knows that hardship and suffering are the lot not only of the poor peasants but also manual labourers in urban areas. Beggary is widespread, but there are also the amateurs and those who beg without calling themselves beggars. Rukmani and Nathan themselves stay in a temple for some time, and live on charity like other beggars. It is all a harrowing hair-raising account of poverty, both urban and rural, which in itself is a great evil, and the root cause of all other evils. Our hearts are touched, and we feel the sorrows of Rukmani and Nathan as our own.

            Nathan crops are totally dependent on the vagaries of nature. If it does not rain in time on if the rains are excessive, his crops suffer and he is reduced to beggary. If there is drought, his position is no better. He and his family must starve, and that too, for no fault of their own. They have to sell their poor belongings to the greedy and callous village. They are evicted from their field and their mud cottage by a callous and unfeeling landlord. We get a graphic account of the suffering, sickness, and the death of their youngest child Kuti. Ira sang dirge and her sorrow flows to Rukmani also.

            Rukamani tells Ira,

“What are you crying for?” I said.

You have little enough strength,

Without dissolving it in tears”. (P-91)

            Nathan wants a son and Rukmani gets a number of sons through the help of Dr. Kenny, and their marriage is saved from disintegration. Ira is rejected by her husband because she is childless even five years after marriage, and by the time she is cured of her barrenness by medical treatment and taken to her husband’s home, he has taken another wife. The significant thing is that nobody thinks of protesting. Even the rejected girl’s mother merely tells her:

            “you must not blame him. He has taken

another woman.” (P-63)

            Nathan and Rukmani silently suffer what life inflicts upon them. They do not complain, but accept silently. The ruin of their crops, the death of their sons, their eviction from their home and hearth, are the successive blows struck at their innocent heads by a malevolent fate, but what is to be is accepted with the same spirit of calm resignation.

Migration is often forced upon them, as on Rukmani and Nathan and it served to intensify their suffering. The coming of industrialization does in no way ameliorate their lot; rather it laid them open to the cruel forms of exploitation. The construction of the tannery brought nothing but misery to the poor like Rukmani and Nathan. It resulted in the death of their son Raja, in two of their son’s going away to Ceylon and their eviction from their land. It resulted in migration and exodus to city.

When they arrive, are the common property of the family and when the Indians, travel they do travel they do travel with a lot of baggage. When Nathan and Rukamni migrate to the city in a bullock – cart, Rukmani carries with her not only the essentials, but also her cooking vessels:

“I took down the mats on which we slept from the wall

where they hung and rolled them up. Inside I placed

the cloth bundle which contained to blocks of rice,

some chillies, tamarind………..” (P-143)

People may not help the poor as long as they live, but when they die the funeral is performed with due solemnity, and friends and neighbours are generous referring to the decent funeral provided for the old woman, Granny, after her death from starvation, the novelist makes this ironic comment:

“Once a human being is dead there are people enough to provide the last decencies; perhaps it is so because only then can there be no question of further or recurring assistance being sought. Death after all is final”. (P-123).

In the end, we can say that Kamala Markandaya’s Nectar in a sieve deals with the life of poverty, hunger and starvations, lived by the poor tenant-farmers in countless Indian villages. Kamala’s Indianners is also seen in her language. She used a large number of words from the Indian languages. In every novel, she deals with the realities of society. Some critics have opined that she has fictionalised the sociology of Indian society, but the fact is that her approach is absolutely realistic. Since she avoids naming location of her novels.



  • Markandaya Kamala: Nectar in a Sieve (New York; Signet books, 1954)
  • Markandaya Kamala : A Handful of Rice (New Delhi, Orient Paperbacks, 1985).
  • R. Srinivasa lyenger, Indian Writing in English, (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 2001) .
  • Markandaya Kamala : Possession, Bombay Jaico, 1984).


R. Sangeetha is an M.Phil English student studying in Sri Adi Chunchungiri Women’s College, Cumbum.

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