English 580: World Literature Spring 1998

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Discussion Questions for Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya (1954)

[pagination is to the Signet edition isbn 0-451-16836-4]

1. Be able to explain how the novel is structured. Note that Rukmani is telling a tale the end of which we are already somewhat aware off very early on. Be prepared to discuss the import of Markandaya choosing first person narration.

2. How would you describe the style of this novel? Comparing the style here to, for example, Train to Pakistan1s style which has been labeled "journalistic," what do you see?

3. What are the roles of women in this novel? Are the roles of women seen to be changing over the course of the novel? If so, why? Does Rukmani1s role change?

4. Who, if anyone, is to be seen as heroic in this tale? Are Nathan and Rukmani heroic? What about Kenny? Others?

5. What are Rukmani's attitudes toward the land/nature? Do these attitudes change over the course of the novel?

6. What are Rukmani's attitudes the coming of modernization and industrialism to her village? How does her attitude compare with those of other characters? Do these attitudes change over the course of the novel?

7. Looking objectively at the effects of the tannery's coming to the village, what might Markandaya be trying to show about the values inherent in rural life in India?

8. Is the novel somehow a comment on the zamidari system? A zamidar is a landlord who is usually represented by a tax or rent collector.

9. In Train to Pakistan the conflicts between Indian and Western ways of thinking and values is clearly shown by the discussion between Iqbal and Jugga during their tonga ride to jail. Are there similar scenes in this novel where such contrasts are made clear? Where are they? What are we to understand by reading such scenes? Cf. pp100- 111when Rukmani first sees "a spark of admiration" for her in Kenny's eyes.

10. What does this novel illustrate about the seeming contradiction between the "shame" of not being able to bear children, especially males, which drives Rukmani to seek Kenny's help and the harsh reality of a population too large to be sustained (both in the very local sense of Rukmani's immediate family and the more general manifestation in the teeming hordes of the city).

11. Be prepared to discuss the vision of the city presented in the novel. How do their experiences there affect Rukmani's and Nathan's values, habits, expectations? Is there a different morality at work in the city compared to the village?

12. What role(s) does religion play in the lives of the characters? How much emphasis does Markandaya give religion in this novel? What are the effects of that emphasis upon our understanding of the novel1s meaning?

13. Can you pinpoint a specific place where there is a downward turn in Rukmanis fortunes? What are the identifiable causes for this turn? What forces are at work? Could Rukmani and Nathan have done anything at all to prevent their fortunes from declining?