Tag Archives: India

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.

Realization of a Condition

Like a ray of light shooting through the darkness, the recognition of his position, the significance of his lot dawned upon him. It illuminated the inner chambers of his mind. Everything that had happened to him traced its course up to this light and got the answer. The contempt of those who came to the latrines daily and complained that there weren’t any latrines clean, the sneers of the people in the outcastes’ colony, the abuse of the crowd which had gathered round him this morning. It was all explicable now. A shock of which this was the name had passed through his perceptions, previously numb and torpid, and had sent a quiver into his being, stirred his nerves of sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste, all into a quickening. ‘ I am an Untouchable ! ‘ he said to himself, ‘an Untouchable ! ‘ He repeated the words in his mind, for it was still a bit hazy and he felt afraid it might be immersed in the darkness again. Then, aware of his position, he began to shout aloud the warning word with which he used to announce his approach : ‘ Posh, posh, sweeper coming. ‘ The undertone, ‘ Untouchable, Untouchable, ‘ was in his heart ; the warning shout, ‘ Posh, posh, sweeper coming ! ‘ was in his mouth. (52)

Mulk Raj Anand, Untouchable, Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics Editions, 1935

Notes : Realization of his condition, his social status in the Indian’s society, his identity, his caste. Use of an extended metaphor of light/darkness to represent the realization/ignorance of his identity. Focus on the senses and perceptions. Character abruptly brought back to reality of his condition, endowed with confusion between what he says and what he feels and thinks.

some stuff about assimilation

He had had glimpses, during his sojourn there, of the life the Tommies lived, sleeping on strange, low canvas beds covered tightly with blankets, eating eggs, drinking tea and wine in tin mugs, going to parade and then walking down to the bazaar with cigarettes in their mouths and small silvermounted canes in their hands.

Mulk Raj Anand, “Untouchable,” (New York: Penguin Books, 1930), 11.

Notes: It’s very clear that this is being written in a time in India where Western imperialism had a strong influence on Asia. This sentence is describing the results of crossbreeding between these two cultures to create the hybrid that is these assimilated, natural-born Indian citizens.

Untouchable

“As he sauntered along a spark of some intuition suddenly set him ablaze. He was fired with a desire to burst out from the shadow of silence and obscurity in which he lay enshrouded.” pg. 95. Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. London: Penguin Group, 1940. Print.

“But there was a smouldering rage in his soul.” pg. 51.

“Quickly it flared up, suddenly illuminating the furnace with its leaping red,’ gold and black flames, an angry consuming power, something apart, something detached from the heaps of straw it fed on.” pg 21.

Fire. The last quote describes the furnace that Bakha puts the latrine refuse in to get rid of it. The first two quotes describe a fire inside of Bakha, one that rages and dies down throughout his day as he deals with endless discrimination. I think it is a perfect metaphor. Bakha has reached an age where the caste system and his fate are being illuminated for him.