None of us who have grown up in the first world understand what it's like to lose a child to starvation, to watch their body dwindle away day after day as you struggle to find enough to feed five mouths. Nor do we understand the beauty of village life, the raw struggle on the land that you will never own though you work on it your whole life. By reading Nectar in the Sieve, we learn the story of Rukmani and her family and their fight to survive.
One year the monsoon falls heavy and destroys everything; the next year the rains wait until every crop is dry and shriveled. Their village slowly gets swallowed up by by the tannery and their sons are forced to work to feed their growing family. They are constantly threatened by starvation and by evacuation, yet their loyalty and strength for each other gives them the motivation to fight for their survival. Their oldest daughter Ira is willing to sacrifice any chance she had for marriage to feed the mouths of her starving siblings; the oldest sons work hard for one rupee a day to bring it home to the family and to work beside their father in the fields on their days off. Nathan, her husband, though starvation eats away at him year after year, still pushes through the fields and finds his strength to keep going.
Kenny is a close friend to the family; he's a foreign doctor that helped the family in many ways throughout the story. He questions Rukmani for her willingness to accept what comes and live through her suffering. Why do they not call out for help or fight against their suffering? She replies that the priests have taught them suffering refines them; besides, if they called, who would come? If you dislike your suffering you should work harder and pray that the gods will help you. She sees no escape for her family; they will always be confined to this life.
Markandaya accurately portrays the daily struggle for life that many families today strive for, with no chance of improving their situation. It reminded me of how much I take for granted, of how storms and droughts won't make me starve or ruin my livelihood, how food has always been available and I've never known true, raw want. Rukmani has tremendous courage in the face of her struggles, and through she has lost so much in poverty she still has the will to live and fight for those she loves.