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Full text of "An Astrologers Day"

AN ASTROLOGER'S DAY 
and other stories 



Most of these stories were fast published in the Hindu of 

Madras. I am grateful to its Editor for permission to 

reprint them in this volume. 



THIS BOOK FIRST PUBLISHED Of 1947 IS PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN 

FOR ETRB AND SPOTTISWOODE (PUBLISHERS) LTD. 

15 BEDFORD STREET, STRAND, LONDON, W.C.I 

AT THE CHAPEL RIVER PRESS, 

AtfPOVER, HANTS. 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

1. An Astrologer's Day i 

2. The Missing Mail 8 

3. The Doctor's Word 17 

4. Gateman's Gift 24 

5. The Roman Image 35 

6. The Blind Dog 45 

7. Fellow-Feeling 52 

8. The Watchman 61 

9. The Tiger's Claw 67 

10. The Performing Child 75 

1 1 . Iswaran 82 

12. The Evening Gift 92 

13. A Snake in the Grass 100 

14. An Accident 104 

15. Such Perfection 109 

16. A Career 115 

17. Father's Help 125 

1 8. The Snake-Song 134 

19. Forty-five a Month 140 

20. Dasi the Bridegroom 148 

21 . Old Man of the Temple 156 



CONTENTS 

PAOE 

22. Out of Business 164 

23. Old Bones 171 

24. Attila 178 

25. The Axe 185 

26. Engine Trouble 193 

27. All Avoidable Talk 203 

28. Fruition at Forty 211 

29. Grime and Punishment 216 

30. Under the Banyan Tree 222 



AN ASTROLOGER'S DAY 

PUNCTUALLY at midday he opened his bag and 
spread out his professional equipment, which con- 
sisted of a dozen cowrie shells, a square piece of cloth 
with obscure mystic charts on it, a notebook, and a 
bundle of palmyra writing. His forehead was re- 
splendent 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. He sat under the boughs of 
a spreading tamarind tree which flanked a path running 
through the Town Hall Park. It was a remarkable 
place in many ways : a surging crowd was always 
moving up and down this narrow road morning till 
night* A variety of trades and occupations was 
represented all along its way : medicine sellers, sellers 



2 AN ASTROLOGER'S DAY 

of stolen hardware and junk, magicians, and, above all, 
an auctioneer of cheap doth, who created enough din 
all day to attract the whole town. Next to him in 
vociferousness came a vendor of fried groundnut, who 
gave his ware a fancy name each day, calling it 
" Bombay Ice-Cream " one day, and on the next 
" Delhi Almond," and on the third " Raja's Delicacy," 
and so on and so forth, and people flocked to him. A 
considerable portion of this crowd dallied before the 
astrologer too. The astrologer transacted his business 
by the light of a flare which crackled and smoked up 
above the groundnut heap nearby. Half the enchant* 
ment of the place was due to the fact that it did not 
have the benefit of municipal lighting. The place was 
lit up by shop lights. One or two had hissing gaslights, 
some had naked flares stuck on poles, some were lit up 
by old cycle lamps, and one or two, like the astrologer's, 
managed without lights of their own. It was a be- 
wildering criss-cross of light rays and moving shadows. 
This suited the astrologer very well, for the simple 
reason that he had not in the least intended to be an 
astrologer when he began life ; and 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 : that was more a matter of study, 
practice, and shrewd guesswork. All the same, it was 
as much an honest man's labour as any other, and he 
deserved the wages he carried home at the end of a day. 
He had left his village without any previous thought 
or plan. If he had continued there he would have 
carried on the work of his forefathers namely, tilling 
the land, living, marrying, and ripening in his cornfield 



AN ASTROLOGERS DAY 3 

and ancestral home. But that was not to be. He had 
to leave home without telling anyone, and he could not 
rest till he left it behind a couple of hundred miles. 
To a villager it is a great deal, as if an ocean flowed 
between. 

He had a working analysis of mankind's troubles : 
marriage, money, and the tangles of human ties. Long 
practice had sharpened his perception. Within five 
minutes he understood what was wrong. He charged 
three pies per question, never opened his mouth till the 
other had spoken for at least ten minutes, which 
provided him enough stuff for a dozen answers and 
advices. When he told the person before him, gazing 
at his palm, " In many ways you are not getting the 
fullest results for your efforts," nine out of ten were 
disposed to agree with him. Or he questioned : " Is 
there any woman in your family, maybe even a distant 
relative, who is not well disposed towards you ? " Or 
he gave an analysis of character : " Most of your 
troubles are due to your nature. How can you be 
otherwise with Saturn where he is ? You have an 
impetuous nature and a rough exterior." This en- 
deared him to their hearts immediately, for; even the 
mildest of us loves to think that he has a forbidding 
exterior. 

The nuts vendor blew out his flare and rose to go 
home. This was a signal for the astrologer to bundle 
up too, since it left him in darkness except for a little 
shaft of green light which strayed in from somewhere 
and touched the ground before him. He picked up 
his cowrie shells and paraphernalia and was putting 
them back into his bag when the green shaft of light 
was blotted out ; he looked up and saw a man standing 
before him. He sensed a possible client and said : 



4 AN ASTROLOGER'S DAY 

" You look so careworn. It will do you good to sit 
down for a while and chat with me." The other 
grumbled some reply vaguely. The astrologer pressed 
his invitation ; whereupon the other thrust his palm 
under his nose, saying : " You call yourself an 
astrologer ? " The astrologer felt challenged and said, 
tilting the other's palm towards the green shaft of 
light : " Yours is a nature . . ." " Oh, stop that," 
the other said. " Tell me something worth while. . . ." 

Our friend felt piqued. " I charge only three pies 
per question, and what you get ought to be good enough 
for your money. . . ." At this the other withdrew his 
arm, took out an anna, and flung it out to him, saying : 
" I have some questions to ask. If I prove you are 
bluffing, you must return that anna to me with 
interest." 

" If you find my answers satisfactory, will you give 
me five rupees ? " 

" No." 

" Or will you give me eight annas ? " 

" All right, provided you give me twice as much if 
you are wrong," said the stranger. This pact was 
accepted after a little further argument. The astrologer 
sent up a prayer to heaven as the other lit a cheroot. 
The astrologer caught a glimpse of his face by the 
matchlight. There was a pause as cars hooted on the 
ro&djutka drivers swore at their horses, and the babble 
of the crowd agitated the semi-darkness of the park. 
The other sat down, sucking his cheroot, puffing out, 
sat there ruthlessly. The astrologer felt very uncom- 
fortable. " Here, take your anna back. I am not 
used to such challenges. It is late for me today. . . ." 
He made preparations to bundle up. The other held 
his wrist and said : " You can't get out of it now. You 



AN ASTROLOGER'S DAY 5 

dragged me in while I was passing." The astrologer 
shivered in his grip ; and his voice shook and became 
faint. " Leave me today. I will speak to you to- 
morrow." The other thrust his palm in his face and 
said : " Challenge is challenge. Go on." The as- 
trologer proceeded with his throat drying up : " There 
is a woman . . ." 

" Stop," said the other. " I don't want all that. 
Shall I succeed in my present search or not ? Answer 
this and go. Otherwise I will not let you go till you 
disgorge all your coins." The astrologer muttered a 
few incantations and replied : " All right. I will 
speak. But will you give me a rupee if what I say is 
convincing ? Otherwise I will not open my mouth, 
and you may do what you like." After a good deal of 
haggling the other agreed. The astrologer said : 
" You were left for dead. Am I right ? " 

" Ah, tell me more." 

" A knife has passed through you once ? " said the 
astrologer. 

" Good fellow ! " He bared his chest to show the 
scar. "What else?" 

" And then you were pushed into a well nearby in 
the field. You were left for dead." 

" I should have been dead if some passer-by had not 
chanced to peep into the well," exclaimed the other, 
overwhelmed by enthusiasm. " When shall I get at 
him ? " he asked, clenching his fist. 

" In the next world," answered the astrologer. " He 
died four months ago in a far-off town. You will never 
see any more of him." The other groaned on hearing 
it. The astrologer proceeded : 

" Guru Nayak " 

" You know my name ! " the other said, taken aback. 



6 AN ASTROLOGER'S DAY 

" As I know all other things. Guru Nayak, listen 
carefully to what I have to say. Your village is two 
day's journey due north of this town. Take the next 
train and be gone. I see once again great danger to 
your life if you go from home." He took out a pinch 
of sacred ash and held it to him. " Rub it on your 
forehead and go home. Never travel southward again, 
and you will live to be a hundred." 

" Why should I leave home again ? " the other said 
reflectively. " I was only going away now and then to 
look for him and to choke out his life if I met him." 
He shook his head regretfully. " He has escaped my 
hands. I hope at least he died as he deserved." 
" Yes," said the astrologer. " He was crushed under 
a lorry." The other looked gratified to hear it. 

The place was deserted by the time the astrologer 
picked up his articles and put them into his bag. The 
green shaft was also gone, leaving the place in darkness 
and silence. The stranger had gone off into the night, 
after giving the astrologer a handful of coins. 

It was nearly midnight when the astrologer reached 
home. His wife was waiting for him at the door and 
demanded an explanation. He flung the coins at her 
and said : " Count them. One man gave all that." 

"Twelve and a half annas," she said, counting. She 
was overjoyed. " I can buy some jaggery and coconut 
tomorrow. The child has been asking for sweets for so 
many days now. I will prepare some nice stuff for her." 

" The swine has cheated me ! He promised me a 
rupee," said the astrologer. She looked up at him. 
" You look worried. What is wrong ? " 

" Nothing." 

After dinner, sitting on the pyol, he told her : " Do 
you know a great load is gone from me today? I 



AN ASTROLOGER'S DAY 7 

thought I had the blood of a man on my hands all these 
years. That was the reason why I ran away from 
home, settled here, and married you. He is alive." 

She gasped. " You tried to kill ! " 

" Yes, in our village, when I was a silly youngster. 
We drank, gambled, and quarrelled badly one day 
why think of it now ? Time to sleep," he said, yawning, 
and stretched himself on the pyol. 



2 
THE MISSING MAIL 

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. He 
allowed himself to get mixed up with the fortunes of 
the persons to whom he was carrying letters. At No. 
13, Kabir Street, lived the man who had come half-way 
up the road to ask for a letter for so many years now. 
Thanappa had seen him as a youngster, and had 
watched him day by day greying on the pial, sitting 
there and hoping for a big prize to come his way through 
solving crossword puzzles. " No prize yet," he 
announced to him every day. " But don't be dis- 
heartened." " Your interest has been delayed this 
month somehow," he said to another. " Your son at 
Hyderabad has written again, madam. How many 
children has he now ? " "I did not know that you 
had applied for this Madras job ; you haven't cared 
to tell me ! It doesn't matter. When I bring you 
your appointment order you must feed me with coconut 
payasam" And at each of these places he stopped for 
nearly half an hour. Especially if anyone received 
money orders, he just settled down quite nicely, with 
his bags and bundles spread about him, and would not 
rise till he gathered an idea of how and where every 
rupee was going. If it was a hot day he sometimes 

8 



THE MISSING MAIL 9 

asked for a tumbler of buttermilk and sat down to 
enjoy it. Everybody liked him on his beat. He was 
a part and parcel of their existence, their hopes, 
aspirations, and activities. 

Of all his contacts, the one with which he was most 
intimately bound up was No. 10, Vinayak Mudali 
Street. Rumanujam was a senior clerk in the Revenue 
Division Office, and Thanappa had carried letters to 
that address for over a generation now. His earliest 
association with Ramanujam was years and years ago. 
Ramanujam's wife was away in the village. A card 
arrived for Ramanujam. Thanappa, as was his 
custom, glanced through it at the sorting table itself ; 
and, the moment they were ready to start out, went 
straight to Vinayak Mudali Street, though in the 
ordinary course over 150 addresses preceded it. He 
went straight to Ramanujam's house, knocked on the 
door and shouted : " Postman, sir, postman." When 
Ramanujam opened it, he said : " Give me a handful 
of sugar before I give you this card. Happy father ! 
After all these years of prayers ! Don't complain that 
it is a daughter. Daughters are God's gift, you know. 
. . . Kamakshi lovely name ! " 

" Kamakshi," he addressed the tall, bashful girl, 
years later, " get your photo ready. Ah, so shy ! 
Here is your grandfather's card asking for your photo. 
Why should he want it, unless it be . . ." 

" The old gentleman writes rather frequently now, 
doesn't he, sir ? " he asked Ramanujam, as he handed 
him his letter and waited for him to open the envelope 
and go through its contents. Ramanujam looked 
worried after reading it. The postman asked : " I 
hope it's good news ? " He leaned against the veranda 



io THE MISSING MAIL 

pillar, with a stack of undelivered letters still under his 
arm. Ramanujam said : " My father-in-law thinks I 
am not sufficiently active in finding a husband for my 
daughter. He has tried one or two places and failed. 
He thinks I am very indifferent. . . ." " Elderly 
people have their own anxiety," the postman replied. 
" The trouble is," said Ramanujam, " that he has set 
apart five thousand rupees for this girl's marriage and 
is worrying me to find a husband for her immediately. 
But money is not everything. . . ." " No, no," 
echoed the postman ; " unless the destined hour is at 
hand, nothing can help. . . ." 

Day after day for months Thanappa delivered the 
letters and waited to be told the news : " Same old 
news, Thanappa. . . . Horoscopes do not agree. . . . 
They are demanding too much. . . . Evidently they, 
do not approve of her appearance." " Appearance ! 
She looks like a queen. Unless one is totally blind 
. . ." the postman retorted angrily. The season 
would be closing, with only three more auspicious dates, 
the last being May 2Oth. The girl would be seventeen 
in a few days. The reminders from her grandfather 
were becoming fiercer. Ramanujam had exhausted 
all the possibilities and had drawn a blank everywhere. 
He looked helpless and miserable. " Postman," he 
said, " I don't think there is a son-in-law for me 
anywhere. . . ." 

" Oh, don't utter inauspicious words, sir," the post- 
man said. " When God wills it . . ." He reflected 
for a while and said : " There is a boy in Delhi earning 
two hundred rupees. Makunda of Temple Street was 
after him. Makunda and you are of the same sub- 
caste, I believe . . ." 



THE MISSING MAIL 11 

" They have been negotiating for months now. 
Over a hundred letters have passed between them 
already. . . . But I know they are definitely breaking 
off. ... It is over some money question. . . . They 
have written their last message on a postcard and it 
has infuriated these people all the more. As if post- 
cards were an instrument of insult ! I have known 
most important communications being written even on 
picture postcards ; when Rajappa went to America 
two years ago he used to write to his sons every week 
on picture postcards. ..." After this digression he 
came back to the point. " I will ask Makunda to give 
me the horoscope. Let us see. . . ." Next day he 
brought the horoscope with him. " The boy's parents 
are also in Delhi, so you can write to them immediately. 
No time to waste now." 

A ray of hope touched Ramanujam's family. 

" I have still a hundred letters to deliver, but I came 
here first because I saw this Delhi postmark. . . . 
Open it and tell me what they have written," said 
Thanappa. He trembled with suspense. " How 
prompt these people are ! So they approve of the 
photo ! Who wouldn't ? " "A letter every day ! I 
might as well apply for leave till Kamakshi's marriage 
is over . . ." he said another day. " You are already 
talking as if it were coming off tomorrow ! God knows 
how many hurdles we have to cross now. Liking a 
photo does not prove anything. . . ." 

The family council was discussing an important 
question : whether Ramanujam should go to Madras, 
taking the girl with him, and meet the party, who could 
come down for a day from Delhi. The family was 
divided over the question. Ramanujam, his mother, 
and his wife none of them had defined views on the 



12 THE MISSING MAIL 

question, but yet they opposed each other vehemently. 

" We shall be the laughing-stock of the town," said 
Ramanujam's wife, " if we take the girl out to be shown 
round. . . ." 

" What queer notions ! If you stand on all these 
absurd antiquated formalities, we shall never get any- 
where near a marriage. It is our duty to take the girl 
over even to Delhi if necessary. . . ." " It is your 
pleasure, then ; you can do what you please ; why 
consult me ? . . ." 

Tempers were at their worst, and no progress seemed 
possible. Time was marching. The postman had got 
into the habit of dropping in at the end of his day's 
work, and joining in the council. " I am a third party. 
Listen to me," he said. " Sir, please take the train to 
Madras immediately. What you cannot achieve by a 
year's correspondence you can do in an hour's meeting." 

" Here is a letter from Madras, madam. I am sure 
it is from your husband. What is the news ? " He 
handed the cover to Ramanujam's wife, and she took 
it in to read. He said : " I have some registered 
letters for those last houses. I will finish my round, 
and come back. . . ." He returned as promised. 
" Have they met, madam ? " 

" Yes, Kamakshi's father has written that they have 
met the girl, and from their talk Kamakshi's father 
infers they are quite willing. . . ." 

" Grand news ! I will offer a coconut to our 
Vinayaka tonight." 

"But," the lady added, half overwhelmed with 
happiness and half worried, " there is this difficulty. 
We had an idea of doing it during next Thai month. 
. . . It will be so difficult to hurry through the 
arrangements now. But they say that if the marriage 



THE MISSING MAIL 13 

is done it must be done on the twentieth of May. If 
it is postponed the boy can't many for three years. 
He is being sent away for some training. . . ." 

" The old gentleman is as good as his word/' the 
postman said, delivering an insurance cover to Rama- 
nujam. " He has given the entire amount. You can't 
complain of lack of funds now. Go ahead. I'm so 
happy you have his approval. More than their money, 
we need their blessings, sir. I hope he has sent his 
heartiest blessings. . . ." " Oh yes, oh yes," replied 
Ramanujam, " My father-in-law seems to be very 
happy at this proposal. . . ." 

A five-thousand-rupee marriage was a big affair for 
Malgudi. Ramanujam, with so short a time before 
him, and none to share the task of arrangements, became 
distraught. As far as it could go, Thanappa placed 
himself at his service during all his off hours. He cut 
short his eloquence, advices, and exchanges in other 
houses. He never waited for anyone to come up and 
receive the letters. He just tossed them through a 
window or an open door with a stentorian " Letter, 
sir." If they stopped him and asked : " What is the 
matter with you ? In such a hurry ! " , " Yes, leave 
me alone till the twentieth of May. I will come and 
squat in your house after that " and he was off. 
Ramanujam was in great tension. He trembled with 
anxiety as the day approached nearer. " It must go 
on smoothly. Nothing should prove a hindrance." 
" Do not worry, sir ; it will go through happily, by 
God's grace. You have given them everything they 
wanted in cash, presents, and style. They are good 
people. . . ." 

