1. While the sun shines on you and the fields are green and beautiful to the eye, and your husband sees beauty in you which no has seen before, and you have a good store of grain laid away for hard times, a roof over you and a sweet stirring in your body, what more can a woman ask for?
Reflecting in Chapter 1 upon the happy first year of her marriage, Rukmani succinctly touches on themes and motifs of significance throughout the novel. Nature and its beauty appear in the sun and the green fields as the first source of her well-being. Rukmani expresses her appreciation for Nathan, who has discovered a beauty in her that she did not know she possessed. At the same time, Rukmani conveys Nathan’s appreciation for her and for a beauty that is more than skin-deep. The all-important grain represents life itself. A good store of grain means more than sustenance—it means freedom from fear and doubt about survival. Her mention of the shelter of a roof foreshadows a time when the roof is threatened by monsoon floods, but it also acknowledges that the hut Nathan built for her with his own hands is sufficient for her needs. Initially, she felt diminished by the mud hut with its thatched roof, but she has grown in understanding since her first days as a bride.
Since fertility is such an important concern for Rukmani, the sweet stirring of pregnancy to which she refers completes her catalog of happiness. Procreation is the critical role for a woman in Rukmani’s society, and a woman who fails to conceive early in her marriage may be renounced by her husband, as Ira is. After Ira’s birth, Rukmani’s failure to produce a son for Nathan nearly destroys her happiness. When she first meets Kenny, the signs of grief in her face reveal her desperation to conceive. Fertility and procreation celebrate the precious quality of life for Rukmani. Her “sweet stirring” is linked to her awakening sexuality and the bond of desire and love she and Nathan share. In one sentence, Rukmani captures the elements of her happiness. By wondering what more any woman could ask, Rukmani is mindful that true joy comes from essentials rather than from luxuries.