The title of this novel by Kamala Markandaya comes from a nineteenth-century poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which speaks specifically about hope. If you put nectar through a sieve, almost nothing will remain, but, because nectar is a liquid, traces will still cling to the implement. The novel, like the poem’s lines, reminds the reader that human beings must continue to hope in order to have strength to pursue their goal, or work with purpose.
Work without hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And hope without an object cannot live.
The novel’s characters endure a number of hardships; those who persevere are generally the ones who did not lose hope. In some cases, the hope relates only to their personal aspirations; more often, it applies to the character’s wishes for their loved ones. Rukmani, perhaps more than any other character, learns that hope and resignation go hand in hand. While she took practical matters in hand, such as seeking medical advice on contraception, those actions did not change social values. The anxieties she suffered during many changes in her life interfered with her ability to see beyond the setbacks; only much later, after the move to the city and her husband’s death, does she understand that she has tapped her inner reserves and has confidence that she will live to see better days.
Nectar in a sieve is symbolic of hope and despair. Nectar is something that gives sustenance, used in positive terms such as "nectar of the gods." This stands for the incredible hope the characters maintain even while going through seemingly hopeless situations. The sieve, on the other hand, is the despair that the futile situations create. A sieve is something through which things are drained; therefore, the nectar is simply flowing through the sieve - the hope is constantly disappointing. The characters wishes and attempts are seldom fulfilled.
The enotes critical essays will be helpful to you. Here is an excerpt from one entitled the positive message...:
" While some of the characters overcome adversity in some of its guises, they never overcome their hopeless situations, which is not a fate to which American readers are generally receptive. By reviewing the experiences of Rukmani, Nathan, their family, and other villagers, it will become clear that each character's life is marked by hopelessness. But, by briefly exploring the Eastern experience and mindset, it will also become clear that inner triumphs are possible, even amid unrelenting circumstances."