" It is not about that. It is the very last date for the 
year. If for some reason some obstruction comes up, 



i 4 THE MISSING MAIL 

it is all finished for ever. The boy goes away for three 
years. I don't think either of us would be prepared 
to bind ourselves to wait for three years." 

It was four hours past the Muhurtam on the day of 
the wedding. A quiet had descended on the gathering. 
The young smart bridegroom from Delhi was seated 
in a chair under the pandal. Fragrance of sandal, and 
flowers, and holy smoke, hung about the air. People 
were sitting around the bridegroom talking. Thanappa 
appeared at the gate loaded with letters. Some young 
men ran up to him demanding : " Postman ! 
Letters ? " He held them off. " Get back. I know 
to whom to deliver." He walked up to the bridegroom 
and held up to him a bundle of letters very respectfully. 
" These are all greetings and blessings from well- 
wishers, I believe, sir, and my own go with every one 
of them. . . ." He seemed very proud of performing 
this task, and looked very serious. The bridegroom 
looked up at him with an amused smile and muttered : 
" Thanks." " We are all very proud to have your 
distinguished self as a son-in-law of this house. I have 
known that child, Kamakshi, ever since she was a day 
old, and I knew she would always get a distinguished 
husband," added the postman, and brought his palms 
together in a salute, and moved into the house to 
deliver other letters and to refresh himself in the kitchen 
with tiffin and coffee. 

Ten days later he knocked on the door and, with a 
grin, handed Kamakshi her first letter : " Ah, scented 
envelope ! I knew it was coming when the mail van 
was three stations away. I have seen hundreds like 
this. Take it from me. Before he has written the 
tenth letter he will command you to pack up and join 
him, and you will grow a couple of wings and fly away 



THE MISSING MAIL 15 

that very day, and forget for ever Thanappa and this 
street, isn't it so ? " Kamakshi blushed, snatched the 
letter from his hands, and ran in to read it. He said, 
turning away : " I don't think there is any use waiting 
for you to finish the letter and tell me its contents." 

On a holiday, when he was sure Ramanujam would 
be at home, Thanappa knocked on the door and handed 
him a card. " Ah ! " cried Ramanujam. " Bad 
news, Thanappa. My uncle, my father's brother, is 
very ill in Salem, and they want me to start im- 
mediately." 

" I'm very sorry to hear it, sir," said Thanappa, and 
handed him a telegram. " Here's another. . . ." 

Ramanujam cried : " A telegram ! " He glanced 
at it and screamed : " Oh, he is dead ! " He sat down 
on the pial, unable to stand the shock. Thanappa 
looked equally miserable. Ramanujam rallied, 
gathered himself up, and turned to go in. Thanappa 
said : " One moment, sir. I have a confession to 
make. See the date on the card." 

" May the nineteenth, nearly fifteen days ago ! " 

" Yes, sir, and the telegram followed next day that 
is, on the day of the marriage. I was unhappy to see 
it. ... c But what has happened has happened,' I 
said to myself, and kept it away, fearing that it might 
interfere with the wedding. . . ." 

Ramanujam glared at the postman and said : " I 
would not have cared to go through the marriage when 
he was dying. . . ." The postman stood with bowed 
head and mumbled : " You can complain if you like, 
sir. They will dismiss me. It is a serious offence." 
He turned and descended the steps and went down the 
street on his rounds. Ramanujam watched him dully 
for a while and shouted : " Postman ! " Thanappa 



i6 THE MISSING MAIL 

turned round ; Ramanujam cried : " Don't think that 
I intend to complain. I am only sorry you have 
done this. . . ," 

" I understand your feelings, sir," replied the post- 
man, disappearing around a bend. 



3 
THE DOCTOR'S WORD 

PEOPLE came to him when the patient was on his 
last legs. Dr. Raman often burst out, " Why 
couldn't you have come a day earlier ? " The reason 
was obvious visiting fee twenty-five rupees, and more 
than that people liked to shirk the fact that the time 
had come to call in Dr. Raman ; for them there was 
something ominous in the very association. As a result 
when the big man came on the scene it was always a 
quick decision one way or another. There was no 
scope or time for any kind of wavering or whitewashing. 
Long years of practice of this kind had bred in the 
doctor a certain curt truthfulness ; for that very reason 
his opinion was valued ; he was not a mere doctor 
expressing an opinion but a judge pronouncing a 
verdict. The patient's life hung on his words. This 
never unduly worried Dr. Raman. 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 teU 
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 : it might be hours 
or days, but he never withdrew till he wrested the 
prize from Tama's hands. 

Today, standing over a bed, the doctor felt that he 
himself needed someone to tell him soothing lies. He 
mopped his brow with his kerchief and sat down in 



i8 THE DOCTOR'S WORD 

the chair beside the bed. On the bed lay his dearest 
friend in the world : Gopal. They had known each 
other for forty years now, starting with their Kinder- 
garten days. They could not, of course, meet as much 
as they wanted, each being wrapped in his own family 
and profession. Occasionally, on a Sunday, Gopal 
would walk into the consulting room, and wait 
patiently in a corner till the doctor was free. And 
then they would dine together, see a picture, and talk 
of each other's life and activities. It was a classic 
friendship standing over, untouched by changing 
times, circumstances, and activities. 

In his busy round of work, Dr. Raman had not 
noticed that Gopal had not called in for over three 
months now. He just remembered it when he saw 
GopaPs son sitting on a bench in the consulting hall, 
one crowded morning. Dr. Raman could not talk to 
him for over an hour. When he got up and was about 
to pass on to the operation room, he called up the 
young man and asked, " What brings you here, sir ? " 
The youth was nervous and shy. " Mother sent 
me here." 

" What can I do for you ? " 

" Father is iU ..." 

It was an operation day and he was not free till 
three in the afternoon. He rushed off straight from 
the clinic to his friend's house, in Lawley Extension. 

Gopal lay in bed as if in sleep. The doctor stood 
over him and asked Gopal's wife, " How long has he 
been in bed ? " 

" A month and a half, doctor." 

" Who is attending him ? " 

" A doctor in the next street. He comes down once 
in three days and gives him medicine." 



THE DOCTOR'S WORD 19 

" What is his name ? " He had never heard of 
him. " Someone I don't know, but I wish he had 
had the goodness to tell me about it. Why, why, 
couldn't you have sent me word earlier ? " 

" We thought you would be busy and did not wish 
to trouble you unnecessarily." They were apologetic 
and miserable. There was hardly any time to be lost. 
He took off his coat and opened his bag. He took out 
an injection tube, the needle sizzled over the stove. 
The sick man's wife whimpered in a corner and 
essayed to ask questions. 

" Please don't ask questions," snapped the doctor. 
He looked at the children who were watching the 
sterilizer, and said, " Send them all away somewhere, 
except the eldest." 

He shot in the drug, sat back in his chair, and 
gazed on the patient's face for over an hour. The 
patient still remained motionless. The doctor's face 
gleamed with perspiration, and his eyelids drooped 
with fatigue. The sick man's wife stood in a corner 
and watched silently. She asked timidly, " Doctor, 
shall I make some coffee for you ? " " No," he 
replied, although he felt famished, having missed his 
midday meal. He got up and said, " I will be back 
in a few minutes. Don't disturb him on any account." 
He picked up his bag and went to his car. In a 
quarter of an hour he was back, followed by an assistant 
and a nurse. The doctor told the lady of the house, 
" I have to perform an operation." 

" Why, why ? Why ? " she asked faintly. 

" I will tell you all that soon. Will you leave your 
son here to help us, and go over to the next house and 
stay there till I call you ? " 

The lady felt giddy and sank down on the floor, 



ao THE DOCTOR'S WORD 

unable to bear the strain. The nurse attended to her 
and led her out. 

At about eight in the evening the patient opened his 
eyes and stirred slightly in bed. The assistant was 
overjoyed. He exclaimed enthusiastically, " Sir, he 
will pull through." The doctor looked at him coldly 
and whispered : " I would give anything to see him 
through but, but the heart . . ." 

" The pulse has improved, Sir." 

" Well, well," replied the doctor. " Don't trust it. 
It is only a false flash-up, very common in these 
cases." He ruminated for a while and added, " If 
the pulse will keep up till eight in the morning, it will 
go on for the next forty years, but I doubt very 
much if we shall see anything of it at all after two 
tonight." 

He sent away the assistant and sat beside the patient. 
At about eleven the patient opened his eyes and 
smiled at his friend. He showed a slight improvement, 
he was able to take in a little food. A great feeling 
of relief and joy went through the household. They 
swarmed around the doctor and poured out their 
gratitude. He sat in his seat beside the bed, gazing 
sternly at the patient's face, hardly showing any signs 
of hearing what they were saying to him. The sick 
man's wife asked, " Is he now out of danger ? " 
Without turning his head the doctor said, " Give 
glucose and brandy every forty minutes ; just a couple 
of spoons will do." The lady went away to the kitchen. 
She felt restless. She felt she must know the truth 
whatever it was. Why was the great man so evasive ? 
The suspense was unbearable. Perhaps he could not 
speak so near the patient's bed. She beckoned to him 
from the kitchen doorway. The doctor rose and went 



THE DOCTOR'S WORD 21 

over. She asked, " What about him now ? How is 
he ? " The doctor bit his lips and replied, looking at 
the floor, " Don't get excited. Unless you must 
know about it, don't ask now." Her eyes opened 
wide in terror. She clasped her hands together and 
implored : " Tell me the truth." The doctor replied, 
" I would rather not talk to you now." He turned 
round and went back to his chair. A terrible wailing 
shot through the still house ; the patient stirred and 
looked about in bewilderment. The doctor got up 
again, went over to the kitchen door, drew it in 
securely and shut off the wail. 

When the doctor resumed his seat the patient asked 
in the faintest whisper possible, " Is that someone 
crying ? " The doctor advised, " Don't exert your* 
self. 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." 

" Oh ! " the doctor exclaimed. " You are exerting 
yourself too much. You must be quieter." He felt 
idiotic to be repeating it. " How fine it would be," 
he reflected, " to drop the whole business and run 
away somewhere without answering anybody any 
question ! " The patient clutched the doctor's wrist 
with his weak fingers and said, " Ramu, it is my good 



M THE DOCTOR'S WORD 

fortune that you are here at this moment. I can trust 
your word. I can't leave my property unsettled. 
That will mean endless misery for my wife and children. 
You know all about Subbiah and his gang. Let me 
sign before it is too late. Tell me. . . ." 

" Yes, presently," replied the doctor. He walked 
off to his car, sat in the back seat and reflected. He 
looked at his watch. Midnight. If the will was to 
be signed, it must be done within the next two hours, 
or never. He could not be responsible for a mess 
there ; he knew too well the family affairs and about 
those wolves, Subbiah and his gang . . . But what 
could he do ? If he asked him to sign the Will, it 
would virtually mean a death sentence and destroy the 
thousandth part of a chance that the patient had of 
survival. He got down from the car and went in. 
He resumed his seat in the chair. The patient was 
staring at him appealingly. The doctor said to him- 
self, " If my word can save his life, he shall not die. 
The will be damned." He called, " Gopal, listen." 
This was the first time he was going to do a piece of 
acting before a patient, simulate a feeling, and conceal 
his judgment. He stooped over the patient and said 
with deliberate emphasis, " Don't worry about the 
will now. You are going to live. Your heart is 
absolutely sound." A new glow suffused the patient's 
face as he heard it. He asked in a tone of relief, " Do 
you say so ? If it comes from your lips it must be 
true . . ." 

The doctor said, " Qjuite right. You are improving 
every second. Sleep in peace. You must not exert 
yourself on any account. You must sleep very soundly. 
I will sec you in the morning." The patient looked at 
him gratefully for a moment and then dosed his eyes. 



THE DOCTOR'S WORD 23 

The doctor picked up his bag and went out shutting 
the door softly behind him. 

On his way home he stopped for a moment at his 
hospital, called out his assistant, and said, " That 
Lawley Extension case. You might expect the collapse 
any second now. Go there with a tube of ... in 
hand, and give it in case the struggle is too hard at 
the end. Hurry up/' 

Next morning he was back at Lawley Extension at 
ten. From his car he made a dash for the sick bed. 
The patient was awake and looked very well. The 
assistant reported satisfactory pulse. The doctor put 
his tube at his heart, listened for a while, and told the 
sick man's wife, " Don't look so unhappy, lady. Your 
husband will live to be ninety." When they were 
going back to the hospital, the assistant sitting beside 
him in the car asked, " Is he going to live, sir ? " 

" I will bet on it. He will live to be ninety. He 
has turned the corner. How he has survived this 
attack will be a puzzle to me all my life," replied 
the doctor. 



4 
GATEMAN'S GIFT 

1 IA7HEN a dozen persons question openly or slyly 
VV a man's sanity, he begins to entertain serious 
doubts himself. This is what happened to ex-gateman 
Govind Singh. And you could not blame the public 
either. What could you do with a man who carried 
about in his hand a registered postal cover and asked : 
" Please tell me what there is inside ? " The obvious 
answer was : " Open it and see . . ." He seemed 
horrified at this suggestion. " Oh, no, no, can't do 
it," he declared and moved off to another friend and 
acquaintance. Everywhere the suggestion was the 
same till he thought everyone had turned mad. And 
then somebody said : " If you don't like to open it and 
yet want to know what is inside you must take it to 
the X-ray Institute." This was suggested by an 
ex-compounder who lived in the next street. 

"What is it?" asked Govind Singh. It was 
explained to him. " Where is it ? " He was directed 
to the City X-ray Institute. 

But before saying anything further about his pro- 
gress, it would be usefiil to go back to an earlier 
chapter in his history. After war service in 1914-18, 
he came to be recommended for a gatekeeper's post at 
Engladia's. He liked the job very much. He was 
given a khaki uniform, a resplendent band across his 
shoulder and a short stick. He gripped the stick and 

24 



GATEMAN'S GIFT 25 

sat down on a stool at the entrance to the office. And 
when his chief's car pulled up at the gate he stood at 
attention and gave a military salute. The office 
consisted of a staff numbering over a hundred and as 
they trooped in and out every day he kept an eye on 
them. At the end of the day he awaited the footsteps 
of the General Manager coining down the stairs and 
rose stiffly and stood at attention, and after he left the 
hundreds of staff poured out. The doors were shut ; 
Singh carried his stool in, placed it under the staircase, 
and placed his stick across it. Then he came out 
and the main door was locked and sealed. In this 
way he had spent twenty-five years of service, and 
then he begged to be pensioned off. He would not 
have thought of retirement yet, but for the fact that 
he found his sight and hearing playing tricks on him ; 
he could not catch the Manager's footsteps on the 
stairs, and it was hard to recognize him even at ten 
yards. He was ushered into the presence of the chief, 
who looked up for a moment from his papers and 
muttered : " We are very pleased with your work for 
us, and the company will give you a pension of twelve 
rupees for your life . . ." Singh clicked his heels, 
saluted, turned on his heel and went out of the room, 
with his heart brimming with gratitude and pride. 
This was the second occasion when the great man had 
spoken to him, the first being on the first day of his 
service. As he had stood at his post, the chief, entering 
the office just then, looked up for a moment and asked 
" Who are you ? " 

" I'm the new gatekeeper, master," he had answered. 
And he spoke again only on this day. Though so 
little was said, Singh felt electrified on both 
occasions by the words of his master. In Singh's eyes 



26 GATEMAN'S GIFT 

the chief had acquired a sort of Godhood, and it would 
be quite adequate if a god spoke to one only once or 
twice in a lifetime. In moments of contemplation 
Singh's mind dwelt on the words of his master, and 
on his personality. 

His life moved on smoothly. The pension together 
with what his wife earned by washing and sweeping in 
a couple of houses was quite sufficient for him. He 
ate his food, went out and met a few friends, slept, and 
spent some evenings sitting at a cigarette shop which 
his cousin owned. This tenor of life was disturbed on 
the first of every month when he donned his old 
khaki suit, walked to his old office, and salaamed the 
Accountant at the counter and received his pension. 
Sometimes if it was closing he waited on the roadside 
for the General Manager to come down, and saluted 
him as he got into his car. 

There was a lot of time all around him, an immense 
sea of leisure. In this state he made a new discovery 
about himself, that he could make fascinating models 
out of clay and wood dust. The discovery came 
suddenly, when one day a child in the neighbourhood 
brought to him its little doll for repair. He not only 
repaired it but made a new thing of it. This discovery 
pleased him so much that he very soon became 
absorbed in it. His backyard gave him a plentiful 
supply of pliant clay, and the carpenter's shop next 
to his cousin's cigarette shop sawdust. He purchased 
paint for a few annas. And lo ! he found his hours 
gliding. He sat there in the front part of his home, 
bent over his clay, and brought into existence a 
miniature universe ; all the colours of life were there, 
all the forms and creatures, but of the size of his 
middle finger ; whole villages and towns were there, 



GATEMAN'S GIFT 27 

all the persons he had seen passing before his office 
when he was sentry there that beggar woman coming 
at midday, and that cucumber vendor ; he had the 
eye of a cartoonist for human faces. Everything went 
down into clay. It was a wonderful miniature re- 
flection of the world ; and he mounted them neatly 
on thin wooden slices, which enhanced their attractive- 
ness. He kept these in his cousin's shop and they 
attracted huge crowds every day and sold very briskly. 
More than the sales Singh felt an ecstasy when he 
saw admiring crowds clustering around his handiwork. 

On his next pension day he carried to his office a 
street scene (which he ranked as his best), and handed 
it over the counter to the Accountant with the request : 
" Give this to the Sahib, please ! " 

" All right,*' said the Accountant with a smile. It 
created a sensation in the office and disturbed the 
routine of office working for nearly half an hour. On 
the next pension day he carried another model 
(children at play) and handed it over the counter. 

" Did Sahib like the last one ? " 

"Yes, he liked it." 

" Please give this one to him " and he passed it 
over the counter. He made it a convention to carry 
on every pension day an offering for his master, and 
each time his greatest reward was the Accountant's 
stock reply to his question : " What did the Sahib 
say ? " 

" He said it was very good." 

