Nectar In A Sieve: Biography of an Indian Woman
Kamala Markandaya

With strength she worked the soil with her own hands. With courage she endured the hardships the land bestowed upon her. The story is told in first person of the life of an Indian woman who lives a simple life. The truth and reality of the way of life in India is portrayed in this story of sorrow, hope, and strength.

An Indian woman is married as a young girl to a tenant farm whom she has never met. They travel back to the hut he has built for her and there they build a life together. They have a daughter named Ira and after many years and with the help of a white man named Kenny, the woman has a son. He is the first son of many to come. The family lives on rice and vegetables, but mainly rice. The weather is not always best for their crop of rice and many years they live on the brink of survival; barely being able to pay their rent and have enough food left to live on.

Many years pass and a tannery is built in town. With this new business comes many hardships face. Two of her sons go to work at the tannery. The farming does not make enough money for the family to live on and the tannery pays well. Eventually, the tannery will drive the two boys away, for lack of good wages, to a far off land to work in the fields. The tannery also changes the face of the community, from a quiet farming town, to a money centered

Ira returns home, escorted by her husband. She had not borne him any children, and therefore was brought back to her parents. That year, the crop fails. There is no crop, and no money. This goes on for a long time. The family sells everything they own to try to pay the rent on the land. They come up short and with nothing left to eat, turn to begging and eating grass to fill their stomachs. Their son is caught making off with a hide from the tannery and when stopped, is hit with a blow that takes the life from this already withered boy. There is no money to buy food for the family and the youngest boy is starving to death. Ira brings in money through prostitution, this of which her father refuses to touch. Yet, her efforts were in vain; the youngest son, who is only five years old, dies of starvation.

One year the news comes that the land they have rented for the past thirty years is being sold and the family has to move off of the land. With no where to go, husband and wife leave their son, daughter, and new grandson and travel for days to reach their son who lives in a city far off. They have a difficult time finding his home once they arrive. They are directed towards his dwelling, but find him gone. He had left his wife and son two years ago and has since not returned. There is no place for them in this home, and with having the items and money they brought on their journey stolen from them, there is no way to go and nowhere to live.

While living in somewhat of a homeless shelter, they are persuaded by a boy to go break rocks for pay. Day after day, husband and wife, though old and feeble break rocks with their bare hands in exchange for a small amount of money. They finally save up enough for the return trip back to their homeland, only for the husband to turn deathly ill. He does not survive the fever, in his old age. The wife takes their new friend with her and returns home to her family.

This story was almost too frightful to believe. The hardships faced by the woman were so difficult that it leaves the reader wondering how she survived to such an old age. There are parts of the story where the writing is explicit in nature. Reading the story as an adult leads to much discovery about the life of the Indian people and the women in that culture. Yet, the truth is not portrayed in a light that is appropriate for children. This book is appropriate for high school students, but perhaps with censorship and explanation. I would not read this book in a classroom setting because of the crude and explicit scenes, but individually for class reflection or writing. - KP