Category Archives: Commonplace entry

Creative World

“Though his beat covered Vinayak Mudali Street and its four parallel roads, it took him nearly six hours before he finished his round and returned to the head office in Market Road to deliver accounts.” (page 14)

This is the beginning line of The Missing Mail and it leaves the reader wondering who “he” is. This quote also describes Malgudi and what it looks like. As the story goes on the reader figures out why Thanappa (he) does not deliver the mail.

Notes: mystery as to who “he” is, Malgudi landscaping, celebrations are the cause of the letter not reaching the house.

Malgudi Days

‘He had earned he reputation of having aged in the Intermediate Class. He entered the Intermediate Class in Albert Mission College as a youngster, with faint down on his upper lip. Now he was still there; his figure had grown brawny and athletic, and his chin had become tanned and leathery. Some people even said that you could see grey hairs on his head.’

R.K. Narayan,  ‘Iswaran’, in ‘Malgudi Days’ Penguin Book, New York 1984), 53

The axe and the tree – Short story genre and Modernism

The dull noise of a blade meeting a tough surface reached his ears. He got up and rushed out. He saw four men hacking the massive trunk of the old margosa tree. He let out a scream: ‘Stop that!’ He took his staff and rushed at those who were hacking. They easily avoided the blow he aimed. ‘What is the matter?’ they asked.
Velan wept. ‘This is my child. I planted it. I saw it grow. I loved it. don’t cut it down…’
‘But it is the company’s orders. What can we do? We shall be dismissed if we don’t obey, and someone else will do it.’
Velan stood thinking for a while and said, ‘Will you at least do me this good turn? Give me a little time. I will bundle up my clothes and go away. After I am gone do what you like.’ They laid down their axes and waited.
Presently Velan came out of his hut with a bundle on his head. He looked at the tree-cutters and said, ‘You are very kind to an old man. You are very kind to wait.’ He looked at the margosa and wiped his eyes. ‘Brothers, don’t start cutting till I am really gone far, far away.’
The tree-cutters squatted on the ground and watched the old man go. Nearly half an hour later, his voice came from a distance, half-indistinctly: ‘Don’t cut yet. I am still within hearing. Please wait till I am gone farther.’ (107)

The axe, in R.K. Narayan, Malgudi Days, Penguin Classics Edition, 2006

Notes: The short story genre is a very fascinating exercise in style. The author manages to set a solid relationship between the reader and the character(s) of the story, within a few pages only. It is interesting to consider this genre in a modernist perspective, as an experimentation and a break of conventions, but still a rigorous practice in its formal effects and its use of epiphany.

Out of Business

“For the next few days his head was free from family cares. He was intensely thinking of his answers: whether it should be tallow or follow…Week after week he invested a little money and sent down his solutions, and every week he awaited the results with a palpitating heart…He was too impatient to wait…” (167)

Notes: pacing, entire story told so succinctly & simply; a lot of little plot happens, nothing significant though, this adds to the fast-paced feel; language, spanning days & weeks, spending money, “awaited,” “impatient” suggests strange anticipated feeling quickening pace and waiting; strange mixture of hope/disappointment, disillusionment

Narayan, R.K. Malgudi Days. New York: Penguin, 2006.

Swami and Samuel

“Swami went to his seat with a bleeding heart. He had never met a man so good as Samuel.”

“He is very violent, especially with boys who come late. Some days ago a boy was made to stay on his knees for a whole period in the corner of the class because he came late, and that after getting six cuts from the cane and having his ears twisted. I wouldn’t like to go late to Samuel’s class.”

Narayan, R.K. Malgudi Days. New York: Penguin, 2006.

Notes: I was wondering if these stories that Swami tells about Samuel are fabrications to get him out of school. I think they are. Even when Samuel eventually canes Swami, he does it reluctantly, it seems like. 

 

 

Appearances in Malgudi Days

“His forehead was resplendent with sacred ash and vermilion, and his eyes sparkled with a sharp abnormal gleam which was really an outcome of a continual searching look for customers, but which his simple clients took to be a prophetic light and felt comforted. The power of his eyes was considerably enhanced by their position–placed as they were between the painted forehead and the dark whiskers which streamed down his cheeks; even a half-wit’s eyes would sparkle in such a setting. To crown the effect he wound a saffron-coloured turban around his head. This colour scheme never failed. People were attracted to him as bees are attracted to cosmos or dahlia stalks”  — An Astrologer’s Day, 1

Notes: abnormality as comforting?, misconceptions, appearances, attraction to the unknown, mysticism, artificiality.