At last he made his masterpiece. A model of his 
office frontage with himself at his post, a car at the 
entrance, and the chief getting down : this composite 
model was so realistic that while he sat looking at it, 
he seemed to be carried back to his office days. He 



28 GATEMAN'S GIFT 

passed it over the counter on his pension day and it 
created a very great sensation in the office. " Fellow, 
you have not left yourself out, either ! " people cried 
and looked admiringly at Singh. A sudden fear seized 
Singh and he asked : " The master won't be angry, 
I hope?" 

" No, no, why should he be ? " said the Accountant, 
and Singh received his pension and went home. 

A week later when he was sitting on the fyol 
kneading clay, the postman came and said : " A 
registered letter for you . . ." 

" For me ! " Any letter would have upset Singh ; 
he had received less than three letters in his lifetime, 
and each time it was a torture for him till the contents 
were read out. Now a registered letter ! This was his 
first registered letter. " Only lawyers send registered 
letters, isn't it so ? " 

" Usually," said the postman. 
Please take it back. I don't want it," said Singh. 
Shall I say 'Refused'?" asked the postman. 
"No, no," said Singh. "Just take it back and say 
you have not found me . . ." 

" That I can't do . . ." said the postman looking 
serious. 

Singh seemed to have no option but to scrawl his 
signature and receive the packet. He sat gloomily 
gazing at the floor. His wife who had gone out and 
just returned saw him in this condition and asked : 
"What is it?" His voice choked as he replied : "It 
has come." He flung at her the registered letter. 
"What is it? "she asked. He said: "How should I 
know. Perhaps our ruin . . ." He broke down. 
His wife watched him for a moment, went in to attend 
to some domestic duty and returned, still found him 



c< 
a 



GATEMAN'S GIFT 29 

in the same condition, and asked : " Why not open 
it and see, ask someone to read it ? " He threw up his 
arms in horror : " Woman, you don't know what you 
are saying. It cannot be opened. They have perhaps 
written that my pension is stopped, and God knows 
what else the Sahib has said . . ." 

" Why not go to the office and find out from them ? " 

" Not I ! I will never show my face there again 
. . ." replied Singh. " I have lived without a single 
remark being made against me, all my life. Now ! " He 
shuddered at the thought of it. " I knew I was 
getting into trouble when I made that office model 
. . ." After deeper reflection he said : " Every time 
I took something there, people crowded round, stopped 
all work for nearly an hour . . . That must also have 
reached the Sahib's ears." 

He wandered about saying the same thing, with the 
letter in his pocket. He lost taste for food, wandered 
about unkempt, with his hair standing up like a halo 
an unaccustomed sight, his years in military service 
having given him a habitual tidiness. His wife lost all 
peace of mind and became miserable about him. He 
stood at the cross-roads, clutching the letter in his 
hand. He kept asking everyone he came across : 
" Tell me, what there is in this ? " but he would not 
brook the suggestion to open it and see its contents. 

So forthwith Singh found his way to the City X-ray 
Institute at Race Course Road. As he entered the 
gate he observed dozens of cars parked along the 
drive, and a Gurkha watchman at the gate. Some 
people were sitting on sofas reading books and journals. 
They turned and threw a brief look at him and 
resumed their studies. As Singh stood uncertainly 
at the doorway, an assistant came up and asked : 



SO GATEMAN'S GIFT 

" What do you want ? " Singh gave a salute, held 
up the letter uncertainly and muttered : " Can I 
know what is inside this ? " The assistant made the 
obvious suggestion. But Singh replied : " They said 
you could tell me what's inside without opening it " 
The assistant asked : " Where do you come from ? " 
Singh explained his life, work and outlook and con- 
cluded : " I've lived without remark all my life. I 
knew trouble was coming " There were tears on 
his cheeks. The assistant looked at him curiously as 
scores of others had done before, smiled, and said : 
" Go home and rest. You are not all right . . . Go, 
go home." 

" Can't you say what is in this ? " Singh asked 
pathetically. The assistant took it in his hand, 
examined it and said : " Shall I open it ? " " No, 
no, no," Singh cried and snatched it back. There was 
a look of terror in his eyes. The assembly looked up 
from their pages and watched him with mild amuse- 
ment in their eyes. The assistant kindly put his arms 
on his shoulder and led him out. " You get well first, 
and then come back. I tell you you are not all 
right." 

Walking back home, he pondered over it. " Why 
are they all behaving like this, as if I were a mad 
man ? " When this word came to his mind, he 
stopped abruptly in the middle of the road, and cried : 
."Oh! That's it, is that it? Mad! Mad!" He 
shook his head gleefully as if the full truth had just 
dawned upon him. He now understood the looks that 
people threw at him. " Oh ! oh ! " he cried aloud. 
He laughed. He felt a curious relief at this realization. 
" I have been mad and didn't know it . . ." He cast 
his mind back. Every little action of his for the last 



GATEMAN'S GIFT 31 

so many days seemed mad ; particularly the doll- 
making. " What sane man would make clay dolls 
after 25 years of respectable service in an office ? " He 
felt a tremendous freedom of limbs, and didn't feel it 
possible to walk at an ordinary pace. He wanted to fly. 
He swung his arms up and down and ran on with a 
whoop. He ran through the Market Road. When 
people stood about and watched he cried : " Hey, 
don't laugh at a mad man, for who knows, you will 
also be mad when you come to make clay dolls," and 
charged into their midst with a war cry. When he 
saw children coming out of a school, he felt it would 
be nice to amuse their young hearts by behaving like 
a tiger. So he fell on his hands and kneels and 
crawled up to them with a growl. 

He went home in a terrifying condition. His wife 
who was grinding chilly in the backyard looked up 
and asked : " What is this ? " His hair was covered 
with street dust ; his body was splashed with mud. 
He could not answer because he choked with mirth 
as he said : " Fancy what has happened ! " 

"What is it?" 

" I'm mad, mad." He looked at his work-basket 
in a corner, scooped out the clay and made a helmet 
of it and put it on his head. Ranged on the floor 
was his latest handiwork. After his last visit to the 
office he had been engaged in making a model village. 
It was a resplendent group ; a dun road, red tiles, 
green coconut trees swaying, and the colour of the 
sarees of the village women carrying water pots. He 
derived the inspiration for it from a memory of his own 
village days. It was the most enjoyable piece of 
work that he had so far undertaken. He lived in a 
kind of ecstasy while doing it. " I am going to keep 



32 GATEMAN'S GIFT 

this for myself. A memento of my father's village," 
he declared. " I will show it at an exhibition, where 
they will give me a medal.' 9 He guarded it like a 
treasure : when it was wet he never allowed his wife 
to walk within ten yards of it : " Keep off, we don't 
want your foot dust for this village . . ." 

Now in his madness, he looked down on it. He 
raised his foot and stamped everything down into a 
multi-coloured jam. They were still half wet. He 
saw a donkey grazing in the street. He gathered up 
the jam and flung it at the donkey with the remark : 
" Eat this if you like. It is a nice village . . ." And 
he went out on a second round. This was a quieter 
outing. He strode on at an even pace, breathing 
deeply, with the clay helmet on, out of which peeped 
his grey hair, his arms locked behind, his fingers 
clutching the fateful letter, his face tilted towards the 
sky. He walked down the Market Road, with a 
feeling that he was the sole occupant of this globe : 
his madness had given him a sense of limitless freedom, 
strength and buoyancy. The remarks and jeers of 
the crowds gaping at him did not in the least touch 
him. 

While he walked thus, his eye fell on the bulb of a 
tall street lamp : " Bulb of the size of a Papaya fruit ! " 
he muttered and chuckled. It had been a long 
cherished desire in him to fling a stone at it ; now he 
felt, in his joyous and free condition, that he was free 
from the trammels of convention and need not push 
back any inclination. He picked up a pebble and 
threw it with good aim. The shattering noise of glass 
was as music to his ears. A policeman put his hand 
on his shoulder : " Why did you do it ? " Singh 
looked indignant : " I like to crack glass Papaya fruit, 



GATEMAN'S GIFT 33 

that is all/ 1 was the reply. The constable said : 
" Come to the station." 

" Oh, yes, when I was in Mesopotamia they put me 
on half ration once," he said, and walked on to the 
station. He paused, tilted his head to the side and 
remarked : " This road is not straight ..." A few 
carriages and cycles were coming up to him. He 
found that everything was wrong about them. They 
seemed to need some advice in the matter. He stopped 
in the middle of the road, stretched out his arms and 
shouted : " Halt ! " The carriages stopped, the 
cyclists jumped off and Singh began a lecture : " When 
I was in Mesopotamia I will tell you fellows who 
don't know anything about anything." The police- 
man dragged him away to the side, and waved to the 
traffic to resume. One of the cyclists who resumed, 
jumped off the saddle again and came towards him 
with : " Why ! It is Singh, Singh, what fancy dress 
is this ? What is the matter ? " Even through the 
haze of his insane vision Singh could recognize the 
voice and the person the Accountant at the office. 
Singh clicked his heels and gave a salute : " Excuse 
me sir, didn't intend to stop you. You may pass . . ." 
He pointed the way generously, and the Accountant 
saw the letter in his hand. He recognized it although 
it was mud-stained and crumpled. 
" Singh, you got our letter ? " 
" Yes, sir, Pass. Do not speak of it . , ." 
" What is the matter ? " He snatched it from his 
hand. " Why haven't you opened it ! " He tore 
open the envelope and took out of it a letter and 
read aloud : " The General Manager greatly apprec- 
iates the very artistic models you have sent, and he is 
pleased to sanction a reward of Rs. 100 and hopes 



34 GATEMAN'S GIFT 

it will be an encouragement for you to keep up this 
interesting hobby." 

It was translated to him word for word, and the 
enclosure, a cheque for one hundred rupees, was handed 
to him. A big crowd gathered to watch this scene. 
Singh pressed the letter to his eyes. He beat his 
brow, and wailed : " Tell me, sir, am I mad or not ? " 

" You look quite well, you aren't mad," said the 
Accountant. Singh fell at his feet and said with tears 
choking his voice : " You are a god, sir, to say that I 
am not mad. I am so happy to hear it." 

On the next pension day he turned up spruce as 
ever at the office counter. As they handed him the 
envelope they asked : " What toys are you making 
now ? " 

" Nothing sir. Never again. It is no occupation 
for a sane man . . ." he said, received his pension, 
and stiffly walked out of the office. 



5 
THE ROMAN IMAGE 

THE Talkative Man said : 
Once I was an archaeologist's assistant. I 
wandered up and down the country probing, explor- 
ing, and digging, in search of antiquities, a most 
interesting occupation, although cynics sometimes 
called us " grave-diggers." I enjoyed the work 
immensely. I had a master who was a famous 
archaeologist called Doctor something or other. He 
was a superb, timeless being, who lived a thousand 
years behind the times, and who wanted neither food 
nor roof nor riches if only he was allowed to gaze on 
undisturbed at an old coin or chip of a burial urn. 
He had torn up the earth in almost all parts of India 
and had brought to light very valuable information 
concerning the history and outlook of people of 
remote centuries. His monographs on each of his 
excavations filled several shelves in all the important 
libraries. And then, as our good fortune would have 
it, he received an inspiration that Malgudi district 
was eminently diggable. I am not competent to 
explain how he got this idea, but there it was. Word 
was brought to me that the great man was staying in 
the dak bungalow and was in need of an assistant. 
Within an hour of hearing it I stood before the great 
man. He was sitting on the floor with the most 
crazy collection of articles in front of him pots and 

35 



36 THE ROMAN IMAGE 

beads and useless coins and palm leaves, all of them 
rusty and decaying. He had a lens by his side, 
through which he looked at these articles and made 
notes. He asked me : " What do you know of the 
archaeological factors of your district ? " I blinked. 
Honestly I didn't know there was any archaeology in 
our place. He looked at me through his old spectacles, 
and I realized that my living depended upon my 
answer. I mustered up all the knowledge of elementary 
history I had acquired in my boyhood, and replied : 
" Well, nothing has so far been done in any methodical 
manner, although now and then we come across some 
ignorant villagers ploughing up old unusual bits of 
pottery and metal." 

" Really," he asked, pricking up his ears. " And 
what do they do with them ? " 

" They simply throw them away or give them to 
children to play with," I replied. 

" Oh, too bad," he muttered. " Why couldn't you 
have collected these things in one place ? " 

" I will take care to do that hereafter, sir," I said ; 
and that settled it. He engaged me on the spot at 
fifty rupees a month, and my main business was to 
follow him about and help him. 

I had my wits alive, and within a month I was in 
a position to lead him by the hand. Not the slightest 
object escaped my notice. I picked up everything I 
saw, cleaned and polished it, and held it up for his 
opinion. Most times, I am sorry to confess, they 
were useless bits of stuff of known origin namely, 
our own times. But I am glad to say that once I 
scored a hit. 

We camped one week-end at Siral a village sixty 
miles from the town. It is a lovely ancient place, 



THE ROMAN IMAGE 37 

consisting of a hundred houses. Sarayu River winds 
its way along the northern boundary of the village. 
The river here is broader than it is anywhere else in 
the district. On the other bank of the river we have 
the beginnings of a magnificent jungle of bamboo 
and teak. The most modern structure in the place 
was a small two-roomed inspection lodge. The 
doctor occupied one room and I the other. We were 
scouting the surroundings for a mound under which 
was supposed to be a buried city. This discovery was 
going to push the earliest known civilization three 
centuries farther back and rival Mohenjadaro in 
antiquity. We might be pardoned if we set about 
our business with some intensity. Our doctor some- 
how seemed to possess an inexplicable feeling of 
rivalry with the discoverers of Mohenjadaro and such 
other places. His greatest desire was to have a 
monopoly of the earliest known civilization and place 
it where he chose. This seemed to me a slight weak- 
ness in his nature, but pardonable in a great man, who 
had done so much else in life. This is all beside the 
point. Let me get on with the story. One day I 
had gone to the river for a bathe. It was an exhilar- 
ating evening ; I had done a good day's work, assisting 
the doctor to clean up and study a piece of stained 
glass picked up in a field outside the village. The 
doctor kept gazing at this glass all day. He constantly 
shook his head and said : " This is easily the most 
important piece of work which has come under my 
notice. This bit of glass you see is not ordinary 
archaeological stuff, but a very important link. This 
piece of glass is really Florentian, which went out of 
vogue in A.D. 5. How did this come here ? It is not 
found anywhere else in the world. If the identity of 



3 8 THE ROMAN IMAGE 

this is established properly we may ultimately have a 
great deal to say about the early Roman Empire and 
this part of India. This will revolutionize our whole 
knowledge of history." He talked of nothing but 
that the whole day. He trembled with excitement 
and lost all taste for food. He kept on muttering : 
" We must tread warily and not overlook the slightest 
evidence. Keep your eyes open. We are on the eve 
of great discoveries. . . ." And I caught this excite- 
ment and acquired a permanently searching look. 
I was in this state when I plunged into the waters of 
Sarayu that evening. I am a good diver. As I went 
down my hand struck against a hard object in the 
sandy bed. Feeling with my fingers, I found it to 
be a stone image. When I came to the surface again 
I came up bearing that image with me. Dripping 
with water, I sat on the river step, without even 
drying myself, and examined the image. 

" This takes us on to an entirely new set of possi- 
bilities ! " exclaimed the doctor in great joy. He 
keenly examined it by our tin lantern. It was a 
stone image a foot high, which had acquired a glass- 
like smoothness, having been under water for years. 
It had an arm, an eye, the nose, and the mouth 
missing. There were a few details of ornament and 
drapery which the doctor examined with special care. 
It was 3 a.m. when he went to bed. An hour later 
the doctor peeped in at my doorway and announced : 
" This is a Roman statue. How it came to be found 
in these parts is an historical fact we have to wrest 
from evidence. It is going to give an entirely new 
turn to Indian history." 

Within the next two months all the important 
papers and periodicals in the world published details 



THE ROMAN IMAGE 39 

of this discovery. Papers were read before historical 
associations and conferences. I came to be looked 
upon as a sort of saviour of Indian history. For the 
doctor insisted upon giving me my due share of fame. 
University honours came my way. I was offered 
lucrative positions here and there. It was finally 
decided that the image was that of a Roman Emperor 
called Tiberius II. It would be out' of place to go 
into the details that led to this conclusion : but you 
need have no doubt that the doctor had excellent 
reasons for it. Besides the study of the image itself he 
went through some Roman texts which mentioned 
South India. 

For the next few months we toured about a great 
deal lecturing on this subject and demonstrating. I 
went with my doctor to Madras and started work on 
a monograph on the subject. It was to be a monu- 
mental work covering over a thousand pages of demy 
size, full of photographs and sketches. You can 
understand why it should be so big when I tell you 
that it was going to be a combined work on early 
Roman history, Indian history, archaeology, and 
epigraphy. My name was going to appear as the 
joint author of the work. I realized that here was 
my future fame, position, and perhaps some money 
too. The doctor left me in entire charge of this work 
and went away to Upper India to continue a piece of 
work which he had already been doing. I sat in a 
large library the whole day, examining, investigating, 
studying, and writing. I became a fairly important 
person in learned societies. I worked from seven 
in the morning to eleven in the evening almost with- 
out a break, and throughout the day I had visits from 
people interested in the discovery. Papers and journals 



40 THE ROMAN IMAGE 

contained paragraphs now and then "Archaeologist 
assistant working on monograph . . ." and its 
progress was duly reported to the public. And then 
there came a time when the press could announce : 

" Monograph on which has been working for 

months now will be ready for publication in ten days. 
It is expected that this is going to make the richest 
contribution to Indian history . . ." My fingers 
were worn out with writing. My eyes were nearly 
gone. I looked forward to the end of the work ; and 
then as my doctor wrote : " You can have a holiday 
for three months in any hill station you like and 
forget the whole business ..." The manuscripts 
piled a yard high on my table. It was at this stage 
that I had to visit Siral once again. I had to obtain 
measurements of the spot where the image was found. 
I left my work at that and hurried to the village. 
I plunged into the river and came up. I sat on the 
river step, still dripping with water, noting down 
figures, when a stranger came and sat near me. We 
fell to talking, and I told him about my work, in the 
hope of drawing out further facts. He was a rustic, 
and he listened to me without emotion. At the end 
of my narration he remained peculiarly moody and 
asked me to repeat facts about the image. He com- 
pressed his lips and asked : " Where do you say it 
came from ? " 

Rome " 

" Where is that ? " 

" In Europe," I said. He stood still, puzzled, and 
I amplified : " Where the European people live " 

" I don't know about that but if it is the image 
which you found in these parts I can tell you something 
about it. It is without nose and arm, isn't it ? " 



THE ROMAN IMAGE 41 

I assented, not knowing what was coming. He said : 
" Follow me, if you want to know anything more about 
this image." He led me up the bank, along a foot 
track which wound through the jungle. We reached 
a hamlet a mile off. He stopped in front of a little 
shrine and said : " That image belonged to this 
temple." He led me into the shrine. We had to go 
stooping into it because of its narrow doorway and low 
roof. At the inner sanctum there was an image of 
Mari with a garland of yellow chrysanthemums 
around her neck, lit by a faint wick lamp. On one 
side of the sanctum doorway stood a dwarapalaka 
(doorkeeper) a winged creature a foot high. My 
friend pointed at the image and said : " This formed 
a pair with the one you picked up, and it used to 
adorn that side of the doorway." I looked up where 
he pointed. I noticed a pedestal without anything 
on it. A doubt seized me. " I want to examine the 
figure," I said. He brought down the wick lamp ; 
I examined by its flickering light the dwarapalaka. 
" Is this exactly like the one which was on that side ? " 
It was a superfluous question. This image was 
exactly like the image I had found, but without its 
injuries. 

