Woman as a Savior and Nurturer of Nature:

An Ecofeminist Analysis of Kamala Markandaya’s Nectar in a Sieve


Shubha Tiwari1, Sarwar Ahmad Wani2

1Professor, Department of English, A.P.S University, Rewa, (M.P) India.

2Research Scholar, Department of English, A.P.S University, Rewa (M.P) India.

*Corresponding Author E-mail: sarwarwani890@gmail.com



The degradation of land and ecosystem and its effects on humans is the biggest issue today. These issues have numerous effects on human existence, including decreased access to clean water, loss of biodiversity, food scarcity, and increased vulnerability to natural disasters. In this context, the concept of ecofeminism has gained new significance as it offers a unique perspective on the intersection of environmental issues and gender. Ecofeminism is a philosophical and social movement that recognizes the interconnectedness of the oppression of women and the degradation of the environment. Ecofeminists argue that both the exploitation of nature and the oppression of women stem from similar societal structures and belief systems that prioritize profit, power, and domination over women and the natural world. This paper attempts to study Kamala Markandaya, Nectar in a Sieve from an ecofeminist perspective and how power and dominance are themes that appear throughout this novel and have a direct impact on both the world of women and the world of Nature. The novel delves into topics such as destitution, exploitation, and the devastation of the natural world through the experiences of its female protagonist. Ecofeminism emphasizes the need for a holistic approach to environmental issues that takes into account the interconnectedness of all living beings. It recognizes the importance of preserving traditional knowledge and practices that promote sustainability and respect for nature. Additionally, ecofeminism calls for the inclusion of women in decision-making processes related to environmental issues, as they are often the ones most affected by environmental degradation.


KEYWORDS: Ecofeminism, Landscape, Gender, Kamala Markandaya, Nature, Woman.




Kamala Markandaya is a celebrated Indian English novelist who is known for her insightful portrayal of the intersection of gender and ecology in her works. Through her writing, she has explored the deep connection between women and nature, highlighting the parallels between the two. In her novels, she often presents female characters that are closely connected to the natural world.


These women are depicted as having an innate understanding of the rhythms of nature and a deep respect for the environment. In Nectar in a Sieve, the protagonist Rukmani is shown as being in tune with the land and the cycles of the seasons, which enables her to survive and thrive in the harsh rural environment. Markandaya's works also emphasize the similarities between women and nature, highlighting the ways in which women's bodies and experiences are intertwined with the natural world. She celebrates the feminine sensibility, portraying women as having a deep respect for the environment and a profound understanding of the natural world. By highlighting the parallels between women and nature, Markandaya's writing underscores the importance of recognizing and protecting the interconnectedness of all living beings. As Pravati Misra says, "Kamala Markandaya's novels embody a profound and sensitive understanding of the feminine and the female in Indian context" (Misra 40).


The protagonist, Rukmani, gets married to Nathan, a tenant farmer who is impoverished in terms of tangible wealth but wealthy in terms of affection and concern for his family. In the novel, Rukmani has a deep connection with the natural world; she treats the field like a mother to her own kid, providing it with nourishment and care. She sees the tannery as a catastrophe for the whole community. This catastrophe not only disrupts the village's modest, traditional, agrarian-focused homes, but it also affects the agricultural land the village. The two aspects of Rukmani's personality that most closely resemble ecofeminist worries are her relationship with nature and her response to the tannery's establishment on the grazing land and how it affected the lives of the residents. After getting married to Nathan, Rukmani begins the new journey of her life with her husband's community. The story of her compassion for animals is as follows, “Poor beasts, they seemed glad of the water, for already their hides were dusty” (Markandaya 5). She enjoys listening to the call of the mynahs, in addition to the songs of a variety of other birds, including the eagle's call, which causes her to feel comfortable and sleepy. The garden is a source of acclaim and satisfaction for Rukmani, as she enjoys tending to the plants she has grown from different seeds. In the yard behind the hut, she cultivates pumpkin seeds and not long after the seeds begin to grow tender green stalks. She frequently visits the yard and waters the tiny plants until a pumpkin starts to turn golden and crimson as it ripens.


The soil here was rich, never having yielded before and loose so that it did not require much digging. The seeds sprouted quickly, sending up delicate green shoots that I kept carefully watered, going several times to the well nearby for the purpose. Soon they were not delicate but sprawling vigorously over the earth and pumpkins began to form…. (Markandaya 10)


She has a lot of admiration for it, “One would have thought you had never seen a pumpkin before” (Markandaya 11). Her vitality is increased by the progress of this pumpkin, and she begins to sow beans, sweet potatoes, brinjals, and chilies. She is confident that she can cultivate all of these vegetables successfully. Working in the fields is a metaphor for Rukmani's deep and complex love for the natural world, which is depicted by her hard work there. The text as whole is a shining example of ecofeminist philosophy. Indeed, Rukmani never stops praying for the prosperity of her farm and its harvests, fruits, and produce. She manifests eternal honour concerning herself and the environment upon recounting, “I was young and fanciful then and it seemed to me not that they grew as I did, unconsciously, but that each of the dry, hard pellets I held in my palm had within it the very secret of life itself, curled tightly within, under leaf after protective leaf” (Markandaya 14).


