Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Nectar in a Sieve centers on the changing socioeconomic milieu of a small village in southern India. Kamala Markandaya focuses the effects of these changes through the plight of Rukmani and her husband, Nathan. They are farmers who grow and sell grain, exchanging their crop for food at the village; Rukmani also has a fruit and vegetable patch for their own consumption. They expect their sons to carry on their age-old tradition of tilling the land, living in extended family networks and maintaining Hindu values, but things begin to change. A large corporation buys the village square and constructs a tannery. Problems of cheap labor and exploitation, rising prices that match the competitive city markets, the collapse of the exchange relations within the village economy, accessory problems of prostitution and the destruction of rural family and community life—all begin to affect Rukmani and Nathan. Material problems demand a change in Rukmani’s passive acceptance of fate, but she clings to a helpless pessimism, a philosophy of fortitude.

Markandaya records the effects of social and material change on the lives of individuals such as Rukmani and Nathan. Their sons move away; they are forced to sell their land to the tannery’s owners; and the old couple move to the city in search of work. This dislocation from the rural community to an urban milieu is a historical fact in industrializing India, and in her portrait of the couple, Markandaya...

(The entire section is 507 words.)