Space prohibits further probing into Rukmani’s latent desire for salvation from the serpent, but the aporetic event expressed in Markandaya’s novel seems to collapse yet another binary opposition, a meta-binary opposition. Nectar in a Sieve is a work of literature that seeks to articulate the voice of “the other” during the colonialization of India. The Christianized West meets the Hindu East and apparently causes confusion, disorder, uncertainty, and socio-economic disruption. And the lesson to be learned? One must learn to bend like the grass or be broken. However, Rukmani’s latent desire to be saved from the coiling serpent suggests that Markandaya herself has not bent like the grass, that she has been broken and is seeking to be healed.
This is not to imply that she is unconsciously (perhaps) expressing the desire for a return to the Eastern/Hindu way of life, but only that she is seeking an end to the historical patterns of pain, suffering, oppression, moral decay, and the like. Throughout the book, it is Christian civilization that is reluctantly valorized. Nathan, the gift given by God,1 will kill the serpent and save his bride (just as Christ the Last Adam will crush the serpent underfoot and save His bride). Kenny, the healer from nowhere will recruit Rukmani’s son as his disciple and bring healing to the Indian people (just as Christ, born of a virgin, descended from heaven, had come to heal the sick by means of his life, death, and resurrection, recruited disciples and gave them authority to do the same in the world). The sick will be healed and the tale of the gift of God’s (i.e. Nathan’s) noble life and death will be told over and over again (just as the Gospel of Christ’s life and death will be told to all nations prior to His return). Perhaps Markandaya’s own desire is reflected in Rukmani’s. Perhaps she too longs to see the serpentine movement of temporal pain, suffering, and death brought to an end by the gift of God.
1Nathan is Hebrew in origin and means “given by God.” Nathaniel, similarly, means “gift of God.”