Nectar in a Sieve
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The novel Nectar in a Sieve is a fictional work. It is written by Kamala Markandanya. The novel is set in India. It is about a young girl whose name is Rukmani. She is the youngest daughter in her family. Rukmani also known as Ruku is married off by her family at a very early age. The man she marries is called Nathan. Nathan is not wealthy and is a tenant farmer. In India the women usually marry men; therefore they have to pay dowry to a man for him to agree to marry a woman. Ruku's family was not wealthy and therefore they had to settle for an average tenant farmer. The story develops as Ruku continues to lead her life. She struggles with poverty and eviction. Throughout the novel she gets from one problem to another. The novel though ends on a brighter note for her and finally she has hope that life will be better. The author has used several literal devices in the novel. This essay will focus on these literal devices and issues such as culture, politics and human rights in the novel.
Kamala Markandanya was born in 1924 in a city called Bangalore. She was fortunate to be born in a Brahmin caste. This is the highest level in the Hindu religion. Kamala attended the University of Madras, after which she took a job in a small newspaper, where she was a writer. Kamala was born in the city but she learnt the rural life of India. She later moved to England where she married an Englishman. Kamala had written a few novels but her first novel to be published was Nectar in a Sieve. It was published in the year 1954. She wrote some other novels, which are Some Inner Fury and a Silence of Desire. Most of her novels are about life in India and culture of this country.
The setting of the book is in the rural areas. It shows how people in the rural areas lead their lives. The book was also set during a time when India had just emerged from the colonial rule. Nathan, the husband of Ruku, is a farmer and he owns a piece of land, it is this piece of land that the family depends on. They farm here and eat products from this land. In India at this era of time most people were living in the rural areas. They mainly depended on rice and vegetables for food.
The people, living in the rural areas, live in simplicity. Most of them are not well of. The book describes how these villagers live in mud huts that are thatched with grass. Development is approaching this rural area and it brings with it negative effects. Ruku is especially against this development. The development comes in the form of a tannery. Its efforts to expand ends up in taking land from the villagers. Nathan is a victim where his land is taken piece by piece until he has none left.
The narration of the story is in the first person narration. Ruku is the narrator of the story. She is an old woman when she begins the story. She then proceeds to narrate the story as a flashback or a reflection of her life. She first informs the reader that in the present she is at peace, but things have not always been like that. The first person narration enables the reader to see things through the Ruku's eyes. The reader also experiences the feelings that Ruku is experiencing. The first person narration is also advantageous as it helps the reader develop empathy for the protagonist.
The first person narration helps retain the originality of the story. If for instance the book was written in the third person narration, like an observer it would loose its originality. The first person narration is able to portray more than the story. It is through the first person narration we are able to know the thoughts of Ruku. The problem though with first narration is that it overshadows the other characters. Also the narrator may be bias and influence the reader's thoughts about issues in the story.
The writer uses characters to help her deliver the story well. These characters usually are of different types. They include; the protagonist. The protagonist is the character whose life the story revolves around. This character creates the plot of the story. They are like the main characters of the story. In this novel, the protagonist is Ruku. The story is about her life from when she is married to Nathan, it continues with the introduction of other characters that help shape the story.
There is also the antagonist. This is the character or force that opposes the protagonist. The fact is that the antagonist does not always have to be a character. There are other instances that usually have more than one antagonist. In this story the antagonist is not well developed and therefore not easy to identify. The antagonist though is the forces of change that keep opposing Ruku and her family to lead a good life. The coming of development and the change from the rural life to urban life as the industries continue to grow. These antagonists have made Ruku's life to be full of hardship. She seems to be jumping from one hardship right into another.
The other characters in the book are major and minor characters. In this novel the major character apart from Ruku is, Nathan, who is the husband to Ruku. There is also Ira; she is the eldest of Ruku's children. She too struggles in life; she marries then later divorces with her husband. She later turns to prostitution so as to save her smaller brother from dying of hunger. Kenny and Ruku's fifth son Selvam is also major characters. Kenny is a foreigner but manages to get close to Ruku. He is a frequent visitor to the village. He later opens a hospital, where Selvam gets to work.