" Where was this made ? " 

" I had it done by a stone-image maker, a fellow 
in another village. You see that hillock ? Its stone 
is made into images all over the world, and at its foot 
is a village where they make images." 

" Are you sure when it was made ? " 

" Yes, I gave an advance of twenty rupees for it, 

and how that fellow delayed ! I went over to the 

village and sat up night and day for two months and 

, got the pair done. I watched them take shape before 



42 THE ROMAN IMAGE 

my eyes. And then we collected about fifty rupees 
and gave it to him. We wanted to improve this 
temple." I put back the lamp and walked out. I 
sat down on the temple step. " Why do you look so 
sad? I thought you'd be pleased to know these 
things," he said, watching me. 

" I am, I am only I've been rather unwell," I 
assured him. " Can't you tell me something more 
about it : how it came to be found in the river ? " 

" Yes, yes," said my friend. " It was carried and 
thrown into the river ; it didn't walk down there." 

" Oh ! " I exclaimed. 

" That is a story. For this we went to the court 
and had the priest dismissed and fined. He cannot 
come near the temple now. We spent one thousand 
rupees in lawyer fees alone ; we were prepared to 
spend all our fortune if only to see that priest removed. 
It went up to Malgudi court we got a vakil from 
Madras." 

" What was wrong with your priest ? " 

" No doubt he had a hereditary claim and took up 
the work when his father died, but the fellow was a 
devil for drink, if ever there was one. Morning till 
night he was drinking, and he performed all the puja 
in that condition. We did not know what to do with 
him. We just tolerated him, hoping that some day 
the goddess would teach him a lesson. We did not 
like to be too harsh, since he was a poor fellow, and 
he went about his duties quietly. But when we added 
these two dwarapalakas at the doorway he got a queer 
notion in his head. He used to say that the two 
doorkeepers constantly harried him by staring at him 
wherever he went. He said that their look pricked 
him in the neck. Sometimes he would peep in from 



THE ROMAN IMAGE 43 

within to see if the images were looking away, and 
he'd scream, * Ah, still they are watching me,' and 
shout at them. This went on for months. In course 
of time he began to shudder whenever he had to pass 
these doorkeepers. It was an acute moment of 
suspense for him when he had to cross that pair and 
get into the sanctum. Gradually he complained that 
if he ever took his eyes off these figures they butted 
him from behind, kicked him, and pulled his hair, 
and so forth. He was afraid to look anywhere else 
and walked on cautiously with his eyes on the images. 
But if he had his eyes on one, the other knocked him 
from behind. He showed us bruises and scratches 
sometimes. We declared we might treat his complaints 
seriously if he ever went into the shrine without a drop 
of drink in him. In course of time he started to seek 
his own remedy. He carried a small mallet with him, 
and whenever he got a knock he returned the blow ; 
it fell on a nose today, on an arm tomorrow, and on 
an ear another day. We didn't notice his handiwork 
for months. Judging from the mallet blows, the 
image on the left side seems to have been the greater 
offender. 

" The culmination came when he knocked it off its 
pedestal and carried it to the river. Next morning 
he declared he saw it walk off and plunge into the 
river. He must have felt that this would serve as a 
lesson to the other image if it should be thinking of 
any trick. But the other image never got its chance. 
For we dragged the priest before a law court and had 
him sent away." 

Thus ended the villager's tale. It took time for me 
to recover. I asked : " Didn't you have to pick up 
the image from the water and show it to the judge ? " 



44 THE ROMAN IMAGE 

" No, because the fellow would not tell us where he 
had flung it. I did not know till this moment where 
exactly it could be found." 

When I went back to Madras I was a different man. 
The doctor had just returned for a short stay. I told 
him everything. He was furious. " We have made 
ourselves mighty fools before the whole world," he 
cried. 

I didn't know what to say. I mumbled : "I am 
so sorry, sir." He pointed at the pile of manuscripts 
on the table and cried : " Throw all that rubbish into 
the fire, before we are declared mad. ..." I pushed 
the whole pile off the table and applied a match-stick. 
We stood frowning at the roaring fire for a moment, 
and then he asked, pointing at the image : " And 
what will you do with it ? " 

" I don't know," I said. 

" Drown it. After all, you picked it up from the 
water that piece of nonsense ! " he cried. 

I had never seen him in such a rage before. I 
wrapped the image in a piece of brown paper, carried 
it to the seashore, and flung it far into the sea. I hope 
it is still rolling about at the bottom of the Bay of 
Bengal. I only hope it won't get into some large 
fish and come back to the study table ! Later a brief 
message appeared in all the important papers : " The 

manuscript on which Doctor and assistant were 

engaged has been destroyed, and the work will be 
suspended." 

The doctor gave me two months' salary and bade 
me good-bye. 



6 
THE BLIND DOG 

IT was not a very impressive or high-class dog ; it 
was one of those commonplace dogs one sees 
everywhere colour of white and dust, tail mutilated 
at a young age by God knows whom, born in the 
street, and bred on the leavings and garbage of the 
market-place. He had spotty eyes and undistinguished 
carriage and needless pugnacity. Before he was two 
years old he had earned the scars of a hundred fights 
on his body. When he needed rest on hot afternoons 
he lay curled up under the culvert at the eastern gate 
of the market. In the evenings he set out on his daily 
rounds, loafed in the surrounding streets and lanes, 
engaged himself in skirmishes, picked up edibles on the 
roadside, and was back at the market gate by nightfall. 

This life went on for three years. And then occurred 
a change in his life. A beggar, blind of both eyes, 
appeared at the market gate. An old woman led him 
up there early in the morning, seated him at the gate, 
and came up again at midday with some food, gathered 
his coins, and took him home at night. 

The dog was sleeping near by. He was stirred by 
the smell of food. He got up, came out of his shelter, 
and stood before the blind man, wagging his tail and 
gazing expectantly at the bowl, as he was eating his 
sparse meal. The blind man swept his arms about 
and asked : " Who is there ? " At which the dog 
went up and licked his hand. The blind man stroked 

45 



46 THE BLIND DOG 

its coat gently tail to ear and said : " What a beauty 

you are. Come with me " He threw a handful 

of food which the dog ate gratefully. It was perhaps 
an auspicious moment for starting a friendship. They 
met every day there, and the dog cut off much of its 
rambling to sit up beside the blind man and watch 
him ^receive alms morning to evening. In course of 
time observing him, the dog understood that the 
passers-by must give a coin, and whoever went away 
without dropping a coin was chased by the dog ; he 
tugged the edge of their clothes by his teeth and pulled 
them back to the old man at the gate and let go only 
after something was dropped in his bowl. Among 
those who frequented this place was a village urchin, 
who had the mischief of a devil in him. He liked to 
tease the blind man by calling him names and by 
trying to pick up the coins in his bowl. The blind 
man helplessly shouted and cried and whirled his 
staff. On Thursdays this boy appeared at the gate, 
carrying on his head a basket loaded with cucumber 
or plantain. Every Thursday afternoon it was a 
crisis in the blind man's life. A seller of bright 
coloured but doubtful perfumes with his wares mounted 
on a wheeled platform, a man who spread out cheap 
story-books on a gunny sack, another man who carried 
coloured ribbons on an elaborate frame these were 
the people who usually gathered under the same arch, 
On a Thursday when the young man appeared at the 
Eastern gate one of them remarked, " Blind fellow ! 

Here comes your scourge " 

"Oh, God, is this Thursday?" he wailed. He 
swept his arms about and called : " Dog, dog, come 
here, where are you ? " He made the peculiar noise 
which brought the dog to his side. He stroked his 



THE BLIND DOG 47 

head and muttered : " Don't let that little rascal " 

At this very moment the boy came up with a leer on 
his face. 

" Blind man ! Still pretending you have no eyes. 
If you are really blind, you should not know this 

either " He stopped, his hand moving towards 

the bowl. The dog sprang on him and snapped his 
jaws on wrist. The boy extricated his hand and ran 
for his life. The dog bounded up behind him and 
chased him out of the market. 

" See the mongrel's affection for this old fellow/' 
marvelled the perfume-vendor. 

One evening at the usual time the old woman failed 
to turn up, and the blind man waited at the gate, 
worrying as the evening grew into night. As he sat 
fretting there, a neighbour came up and said : " Sami, 
don't wait for the old woman. She will not come 
again. She died this afternoon " 

The blind man lost the only home he had, and the 
only person who cared for him in this world. The 
ribbon-vendor suggested : " Here, take this white 

tape " He held a length of the white cord which 

he had been selling " I will give this to you 

free of cost. Tie it to the dog and let him lead you 
about if he is really so fond of you " 

Life for the dog took a new turn now. He came to 
take the place of the old woman. He lost his freedom 
completely. His world came to be circumscribed by 
the limits of the white cord which the ribbon-vendor 
had spared. He had to forget wholesale all his old 
life all his old haunts. He simply had to stay on 
for ever at the end of that string. When he saw 
other dogs, friends or foes, instinctively he sprang up, 
tugging the string, and this invariably earned him a 



48 THE BLIND DOG 

kick from his master. " Rascal, want to tumble me 

down have sense " In a few days the dog learnt 

to discipline his instinct and impulse. He ceased to 
take notice of other dogs, even if they came up and 
growled at his side. He lost his own orbit of move- 
ment and contact with his fellow-creatures. 

To the extent of this loss his master gained. He 
moved about as he had never moved in his life. All 
day he was on his legs, led by the dog. With the 
staff in one hand and the dog-lead in the other he 
moved out of his home a corner in a choultry veranda 
a few yards off the market : he had moved in there 
after the old woman's death. He started out early 
in the day. He found that he could treble his income 
by moving about instead of staying in one place. He 
moved down the choultry street, and wherever he 
heard people's voices he stopped and held out his 
hands for alms. Shops, schools, hospitals, hotels he 
left nothing out. He gave a tug when he wanted the 
dog to stop, and shouted like a bullock-driver when 
he wanted him to move on. The dog protected his 
feet from going into pits, or stumping against steps 
or stones, and took him up inch by inch on safe ground 
and steps. For this sight people gave coins and 
helped him. Children gathered round him and gave 
him things to eat. A dog is essentially an active creature 
who punctuates his hectic rounds with well-defined 
periods of rest. But now this dog (henceforth to be 
known as Tiger) had lost all rest. He had rest only 
when the old man sat down somewhere. At night the 
old man slept with the cord turned around his finger. 

" I can't take chances with you " he said. A 

great desire to earn more money than ever before 
seized his master, so that he felt any resting a waste 



THE BLIND DOG 49 

of opportunity, and the dog had to be continuously 
on his feet. Sometimes his legs refused to move. 
But if he slowed down even slightly his master goaded 
him on fiercely with his staff. The dog whined and 
groaned under this thrust. " Don't whine, you 
rascal. Don't I give you your food ? You want to 
loaf, do you ? " swore the blind man. The dog 
lumbered up and down and round and round the 
market-place on slow steps, tied down to the blind 
tyrant. Long after the traffic at the market ceased, 
you could hear the night stabbed by the far-off wail 
of the tired dog. It lost its original appearance. As 
months rolled on, bones stuck up at his haunches and 
ribs were reliefed through his fading coat. 

The ribbon-seller, the novel-vendor and the perfumer 
observed it one evening, when business was slack, and 
held a conference among themselves : "It rends my 
heart to see that poor dog slaving. Can't we do 
something ? " The ribbon-seller remarked : " That 
rascal has started lending money for interest I heard 

it from that fruit-seller He is earning more than 

he needs. He has become a very devil for money " 

At this point the perfumer's eyes caught the scissors 
dangling from the ribbon-rack. " Give it here," he 
said and moved on with the scissors in hand. 

The blind man was passing in front of the Eastern 
gate. The dog was straining the lead. There was a 
piece of bone lying on the way and the dog was 
straining to pick it up. The lead became taut and 
hurt the blind man's hand, and he tugged the string 
and kicked till the dog howled. It howled, but could 
not pass the bone lightly ; it tried to make another 
dash for it. The blind man was heaping curses on it. 
The perfumer stepped up, applied the scissors and 



50 THE BLIND DOG 

snipped the cord. The dog bounced off and picked 
up the bone. The blind man stopped dead where he 
stood, with the other half of the string dangling in 
his hand. " Tiger ! Tiger ! Where are you ? " he 
cried. The perfumer moved away quietly, muttering : 
" You heartless devil ! You will never get at him 
again ! He has his freedom ! " The dog went off 
at top speed. He nosed about the ditches happily, 
hurled himself on other dogs, and ran round and 
round the fountain in the market-square barking, his 
eyes sparkling with joy. He returned to his favourite 
haunts and hung about the butcher's shop, tea-stall, 
and the bakery. 

The ribbon-vendor and his two friends stood at the 
market gate and enjoyed the sight immensely as the 
blind man struggled to find his way about. He stood 
rooted to the spot waving his stick ; he felt as if he 
were hanging in mid-air. He was wailing. " Oh, 
where is my dog? Where is my dog? Won't 
someone give him back to me? I will murder it 
when I get at it again ! " He groped about, tried to 
cross the road, came near being run over by a dozen 
vehicles at different points, tumbled and struggled 
and gasped. " He'd deserve it if he was run over, 

this heartless blackguard " they said, observing 

him. However, the old man struggled through and 
with the help of someone found his way back to his 
corner in the choultry veranda and sank down on 
his gunnysack bed, half faint with the strain of 
his journey. 

He was not seen for ten days, fifteen days and 
twenty days. Nor was the dog seen anywhere. They 
commented among themselves. " The dog must be 
loafing over the whole earth, free and happy. The 



THE BLIND DOG 51 

beggar is perhaps gone for ever " Hardly was 

this sentence uttered when they heard the familiar 
tap-tap of the blind man's staff. They saw him 
again coming up the pavement led by the dog. 
" Look ! Look ! " they cried. " He has again got 

at it and tied it up " The ribbon-seller could not 

contain himself. He ran up and said : " Where 
have you been all these days ? " 

" Know what happened ! " cried the blind man. 
" This dog ran away. I should have died in a day 
or two, confined to my corner, no food, not an anna 
to earn imprisoned in my corner. I should have 

perished if it continued for another day But this 

thing returned " 

" When ? When ? " 

" Last night. At midnight as I slept in bed, he 
came and licked my face. I felt like murdering him. 
I gave him a blow which he will never forget again," 
said the blind man. " I forgave him, after all a dog ! 
He loafed as long as he could pick up some rubbish 
to eat on the road, but real hunger has driven him 
back to jne, but he will not leave me again. See ! 

I have got this " and he shook the lead : it was 

a steel chain this time. 

Once again there was the dead, despairing look in 
the dog's eyes. " Go on, you fool," cried the blind 
man, shouting like an ox-driver. He tugged the 
chain, poked with the stick, and the dog moved away 
on slow steps. They stood listening to the tap-tap 
going away. 

" Death alone can help that dog," cried the ribbon- 
seller, looking after it with a sigh. " What can we do 
with a creature who returns to his doom with such a 
free heart ? " 



7 
FELLOW-FEELING 

THE Madras-Bangalore Express was due to start 
in a few minutes. Trolleys and barrows piled 
with trunks and beds rattled their way through the 
bustle. Fruit-sellers and beedi-and-betel sellers cried 
themselves hoarse. Latecomers pushed, shouted and 
perspired. The engine added to the general noise 
with the low monotonous hum of its boiler ; the first 
bell rang, the guard looked at his watch. Mr. Rajam 
Iyer arrived on the platform at a terrific pace, with 
a small roll of bedding under one arm and an absurd 
yellow trunk under the other. He ran to the first 
third-class compartment that caught his eye, peered 
in and, since the door could not be opened on account 
of the congestion inside, flung himself in through the 
window. 

Fifteen minutes later Madras flashed past the train 
in window-framed patches of sun-scorched roofs and 
fields. At the next halt, Mandhakam, most of the 
passengers got down. The compartment built to 
" seat 8 passengers ; 4 British Troops, or 6 Indian 
Troops," now carried only nine. Rajam Iyer found 
a seat and made himself comfortable opposite a sallow, 
meek passenger, who suddenly removed his coat, 
folded it and placed it under his head and lay down, 
shrinking himself to the area he had occupied while 
he was sitting. With his knees drawn up almost to 

52 



FELLOW-FEELING 53 

his chin, he rolled himself into a ball. Rajam Iyer 
threw at him an indulgent, compassionate look. He 
then fumbled for his glasses and pulled out of his 
pocket a small book, which set forth in clear Tamil 
the significance of the obscure Sandhi rites that every 
Brahmin worth the name performs thrice daily. 

He was startled out of this pleasant languor by a 
series of growls coming from a passenger who had got 
in at Katpadi. The newcomer, looking for a seat, 
had been irritated by the spectacle of the meek 
passenger asleep and had enforced the law of the 
Third-class. He then encroached on most of the 
meek passenger's legitimate space and began to deliver 
home-truths which passed by easy stages from im- 
pudence to impertinence and finally to ribaldry. 

Rajam Iyer peered over his spectacles. There was 
a dangerous look in his eyes. He tried to return to 
the book, but could not. The bully's speech was 
gathering momentum. 

" What is all this ? " Rajam Iyer asked suddenly, 
in a hard tone. 

" What is what ? " growled back the newcomer, 
turning sharply on Rajam Iyer. 

