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Nectar In A Sieve And Suffering

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Kamala Markandaya's Nectar in a Sieve portrays its positive woman characters as ideal sufferers and nurturers. "[T]he cause of her suffering springs mainly from poverty and natural calamity. The women are from the rural sections of society. They are the daughters of the soil and have inherited age-old traditions which they do not question. Their courage lies in meek or at times cheerful way [sic] of facing poverty or calamity" [Meena Shirdwadkar, Image of Woman in the Indo-Anglian Novel (New Delhi: Sterling, 1979), 49].

Rukmani, the main character, and her daughter Ira display suffering hroughout the novel. Rukmani works hard and is devoted to her gentle husband. She endures blow after blow from life: poverty, famine, the divorce of her barren daughter, the deaths of her sons, her daughter's prostitution, and finally her husband's death. When she finds te emotional cener of her life, her relationship with her husband, threatened by the discovery that he fathered another woman's sons, she neither strikes out at him nor crumbles:

Disbelief first; disillusionment; anger, reproach, pain. To find out, after so many years, in such a cruel way. ... He had known her not once but twice; he had gone back to give her a second son. And between, how many times, I thought, bleak of spirit, while her husband in his impotence and I in my innocence did nothing.

. . .At last I made an effort and roused myself...

"It is as you say a long time ago," I said wearily. "That she is evil and powerful I know myself. Let it rest."

She accepts the blow and moves on in life. In addition, when her son Raja is murdered, even her thoughts do not express rebellion. She moves from numbness to grief, thinking, "For this I have given you birth, my son, that you should lie at the end at my feet with ashes in your face and coldness in your limbs and yourself departed without trace[.]" Then she begins to wash the corpse and prepare it for burial. When two officials from the tannery, where Raja was killed, come three days later to try to bully her into saying they have no responsibility, she tells them what they want to hear, thinking, "What compensation is there for death? I felt confused, I did not know what they were getting at."When the officials turn to leave, she realizes that one of the men feels "shame and misery" and tries to make him feel better: "'You should not care,' I said very softly to him alone. "It does not matter.'" Her goodness and inner strength prevent her from becoming hard and bitter.

Rukmani survives. No pain or injustice can cause her to rebel or seek revenge. In fact, Markandaya subverts Rukmani's only violent reaction: when she finally physically attacksa shadowy figure in her home, thinking it a woman who has previously robbed her family of precious rice during a famine, the woman turns out to be her daughter Ira. Yet although Rukmani's general submissiveness may appear a weakness to Western readers, from another point of view she has incredible strength. These two views, which represent conflicting Western and Eastern values, explicitly appear in Nectar in a Sieve Rukmani confronts the Western doctor, Kenny, who urges, "'you must cry out if you want help. It is no use whatsoever to suffer in silence. Who will succour the drowning man if he does not clamour for his life?'" In response, Rukmani thinks, "Want is our companion from birth to death, familiar as the seasons or the earth, varying only in degree. What profit to bewail that which has always been and cannot change?" But Kenny, the Westerner, believes that, "there is no grandeur in want -- or endurance." In contrast, Rukmani, the Indian woman, sees suffering as good for the spirit and endurance as a necessity, because she cannot change her situation. Looking at Rukmani only from the Western point of view leads one to misunderstand her character and the values that sustain her. The Western viewpoint equally misjudges the ideal of the devoted wife. Meena Shirwadkar, who hopes that women will emerge as uninhibited, multifaceted individuals in literature,



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