The minor characters are the other sons of Ruku. Two of them join the tannery, where they get jobs. They are shown to embrace modernity by getting jobs at the tannery. They do this knowing that their mother is against it (Sinclair 75). There is also Kunthi, who is almost of the same age as Ruku. She is quiet and aloof. To the villagers she is sad to have married beneath her class and unlike Ruku she never accepts her marriage and is therefore not comfortable. Kuli is also a minor character, who is different from Ruku as he has joy and hope amidst his difficulties. All characters in the book have enabled the author to narrate the story well; each character plays a role and all this roles combined help the book to properly develop.
The theme of the story is about hope. The author wants to show the importance of hope in times of struggle. This is shown by how Ruku even after all the struggles, has hope that things will become better. In the first part of the book she and her husband are filled with hope that even if they do not own the land they cultivate they will one day. Ruku believes that man was given the sprit to rise above his struggles. The book may have been directed to the struggle that India was experiencing due to the colonial rule. The author wants to show the reader that things eventually get better with hope in life.
Another theme looming in the book is that of fear. This is because the villagers do not know what will come tomorrow. Ruku and her husband are in fear of what might happen. They fear of what will happen to them when they lose their land. There is also the fear of the changes occurring in the village. The villagers are worried of what the introduction of the tannery will do to their village. Although some are optimistic that they will get jobs in the factory, Ruku is not happy with the tannery. The villagers live in fear and hope, Ruku says that she is not sure which one was stronger (Markandanya 78).
The story is written in a reflective mood. This is demonstrated at the beginning where Ruku starts by informing the reader that she is well at present. She then falls into a flashback of those old times. This mode is used by the author to emphasis its theme of hope. It starts by showing that things are fine at present but it is due to hope that Ruku has been able to endure all the struggles. The mood also shows that the book is set in a historic time, when things were different from the present. If the book was written using a different mood it would not have had the impact the author intended to.
The author has also used imagery in the book. Imagery is defined as an author's attempt to create a certain picture in the mind of the reader. Imagery is best displayed by use of images in books, but most novels do not usually have pictures, especially fictional ones. It is therefore upon the author to use the right words and style to bring out the right image. In this novel the author has been able to portray the life that the villagers were living in. The reader can also feel their way of life and what they believe in. Ruku narrates the state of their houses in a way that the reader is able to see the house well in their mind.
The author also uses the literal device of symbolism. The book is set at a time when there is massive change all over India. There is an increase in urban development. Also, the British colonists are trying to bring changes to the citizens of India. In the novel the tannery is used as a symbol .it stands for change. The way the characters in the novel react to the tannery shows how they react to change (Sinclair 84). They are those who embrace the coming of the tannery, Ruku's sons included. Others like Ruku are strongly opposing the tannery. Nathan is seen trying to persuade hi s wife to accept this change since it is inevitable.
The plot of the story is structured into two parts. The first part is mostly about Ruku's marriage life. The second part is about the efforts of Ruku and her family to seek refuge from their son in the city. The first chapters of the novel start when Ruku is married off to Nathan. They then travel to Nathan's place. In these chapters Ruku narrates to us how her arranged marriage results to an intimate and loving marriage. This chapter shows as Ruku transforms from a little girl to a woman who is now a good wife to Nathan.
The plot proceeds to show how, Ruku gets a first born then becomes infertile. After a challenge she is able to give birth to other kids who are all sons. The children grow up and they all take their different routes in life. Some sons get employment at the tannery. Murugan, their third son goes off to the city to become a servant. Ira, the daughter, gets married and later is divorced. Ruku and her husband lose their land to the tannery and they have to move from the village.
The second part of the plot shows the attempt of Ruku and her family to go to the city to their son. The son they are searching for is nowhere to be found. They are then forced to take up work at a quarry. Here, they work as stonebreakers to earn money for food. Nathan though dies and Ruku has to go to her home village. She is accompanied by Puli. She settles there with her daughter and her youngest son. The plot has been developed in a way that things moves from being worse to becoming better.
Additionally, the author has also used the technique of conflict in the novel. There is conflict present between Ruku and the changes that present themselves. Ruku is mostly in conflict with the introduction of the tannery. There is also conflict between Ruku and her sons. They do not agree with their mother about the tannery. This is demonstrated when the sons seek out jobs at the tannery. Ruku struggles with this conflict until she and her husband resolves the conflict. They do this by moving away from their land, although Nathan later dies, Ruku resettles in her home village (Markandanya 114). It is while here that things start to look brighter and actually get better.