" Moderate your style a bit," Rajam Iyer said 
firmly. 

" You moderate yours first,' 1 replied the other. 

A pause. 

" My man," Rajam Iyer began endearingly, " this 
sort of thing will never do." 

The newcomer received this in silence. Rajam 
Iyer felt encouraged and drove home his moral : 
"Just try and be more courteous, it is your duty." 

" You mind your business," replied the newcomer. 

Rajam Iyer shook his head disapprovingly and 



54 FELLOW-FEELING 

drawled out a " No." The newcomer stood looking 
out for some time and, as if expressing a brilliant 
truth that had just dawned on him, said, " You arc 
a Brahmin, I see. Learn, sir, that your days are over. 
Don't think you can bully us as you have been bullying 
us all these years." 

Rajam Iyer gave a short laugh and said : " What 
has it to do with your beastly conduct to this gentle- 
man ? " 

The newcomer assumed a tone of mock humility 
and said : " Shall I take the dust from your feet, O 
Holy Brahmin ? Oh, Brahmin, Brahmin." He con- 
tinued in a sing-song fashion : " Your days are over, 
my dear sir, learn that. I should like to see you 
trying a bit of bossing on us." 

" Whose master is who ? " asked Rajam Iyer 
philosophically. 

The newcomer went on with no obvious relevance : 
" The cost of mutton has gone up out of all proportion. 
It is nearly double what it used to be." 

" Is it ? " asked Rajam Iyer. 

" Yes, and why ? " continued the other. " Because 
Brahmins have begun to eat meat and they pay high 
prices to get it secretly." He then turned to the 
other passengers and added : " And we non-Brahmins 
have to pay the same price, though we don't care for 
the secrecy." 

Rajam Iyer leaned back in his seat, reminding 
himself of a proverb which said that if you threw a 
stone into a gutter it would only spurt filth in your face. 

" And," said the newcomer, " the price of meat 
used to be five annas per pound. I remember the 
days quite well. It is nearly twelve annas now. 
Why? Because the Brahmin is prepared to pay so 



FELLOW-FEELING 55 

much, if only he can have it in secret* I have with 
my own eyes seen Brahmins, pukkah Brahmins with 
sacred threads on their bodies, carrying fish under 
their arms, of course all wrapped up in a towel. Ask 
them what it is, and they will tell you that it is plantain. 
Plantain that has life, I suppose ! I once tickled a 
fellow under the arm and out came the biggest fish 
in the market. Hey, Brahmin," he said, turning to 
Rajam Iyer, " what did you have for your meal this 
morning?" "Who? I ? " asked Rajam Iyer. "Why 
do you want to know ? " " Look, sirs," said the 
newcomer to the other passengers, " why is he afraid 
to tell us what he ate this morning ? " And turning 
to Rajam Iyer, " Mayn't a man ask another what he 
had for his morning meal ? " 

" Oh, by all means. I had rice, ghee, curds, brinjal 
soup, fried beans." 

" Oh, is that all ? " asked the newcomer, with an 
innocent look. 

" Yes," replied Rajam Iyer. 

" Is that all ? " 

" Yes, how many times do you want me to repeat 
it?" 

" No offence, no offence," replied the newcomer. 

" Do you mean to say I am lying ? " asked 
Rajam Iyer. 

" Yes," replied the other, " you have omitted from 
your list a few things. Didn't I see you this morning 
going home from the market with a banana, a water 
banana, wrapped up in a towel, under your arm? 
Possibly it was somebody very much like you. Possibly 
I mistook the person. My wife prepares excellent 
soup with fish. You won't be able to find the difference 
between dholl soup and fish soup. Send your wife, 



5 6 FELLOW-FEELING 

or the wife of the person that was exactly like you to 
my wife to learn soup making. Hundreds of Brahmins 
have smacked their lips over the dholl soup prepared 
in my house. I am a leper if there is a lie in anything 
I say." 

" You are," replied Rajam Iyer, grinding his teeth. 
" You are a rabid leper." 

" Whom do you call a leper ! " 

" You ! " 

" I ? You call me a leper ? " 

" No. I call you a rabid leper." 

" You call me rabid ? " the newcomer asked, striking 
his chest to emphasize " Me." 

" You are a filthy brute," said Rajam Iyer. " You 
must be handed over to the police." 

" Bah ! " exclaimed the newcomer. " As if I didn't 
know what these police were." 

" Yes, you must have had countless occasions to 
know the police. And you will see more of them yet 
in your miserable life, if you don't get beaten to death 
like the street mongrel you are," said Rajam Iyer in 
great passion. " With your foul mouth you are bound 
to come to that end." 

" What do you say ? " shouted the newcomer 
menacingly. " What do you say, you vile humbug ? " 

" Shut up," Rajam Iyer cried. 

" You shut up." 

" Do you know to whom you are talking ? " 

" What do I care who the son of a mongrel is ? " 

" I will thrash you with my slippers," said Rajam 
Iyer. 

" I will pulp you down with an old rotten sandal," 
came the reply. 

" I will kick you," said Rajam Iyer. 



FELLOW-FEELING 57 

" Will you ? " howled the newcomer. 

" Come on, let us see." 

Both rose to their feet simultaneously. 

There they stood facing each other on the floor of 
the compartment. Rajam Iyer was seized by a sense 
of inferiority. The newcomer stood nine clean inches 
over him. He began to feel ridiculous, short and fat, 
wearing a loose dhot and a green coat, while the 
newcomer towered above him in his grease-spotted 
khaki suit. Out of the corner of his eye he noted that 
the other passengers were waiting eagerly to see how 
the issue would be settled and were not in the least 
disposed to intervene. 

" Why do you stand as if your mouth was stopped 
with mud ? " asked the newcomer. 

" Shut up," Rajam Iyer snapped, trying not to be 
impressed by the size of the adversary. 

" Your honour said that you would kick me," said 
the newcomer, pretending to offer himself. 

" Won't I kick you ? " asked Rajam Iyer. 

" Try." 

" No," said Rajam Iyer, " I will do something 



worse." 



" Do it," said the other, throwing forward his chest 
and pushing up the sleeves of his coat. 

Rajam Iyer removed his coat and rolled up his 
sleeves. He rubbed his hands and commanded 
suddenly " Stand still ! " The newcomer was taken 
aback. He stood for a second baffled. Rajam Iyer 
gave him no time to think. With great force he 
swung his right arm and brought it near the other's 
cheek, but stopped it short without hitting him. 

" Wait a minute, I think I had better give you a 
chance," said Rajam Iyer. 



5 8 FELLOW-FEELING 

" What chance ? " asked the newcomer. 

" It would be unfair if I did it without giving you 
a chance." 

" Did what ? " 

" You stand there and it will be over in a fraction 
of a second." 

" Fraction of a second ? What will you do ? " 

" Oh, nothing very complicated," replied Raj am 
Iyer nonchalantly, " nothing very complicated. I 
will slap your right cheek and at the same time tug 
your left ear and your mouth, which is now under 
your nose, will suddenly find itself under your left ear, 
and, what is more, stay there. I assure you, you won't 
feel any pain." 

" What do you say ? " 

" And it will all be over before you say ' Sri Rama V 

" I don't believe it," said the newcomer. 

" Well and good. Don't believe it," said Rajam 
Iyer carelessly. " I never do it except under extreme 
provocation." 

" Do you think I am an infant ? " 

" I implore you, my man, not to believe me. Have 
you heard of a thing called ju-jitsu ? Well, this is a 
simple trick in ju-jitsu perhaps known to half a dozen 
persons in the whole of South India." 

" You said you would kick me," said the newcomer. 

" Well, isn't this worse ? " asked Rajam Iyer. He 
drew a line on the newcomer's face between his left 
ear and mouth, muttering " I must admit you have a 
tolerably good face and round figure. But imagine 
yourself going about the streets with your mouth under 
your left ear . . ." He chuckled at the vision. " I 
expect at Jalarpet station there will be a huge crowd 
outside our compartment to see you/ 9 The newcomer 



FELLOW-FEELING 59 

stroked his chin thoughtfully. Rajam Iyer continued : 
" I felt it my duty to explain the whole thing to you 
beforehand. I am not as hot headed as you are. I 
have some consideration for your wife and children. 
It will take some time for the kids to recognize papa 
when he returns home with his mouth under . . . 
How many children have you ? " 

" Four." 

" And then think of it," said Rajam Iyer : " You 
will have to take your food under your left ear, and 
you will need the assistance of your wife to drink 
water. She will have to pour it in." 

" I will go to a doctor," said the newcomer. 

" Do go," replied Rajam Iyer, " and I will give you a 
thousand rupees if you find a doctor. You may try 
even European doctors." 

The newcomer stood ruminating with knitted brow. 
" Now prepare," shouted Rajam Iyer, " one blow on 
the right cheek. I will jerk your left ear, and your 
mouth . . ." 

The newcomer suddenly ran to the window and 
leaned far out of it. Rajam decided to leave the 
compartment at Jalarpet. 

But the moment the train stopped at Jalarpet station, 
the newcomer grabbed his bag and jumped out. He 
moved away at a furious pace and almost knocked 
down a coconut-seller and a person carrying a tray- 
load of coloured toys. Rajam Iyer felt it would not 
be necessary for him to get out now. He leaned 
through the window and cried, " Look here ! " The 
newcomer turned. 

" Shall I keep a seat for you ? " asked Rajam Iyer. 

"No, my ticket is for Jalaipet," the newcomer 
answered and quickened his pace. 



60 FELLOW-FEELING 

The train had left Jalarpet at least a mile behind. 
The meek passenger still sat shrunk in a corner of the 
seat. Rajam Iyer looked over his spectacles and said : 
" Lie down if you like. 53 

The meek passenger proceeded to roll himself into 
a ball. Rajam Iyer added, " Did you hear that bully 
say that his ticket was for Jalarpet ? " 

" Yes." 

" Well," he lied, u he is in the fourth compartment 
from here. I saw him get into it just as the train 
started." 

Though the meek passenger was too grateful to 
doubt this statement, one or two other passengers 
looked at Rajam Iyer sceptically. 



8 
THE WATCHMAN 

THERE was still a faint splash of red on the 
western horizon. The watchman stood on the 
tank bund and took a final survey. All the people 
who had come for evening walks had returned to 
their homes. Not a soul anywhere except that 
obstinate angler, at the northern end, who sat with 
his feet in water, sadly gazing on his rod. It was no 
use bothering about him : he would sit there till 
midnight, hoping for a catch. 

The Taluk office gong struck nine. The watchman 
was satisfied that no trespassing cattle had sneaked in 
through the wire fencing. As he turned to go, he 
saw, about a hundred yards away, a shadowy figure 
moving down the narrow stone steps that led to the 
water's edge. He thought for a second that it might 
be a ghost. He dismissed the idea, and went up to 
investigate. If it was anyone come to bathe at this 
hour. . . . From the top step he observed that it 
was a woman's form. She stooped over the last step 
and placed something on it possibly a letter. She 
then stepped into knee-deep water, and stood there, 
her hands pressed together in prayer. Unmistakable 
signs always to be followed by the police and gruesome 
details, bringing the very worst possible reputation 
to a tank. 

He shouted, " Gome out, there, come out of ik" 
The form looked up from the water. " Don't stand 

61 



62 THE WATCHMAN 

there and gaze. You'll catch a cold, come up whoever 
you are . . ." He raced down the steps and picked 
up the letter. He hurriedly lit his lamp, and turned 
its wick, till it burnt brightly, and held it up, mur- 
muring : " I don't like this. Why is everyone coming 
to the same tank ? If you want to be dead, throw 
yourself under an engine," he said. 

The light fell upon the other's face. It was a young 
girl's, wet with tears. He felt a sudden pity. He said, 
" Sit down, sit down and rest . . . no, no ... go up 
two more steps and sit down. Don't sit so near the 
water . . ." She obeyed. He sat down on the last 
step between her and the water, placed the lantern on 
the step, took out a piece of tobacco and put it in 
his mouth. She buried her face in her hands, and 
began to sob. He felt troubled and asked : " Why 
don't you rise and go home, lady ? " 

She sputtered through her sob : " I have no home 
in this world ! " 

" Don't tell me ! Surely, you didn't grow up with- 
out a home all these years ! " said the watchman. 

" I lost my mother when I was five years old " 

she said. 

" I thought so . . ." replied the watchman, and 
added, " and your father married again and you grew 
up under the care of your step-mother ? " 

" Yes, yes, how do you know ? " she asked. 

" I am sixty-five years old," he said and asked : 
" Did your step-mother trouble you ? " 

" No, there you are wrong," the girl said. " She 
is very kind to me. She has been looking after me 
ever since my father died a few years ago. She has 
just a little money on hand left by my father, and she 
spends it on us." 



THE WATCHMAN 63 

The watchman looked at the stars, sighed for the 
dinner that he was missing. " It's very late, madam, 
go home." 

" I tell you I've no home " she retorted 

angrily. 

" Your step-mother's house is all right from what 
you say. She is good to you." 

" But why should I be a burden to her ? Who 
am I ? " 

"You are her husband's daughter " the watch- 
man said, and added, " that is enough claim." 

" No no. I won't live on anybody's charity." 

" Then you will have to wait till they find you 
a husband " 

She glared at him in the dark. " That's what I 
do not want to do. I want to study and become a 
doctor and earn my livelihood. I don't want to 
marry. I often catch my mother talking far into the 
night to her eldest son, worrying about my future, 
about my marriage. I know they cannot afford to 
keep me in college very long now ; it costs about 
twenty rupees a month." 

" Twenty rupees ! " The watchman exclaimed. 
It was his month's salary. " How can anybody spend 
so much for books ! " 

" Till today," she said, " I was hoping that I would 
get a scholarship. That would have saved me. But 
this evening they announced ; others have got it, not 

I. My name is not there " and she broke down 

again. The watchman looked at her in surprise. He 
comprehended very little of all this situation. She 
added : " And when they come to know of this, they 
will try to arrange my marriage. Someone is coming 
to have a look at me tomorrow " 



64 THE WATCHMAN 

" Marry him and may God bless you with ten 
children." 

" No, no," she cried hysterically. " I don't want 
to marry. I want to study." 

The silent night was stabbed by her sobbing and 
some night bird rustled the water, and wavelets beat 
upon the shore. Seeing her suffer, he found his own 
sorrows in life came to his mind ; how in those far-off 
times, in his little village home an epidemic of cholera 
laid out his father and mother and brothers on the 
same day, and he was the sole survivor ; how he was 
turned out of his ancestral home through the trickery 
of his father's kinsmen, and he wandered as an orphan, 
suffering indescribable hunger and privation. 

" Everyone has his own miseries," he said. " If 
people tried to kill themselves for each one of them, 
I don't know how often they would have to drown." 
He remembered further incidents and his voice shook 
with sorrow. " You are young and you don't know 
what sorrow is ..." He remained silent and a sob 
broke out of him as he said : " I prayed to all the 
gods in the world for a son. My wife bore me eight 
children. Only one daughter lives now, and none of 
the others saw the eleventh year , , ." The girl 
looked at him in bewilderment. 

The Taluk office gong struck again. " It is late, 
you had better get up and go home " he said. 

She replied : " I have no home." 

He felt irritated. " You are making too much of 
nothing. You should not be obstinate " 

" You don't know my trouble," she said. 

He picked up his lantern and staff and got up. He 
put her letter down where he found it. 

" If you are going to be so obstinate I'll leave you 



THE WATCHMAN 65 

alone. No one can blame me." He paused for a 
moment, looked at her, and went up the steps ; not 
a word passed between them again. 

The moment he came back to duty next morning, 
he hurried down the stone steps. The letter lay where 
he had dropped it on the previous night. He picked 
it up and gazed on it, helplessly, wishing that it could 
tell him about the fate of the girl after he had left her. 
He tore it up and flung it on the water. As he watched 
the bits float off on ripples, he blamed himself for 
leaving her and going away on the previous night. 
" I am responsible for at least one suicide in this tank," 
he often remarked to himself. He could never look 
at the blue expanse of water again with an easy mind. 
Even many months later he could not be certain that 
the remains of a body would not come up all of a 
sudden. " Who knows, it sometimes happens that 
the body gets stuck deep down," he reflected. 



Years later, one evening as he stood on the bund 
and took a final survey before going home, he saw a 
car draw up on the road below. A man, a woman, 
and three children emerged from the car and climbed 
the bund. When they approached, the watchman felt 
a start at his heart ; the figure and face of the woman 
seemed familiar to him. Though altered by years, 
and ornaments, and dress, he thought that he had now 
recognized the face he had once seen by the lantern 
light. He felt excited at this discovery. He had 
numerous questions to ask. He brought together his 
palms and saluted her respectfully. He expected she 
would stop and speak to him. But she merely threw 



66 THE WATCHMAN 

at him an indifferent glance and passed on. He stood 
staring after her for a moment, baffled. " Probably 
this is someone else/' he muttered and turned to go 
home, resolving to dismiss the whole episode from 
his mind. 



9 
THE TIGER'S CLAW 

THE man-eater's dark career was ended. The 
men who had laid it low were the heroes of 
the day. They were garlanded with chrysanthemum 
flowers and seated on the arch of the highest bullock 
cart and were paraded in the streets, immediately 
followed by another bullock-drawn open cart, on 
which their trophy lay with glazed eyes overflowing 
the cart on every side, his tail trailing the dust. The 
village suspended all the normal activity for the day : 
men, women, and children thronged the highways, 
pressing on with the procession, excitedly talking 
about the tiger. The tiger had held a reign of terror 
for nearly five years, in the villages that girt Mempi 
forests. 

