What is the meaning of the title Nectar in a Sieve?

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Another interpretation of the title Nectar in a Sieve may be that in life much of what one values may sift away, yet there is still something left, some hope, for which one must continue to strive. Throughout the narrative, Rukmani meets with many challenges against which she is often uncertain, but she learns to establish constancy in her soul by cherishing the nectar of positive and valuable qualities of life and its memories. By doing so, she becomes able to withstand hardships and the uncertainties of life as she adapts to whatever comes before her. Throughout her life, Rukmani adjusts to the changes that life brings and seeks the nectar of hope in spite of the hardships that she must endure. She always remembers the words of her husband: “Bend like the grass, that you do not break.” 

Throughout the narrative of Nectar in a Sieve, Rukmani suffers many losses, yet her endurance is strengthened as she holds to the precious qualities of life (i.e. the "nectar"). For instance, when the monsoons come and the consequent flood destroys their crops and damages their home, Rukmani uses her own savings and resources instead of depending on help from others. Further, she finds nourishment for her soul and spirit in her Hindu beliefs, which suggest that suffering is a form of purification.

The title of Kamala Markandaya's novel Nectar in a Sieve comes from a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge entitled "Work Without Hope":

Work without hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And hope without an object cannot live.

Many of the characters in Kamal Markandaya's novel certainly identify with the words of Coleridge. In contrast to the belief expressed in Coleridge's poem is the attitude of Nathan. For as he dies in Rukmani's arms, Nathan tells his wife that above all else, he has enjoyed the nectar of life: "Have we not been happy together?" Then, too, he tells Rukmani that she will never be alone because he lives on in his children. Thus, their children will be the objects for her hope that will sustain her and allow her to retain the nectar of life.

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The title refers to the precariousness of life.  "Nectar" is the drink of the gods:  it is sweet, rich in nutrition, and in general refers to any delicious or invigorating drink. But what happens when put in a sieve?  It of course leaks through into the ground or what ever else is beneath it, but once it leaks through the sieve, it no longer has the power to give joy and vigor.  Such is the life of the protagonist:  it is rich but very precarious.  The rice she grows is constantly threatened by monsoons or other disasters, yet she loves it and loves to run her fingers through it for it represents life itself.  Thus, nectar is equated with rice which is equated with life, and the sieve constitutes all those things that make the nectar (rice, life) difficult to hold onto.

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