In Nectar in a Sieve, what activity does Rukmani first turn to in order to make money in the city, and what is ironic about this choice?
The first thing Rukmani does in an attempt to make money in the city is to set herself up as a reader of letters. In most villages, where the majority of the population cannot read, there is someone who works in such a position, charging an anna for each letter read. Rukmani calculates that if the service of reading is needed in the villages, then surely it must be needed in the cities as well. Since she can write as well as read, she figures that she will be able to earn even more if she offers to write letters for people in addition to reading them.
Rukmani establishes herself by the side of the road leading to the bazaar, calling out to those who pass by, "adding to the general clamor". Although people stop by to indulge their curiosity at the idea of a woman reader, they do not buy her services, and some even insolently mock her. To Rukmani's disappointment, very few people in the city will spend money to have letters read or written by her. She manages to earn little more than two annas a day, which provides only a small portion of rice for her and Nathan to eat each morning.
Rukmani's choice of an occupation, and the way it turns out, is an example of situational irony. Ordinarily, people strive to further their education, gaining skills such as reading and writing, in order to advance their financial and social prospects in the world. One would expect that a person who has achieved these skills in an impoverished country would be better positioned to succeed. For Rukmani, however, this is not the case. Her ability to read and write only opens her up to the scorn of the people in the city, and she is able to profit very little from it (Chapter 27).