Nectar in a Sieve

Enhance understanding with a teaching guide for Nectar in a Sieve, which explains various Indian cultural practices and other information necessary for a full understanding of the short novel.
Teaching Strategies:
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Updated: June 9, 2019
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Kamala Markandaya's Nectar in a Sieve


  • Compare Nectar in a Sieve to other works with similar themes (see bibliography).
  • Interview people from a variety of cultures, ask questions about food, economy, religion, wedding and funeral traditions, other life passage ceremonies, festivals, and the roles of men and women. Present results of interviews to the class.
  • Continue writing the novel or rewrite a chapter of the novel from the first person perspective of any character in the novel other than Rukmani.*
  • Divide the class into small groups. Have each group select and dramatize any event of the novel.
  • Write a story with any of the following as a character: laborer in the tannery, white doctor in early 20th century India, daughter of a peasant, woman forced into prostitution because of starvation, beggar, overseer at tannery, collector, or money lender.
  • Research, plan, and enact a Hindu wedding ceremony.
  • Have students select and read poetry or folktales of India aloud to the class. Discuss the meaning of the poems or folktales. What do the poetry and folktales tell you bout the culture and traditions of India?*

Social Studies

  • Research women in contemporary India (e.g., Indira Gandhi). What varying roles do they play? How have their roles changed in this century?
  • Research the caste system in contemporary India. How does it compare to the cast system in the early 20th century? How does it compare to social stratification in contemporary U.S. society?
  • Research the economy of late 20th century India. Is it still largely agricultural? What place does industry have in the economy? What types of industry are found?
  • Project Kenny and Rukmani's and Nathan's children into the future (contemporary India) as you have researched it. Write about how their lives have changed.*
  • Research rice cultivation in India. In what other countries is rice cultivation important? What role did rice cultivation play in the early economy of the United States?
  • Research migration from India. To what countries have Indians migrated? Why? Compare Indian migration in the early 20th century to Indian migration today. Where would Arjun and Thambi be today if they were still alive?*
  • Research the role of the United Nations in India following World War II.
  • Have an Indian festival: play Indian music, prepare and eat Indian food, make and wear traditional dress, follow other customs of the festival as appropriate.
  • Put up a bulletin board on India: include maps, art work, photographs, poems and songs, examples of dress, etc.
  • Have students examine the concept of a market economy. Have them outline how the market economy of the village changes throughout the novel.

Other Works for Thematic Units

Indomitable Human Spirit
Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave: Written by Himself. Signet Classic, 1968.
Lester, Julius. To Be a Slave. Scholastic, 1986.
Taylor, Mildred. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Bantam, 1978.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. Plume. 1991
Volavkord, Hana (Ed.). I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children's Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944 (2nd edition). Schocken, 1993.
Wiesel, Elie. Night, Dawn, the Accident: Three Tales. Hill & Wang, 1972.

Nature of Love
Bridgers, Sue Ellen. Home Before Dark. Bantam, 1985.
Forman, James. My Enemy, My Brother. Hawthorn, 1969; Scholastic, 1979.
Frank, Otta H. and Mirjam Pressler (Eds.). The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition. Doubleday, 1995.
Gaines, Ernest J. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Bantam, 1982.
Lasky, Kathryn. Beyond the Divide. Macmillan, 1983.
Paterson, Katherine. Jacob Have I Loved. Avon, 1981.
Staples, Suzanne Fisher. Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind. Knopf, 1989.

Human Responses to Suffering
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Fawcett Crest, 1991.
Dangarembwa, Tsitsi. Nervous Conditions. Seal Press, 1989.
Friedman, Carl. Nightfather. Persea, 1995.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. Viking, 1986.