We watched fascinated this scene, drifting along 
with the crowd till the Talkative Man patted us 
from behind and cried : " Lost in wonder ! If youVe 
had your eyefull of that carcass, come aside and listen 
to me . . ." After the crowd surged past us, he sat 
us on a rock mount, under a margosa tree and began 
his tale " I was once camping in Koppal, the most 
obscure of all the villages that lie scattered about the 
Mempi region. You might wonder what I was doing 
in that desolate corner of the Earth. I'll tell you. 
You remember I've often spoken to you about my 
work as agent of a soil fertilizer company. It was the 

67 



68 THE TIGER'S CLAW 

most miserable period of my life. Twenty-five days 
in the month, I had to be on the road, visiting nooks 
and corners of the country and popularizing the 
stuff. . . . One such journey brought me on to the 
village Koppal. It was not really a ' village ' but 
just a clearing with about forty houses and two streets, 
hemmed in by the jungle on all sides. The place was 
dingy and depressing. Why our company should have 
sought to reach a place like this for their stuff, I can't 
understand. They would not have known of its 
existence but for the fact that it was on the railway. 
Yes, actually on the railway, some obscure branch-line 
passed through this village, though most trains did not 
stop there. Its centre of civilization was its railway 
station presided over by a porter in blue, and an old 
station-master, a wizened man wearing a green turban, 
and with red and green flags always tucked under his 
arms. Let me tell you about the * station.' It was 
not a building, but an old railway carriage, which, 
having served its term of life, was deprived of its 
wheels and planted beside the railway lines. It had 
one or two windows through which the station-master 
issued tickets, and spoke to those occasional passengers 
who turned up in this wilderness. A convolvulus 
creeper was trained over its entrance : no better use 
could be found for an ex-carriage. 

" One November morning a mixed train put me down 
at this station and puffed away into the forest. The 
station-master, with the flags under his arm, became 
excited on seeing me. He had seen so few travellers 
arriving that it gave him no end of pleasure to see a 
new face. He appointed himself my host immediately, 
and took me into the ex-compartment and seated me 
on a stool. He said : ' Excuse me. I'll get off these 



THE TIGER'S CLAW 69 

papers in a minute . . .' He scrawled over some 
brown sheets, put them away and rose. He locked 
up the station, and took me to his home a very tiny 
stone building consisting of just one room, a kitchen, 
and a backyard. The station-master lived here with 
his wife and seven children. He fed me. I changed. 
He sent the porter along with me to the village, 
which was nearly a mile off in the interior. I gathered 
about me the peasants of those forty houses and 
lectured to them from the pyol of the headman's 
house. They listened to me patiently, received the 
samples and my elaborate directions for their use, 
and went away to their respective occupations, with 
cynical comments among themselves regarding my 
ideas of manuring. I packed up and started back 
for the station-master's house at dusk, my throat 
smarting and my own words ringing in my ears. 
Though a couple of trains were now passing, the only 
stopping train would be at 5.30 on the following 
morning. After dinner at the station-master's house, 
I felt the time had come for me to leave : it would 
be indelicate to stay on, when the entire family was 
waiting to spread their beds in the hall. I said I 
would sleep on the platform till my train arrived. . . . 
'No, no, these are very bad parts. Not like your town. 
Full of tigers. . . .' the station-master said. He let 
me, as a special concession, sleep in the ' station.' A 
heavy table, a chair and a stool occupied most of the 
space in the compartment. I pushed them aside and 
made a little space for myself in a corner. I'd at 
least eight hours before me. I laid myself down : 
all kinds of humming and rustling sounds came through 
the still night, and telegraph poles and night insects 
hummed, and bamboo bushes creaked. I got up, 



70 THE TIGER'S CLAW 

bolted the little station door and lay down, feeling 
forlorn. It became very warm, and I couldn't sleep. 
I got up again, opened the door slightly to let in a 
little air, placed the chair across the door and went 
back to my bed. 

" I fell asleep and dreamt. I was standing on the 
crest of a hill and watching the valley below, under 
a pale moonlight. Far off a line of cat-like creatures 
was moving across the slope, half shadows, and I 
stood looking at them admiringly, for they marched 
on with great elegance. I was so much lost in this 
vision that I hadn't noticed that they had moved up, 
and come by a winding path right behind me. I 
turned and saw that they were not cat-like in size 
but full-grown tigers. I made a dash to the only 
available shelter the station room. 

"At this point the dream ended as the chair barri- 
cading the door came hurtling through and fell on me. 
I opened my eyes and saw at the door a tiger pushing 
himself in. It was a muddled moment for me : not 
being sure whether the dream was continuing or 
whether I was awake. I at first thought it was my 
friend the station-master who was coming in, but my 
dream had fully prepared my mind I saw the thing 
dearly against the star-lit sky, tail wagging, growling, 
and above all, his terrible eyes gleaming through the 
dark. I understood that the Fertilizer Company 
would have to manage without my lectures from the 
following day. The tiger himself was rather startled 
by the noise of the chair, and stood hesitating. He 
saw me quite clearly in my corner, and he seemed to 
be telling himself : ' My dinner is there ready, but 
let me first know what this clattering noise is about. 9 
Somehow wild animals are less afraid of human beings 



THE TIGER'S CLAW 71 

than they are of pieces of furniture like chairs and 
tables. I have seen circus men managing a whole 
menagerie with nothing more than a chair. God 
gives us such recollections in order to save us at 
critical moments ; and as the tiger stood observing 
me and watching the chair, I put out my hands and 
with desperate strength drew the table towards me, 
and also the stool. I sat with my back to the corner ; 
the table wedged in nicely with the corner. I sat 
under it, and the stool walled up another side. While 
I dragged the table down, a lot of things fell off it, 
a table lamp, a long knife and pins. From my shelter 
I peeped at the tiger, who was also watching me with 
interest. Evidently he didn't like his meal to be so 
completely shut out of sight. So he cautiously ad- 
vanced a step or two, making a sort of rumbling noise 
at his throat which seemed to shake up the little 
station house. My end was nearing. I really pitied 
the woman whose lot it was to have become my wife. 

" I held up the chair like a shield, and flourished it, 
and the tiger hesitated and fell back a step or two. 
Now once again we spent some time watching for 
each other's movements. I held my breath and 
waited. The tiger stood there fiercely waving its tail, 
which sometimes struck the side walls and sent forth 
a thud. He suddenly crouched down without taking 
his eyes off me, and scratched the floor with his daws. 
c He is sharpening it for me,' I told myself. The little 
shack had already acquired the smell of a zoo. It 
made me sick. The tiger kept scratching the floor 
with his fore-paws. It was the most hideous sound 
you could think of. 

"All of a sudden he sprang up and flung his entire 
weight on this lot of furniture. I thought it'd be 



72 THE TIGER'S CLAW 

reduced to matchwood, but fortunately, our railways 
have a lot of foresight and choose the heaviest timber 
for their furniture. That saved me. The tiger could 
do nothing more than perch himself on the roof of 
the table and hang down his paws : he tried to strike 
me down, but I parried with the chair and stool. 
The table rocked under him. I felt smothered : I 
could feel his breath on me. He sat completely 
covering the top, and went on shooting his paws in 
my direction. He would have scooped portions of me 
out for his use, but fortunately I sat right in the 
centre, a hair's-breadth out of his reach on any side. He 
made vicious sounds and wriggled over my head. 
He could have knocked the chair to one side and 
dragged me out, if he had come down, but somehow 
the sight of the chair seemed to worry him for a time. 
He preferred to be out of its reach. This battle went 
on for a while, I cannot say how long : time had come 
to a dead stop in my world. He jumped down and 
walked about the table, looking for a gap ; I rattled the 
chair a couple of times, but very soon it lost all its 
terror for him ; he patted the chair and found that it 
was inoffensive. At this discovery he tried to hurl it 
aside. But I was too quick for him. I swiftly drew 
it towards me and wedged it tight into the arch of the 
table, and the stool protected me on another side. 
I was more or less in a stockade made of the legs of 
furniture. He sat up on his haunch in front of 
me, wondering how best to get at me. Now the 
chair, table, and stool had formed a solid block with 
me at their heart, and they could withstand all his 
tricks. He scrutinized my arrangement with great 
interest, espied a gap, and thrust his paw in. It 
dangled in my eyes with the curved claws opening out 



THE TIGER'S CLAW 73 

towards me. I felt very angry at the sight of it. 
Why should I allow the offensive to be developed all 
in his own way? I felt very indignant. The long 
knife from the station-master's table was lying nearby. 
I picked it up and drove it in. He withdrew his paw, 
maddened by pain. He jumped up and nearly brought 
down the room, and then tried to crack to bits the 
entire stockade. He did not succeed. He once again 
thrust his paw in. I employed the long knife to good 
purpose and cut off a digit with the claw on it. It 
was a fight to a finish between him and me. He 
returned again and again to the charge. And I cut 
out, let me confess, three claws, before I had done 
with him. I had become as blood-thirsty as he. 
(Those claws, mounted on gold, are hanging around 
the necks of my three daughters. You can come and 
see them if you like sometime.) 

"At about five in the morning the station-master 
and the porter arrived, and innocently walked in. 
The moment they stepped in the tiger left me and 
turned on them. They both ran at top speed. The 
station-master flew back to his house and shut the 
door. The porter on fleet foot went up a tree, with 
the tiger halfway up behind him. Thus they stopped, 
staring at each other till the goods train lumbered in 
after 5.30. It hissed and whistled and belched fire, 
till the tiger took himself down and bolted across the 
lines into the jungle. 

"He did not visit these parts again, though one was 
constantly hearing of his ravages. I did not meet 
him again till a few moments ago when I saw him 
riding in that bullock cart. I instantly recognized 
him by his right forepaw, where three toes and claws 
are missing. You seemed to be so much lost in 



74 THE TIGER'S CLAW 

admiration for those people who met the tiger at their 
own convenience, with gun and company, thfrt I 
thought you might give a little credit to a fellow who 
has faced the same animal, alone, barehanded. Hence 
this narration." 

When the Talkative Man left us we moved on to 
the square where they were keeping the trophy in 
view and hero-worshipping and feting the hunters, 
who were awaiting a lorry from the town. We pushed 
through the crowd, and begged to be shown the right 
forepaw of the tiger. Somebody lowered a gas lamp. 
Yes, three toes were missing, and a black deep scar 
marked the spot. The man who cut it off must have 
driven his knife with the power of a hammer. To a 
question, the hunters replied : " Can't say how it 
happens. We've met a few instances like this. 
It's said that some forest tribes, if they catch a tiger 
cub, cut off its claws for some talisman, and let it go. 
They do not usually kill cubs." 



10 
THE PERFORMING CHILD 

THE child was still in bed dreaming : she was 
given a green railway engine just large enough 
to accommodate her. She got into it and drove it all 
over the garden. Near the jasmine plant she stopped 
it for a while, and put her hand out of the window to 
pluck flowers, and then the engine took her under the 
red flowers of a creeper hanging over a wall at the 
end of the street. And then she drove all by herself 
to the zoo and all the monkeys there wanted to ride. 
Of course there was no room for all of them. She 
had just enough space for herself and the bald doll. 
She applied some hair oil and the doll began to have 
such long tresses that she braided them and put jasmine 
into them ; and she clothed the doll in a green frock 
and the doll said how nice it was. Of course there 
were bags and bags of sweets scattered all over the 
floor of the engine. . . . She was just stooping to 
pick up a handful of chocolates when mother's voice 
called : " Kutti ! Kutti ! get up." And Kutti came 
out of the dream. " Get up, it is eight o'clock.'* 

" Oh, mother, why did you disturb me now ? It 
was such a beautiful engine. Just let me sleep again. 
The doll wants to go home." 

" They will be coming now, and you must be ready, 
my dear. And if they like your dancing they will give 
you so much money ; you can buy ten dolls and 
engines." 

* 75 



76 THE PERFORMING CHILD 

" Is it true, mother ? " 

" Certainly, dear. Get up. They will give you a 
lot of money." 

" But I think you will take away all the money ; and 
I won't be able to buy what I want." 

" I promise, you shall have all the money, but only 
on condition that you dance and sing as you did in 
your school the other day." 

Two people who were connected with the films had 
seen Kutti dance and sing in her school and they 
were now coming to see her. This was a sudden burst 
of good fortune for the family ; Kutti's father was a 
school master earning fifty rupees a month and with 
it he had to pay for Kutti's education, pay off instal- 
ments of a co-operative debt incurred for his sister's 
marriage, and also run the household. For two years 
this had been a major worry for the family, and it 
had given Kutti's father a permanent look of harass- 
ment. And now in a most unexpected manner relief 
seemed to be coming : the debt could be ticked off ; 
the pieces of jewellery pledged with a banker could 
be released and Kutti's mother could once again hold 
up her head before her friends. " How much are 
you going to demand ? " she often asked her husband 
and was told : " At least ten thousand rupees, not 
an annas less." 

At nine o'clock the film people arrived. One of 
them was elderly and wore diamond rings on his 
fingers, and the other was smart, and wore a tweed 
suit and rimless glasses ; they took the two ricketty 
chairs offered to them by Kutti's father. They looked 
too imposing in this humble home ; the roof seemed 
to be coining down and touching their heads they 
gave such an impression of being high and stooping. 



THE PERFORMING CHILD 77 

They spent a few minutes in inanities and then the 
smart man said, looking at his watch : " We've not 
much time to spare. Will you call up the child ? " 

Kutti came into the hall, dressed for the occasion 
by her mother : her hair was plaited tight and had 
flowers ; she wore a chequered silk skirt, and a green 
jacket, and had a vermilion dot on her forehead. 
Her father looked at her with pride. 

The elderly man held out a packet of chocolates. 
Kutti hesitated, looking at her father for permission. 
The elderly man got up and thrust it in her hand and 
asked, " Do you like cinemas, child ? " 

" No," Kutti replied promptly, leaning on her 
father's knees. 

"Why not?" 

" Because they are so dark," replied Kutti. The 
smart man was viewing her gestures and movements 
critically. He said as if talking in a dream : " I'd 
like to see her in a frock ; and her hair to be untied. 
This old-fashioned dressing makes her look older 
than she really is. Can't you put her into a frock 
now?" 

" Now ? " asked father in consternation, and told 
his daughter : " Get into a frock, Kutti, and undo 
your hair." 

" Let it fall down on your neck," said the smart man. 
Kutti looked sullen. 

" And where will the flowers be ? " she asked. " I 
must keep the flowers." 

" All right, let your hair alone, 
a frock." 

" I like this skirt," said Kutti. 

" Very well ; don't worry nov 
it later," said the smart man. 




78 THE PERFORMING CHILD 

" Will you sing the piece you sang in your school 
the other day, and dance ? " 

"No," said Kutti. "I've forgotten it." The 
elderly man fumbled in his pocket and brought out 
another piece of chocolate. " And now baby, give us 
that song and you can have this." Kutti looked at 
her father. 

" Go on, sing," he said, which meant to her by 
implication " Yes, you may accept the chocolate." 
Her mother's voice said from an inner room : " Go 
on, Kutti, be a good girl." And Kutti opened her 
mouth and her shrill voice sang an invitation to Lord 
Krishna. Her eyes danced as if they beheld Krishna 
before them ; her arms beckoned him, and her feet 
were tremulous ; with every muscle in her body she 
enriched the song. She was a born dancer, a born 
actress. She could conjure up with her voice, 
expression, and movement, a vision for others. For 
a moment that humble room, with its ricketty chairs, 
and fading prints of gods in frames, and dusty floor, 
acquired the atmosphere of a fairy-land for the gods 
to come and go : Krishna, an enchanting baby, 
toddled up and revealed the universe in his mouth 
when his mother looked in to see if he had put anything 
in his mouth ; and then when grown up, the leader 
of a gang of disreputable youngsters keeping the 
neighbourhood in tantrums ; and then the divine 
lover wringing the heart ofgopis . . . and he vanished 
abruptly, the fairy hall vanished, and the fading 
prints in frames, and the ricketty chairs came into 
view again when Kutti's voice ceased. She took 
breath and looked around at her audience. The 
smart man sprang forward, took her in his arms, 
kissed her, hugged her and would not put her down* 



THE PERFORMING CHILD 79 

He said to his companion : " This is a marvellous 
child, just the kid for the picture. I shall refuse to 
go on with your picture unless you take in this kid, 
understand ? " 

" Certainly, certainly." 

" We are going now, and coming back at about 
four in the afternoon, and if you don't mind I would 
like to take the kid to the studio and test her before 
a camera and mike." 

As they were leaving, the elderly man said to Kutti's 
father : " We like your child very much. I hope 
she will be famous very soon. If you are free, I 
would like to have a word with you in the evening." 

The whole day the husband and wife could think 
and talk of nothing but their child. Existence had 
acquired a sudden smoothness and richness. 

" I suppose this is how the rich people feel," said 
Kutti's father. 

" No mortgages, no debts, money for everything. 
See here, my girl, I may even throw up this dirty 
work and do something else. After this picture the 
baby will be in demand everywhere. I will buy a 
house for her in the extension." 

" Don't fail to give her the engine she is asking for, 
and the doll the bald doll. A girl has one in her 
school and Kutti has been crying for it night and day. 
It seems that it costs about six rupees." 

" Let it cost sixty rupees. Why should we care ? 
The child can have it." 

Kutti was dressed and ready at three o'clock. Her 
mother had taken care to leave her hair free ; and put 
her into a frock. Kutti was furious. " I hate this 
frock, mother ; why do you put me into this dirty 
frock ? " She said tugging her hair : " I want to 



8o THE PERFORMING CHILD 

have this tied up. You understand ? I don't care, 
I don't care." Her mother calmed her, and she went 
out to play in the backyard. " Take care that you 
don't make yourself dirty," said her mother. 

At four o'clock when the film people arrived Kutti's 
father went to the backyard to fetch her. She was 
not to be seen. He asked his wife : " Where is Kutti ? " 

" She was in the backyard. She may be in the 
next house. I will see." She returned a few minutes 
later. " She is not in that house, nor in the next one. 
Where could she have gone ? " 

The smart man waited for fifteen minutes and then 
said : " We will be in the studio. As soon as you 
find the child, will you bring her over ? " 

" Yes," said Kutti's father. 

Then began a search for Kutti. Her mother 
wandered up and down the street ; her father went 
to her school. An hour later they became desperate. 
They had looked into every corner of the house, called 
" Kutti, Kutti," a score of times and had gone and 
enquired in every possible place. Mother became 
hysterical, threw herself on the floor and began to 
cry ; father stood in the doorway completely beaten 
by the mystery. His wife's despair affected him. He 
himself wondered if anybody had kidnapped the child. 
Such things were common. People were known to 
give drugged sweets to children and carry them away. 
He told his wife, " I'll be back in a moment," and 
went out to have a talk with his friends in the police 
station. Long after he was gone, his wife after a 
spasm of weeping got up. She looked again into every 
corner of every room. At last she noticed a slight 
stirring in a linen basket kept in an ante-room. She 
opened the lid and looked in. Kutti was curled up 



THE PERFORMING CHILD 81 

at its dark bottom with her unbraided hair covering 
her face. " Kutti ! Kutti ! " the mother screamed, 
and rocked the basket. The child didn't stir. The 
mother dived into it and brought out the child. She 
carried her in her arms and ran out of the house, down 
the street. " My child is dead, take me to a doctor," 
she wailed. Someone took pity on her, and put her 
into a jutka and took her to the hospital. The doctor 
felt her pulse and heart, and said, " She has only 
swooned ; you've not been a minute too soon ; don't 
get excited. She will be all right." He laid the child 
on a table. In an hour Kutti sat up and locked her 
arms around her mother's neck. Mother cried with 
joy ; and took her in her arms. On the Way home 
mother asked : " What made you get into the basket, 
child ? " 

Kutti paused for a while, and asked with puckered 
brow : " Are those people gone ? " 

" Who ? " 

" The cinema men." 

