Idea Of Government

Government in Kamala Markandaya’s, "Nectar in a Sieve"
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

Rukmani’s 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 tenant’s 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 daughter’s weddings. Nathan even had to sell the seed for
the next year’s crop in hopes that they would eventually be able to buy more.
"Rather these should go," said Nathan, "than that the land