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”

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