Vandana Shiva an Indian critic writes, “For more than forty centuries, Third World peasants, often predominantly women, have innovated in agriculture. Crops have crossed continents, crop varieties have been improved, and patterns of rotational and mixed cropping have been evolved to match the needs of the crop community and the ecosystem. Peasants as experts, as plant breeders, as soil scientists, as water managers, have kept the world fed all these centuries” (Shiva 98). Markandaya concentrates on women peasants in the third world, highlights their attitudes towards varied farming and the maintenance of a healthy natural equilibrium. In the novel Rukmani emphasize the significance of growing a variety of crops on her paddy field. As the text depicts, she even cultivate pumpkins. Rukmani the third world woman peasant knows very well how to cultivate the land as the text delineates, “Dung is too useful in our homes to be given to the land, for it is fuel to us and protection against damp and heat and even ants and mice. Did you not know?” (Markandaya 34) For Indian farmers, dung is a significant source of fuel, manure, and germicide. She begins working in the garden despite being unable to work in the field due to pregnancy. She never ceases to be amazed at how quickly plants and vegetables can reproduce. She grows more emotionally, physically, sexually, and psychologically as a result of working in the garden, which strengthens her connection and love for the soil. Starhawk, an American ecofeminist, is a champion of this tradition of feminist spirituality. She asserts that, “the second base concept of earth-centered spirituality is that of interconnection…(this) translates natural cycles and processes, animals and plants.” (Starhawak 178)


It is possible in this context, to track the relationship between humans and non-humans back to Rukmani. Her family suffered several agricultural losses as a result of Nature's wrath and spent many nights without food; despite all this, Rukmani manages to keep herself calm and refrains from cursing the Nature or the fields because of her unwavering faith in motherland as shown by the following excerpt from the novel: “While the sun shines on you the fields are green and beautiful to the eye, and your husband sees beauty in your which no one has seen before, and you have a good store of grain laid away for hard times, a roof over you and a sweet stirring in your body, what more can a woman ask for?” (Markandaya 9)


The effects that the drought has had on Rukmani's family have been terrible. They are left destitute because all of their money was used to pay the land dues, and there is nothing left to sell. Everything, including the crop yields of paddy, vegetables, and vine, all withers away in the long grasses. The landowner, Sivaji, rents his land to Rukmani and Nathan, two laborers who work as tillers on Shivaji's land. Although, Sivaji supports the couple during their difficult times, but lastly, he sells the property to the tannery for personal profits. As a result, he is unconcerned about Nathan and Rukmani's income, who have been cultivating the land for more than thirty years. As Nathan says, “The land is to be sold. We are to move. Sivaji came this morning. He says there is nothing to be done. The tannery owners are buying the land. They pay good prices” (Markandaya 134). In addition to grabbing the life sustaining means of this community, the tannery also destroys the village's economy and environment. After being dispossessed from her property, Rukmani describes her feelings of tenderness, concern, and connection to the land as she makes the journey to the city in the bullock cart: “The hut, its inhabitants recedes behind us and yet in front of us, for we are sitting with our backs to the bullocks. Our beloved green fields fall away to a blur; the hut becomes a smudge on the horizon. Still we strain our eyes to pierce the reddish dust the wheels throw up.” (Markandaya 144) According to Vandana Shiva, the scientific revolution and a reductionist worldview, which she associates with maldevelopment, have a developmental mindset that has led to the abuse of both women and the environment: “Development has meant the ecological and cultural rupture of bonds with nature, and within society, it has meant the transformation of organic communities into groups of uprooted and alienated individuals searching for abstract identities” (Shiva 99). Rukmani's compassion for nature is indeed admirable. Her concern for the bullock, which has developed raw patches on its skin and bleeding, reflects her empathy for all living creatures. She understands the pain and suffering that the animal is going through, and it deeply affects her.


However, the cart driver's indifference towards the bullock's condition is a reflection of the harsh reality of life for many people living in poverty. For them, the well-being of their animals is often secondary to their own survival. The driver's remark that the animal will soon be good for nothing and he cannot afford another one highlights the economic constraints that he faces. This contrast between Rukmani's compassion and the cart driver, Nathan’s indifference underscores the challenges of living in a society where poverty is widespread. It also emphasizes her empathy and compassion towards all living creatures, particularly those that are vulnerable and suffering. These juxtaposing affective reactions clearly illustrate; the leading ecofeminists contend that women have a greater concern for the land and all other creatures, whereas men are supposed to have a tendency to be more apathetic to them. A comparable realization can be reached when Rukmani mistakenly touches a snake, which leads Nathan, her husband, to kill the snake. In this context the writer says, “Women can sometimes be more soothing than men” (Markandaya 17). Later, Kali, one of Rukmani’s neighbors, adds her viewpoint: “Poor thing, no wonder you are terrified. Anyone would be. But it is a pity your husband killed the snake, since cobras are sacred.” (17)


