Social Sensitivity

Markandaya has succeeded in exposing the conflicts that often prevent us from accepting other cultures. The ability to get along with people who have different ideas and different values requires a willingness to compromise, to find the gray area that exists somewhere between black and white. Perhaps we all need to be open minded to new ideas, respectful of old traditions, and willing to accept change as a natural part of life. Markandaya helps us identify with Rukmani and find that gray area where we all share a common spirit. Rukmani has a secret store of spiritual strength that helps her remain true to herself and accept the things she cannot change. It gives her the courage to face hardship after hardship. Rukmani says in the novel, ”What if we gave into our troubles at every step? We would be pitiable creatures indeed to be so weak, for is not a man’s spirit given to him to rise above his misfortunes?” This quote provides food for thought as we rethink what defines Eastern philosophy. Rukmani remains true to her spiritual being, and that is what makes her strong. She remains true to Nathan and the life he offers her, and that is what brings her contentment.

Using Rukmani as a model of the traditional wife gives us the opportunity to examine the stereotypical roles of men as providers and women as nurturers. It may be difficult for some readers to understand the conviction that boys are assets to the family and girls liabilities. And it may be even more difficult to understand Rukmani’s feeling of failure when she gives birth to a girl and experiences a period of infertility, and her acceptance of the fact that Ira’s husband returned her for not bearing sons. Rukmani also wholly embraces the role of subservient wife. She believes that she must support her husband no matter what the cost. When Rukmani learns that Nathan fathered Kunthi’s sons, she maintains control, accepts the situation, and moves on. These are traditions that the Indian villagers accept without question, traditions that contrast with the trends in some Western countries.

Nectar in a Sieve forces us to reevaluate the nature of strength and weakness. Are men strong and women weak, and does submissiveness equal weakness? Rukmani appears to be the submissive wife, yet she endures the death of her sons, Ira’s abandonment by her husband and her subsequent prostitution and the birth of Ira’s bastard albino son. Rukmani bravely cares for Raja’s corpse. Commentators have pointed out that while submissiveness may disguise itself as weakness, it is often a source of strength for women of traditional societies. Kenny saw Rukmani as weak because she accepted her hardships instead of fighting them. But Rukmani, in her thoughts and actions, reveals to us the power of her invincible spirit.

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