" Yes." 

" Mother, if they ever come to our house again, I 
will get into the basket once more and never come 
out of it." 

Mother hugged her close and said, " Don't fear. I 
will see that they don't trouble you ever any more. " 



11 

ISWARAN 

WHEN the whole of the student world in Malgudi 
was convulsed with excitement, on a certain 
evening in June when the Intermediate Examina- 
tion results were being expected, Iswaran went 
about his business, looking very unconcerned and 
detached. ' 

He had earned the 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. 
The first time when he failed, his parents sympathized 
with him, the second time also he managed to get 
their sympathies, and subsequently they grew more 
critical and unsparing, and after repeated failures they 
lost all interest in his examination. He was often 
told by his parents, " Why don't you discontinue your 
studies, and try to do something useful ? " He 
always pleaded, " Let me have this one last chance/' 
He clung to university education with a ferocious 
devotion. 

And now the whole town was agog with the 
expectation of the results in the evening. Boys moved 
about the street in groups ; and on the sands of 

8* 



ISWARAN 83 

Sarayu they sat in clusters, nervously smiling and 
biting their finger nails. Others hung about the gates 
of the senate hall staring anxiously at the walls behind 
which a meeting was going on. 

As much as the boys, if not more, the parents were 
agitated, except Iswaran's, who, when they heard 
their neighbours discussing their son's possible future 
results, remarked with a sigh : " No such worry for 
Iswaran. His results are famous and known to 
everyone in advance." Iswaran said facetiously, " I 
have, perhaps, passed this time, father, who knows ? 
I did study quite hard." 

"You are the greatest optimist in India at the 
moment ; but for this obstinate hope you would 
never have appeared for the same examination every 
year." 

" I failed only in Logic, very narrowly, last year," 
he defended himself. At which the whole family 
laughed. " In any case, why don't you go and 
wait along with the other boys, and look up your 
results ? " his mother asked. " Not at all necessary," 
Iswaran replied. " If I pass they will bring home 
the news. Do you think I saw my results last year ? 
I spent my time in a cinema. I sat through two 
shows consecutively." 

He hummed as he went in for a wash before dressing 
to go out. He combed his hair with deliberate care, 
the more so because he knew everybody looked on 
him as a sort of an outcast for failing so often. He 
knew that behind him the whole family and the town 
were laughing. He felt that they remarked among 
themselves that washing, combing his hair, and putting 
on a well-ironed coat, were luxuries too far above 
his state. He was a failure and had no right to such 



84 ISWARAN 

luxuries. He was treated as a sort of thick-skinned 
idiot. But he did not care. He answered their 
attitude by behaving like a desperado. He swung his 
arms, strode up and down, bragged and shouted, and 
went to a cinema. But all this was only a mask. 
Under it was a creature hopelessly seared by failure, 
desperately longing and praying for success. On the 
day of the results he was, inwardly, in a trembling 
suspense. " Mother," he said as he went out, " don't 
expect me for dinner tonight. I will eat something 
in a hotel and sit through both the shows at the 
Palace Talkies." 

Emerging from Vinayak Street, he saw a group of 
boys moving up the Market Road towards the College. 
Someone asked : " Iswaran, coming up to see the 

results ?" 

" Yes, yes, presently. But now I have to be going 
on an urgent business." 
" Where ? " 

"Palace Talkies." At this all the boys laughed. 
" You seem to know your result already. Do you ? " 
" I do. Otherwise do you think I would be 
celebrating it with a picture ? " 
" What is your number ? " 

" Seven Eight Five," he said, giving the first set of 
numbers that came to his head. The group passed 
on joking : " We know you are going to get a first-class 
this time." 

He sat in a far-off corner in the four-anna class. 
He looked about : not a single student in the whole 
theatre. All the students of the town were near the 
Senate House, waiting for their results. Iswaran felt 
very unhappy to be the only student in the whole 
theatre. Somehow fate seemed to have isolated him 



ISWARAN 85 

from his fellow-beings in every respect. He felt very 
depressed and unhappy. He felt an utter distaste 
for himself. 

Soon the lights went out and the show started a 
Tamil film with all the known gods in it. He soon 
lost himself in the politics and struggles of gods and 
goddesses ; he sat rapt in the vision of a heavenly 
world which some film director had chosen to present. 
This felicity of forgetfulness lasted but half an hour. 
Soon the heroine of the story sat on a low branch of 
a tree in paradise and wouldn't move out of the place. 
She sat there singing a song for over half an hour. 
This portion tired Iswaran, and now there returned 
all the old pains and gloom. " Oh, lady," Iswaran 
appealed. " Don't add to my troubles, please move 
on." As if she heard this appeal the lady moved off, 
and brighter things followed. A battle, a deluge, 
somebody dropping headlong from cloudland, and 
somebody coming up from the bed of an ocean, a rain 
of fire, a rain of flowers, people dying, people rising 
from graves, and so on. All kinds of thrills occurred 
on that white screen beyond the pall of tobacco smoke. 
The continuous babble on and off the screen, music 
and shouting, the cry of pedlars selling soda, the 
unrestrained comments of the spectators all this din 
and commotion helped Iswaran to forget the senate 
house and student life for a few hours. 

The show ended at ten o'clock in the night. A 
crowd was waiting at the gate for the night show. 
Iswaran walked across to "Ananda Bhavan" a 
restaurant opposite to the Palace Talkies. The 
proprietor, a genial Bombay man, was a friend of his 
and cried : " Ishwar Sab, the results were announced 
today. What about yours ? " 



86 ISWARAN 

" I did not write any examination this year," 
Iswaran said. 

" Why, why, I thought you did pay your examination 
fees ! " 

Iswaran laughed. " You are right. I have passed 
my Intermediate just this evening." 

" Ah, how very good. How clever you must be ! 
If you pray to Hanuman he will always bring you 
success. What are you going to do next ? " 

" I will go to a higher class, that is all," Iswaran 
said. He ordered a few titbits and coffee and rose 
to go. As he paid his bill and walked out, the hotel 
proprietor said, " Don't leave me out when you are 
giving a dinner to celebrate your success." 

Iswaran again purchased a ticket and went back to 
the picture. Once more all the strifes and struggles 
and intrigues of gods were repeated before him. He 
was once again lost in it. When he saw on the screen 
some young men of his age singing as they sported in 
the waters of some distant heaven, he said " Well 
might you do it, boys. I suppose, you have no exam- 
ination where you are . . ." And he was seized with 
a longing to belong to that world. 

Now the leading lady sat on the low branch of a 
tree and started singing and Iswaran lost interest in 
the picture. He looked about for the first time. He 
noticed, in the semi-darkness, several groups of boys 
in the hall happy groups. He knew that they must 
all have seen their results, and come now to celebrate 
their success. There were at least fifty. He knew 
that they must be a happy and gay lot, with their 
lips red with chewing betel leaves. He knew that all 
of them would focus their attention on him the moment 
lights went up. They would all rag him about his 



ISWARAN 87 

results all the old tedious joking over again, and all 
the tiresome pose of a desperado. He felt thoroughly 
sick of the whole business. He would not stand any 
more of it the mirthful faces of these men of success 
and their leer. He was certain they would all look on 
him with the feeling that he had no business to seek 
the pleasure of a picture on that day. 

He moved on to a more obscure corner of the hall. 
He looked at the screen, nothing there to cheer him : 
the leading lady was still there, and he knew she 
would certainly stay there for the next twenty minutes 
singing her masterpiece ... He was overcome with 
dejection. He rose, silently edged towards the exit, 
and was out of the theatre in a moment. He felt a 
loathing for himself after seeing those successful boys. 
" I am not fit to live. A fellow who cannot pass an 
examination . . ." This idea developed in his mind 
a glorious solution to all difficulties. Die and go to 
a world where there were young men free from 
examination who sported in lotus pools in paradise. 
No bothers, no disgusting Senate House wall to gaze 
on hopelessly, year after year. This solution suddenly 
brought him a feeling of relief. He felt lighter. 
He walked across to the hotel. The hotel man was 
about to rise and go to bed. " Saitji," Iswaran said. 
" Please forgive my troubling you now. Give me a 
piece of paper and pencil. I have to note down 
something urgently." " So late as this," said the 
hotel man and gave him a slip of paper and a pencil 
stub. Iswaran wrote down a message for his father, 
folded the slip, and placed it carefully in the inner 
pocket of his coat. 

He returned the pencil and stepped out of the hotel. 
He had only the stretch of the Race Course Road, 



88 ISWARAN 

and turning to his right, half the Market Road to 
traverse, and then Ellaman Street, and then Sarayu. 
... Its dark swirling waters would close on him and 
end all his miseries. " I must leave this letter in my 
coat pocket and remember to leave my coat on the 
river step," he told himself. 

He was soon out of Ellaman Street. His feet 
ploughed through the sands of the river bank. He 
came to the river steps, removed his coat briskly, 
and went down the steps. " Oh, God," he muttered 
with folded hands, looking up at his stars. " If I 
can't pass an examination even with a tenth attempt, 
what is the use of my living and disgracing the world ? " 
His feet were in water. He looked over his shoulder 
at the cluster of university buildings. There was a 
light burning in the porch of the Senate House. It was 
nearing midnight. It was a quarter of an hour's walk. 
Why not walk across and take a last Jook at the results 
board ? In any case he was going to die, and why 
should he shirk and tremble before the board. 

He came out of the water and went up the steps, 
leaving his coat behind, and he walked across the sand. 
Somewhere a time gong struck twelve, stars sparkled 
overhead, the river flowed on with a murmur ; and 
miscellaneous night sounds emanated from the bushes 
on the bank. A cold wind blew on his wet, sand-covered 
feet. He entered the Senate porch with a defiant heart. 
" I am in no fear of anything here," he muttered. 
The Senate House was deserted, not a sound anywhere. 
The whole building was in darkness, except the 
staircase landing where a large bulb was burning. 
And notice-boards hung on the wall. 

His heart palpitated as he stood tiptoe to scan the 
results. By the light of the bulb he scrutinized the 



ISWARAN 89 

numbers. His throat went dry. He looked through 
the numbers of people who had passed in Third- 
Glass. His own number was 501. The successful 
number before him was 498, and after that 703. 
"So I have a few friends on either side," he said 
with a forced mirth. He had a wild hope as he 
approached the senate hall that somehow his number 
would have found a place in the list of successful 
candidates. He had speculated how he should feel 
after that. . . . He would rush home, and demand 
that they take back all their comments with apologies. 
But now after gazing at the notice-board for quite a 
while the grim reality of his failure dawned on him, 
his number was nowhere. " The river . . ." he said. 
He felt desolate like a condemned man who had a 
sudden but false promise of reprieve. " The river," 
Iswaran muttered. " I am going," he told the notice- 
board, and moved a few steps. " I haven't seen how 
many have obtained honours." He looked at the 
notice-board once again. He gazed at the top columns 
of the results. First classes curiously enough a fellow 
with number one secured a first-class, and six others. 
" Good fellows, wonder how they manage it ! " he 
said with admiration. His eyes travelled down to 
second classes it was in two lines starting with 98. 
There were about fifteen. He looked fixedly at each 
number before going on to the next. He came to 
350, after that 400, and after that 501 and then 600. 
" Five Nought One in Second-Glass ! Can it be 
true ? " he shrieked. He looked at the number again 
and again. Yes, there it was. He had obtained a 
second-class. " If this is true I shall sit in the B.A. 
class next month," he shouted. His voice rang through 
the silent building. " I will flay alive anyone who 



90 ISWARAN 

calls me a fool hereafter . . ." he proclaimed. He 
felt slightly giddy. He leant against the wall. Years 
of strain and suspense were suddenly relaxed ; and 
he could hardly bear the force of this release. Blood 
raced along his veins and heaved and knocked under 
his skull. He steadied himself with an effort. He 
softly hummed a tune to himself. He felt he was the 
sole occupant of the world and its overlord. He 
thumped his chest and addressed the notice-board : 
" Know who I am ? " He stroked an imaginary 
moustache arrogantly, laughed to himself, and asked, 
" Is the horse ready, groom ? " He threw a supercilious 
side glance at the notice-board and strutted out like 
a king. He stood on the last step of the porch and 
looked for his steed. He waited for a minute and 
commanded, " Fool, bring the horse nearer. Do you 
hear ? " The horse was brought nearer. He made 
a movement as if mounting and whipped his horse 
into a fury. His voice rang through the dark river 
side, urging the horse on. He swung his arms and ran 
along the sands. He shouted at the top of his voice ; 
" Keep off ; the king is coming ; whoever comes his 
way will be trampled ..." 

" I have five hundred and one horses," he spoke to 
the night. The number stuck in his mind and kept 
coming up again and again. He ran the whole length 
of the river bank up and down. Somehow this did 
not satisfy him. " Prime Minister," he said. " This 
horse is no good. Bring me the other five hundred 

and one horses, they are all in second-classes " 

He gave a kick to the horsft which he had been riding 
and drove it off. Very soon the Prime Minister 
brought him another horse. He mounted it with 
dignity, and said, " This is better." Now he galloped 



ISWARAN 91 

about on his horse. It was a strange sight. In the 
dim star light, alone at that hour, making a tap-tap 
with his tongue to imitate galloping hoofs. With one 
hand swinging and tugging the reins, and with the 
other stroking his moustache defiantly he urged the 
horse on and on until it attained the speed of a storm. 
He felt like a conqueror as the air rushed about him. 
Soon he crossed the whole stretch of sand. He came 
to the water's edge, hesitated for a moment and 
whispered to his horse : " Are you afraid of water ? 
You must swim across, otherwise I will never pay five 
nought one rupees for you." He felt the horse make 
a leap. 

Next afternoon his body came up at a spot about a 
quarter of a mile down the course of the river. Mean- 
while some persons had already picked up the coat 
left on the step, and discovered in the inner pocket 
the slip of paper with the inscription : 

" My dear father : By the time you see this letter 
I shall be at the bottom of Sarayu. I don't want to 
live. Don't worry about me. You have other sons 
who are not such dunces as I am " 



12 
THE EVENING GIFT 

HE had a most curious occupation in life. Having 
failed in every effort he had to accept it with 
gratitude and enthusiasm ; he received thirty rupees 
a month for it. He lived on fifteen rupees in a cheap 
hotel, where he was given a sort of bunk on the loft, 
with rafters touching his head. He saved fifteen 
rupees for paying off the family loan in the village 
incurred over his sister's marriage. He added a rupee 
or two to his income by filling money order forms and 
post-cards for unlettered villagers, whom he met on 
the post office veranda. But his main work was 
very odd. His business consisted in keeping a wealthy 
drunkard company. This wealthy man wanted some 
one to check his drink after nine in the evening, and 
take him home. Sankar's physique qualified him for 
this task. " Don't hesitate to use force on me if 
necessary," his employer had told him. But it was 
never done. Sankar did all that he could by persuasion 
and it was a quite familiar sight at the Oriental Cafe 
Bar the wrangling going on between the employer 
and his servant. But Sankar with a margin of five 
minutes always succeeded in wresting the gentleman 
from his cups and pushing him into his car. On the 
following morning he was asked : " What time did we 
reach home last night ? " 

" Nine fifteen, sir " 

" Did you have much trouble ? " 

9* 



THE EVENING GIFT 93 



"No, 

" Nine fifteen ! very good, very good. I'm glad. 
On no account should you let me stay on beyond nine, 
even if I am in company " 

" Yes, sir." 

" You may go now, and be sure to be back in the 
evening in time " 

That finished his morning duty. He went back to 
his garret, slept part of the day, loitered about post 
offices, courts, etc., and returned to work at six o'clock. 

" Come on," said his employer who waited for him 
on the veranda, and Sankar got into the front seat of 
the car and they drove off to the Oriental Cafe. 

Today he was in a depressed state, he felt sick of 
his profession, the perpetual cajoling and bullying, 
the company of a drunkard. He nearly made up his 
mind to throw up this work and go back to the village. 
A nostalgia for his home and people seized him. " I 
don't care what happens, I will get back home and 
do something else to earn this money." On top 
of this mood a letter from home : " Send a hundred 
rupees immediately. Last date for mortgage instal- 
ment. Otherwise we shall lose our house " He 

was appalled ! Where could he find the money ? 
What was the way out ? He cursed his lot more than 
ever. He sat for a long time thinking of a way out. 

" Our good old home ! Let it go if it is to go." 

It was their last possession in this world. If it went, 
his mother, brothers, and his little sister would have 
to wander about without a roof over their heads. 
But could he find a hundred rupees ? What did they 
mean by putting it off till the last moment? He 
cursed his lot for being the eldest son of a troubled 
family. 



94 THE EVENING GIFT 

He swung into duty as usual. He held the curtain 
apart for his master as he entered the cubicle. He 
pressed a bell. He might be a machine, doing this 
thing for thirty days in the month for nearly twelve 
months now. The waiter appeared. No talk was 
necessary. Sankar nodded. The waiter went away 
and returned a few minutes later with an unopened 
flat bottle, a soda, and a glass tumbler ; placed these 
on the table and withdrew. 

" Bring this master a lemon squash," the gentleman 
said. 

" No, sir " Sankar would reply ; this ritual was 

repeated every day. Now Sankar's business would be 
to pour out a measure of drink into the tumbler, 
push it up, and place the soda near at hand, go out 
on to the veranda, and read a newspaper there (with 
the flat bottle in his pocket), and stay there till he 
was called in again to fill the glass. By about ten to 
nine the last ounce of drink would be poured out, 
and Sankar would sit down opposite to his master 
instead of going out to the veranda. This was a sort 
of warning bell. 

" Why do you sit here ? Go to the veranda." 

" I like this place, sir, and I will sit here." 

" It is not time for you to come in yet." 

"Just ten minutes more, sir." 

" Nonsense. It is just seven o'clock." 

