Markandaya’s two main arguments in Nectar in a Sieve center on a critique of industrialization and on the necessity to change precolonial philosophies of living. She does not suggest that rural Indian people should simply abandon tradition. Rather, as is evident in her other novels such as A Silence of Desire (1960) and A Handful of Rice (1966), there should be a constant mental and emotional negotiation between tradition and emergent values or lifestyles.
Certainly, in Nectar in a Sieve, the inhuman and exploitive nature of urban capital moving into rural sectors is clearly and sharply depicted. The factory representatives’ callous response to the death of one of Rukmani’s sons in a riot, their merciless extortion of small patches of land, their setting up of whorehouses and different systems of buying and selling—all point to colonial and neocolonial power structures and the concomitant breakdown of precolonial, Hindu agrarian, community and family life.
This central idea of change finds voice in Rukmani’s collapsing worldview and philosophy of life. Her stoicism and forbearance appear ridiculous under accentuated forms of exploitation; her idealization of the past proves to be mere fiction when one remembers that earlier in the novel she had claimed that the peasants’ lot was never easy, even in the agrarian, feudal times. Her view is challenged by Sevlam, Kunthi, Ira, and Kenny, the...
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