Conflicts in a Changing Culture
Berger, John. Once in Europa. Vintage Books, 1992.
Dorris, Michael. A Yellow Raft in Blue Water. Warner Books, 1988.
Guy, Rosa. My Love, My Love; or The Peasant Girl. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1985.
Naipual, V.S. A House for Mr. Biswas. Penguin, 1978.
Myers, Walter Dean. Fallen Angels. Scholastic, 1988.
O'Dell, Scott. Sing Down the Moon. Dell, 1990
Paton, Alan. Cry, the Beloved Country. Scriber's, 1948.
Rockwood, Joyce. To Spoil the Sun. Dell, 1979.
Steinbeck, John. The Pearl. Penguin , 1992.

Importance of Traditional Cultural Practices
Buck, Pearl S. The Good Earth. Pocket Books, 1990.
Borland, Hal. When Legends Die. Bantam, 1984.
Crew, Linda. Children of the River. Delacorte, 1990.
Hamilton, Virginia. Zeely. Dell, 1978.
Houston, Jeanne Wakatusuki and Hames Houston. Farewell to Manzanar, Bantam, 1990.
Mathabane, Mark. Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa. Plume, 1986.
Potok, Chaim. The Chosen. Simon & Schuster, 1967; Ballantine, 1982.

People's Reluctance to Change
Richter, Conrad A. Light in the Forest. Bantam, 1971.
Lee, Harper. To Kill A Mockingbird. Warner, 1988.

Impact of Economic Change
Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. Random House, 1995.
Paterson, Katherine. Lyddie. Dutton, 1991.
Taylor, Mildred. Let the Circle Be Unbroken. Dial, 1981.

Useful Resources

Books about India
Moreland, W.H. A Short History of India (4th ed.). McKay, 1965.
Speckman, J.D. Marriage and Kinship among the Indians in Surinam. Van Garcum, 1965.

Books about the British Empire in India
Chamberlain, M.E. Britain and India: The Interaction of Two Peoples. Newton Abbot, David & Charles, 1974.
Zinkin, M. Britain and India: Requiem for Empire. Johns Hopkins Press, 1964.

Books about Hinduism
Bouquet, Alan C. Hinduism. Hutchinsons University Library, 1962.
Kinsley, David R. Hinduism: A Cultural Perspective. Prentice Hall, 1982.
Kothari, Rajni. Caste in India. Gordon and Breach, 1970.
Rudner, David. Caste and Capitalism. University of California Press, 1994.


Emauddin Hoosain is an Assistant Professor in Mathematics Education at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He has a B.A. (Math), an M.A. (Math Ed.), and a Ph.D. (Math Ed.) from the Ohio State University. He has taught at the elementary, middle, and high school levels for several years and is conversant with school systems in the Caribbean and Great Britain where he resided and studied. His interests include research in mathematics education, the teaching and learning of mathematics and the application of technology to education.

Currently Professor and Chairperson of Education at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, Arthea (Charlie) J.S. Reed has taught for over 20 years on both the high school and college level. She received her A.B. (Bethany College) and her M.S. (Southern Connecticut State University) in English and her Ph.D. (Florida State University) in Teacher Education. In addition to teaching, Charlie was The ALAN Review (NCTE) editor form 1984 to 1990 and served as Co-Director of the Mountain Area Writing Project (a part of the National Writing Project) from 1982 to 1988. She is also the author of Reaching Adolescents: The Young Adult Book and the School (Merrill, 1993), Comics to Classics: A Guide to Books for Teens and Preteens (Penguin, 1994), In the Classroom: An Introduction to Education (Dushkin/Brown & Benchmark, 1995), and the forthcoming Presenting Harry Mazer (Twayne/Macmillan, 1996).


W. Geiger (Guy) Ellis, Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia, Department of Language Education, received his A.B. and M.Ed. Degrees from the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) and his Ed.D. from the University Virginia. For most of his career, Guy has been active in teaching adolescent literature, having introduced the first courses on the subject at both the University of Virginia and the University of Georgia. He developed and edited The ALAN Review from 1978 to 1984, changing its focus from a newsletter to a referred journal. His research has had heavy emphasis on the content of literature instruction.

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