Rukmani as a strong and resilient woman embodies many traditional Indian cultural values and beliefs, including a deep reverence for the natural world. She recognizes the sacredness of the Cobra and other creatures and believes in treating them with respect and reverence rather than fear and violence. Rukmani also recognizes the importance of water as a precious and sacred resource and names her daughter after the Irawaddy River as a way of honoring this essential element of life. Her actions and beliefs reflect the traditional values of Indian culture and the important role that women play in preserving these values and passing them on to future generations. Furthermore, Ordinary people can no longer afford the outrageously high prices that are being charged at bazaars. For instance, she voices her displeasure regarding the impact of the tannery on the business of an aged woman who was selling vegetables. Earlier Rukmani would sell vegetables to Granny, but as the prices in the market have increased, she began selling vegetables to Biswas the merchant in an effort to increase her profit. The writer depicts a contrasting picture that is radically different from the village before and after the establishment of the tannery, which causes a fundamental change in the way the residents live their lives. The ultimate outcome of the tannery is that small farmers typically lose their livelihood as a result of their sons being attracted away from the field by the promise of paid work.  Due to the fact that Rukmani and her husband are unable to make their payments, the landowner decided to sell the property to the tannery. Rukmani’s phobia of modernization is clearly visible in the following passage: “the tannery would eventually be our undoing. Since then it had spread like weeds in an untended garden strangling whatever life grew in its way” (Markandaya 135–136). The negative effects of the tannery can be seen in the loss of bird populations on the surrounding land, which used to be rich in biodiversity and was home to many species of birds as evident in the text: “At one time there had been kingfishers here, flashing between the young shoots for our fish; and paddy birds; and sometimes, in the shallower the water reaches the river, flamingoes, striding with ungainly precision among the water reeds, with plumage of a glory not of this earth. Now birds came no more.…” (Markandaya 71) She sells her bridal saree, her daughter's sari, and Nathan's dhoti in order to pay the land's expenses, which also include harvest loss, land preparation, and seed sowing. This demonstrates Rukmani's resistance to embrace industrialization and the establishment of the tannery in the community, which can be interpreted as reflecting an ecofeminist stance.


She is compelled to face the clamor and the stink of the tannery, this same transformation of the tranquil village into a busy place, as well as Ira's adultery and her grim future hopes. Moreover, Rukmani's sons are taken away by the modern juggernaut: Thambi and Arjun end up leaving their traditional occupation of agriculture to work in a tannery and later move to Ceylon to work on a plantation there; Raja, another son, loses his life while working in the tannery; and Selvam finds work in the city. Then, Rukmani sees her daughter commit adultery and learns of her harsh fate: while her son-in-law had wished for a child, he had not been bestowed one, and now she is blessed with an illicit grandson. In other words, the tannery totally destroys her existence. In this situation, Rukmani's statement is very appropriate.


But the man who finds a woman in the street, raises an eyebrow and snaps his fingers so that she follows him, throws her a few coins that he may possess her, holds her unresisting whatever he does to her, for this is what he has paid for—what cares such a man for the woman who is his for a brief moment? He has gained his relief, she her payment, he merges carelessly into the human throng, consigning her back into the shadows where she worked or to the gaudy streets where she loitered. (Markandaya 118)


A terrible thing happens to Rukmani's family. Rukmani and Nathan end up moving to the city to reside with their sons because they are unable to acquire property despite having worked on the land for more than thirty years. However, they are unable to track down their sons when they arrive there. They were unable to return to the community because they did not have enough money, so they began working in a stone quarry, where Rukmani ended up losing her husband. The plot follows the arduous journey of a third-world peasant woman who is forced to leave her simple, naïve, traditional agricultural setting and relocate to the city in order to survive.



In conclusion, Kamala Markandaya's Nectar in a Sieve offers a powerful ecofeminist critique of the patriarchal mindset that values domination and control over nature. Through the character of Rukmani, the novel presents a vision of woman as a savior and nurturer of nature, living in harmony with the natural world and valuing sustainability over short-term gain. The male characters, on the other hand, are portrayed as exploitative and destructive, viewing the land and animals as resources to be used and abused for their own benefit. The novel suggests that a more balanced and harmonious relationship with nature is possible, one that recognizes the interconnectedness of all living beings and values sustainability over profit. By following the ecofeminist ideals of woman as a savior and nurturer of nature, we can create a more just and sustainable world, where humans live in harmony with the natural world and respect its rhythms and cycles. Hence Nectar in a Sieve offers a powerful ecofeminist critique of the patriarchal mindset that is at the root of the ecological crisis we face today, and presents a hopeful vision of how we can work towards a more sustainable and just future.



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Received on 14.04.2023         Modified on 01.05.2023

Accepted on 20.05.2023      ©AandV Publications All right reserved

Res.  J. Humanities and Social Sciences. 2023;14(2):89-92.

DOI: 10.52711/2321-5828.2023.00018