Nectar In A Sieve tells the story of a simple peasant woman in a village in India whose whole life is a struggle, a persistent battle to care for the ones she loves. Rukmani marries at the age of 12, a child-bride to a tenant farmer she had never seen before. In the field, she works side by side with her husband to make a living. Rukmani is one of four daughters of the family, but she marries into poverty because her parents could not afford her dowry. Her three sisters were married long before she was, and they were all married above their class status. Even now most marriages in India are arranged. Parents select a spouse for their child, usually at a young age. Love plays no part in the selection.
Rukmani and her husband Nathan find that it isn't easy making a living on the farm. There are always some obstacles in the way. The land is ravaged by droughts, monsoons and insects. With remarkable courage, she sets out to meet these many challenges. She fights poverty and disaster. They do not own their land, since they were tenant farmers, paying rent from what crops they grew, harvested and sold. Her husband built a house or a mud hut with his bare hands, all by himself. She was unsure of the marriage before the hut was built. When she saw the hut she was happy to see it and thought how nice for her husband to build a home for them. Out of respect, she does not call her husband by his name. Children are considered a blessing, and the birth of a child is a cause for great ceremony and celebration. A son is a particularly good blessing. The first baby Rukmani has is a daughter. Nathan would rather have had a son so he could teach him the way of the land. Rukmani is afraid she isn't going to be able to bear any sons. Nathan is just as pleased with his daughter and shows great interest in the child. But children mean more mouths to feed and the crops that they harvested need to be sold, with some left over for them to live off. Rukmani knows she and Nathan need sons.
When Rukmani's mother is ill, she visits her. A foreigner had come to treat her. He was the closest thing to a doctor available. He had come to help ease the pain that her mother was in, unfortunately he could do no more. While she was there her mother gave her a sacred stone she wore around her neck. She said that it would bring her many sons. Her mother's prophecy of the stone would prove true -- the next six babies were sons. Soon, Ira, her daughter is old enough to help, to take care of her six brothers. There is a constant struggle to keep the family from hunger for there were too many mouths to feed. Rukmani would take some of the harvested crops to market to make some money. She is paid in rupees, the currency in India.