The author has also greatly illustrated the culture of the people in the novel. Culture is a wide term that covers various aspects of life. This includes; food, religion, beliefs and the way of life. Most of the characters in the story are land tenants. Just like Nathan, they do not own the land that they toil on. The tenants also largely depend on food from their farms for food. This is why when floods occur, most of their products are destroyed and they have to endure drought. Their staple food is rice, which they mix with vegetables.
The religion of the most of the characters is Hinduism. This people in the book are portrayed to follow their religion faithfully. They will not agree to go out of what the religion demands of them. The Hindu religion requires women to pay for their dowry. Ruku is married off to a poor man, because even if she was the daughter of the headmen they could not afford a richer man. This is because the parents do not have enough money left after marrying off the sisters to wealthy men. Ruku though is able to understand the diversity of religion in the world as she interacts with a Muslim friend (Markandanya 54). The novel is used to show the situation that was present in India. There was a presence of Muslim in the country although they were a minority.
Marriage is also a part of culture. Marriage is important as it determines the movement from one caste to another. It also ensures a good future for one's children. In the novel it is important to marry above one's level or a man who is of the same level as a woman. When a woman marries beneath her level, it means that she moves from an upper caste to a lower one. Ruku marries a man who is under her level. At the beginning she is not very comfortable and she gets disappointed upon seeing her husband house. Kunthi too marries below her level. She is so unhappy that she keeps letting everyone know that she married beneath her level. Nevertheless, Ruku is able to get used to her new level. The caste system in India is very important part of their culture. If the writer was to write the novel and not include this in the book, it would lack its originality of being set in India. The problem though is that the author belonged to the highest caste and in the book she focused on the lower caste.
The novel has been able to portray a history of India. It shows a shift of India's economic and cultural situation. The novel is in a setting when the British have just finished ruling India. Although this is not stated openly, the book does imply this historical time. It shows the movement of younger people from the reliance of farming to industry. Many young people in the book including Ruku's sons seek employment in the tannery (Markandanya 65). It is also a time where rural areas are being transformed to urban areas. The theme of hope is signifies independence of India from the colonial rule. As the book ends on a brighter note, maybe the author signifies that India has finally achieved independence.
The political situation after the British rule immensely influenced the story in the novel. During this time the British colonial rule had transformed India. Industrialization was increasing. They also introduced an educational system that was making the youth more liberal. They were more aware of their freedom than before. The British also introduced capitalism, the rich started to own more land while the poor lost property. They became poorer and were living in poor conditions. These aspects are included in the book. The author for instance shows the spread of industrialization with the tannery. It also shows how the poor were suffering due to the changes. The problem though is that the author does not clearly bring out the aspect of politics, which is clearly an issue at the time she writes the book.
The book also addresses some human rights issue. The main issue though is starvation or hunger. The novel shows how the characters in the book depend on the farms for their livelihood. The food they eat is received from the farms that they led. The people also depend on the rain for them to grow their crop. When the rain fails or comes in plenty it spoils their crop. This leads to them experiencing famine. There is hunger experienced by the people living in the rural areas. They do not have anyone who comes to their rescue. Instead they are forced to turn to new means of getting food. It should be the government's responsibility to cater for their own in such times; this is not the case in the book. People are left to suffer, others even die of starvation. Ruku's daughter is even forced into prostitution so that she can get food for her siblings. It is unbelievable, the treatment of important human rights like food are taken very lightly.
The book, Nectar in a Sieve, is about a woman called Ruku and her struggles in life during rapidly changing times in India. The author has used several literary aspects to bring out the story well. These includes: plot, character, imagery, the first person narration and themes. The writer in the book is also able to show the culture of the characters in terms of religion, marriage and practices too. Although not directly, the book also touches on the political issue in India at the time the book was being written. The book is a good fictional book, well written by the author to especially bring out the theme of hope. The book shows the reader the importance of hope and how human beings without hope are not going to lead a full life. It also tells us not to give up easily.
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