Narayan, R.K. Malgudi Days. New York: Penguin, 2006.

R. K. Narayan, “Malgudi Days” – “Father’s Help” & “The Doctor’s Word”

“When the doctor resumed his seat the patient asked in the faintest whisper possible, ‘Is that someone crying?’ The doctor advised, ‘Don’t exert yourself. You mustn’t talk.’ He felt the pulse. It was already agitated by the exertion. The patient asked, ‘Am I going? Don’t hide it from me.’ The doctor made a deprecating noise and sat back in his chair. He had never faced a situation like this. It was not in his nature to whitewash. People attached great value to his word because of that. He stole a look at the other. The patient motioned a finger to draw him nearer and whispered, ‘I must know how long I am going to last. I must sign the will. It is all ready. Ask my wife for the despatch box. You must sign as a witness.’”

–R.K. Narayan, “The Doctor’s Word”

“Swami went to school feeling that he was the worst perjurer on earth. His conscience bothered him: he wasn’t at all sure if he had been accurate in his description of Samuel. He could not decide how much of what he had said was imagined and how much of it was real. He stopped for a moment on the roadside to make up his mind about Samuel: he was not such a bad man after all. Personally he was much more genial than the rest; often he cracked a joke or two centering around Swami’s inactions, and Swami took it as a mark of Samuel’s personal regard for him. But there was no doubt that he treated people badly . . . His cane skinned people’s hands. Swami cast his mind about for an instance of this. There was none within his knowledge. Years and years ago he was reputed to have skinned the knuckles of a boy in First Standard and made him smear the blood on his face. No one had actually seen it. But year after year the story persisted among the boys . . . Swami’s head was dizzy with confusion in regard to Samuel’s character—whether he was good or bad, whether he deserved the allegations in the letter or not . . . Swami felt an impulse to run home and beg his father to take back the letter. But Father was an obstinate man.”

–Narayan, “Father’s Help”

Notes: assignment of blame/guilt; perception of other people; over-thinking; “whitewashing” information; reality vs. delusion; lies to others; lies to the self; value and respect; respect and fear; cynicism; assumptions; “things left unsaid”

“An Astrologer’s Day” and “The Doctor’s Word”

“…He knew no more of what was going to happen to others than he knew what was going to happen to himself next minute. He was as much a stranger to the stars as were his innocent customers. Yet he said things which  pleased and astonished everyone” (Narayan 2).

“He never believed that agreeable words ever saved lives. He did not think it was any of his business to provide unnecessary  dope when as a matter of course Nature would tell them the truth in a few hours. However, when he glimpsed the faintest sign of hope, he rolled up his sleeve and stepped into the arena…” (Narayan 17).

Narayan, R.K. Malgudi Days. New York: Penguin, 2006.

Notes: Both these stories, and many of the others, share similar character types and story themes. The first quote from “An Astrologer’s Day” and the second from “The Doctor’s Word” portray main characters who are very self-aware of their commonality; they know they are not all-knowing or perfect in their professions, but will put on an act of professionalism when rupees are involved. There is a theme of a higher power (the stars and Nature) that rules over everyone, and the main characters work as mediums for this higher power, but understand they are beneath it.

Oh the Irony…

“[Swami] asked the peon, ‘Where is the headmaster?’ ‘Why do you want him?’ ‘My father has sent a letter for him.’ ‘He has taken the afternoon off and won’t come back for a week. You can give the letter to the assistant headmaster. He will be here now.’ ‘Who is he?’ ‘Your  teacher, Samuel. He will be here in a second.’ Swaminathan fled from the place” (72).

Narayan, R. K. (1941). Malgudi days. (p. 72). New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Notes: The ending of this short story really peaked my interest because it was a surprise and ironic ending.  I was certainly not expecting for the assistant headmaster to be Samuel, and being surprised really can peak a reader’s interest. After this point, I expected to be surprised in the other readings and found myself trying to solve this puzzle of sorts before I finished reading each short story.

Out of Business

“His heart quailed as he opened the page announcing the prize-winners. Someone in Baluchistan, someone in Dacca, and someone in Ceyol had hit upon the right set of words; not Rama Rao. It took three hours for Rama Rao to recover from this shock. The only way to exist seemed to be to plunge into the next week’s puzzle; that would keep him buoyed up with hope for a few days more.”

Notes: I found this quote amusing yet slightly saddening at the same time. Rama places so much of his time and effort into the crossword puzzle in hopes of winning some money for his family. His reaction to finding out he is not a winner is almost comical.