Idea Of Government In Nectar In A Sieve Government in Kamala Markandayas, Nectar in a Sieve One might think of government as a bunch of sly politicians running the country from a little office in the White House. Or perhaps he or she pictures a mighty king sitting on the throne of his country, telling his loyal subjects and servants what to do. Even though both of these are very common descriptions of government, neither of them fit the governmental system in the small village of Gopalpur in South India. The book, Nectar in a Sieve, by Kamala Markandaya describes such a village, as well as the governmental system within it. The characters in the book are used to a government that is quite different from those in the United States or Western Europe.
In Gopalpur, the rich rule society while the poor are left to fend for themselves. And, in addition, the rich do not care about the well-being of the poor villagers. There is no set governmental system; it is simply understood that the rich hold all the authority. The rich posses the money, and therefore, the power to make the rules by which everyone else must follow. The structure of the village was this: the rich owned all the land. They would hire tenants to farm the land for them, since they owned such vast amounts that they could not work it themselves.
However, there were so many tenants hired, that the owner could not keep track of them all. So he hired overseers to manage the village. Each of these overseers were assigned their own districts, which they would manage for the owner of the land in return for a small percentage of the rent. And this system was accepted as government in the eyes of the villagers. It was just the way things were.
In her book, Markandaya tells the story of one of these tenant farmers, Nathan. His wife was called Rukmani, the main character of this novel, and the two of them lived with their family in a small mud hut Nathan had constructed for them when they were wed. The mud hut was not at all extravagant, they did not wear nice clothes, and they had only the basics to eat, for they could not afford any more on the salary they were getting from the owner of the land. But Nathan and his wife were very content. Rukmani describes the system of land ownership as this: In all the years of our tenancy we never saw the Zemindar who owned our land. Sivaji acted for him, and being a kindly, humane man we counted ourselves lucky.
Unlike some, he did not extract payment in kind to the last grain; he allowed us to keep the gleanings; he did not demand from us bribes of food or money; nor did he claim for himself the dung from the fields, which he might easily have done. (35) Sivaji was the overseer of Rukmanis district. As stated, there were many overseers who did not care about the condition of the tenants. They would take every last penny even if it meant starvation for the tenants family. Fortunately, Sivaji was different. He too had a family, and cared about the well-being of the other families in his district. One year, however, the harvest had not been as good as expected.
There had not been enough crops to sell in order to pay the rent, and Nathan and his family were barely surviving. Sivaji came to collect the rent money. There is nothing this year, Nathan said to him. Not even gleanings, for the grain was but little advanced. You have had the land, Sivaji said, for which you have contracted to pay: so much money, so much rice. These are just dues, I must have them.
Would you have me return empty-handed? What would you have me do? The last harvest was meager; we have nothing saved. Sivaji looked away, I do not know. It is your concern. I must do as I am bid. (77) The family obviously did not have enough money, so Nathan and Rukmani gathered up whatever valuable possessions they could find and sold them to the highest bidder. They sold pots, a trunk, shirts that belonged to their sons, food, and the saris Rukmani had worn to her and her daughters weddings.
Nathan even had to sell the seed for the next years crop in hopes that they would eventually be able to buy more. Rather these should go, said Nathan, than that the land should be taken from us. We can do without these, but if the land is gone, our livelihood is gone. (78) Because Sivaji answered to a higher authority — the wealthy land owner — he collected all of the familys money, plus their earnings from the items that had been sold. The family was left with nothing.
Yet, they understood that Sivaji had a family of his own, and that he was only doing his job, so they did not hold a grudge. But times were still hard and they still had no food. Later on in the novel, Sivaji came to Nathan and Rukmani and announced that they were going to have to move. The owner was selling the land to the village tannery, and could no longer employ the tenants. The deal was done, the papers were signed, and Nathan and Rukmani had two weeks to leave. This was the government structure of the village. The rich owned the land and prospered from it, while the poor simply struggled to survive.
The tannery was another part of the governmental system in the village. It also represented power, except this time, the power originated from outside the village. The tannery was new to the village and it naturally received much interest from the people living there. It was run by the white men, who were also newcomers, but who seemed to control the village based on the fact that they were wealthier than the commoners. Rukmani states: Somehow I had always felt that the tannery would eventually be our undoing.
It had changed the face of our village beyond recognition and altered the lives of its inhabitants in a myriad of ways. And because it grew and flourished it got the power that money brings, so that attempt to withstand it was like trying to stop the onward rush of the great juggernaut. (136) But the tannery provided work for the men of the village. It put clothes on their backs and food on the table. On the other hand, it created tension.
The village was traditionally a farming community, and the tannery provided another option as far as the type of work the men in the village did. Now, sons did not necessarily have to farm the land as their fathers did. They could work at the tannery for better wages and more attractive conditions. And Nathan and Rukmanis two eldest sons, Arjun and Thambi, did just this. The tannery provided good work.
But soon, the men working there — including Arjun and Thambi — decided they wanted to be paid more. When the tannery officials heard that the workers were demanding higher wages, they failed to meet their requests. In fact, the men were punished by not being allowed time to eat. And later, when the men went on strike, they were quickly replaced by others who were willing to work for the lower wage. The officials at the tannery did not care about the welfare of its workers, just that the work was getting done. It didnt matter who was doing it.
Rukmani seemed to understand this better than her sons did. She knew that the tannery officials were the authority in this case, and even questioned Arjun and Thambi: How c …