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Nectar in a Sieve
By Kamala Markandaya
Jennifer Miers

Instructional Objective: The students will be able to explain how religion and/or spirituality serves as both a guide and a source of conflict for both an individual and his/her culture by (1) developing an understanding of what it means to be “spiritual” and “religious” through a class discussion, (2) researching Hinduism for the purposes of comparing/contrasting with the definitions of “spiritual” and “religious,” (3) reading the text for examples of Hinduism in the daily lives of the characters and the Indian culture as a whole, (4) understanding how the Hindu experiences in the novel are universal.

Resource Materials: Nectar in a Sieve, by Kamala Markandaya

Time Frame: 60 minutes for spirituality & religion discussion -- Pre-reading. 45 minutes for research of Hinduism projects -- Pre-reading 45 minutes for presentation & discussion of research. 6-8 days (suggested reading break down) for completion of the novel -- During Reading. 2 activities of 45 minutes for-- Post-reading


Lesson Plan 1 (Pre-reading), Part A

  • The students will write for 5 minutes in their journals answering the following question: In what ways do you consider yourself religious and/or spiritual?
  • Each student should read over his/her journal with another student and through discussion they should note the similarities and differences in their responses to share with the class (15 minutes).
  • Using two different color pens/pencils, have the students underline the words associated with being “religious” with one color and the words associated with being “spiritual” with the other color. On the board create two lists, one headed with “religious” and one with “spiritual.” As the students share the words they have underlined, list them on the board with the appropriate heading. Words that are found under both headings should be noted in some way that stands out (20 minutes).
  • After the lists are completed, have students work in small groups to create specific definitions of each of the two words. From the definitions created, have students vote on the “class definition” of each word (10 minutes).
  • As a class, use the definitions created to discuss the ways in which each of these concepts can serve as a source of both comfort and conflict for individuals and their cultures (10 minutes). Students should note the ideas that come from this discussion in their notebooks for future reference.

Lesson Plan 1 (Pre-reading), Part B

The students will research Hinduism in preparation for the reading of the novel. Ideas/concepts to be researched by the students in small groups are: underlying philosophy/principles, gods/goddesses, methods of practice/rituals, gender roles, history, caste system, and current areas of practice (45 minutes). For homework, the students should prepare a visual that aids in their presentations of the information.

Have the students present their findings to the class. The method of presentation (posters, brochures, jigsaws, etc.) is determined by teacher preference (30 minutes).

Once the students have a firm grasp of Hinduism, discuss the ways in which a person who follows Hinduism might be classified as spiritual as opposed to religious and vice versa. Also, using the notes from the religious/spiritual discussion consider the specific conflicts that may have arisen and may still arise for the followers of Hinduism on an individual level, a cultural level, or even a national level (15 minutes).

Assessment of Lesson Plan 1

While reading over the next 6-8 nights, the students will keep double-sided journal entries in which they choose quotes that reflect the religious and/or spiritual aspects of the characters and/or the community in which they live. The quotes should be written on the left side of the page; on the right side, the students should respond to the quotes referencing the class discussions and the research presented. Three - five quotes should be selected per each night’s reading.

Lesson Plan 2 (Post-reading), Part A

In groups of 2 or 3, the students should look through the journal entries written while reading the novel and pick one scene in which Hinduism was a source of comfort for the characters and one scene in which it was a source of conflict. For each chosen scene, the students should prepare a skit, which emphasizes the comfort or the conflict in the scene. As the groups present the skits, discuss with the students the source of comfort and conflict in each scene, the patterns (setting, events, characters, etc.) that exist in the scenes, which is more common in the novel overall -- comfort or conflict -- and why, etc. (45 minutes).

In their journals, have the students respond to the following question: In what ways do the spiritual/religious “comforts” & “conflicts” represented in the novel exemplify similar situations you have experienced on either an individual or community-wide level? Discuss the responses with the class (15 minutes).

Lesson Plan 2 (Post-reading), Part B

Have students return to the lists created at the beginning of Lesson 1 in which they differentiated between being religious and being spiritual. In pairs, the students are to create two informal “checklists” (one for “religious” and one for “spiritual”) (5 minutes).

Continuing to work in the same pairs, the students should evaluate the character of Rukmani on each list in order to determine whether she is more religious or more spiritual. For each check mark made, the students should indicate a page number (and possibly a line or paragraph number) where an example of the indicated feature can be found (20 minutes). Have the students use their checklists and chosen examples to informally debate whether Rukmani is more religious or more spiritual. The students may also argue that the two concepts are inseparable (20 minutes).

Final Assessment: Students will choose one of the following two topics about which they will write persuasive essays.

  • Determine whether religion/spirituality serves as more of a source of comfort or a source of conflict for the characters in the novel.
  • Consider which plays a larger role in the life of Rukmani: religion or spirituality.


Indian terms: glossary located at the end of the book
Literary terms: theme, setting, conflict, plot, character (antagonist, protagonist)

Lesson Extensions:

Additional Reading:

  • “The Grass-Eaters,” by Krishnan Varma
  • “The House Opposite,” by R. K. Narayan
  • Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe

Visual/Oral: Each student will choose the character in the novel that seems to deal with the most conflict concerning his/her spirituality/religion. Using either a collage, a mask, a painting, a drawing, etc., the students are to represent the chosen character in the center of the visual and the conflicting ideas pulling at the character on opposite sides. Should the student determine that the character is experiencing more than one conflict, he/she may choose to represent all conflicts or choose the most challenging conflict to represent as long as opposing forces in the conflict are clearly represented. Once completed, each student should present his/her visual to the class clearly explaining the choices he/she has made in creating the visual. (This project can also be completed as a small group project or in pairs.)

Writing Prompts:

  1. Have the students consider the conflicts discussed concerning religion and spirituality in the novel and the responses made in their journals about the “comforts” and “conflicts” they have experienced. Using these ideas, write a short story that involves a conflict from the story, but takes place in our own society.
  2. Have the students choose the scene they believe presents the largest conflict involving religion/spirituality and re-write the scene from another character’s perspective. They may choose any character as long as that character was originally in the scene.

New Jersey Core Content Standards:

3.1.14 Use clear, concise, organized language in speaking situations (research presentations, class discussions).

3.2.11 Demonstrate comprehension of, and appropriate listener response to, ideas in a persuasive speech, an oral interpretation of a literary selection, interviews in a variety of real-life situations, and educational and scientific presentations (research presentations, class discussions, small group discussions).

3.4.28 Analyze how the works of a given literary period reflect historical events and social conditions (Hinduism research projects, reading).

Global Citizen 2000 Modules -- Core Questions Addressed:

Global Literature Module:

  • What are universal experiences?
  • How do they relate to the concerns of the adolescent reader/writer?
  • How does personal experience reflect cultural experience?
  • How can literature help readers to understand global issues?

Religion and Spirituality

  • Where can people see global forces at work in their daily lives?
  • How does the study of global literature foster empathy with others?

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