A Deconstructive Reading of “Nectar in a Sieve” by Kamala Markandaya (Pt.2)

[Part 1]

Nathan: Beloved, Counselor, Protector

Rukmani early on in her tale explains that her parents “…could not find [her] a rich husband, and married [her] to a tenant farmer who was poor in everything but his love and care for [her], his wife, whom he took at the age of twelve.”1 And although Rukmani was matured in body only, not in her mind (she confesses to being “a pained and awkward child…”2), Nathan loved and comforted her, never despising her weaknesses. She describes her earliest memories of weakness, anxiety, sickness, and Nathan’s love and comfort in these words:

…when the religious ceremonies had been completed, we left, my husband and I. How well I remember that day, and the sudden sickness that overcame me when the moment for departure came! […] I was sick. Such a disgrace for me….how shall I ever live it down? I remember thinking. I shall never forget…I haven’t forgotten, but the memory is not sour. My husband soothed and calmed me.

It is a thing that might happen to anybody,” he said. “Do not fret. Come, dry your eyes and sit up here beside me.” So I did, and after a while I felt better, the tears left my eyes and dried on my lashes.3

Nathan comforted his bride, and by so doing eased her transition from childhood to womanhood by serving as her father figure as well as her husband. It is he who reveals to Rukmani that she has actually made the transition from one stage to the other, when he tells her: “You are not a child anymore…You have grown fast since we married, and that not so long ago.”4 It is also he whom Rukmani strives to make proud by learning how to successfully tend to the land. Rukmani:

What patience indeed my husband must have had; to put up with me uncomplainingly during those early days of our married lives! Not one cross word or impatient look, and praise for whatever small success I achieved…When Nathan saw [my achievements] he was full of admiration…I tried not to show my pride…After that, ten times more zealous, I planted…and they all grew well under my hand, so that we ate even better than we had done before.5

Nathan’s prodding and praise, she confesses, drove Rukmani to pursue agriculture, and this pursuit is one which is foundational to her identity as one who “lives by the land.”6 To put the matter bluntly: By his loving care, Nathan helped to make Rukmani the woman who lived to tell his tale.

He is, therefore, the subject of her discourse, as well as the one whose discourse formed her feminine subjectivity. And perhaps most significantly, Nathan is also responsible for saving Rukmani from the poisonous venom of the serpent hiding in the garden, the serpent which would have otherwise killed her. Upon accidentally touching the serpent, she “…ran from the spot screeching with fear and not looking behind [her],”7 and

Nathan came rushing to me, almost knocking me over, caught me and shook me.

What is it, what is it?” he shouted roughly.

A snake,” I whispered, berfet of voice and breath. “A cobra. I touched it.”

[…] He…cut it to pieces with his scythe and buried the remains so that I should not be upset.8

The “terror” and “panic” Rukmani experienced at this moment receded only upon knowing that her beloved, counselor, was coming to protect her by killing the serpent which was at enmity with her.

[Part 3]



3pp.4-5 (emphasis added)







3 thoughts on “A Deconstructive Reading of “Nectar in a Sieve” by Kamala Markandaya (Pt.2)

  1. hiram says:

    Not at all! That’s exactly the argument that I’m leaning toward!

    The author is writing a “postcolonial” novel, one that seeks to implicitly embrace the “easter” worldview. However, the imagery that she uses turns in on itself and destroys the point she is trying to make. Part 3 of my post series is up now, and it deals with this underlying contradiction.

    In part 4, I get even more explicit in drawing together these loose ends. Nectar in a Sieve is utilizing Rukmani in service of presenting to the reader the idea that change is inevitable and one must be willing to accept change or one will suffer for not so doing.

    The problem – apart from the fact that the author was herself, as I understand it, well to do and third generation Indian (i.e. she was herself a colonialized Indian who did not experience what her predecessors did) – is that Markandaya (the author) is on the one hand saying we should accept change, but on the other hand she is denouncing the poverty and cruel interpersonal reactions between starving people (this is Christian morality) and presents Nathan as the one who kills the very symbol of history (i.e. the serpent) and change that she is saying is inevitable and, one could argue, good!

    I’ve linked this blog to part 3. Glad to see you’re reading! If it is helpful, let me know. I’m trying to work with literature, like I told you on your post :)

    Solus Christus


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