What does the family do to keep the land in Kamala Markandaya's novel Nectar in a Sieve?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Kamala Markandaya's novel Nectar in a Sieve, just as it looked like their crops were recovering from being hit by a severe monsoon season, severe drought hit the land, halting all further growth. Regardless, Biswas the servant of their landlord comes demanding Rukmani and her husband Nathan pay their land's rent. When they have nothing to pay, begging him to let them wait until the next harvest, Biswas agrees to cut them a deal if they could at least pay half the rent.

Nathan immediately goes into their hut to dig up things they could sell. They find "a few mud pots and two brass vessels"; Rukmani also brings out the "tin trunk" she came with as a bride. She further suggests they could sell two good shirts of their eldest sons and some spices, such as a "handful of dried chillies left over from better times" (Ch. XIII). However, seeing that they still needed to sell more to earn enough, Rukmani next suggests they sell her two best saris, especially the red one both she and her daughter had worn on their wedding days, and Nathan suggests they also sell their bullocks, meaning their bulls.

Next, Rukmani brings the clothing to the merchant Biswas to bargain for prices. At first, he argues that since demand is so low due to such hard times, he can pay her very little for the items if anything at all. After further haggling, he agrees to pay her 30 rupee. When she starts to leave, threatening to sell them elsewhere in hopes he'll change his mind, he agrees to pay 75 rupee.

However, sadly, when she and her husband put all the money together after all of their sales, it only amounts to 125 rupee, "not even half of what they needed to pay" (Ch. XIII). Regardless, when Biswas came to collect the money, although he said it wasn't what they agreed to, he took the money and troubled them no further as they waited out the drought.

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