Set in India during a period of intense urban development, Nectar in a Sieve was first published in 1954, a few years after India gained political independence from Britain. It is the poignant story of a large poverty-stricken Hindu family in a remote rural village in southern India. The story is told in the first person by Rukmani, beginning with her arranged marriage at age twelve to tenant farmer Nathan.
Rukmani and Nathan love each other and their marriage begins in relative peace and prosperity; however, a large tannery is built in the neighboring village and begins insidiously destroying their lives. As the tannery grows larger and more prosperous, Rukmani and Nathan struggle to feed their children and to pay the rent on the land that gives them life. Although matters continue to worsen, they quietly persevere through ever-increasing hardships—flood, famine, even death—and cling to their hopes for a better future.