" About two hours ago " 

" You people seem to turn up the clock just as you 
like let me see how much is left in the bottle " 

"Nothing," Sankar said, holding up the bottle. 
" The last drop was poured out." He held up the 
bottle and the other became furious at the sight of it. 
" I think," he said with deep suspicion, " there is 



THE EVENING GIFT 95 

some underhand transaction going on I don't know 
what you have been doing in the veranda with the 

bottle " Sankar learnt not to answer these 

charges. As the clock struck nine, he tapped the 
other's shoulder and said, " Please finish your drink 

and get up, sir " "What do you mean by it ? 

I'm not getting up. Who are you to order me ? " 

Sankar had to be firm. 

" Look here, don't you be a fool and imagine I am 
talking in drink. I am dead sober leave me alone " 

Sankar persisted. 

" I dismiss you today, you are no longer in my 
service. I don't want a disobedient fool for a com- 
panion, get out " Usually Sankar sat through it 

without replying, and when the drink was finished 
he gently pulled the other up and led the way to the 
car, and the other followed, scowling at him with red 
eyes and abusing him wildly. Today when his 

employer said, " I dismiss you, get out this minute " 

Sankar replied, " How can you dismiss me all of a 
sudden ! Must I starve ? " 

" No. I will give you four months' salary if you 
get out this moment." Sankar thought over it. 

" Don't sit there. Make up your mind quickly " 

said his master. One hundred and twenty rupees ! 
twenty rupees more than the debt. He could leave for 
his village and give the cash personally to his mother, 
and leave his future to God. He brushed aside this 
vision, shook his head and said : " No, sir. You 
have got to get up now, sir." " Get out of my 

service " shouted his master. He rang the beU 

and shouted for the waiter, " Get me another " 

Sankar protested to the waiter. " Get out of here " 

cried his master. " You think I'm speaking in drink. 



96 THE EVENING GIFT 

I don't want you. I can look after myself. If you 
don't leave me, I will tell the waiter to neck you 

out " Sankar stood baffled. " Now, young man 

" He took out his wallet : " What is your 

salary ? " 

" Thirty rupees, sir." 

" Here's your four-months'. Take it and be off. I 
have some business meeting here, and I will go home 
just when I like, there is the car." He held out a 
hundred-rupee note and two tens. Mortgage instal- 
ment. How can I take it? A conflict raged in 
Sankar's mind, and he finally took the money and 
said : " Thank you very much, sir." 

" Don't mention it." 

" You are very kind." 

"Just ordinary duty, that is all. My principle is 
* Do unto others as you would be done by others ' is 
my principle is do. ... You need not come in the 
morning. I've no need for you. I had you only 
as a temporary arrangement I'll put in a word for 
you if any friend wants a clerk or something of 
the sort " 

" Good-bye, sir." 

" Good-bye." He was gone. The gentleman 
looked after him with satisfaction, muttering : " My 
principle is ... unto other. . . ." 

Next morning Sankar went out shopping, purchased 
bits of silk for his younger sister, a pair of spectacles 
for his mother and a few painted tin toys for the 
child at home. He went to the hotel, looked into 
the accounts, and settled his month's bill. "I'm 
leaving today," he said. " I am returning to my 
village. . . ." His heart was all aflame with joy. He 
paid a rupee to the servant as tip. He packed up his 



THE EVENING GIFT 97 

trunk and bed, took a last look round his garret ; 
had an unaccountable feeling of sadness at leaving 
the familiar smoke-stained cell. He was at the bus 
stand at about eleven in the day. The bus was ready 
to start. He took his seat. He would be at home 
at six in the evening. What a surprise for his mother ! 
He would chat all night and tell them about the 
drunkard. . . . 

He was shaken out of this reverie. A police inspector 
standing at the foot-board of the bus touched his 
shoulder and asked : 

" Are you Sankar ? " 

" Yes." 

" Get down and follow me." 

" I am going to my village. . . ." 

" You can't go now." The inspector placed the 
trunk and bed on a coolie's head and they marched 
to the police station. There Sankar was subjected to 
much questioning, and his pockets were searched and 
all his money was taken away by the inspector. The 
inspector scrutinized the hundred-rupee note and 
remarked : " Same number. How did you get this ? 
Be truthful. . . ." 

Presently the inspector got up and said : " Follow 
me to the gentleman's house. . . ." Sankar found 
his employer sitting in a chair in the veranda, with a 
very tired look on his face. He motioned the inspector 
to a chair and addressed Sankar in a voice full of 
sorrow. " I never knew you were this sort, Sankar. 
You robbed me when I was not aware of it. If you'd 
asked me I'd have given you any amount you wanted. 
Did you have to tie me up and throw me down ? " he 
showed the bruises on his arm. " In addition to 
robbing ? " Sankar stood aghast. He could hardly 



13 
A SNAKE IN THE GRASS 

ON a sunny afternoon, when the inmates of the 
bungalow were at their siesta a cyclist rang his 
bell at the gate frantically and announced : "A big 
cobra has got into your compound. It crossed my 
wheel." He pointed to its track under the gate, and 
resumed his journey. 

The family consisting of the mother and her four 
sons assembled at the gate in great agitation. The old 
servant Dasa was sleeping in the shed. They shook 
him out of his sleep and announced to him the arrival 
of the cobra. " There is no cobra," he replied and 
tried to dismiss the matter. They swore at him and 
forced him to take an interest in the cobra. " The 
thing is somewhere here. If it is not found before the 
evening, we will dismiss you. Your neglect of the 
garden and the lawns is responsible for all these 
dreadful things coming in." Some neighbours dropped 
in. They looked accusingly at Dasa : " You have 
the laziest servant on earth," they said. " He ought 
to keep the surroundings tidy." " I have been asking 
for a grass-cutter for months," Dasa said. In one 
voice they ordered him to manage with the available 
things and learn not to make demands. He persisted. 
They began to speculate how much it would cost to 
buy a grass-cutter. A neighbour declared that you 
could not think of buying any article made of iron 

100 



A SNAKE IN THE GRASS 101 

till after the war. He chanted banalities of wartime 
prices. The second son of the house asserted that he 
could get anything he wanted at controlled prices. 
The neighbour became eloquent on black-market. A 
heated debate followed. The rest watched in apathy. 
At this point the college-boy of the house butted in 
with : " I read in an American paper that 30,000 
people die of snake-bite every year." Mother threw 
up her arms in horror and arraigned Dasa. The boy 
elaborated the statistics. " I have worked it out, 83 
a day. That means every twenty minutes someone is 
dying of cobra-bite. As we have been talking here, 
one person has lost his life somewhere." Mother 
nearly screamed on hearing it. The compound looked 
sinister. The boys brought in bamboo-sticks and 
pressed one into the hands of the servant also. He 
kept desultorily poking it into the foliage with a cynical 
air. " The fellow is beating about the bush," someone 
cried aptly. They tucked up their dhoties, seized every 
available knife and crow-bar and began to hack the 
garden. Creepers, bushes, and lawns, were laid low. 
What could not be trimmed was cut to the root. The 
inner walls of the house brightened with the un- 
obstructed glare streaming in. When there was 
nothing more to be done Dasa asked triumphantly, 
" Where is the snake ? " 

An old beggar cried for alms at the gate. They 
told her not to pester when they were engaged in a 
snake-hunt. On hearing it the old woman became 
happy. " You are fortunate. It is God Subramanya 
who has come to visit you. Don't kill the snake/' 
Mother was in hearty agreement : " You are right. 
I forgot all about the promised Abhishckam. This is a 
reminder." She gave a coin to the beggar, who 



102 A SNAKE IN THE GRASS 

promised to send down a snake-charmer as she went. 
Presently an old man appeared at the gate and 
announced himself as a snake-charmer. They gathered 
around him. He spoke to them of his life and activities 
and his power over snakes. They asked admiringly : 
" How do you catch them?" "Thus," he said, pouncing 
upon a hypothetical snake on the ground. They 
pointed the direction in which the cobra had gone 
and asked him to go ahead. He looked helplessly 
about and said : " If you show me the snake, I'll at 
once catch it. Otherwise what can I do ? The 
moment you see it again, send for me. I live 
nearby." He gave his name and address and departed. 
At five in the evening, they threw away their sticks 
and implements and repaired to the veranda to rest. 
They had turned up every stone in the garden and cut 
down every grass-blade and shrub, so that the tiniest 
insect coming into the garden should have no cover. 
They were loudly discussing the various measures they 
would take to protect themselves against reptiles in 
the future, when Dasa appeared before them carrying 
a water-pot whose mouth was sealed with a slab of 
stone. He put the pot down and said : " I have 
caught him in this. I saw him peeping out of it. . . . 
I saw him before he could see me." He explained at 
length the strategy he had employed to catch and 
seal up the snake in the pot. They stood at a safe 
distance and gazed on the pot. Dasa had the glow 
of a champion on his face. " Don't call me an idler 
hereafter," he said. Mother complimented him on 
his sharpness and wished she had placed some milk 
in the pot as a sort of religious duty. Dasa picked up 
the pot cautiously and walked off saying that he would . 
leave the pot with its contents with the snake-charmer 



A SNAKE IN THE GRASS 103 

living nearby. He became the hero of the day. They 
watched him in great admiration and decided to 
reward him adequately. 

It was five minutes since Dasa was gone when the 
youngest son cried : " See there ! " Out of a hole 
in the compound wall a cobra emerged. It glided 
along towards the gate, paused for a moment to look 
at the gathering in the veranda with its hood half- 
open. It crawled under the gate and disappeared 
along a drain. When they recovered from the shock 
they asked, " Does it mean that there are two snakes 
here ? " The college-boy murmured : " I wish I had 
taken the risk and knocked the water-pot from 
Dasa's hand ; we might have known what it con- 
tained." 



14 
AN ACCIDENT 

I WAS returning from the hill temple where I had 
been held up till nearly nine o'clock. I had 
driven the car down the hill, turned to my left, and 
gone a few yards further skirting the base of 
the hill when the engine sighed and spluttered, the 
whole car jerked and rocked and then came to a 
dead stop. The hill loomed over me, jackals wailed 
in the dark. I faithfully got down, went round the 
car, opened the bonnet, and gazed in. What was 
the use ? I knew nothing about a car's inside. My 
car was usually well-behaved ; and occasionally when 
it had some trouble I had it pushed to the nearest 
workshop. Now I went round and round, opened 
and closed the bonnet, and made futile efforts to 
start the car. I soon realized that I should be a 
fool to be going round, prodding here and there, 
hoping that it could be started somehow. I sat down 
on the running board, blinking, and hoping that some 
motorist would come along and help me. The time 
passed, and not a sign of a human being. The wind 
rattled the side screen, and unseen insects hummed 
and whirred about. I had a feeling that I was on 
some strange planet with myself as the only human 
being on it. 

Presently I said to myself, " I will count ten and if 

104 



AN ACCIDENT 105 

the car does not start by then I will abandon her and 
walk home." 

I looked at the ground and counted, " One, two, 
three ..." I believe after I reached eight or nine 
I went back to one and counted up ; back and forth 
untiringly like an auctioneer. After counting half a 
dozen times thus I turned and saw a shadowy figure 
at my side. I was startled. 

" When did you come here ? Who are you ? " 

" I came here a moment ago, sir." 

" I didn't hear you coming. Who are you ? " 

" My name is Anil Doss, and I am a driver, sir." 

" Motor driver ? " 

" Yes." 

It seemed incredible that the Gods should have 
taken so seriously my threat to abandon the car, and 
sent a mechanic along. 

" Where are you coming from ? " 

" I am usually here, sir." 

" You said you were a driver." 

" The car was smashed and I have been without a 
car since." 

" But what do you do for a living ? " 

" Oh ! There is no difficulty about that." 

I thought he was mad or slightly drunk, and did 
not seriously bother to cross-examine him. " Look 
here, Ami Doss, my car has suddenly broken down. 
I don't know what is wrong. Can you help me 
start it?" 

He opened the bonnet and examined the engine. 
He put his head into the car and unscrewed the 
switchboard. 

" Arc you able to see anything ? " I asked. 

" Oh, quite well," he said. 



io6 AN ACCIDENT 

" It is so dark ! " I said, the only light we had 
being the glare of cloud edges catching the city lights. 

He came out and declared his diagnosis : " Loose 
contact, jet trouble. . . ." 

" I had it overhauled only a few months ago. It 
can't be. The car came down so far all right ; all 
this can't have happened just on this spot ? " 

" Oh, yes. Worse things have happened here. It 
is a bad place, sir." 

" What do you mean by bad ? " 

" Well, things happen here to a car which we can't 
understand. It is a bad place, sir." 

" Do you tell me that as soon as a car passes this 
spot its wires snap, its jet is choked, and the battery 
is run down ? " 

" Yes, sir." 

" It is amazing ! " I said. 

" It is terrible, sir. For instance, at this very spot 
my car was smashed, an Austin sedan, hardly a month 
old." 

I remembered the accident. A few months ago an 
Austin coming down the hill after nightfall dashed 
against a boulder and was smashed to bits. 

" Were you the driver of the car ? " I asked. 

" Yes, sir." 

" But wasn't he killed in the accident ? " 

" No," he said. It seemed to me another instance 
of the drunken condition of this man. He seemed to 
be posing for someone else. 

" Will you make my car move on the road again ? " 

" Yes, sir. I will do my best." 

" I will give you two rupees for the service." 

He lifted the front seat, picked up the tools, and 
got under the car for a moment ; came out and 



AN ACCIDENT 107 

buried his head into the bonnet. The only noise for 
a while was the noise he made with the tools, and his 
heavy breathing ; and of course the wind rattled the 
side screen. ... A quarter of an hour later he 
started the engine, drove the car a few yards forward, 
and reversed. " You will have no more trouble, sir. 
Only, as soon as possible, please change the piston 
rings," he said. He opened the door and came out 
of the car muttering. " I have been a driver for 
twenty-five years, and it pains me when I see a car 
suffer. For all the twenty-five years I have served 
only two masters. With the first I stayed for only 
four years, and with the other for over twenty years. 
The Austin was the fourth car that my master bought 
in the twenty years. I was with him since the day 
he changed from a horse carriage to an Overland of 
those days. I have loved motor-cars, whatever the 
make, as no one else can ever love them. If I saw 
anyone make the slightest scratch on a mudguard I 
slapped his cheek though he might be an emperor's 
son. And do you think I would have wilfully dashed 
and smashed an Austin, which was only a month old ? 
They say I was drunk. I swear I was not. I have 
occasionally taken a drink, but I swear I was not 
drunk that day. Will you kindly go to my master " 
he gave me an address " and tell him that I wasn't 
drunk and that the accident happened because of the 
evil nature of the place." 

" Such a bad accident ? " I asked. 

" You know what this spot can do, but your luck 
was better than that of the Austin." 

I held up two rupees to him. He refused the 
money. " It is no use to me, sir," he said. " I have 
greater use for your good-will. If you will have the 



io8 AN ACCIDENT 

kindness to see my master and tell him that I wasn't 
drunk, I shall be very grateful to you, sir." 

I offered him a lift. He declined it. I pressed 
the self-starter. The engine hummed. I switched 
on the lights. 

The car behaved so well that I was filled with great 
admiration for the mechanic, and I decided to see his 
so-called master next day. 

I traced the owner of the wrecked Austin. I 
conveyed to him the driver's message. 

" Are you sure it was he ? " he asked. 

" I don't know. He seemed to be slightly drunk 
and might be an impostor. But after all, it might be 
the same fellow. He gave me your address, and it 
seems he had been with you for twenty years and 
that you had an Overland once. ..." 

" All that is true, no doubt, but I am puzzled. 
Anil's skull was jammed when we picked him up, and 
we carried his remains in a basket and buried him. 
(What remained of the car could also have been put 
in a basket.) . . . Don't contradict me ; the fellow was 
drunk. I had caught him several times and warned 
him. I knew all along that he would come to a 
bad end." 



15 
SUCH PERFECTION 

A SENSE of great relief filled Soma as he realized 
that his five years of labour were coming to an 
end. He had turned out scores of images in his life- 
time, but he had never done any work to equal this. 
He often said to himself that long after the Deluge 
had swept the earth this Nataraja would still be 
standing on His pedestal. 

No other human being had seen the image yet. 
Soma shut himself in and bolted all the doors and 
windows and plied his chisel by the still flame of a 
mud lamp, even when there was a bright sun outside. 
It made him perspire unbearably, but he did not 
mind it so long as it helped him to keep out prying 
eyes. He worked with a fierce concentration and 
never encouraged anyone to talk about it. 

After all, his labours had come to an end. He sat 
back, wiped the perspiration off his face, and surveyed 
his handiwork with great satisfaction. As he looked 
on he was overwhelmed by the majesty of this image. 
He fell prostrate before it, praying, " I have taken 
five years to make you. May you reside in our 
temple and bless all human beings ! " The dim mud 
flame cast subtle shadows on the image, and gave it 
an undertone of rippling life. The sculptor stood lost 
in this vision. A voice said, " My friend, never take 
this image out of this room. It is too perfect. . . ." 

109 



no SUCH PERFECTION 

Soma trembled with fear. He looked round. He 
saw a figure crouching in a dark corner of the room 
it was a man. Soma dashed forward and clutched 
him by the throat : " Why did you come here ? " 
The other writhed under the grip and replied : " Out 
of admiration for you. I have always loved your 
work. I have waited for five years. . . ." 

" How did you come in ? " 

" With another key while you were eating 
inside. . . ." 

Soma gnashed his teeth. " Shall I strangle you 
before this God and offer you as sacrifice ? " " By 
all means/ 5 replied the other, " if it will help you in 
any way . . . but I doubt it. Even with a sacrifice 
you cannot take it out. It is too perfect. Such 
perfection is not for mortals." The sculptor wept : 
" Oh, do not say that. I worked in secrecy only for 
this perfection. It is for our people. It is a God 
coming into their midst. Don't deny them that." 
The other prostrated before the image and prayed 
aloud, " God give us the strength to bear your 
presence. . . ." 

This man spoke to people and the great secret 
was out. A kind of dread seized the people of 
the village. On an auspicious day, Soma went to 
the temple priest and asked, " At the coming 
Full Moon my Nataraja must be consecrated. Have 
you made a place for him in the temple ? " The 
priest answered, " Let me see the image first. . . ." 
He went over to the sculptor's house, gazed on the 
image, and said, " This perfection, this God, is not 
for mortal eyes. He will blind us. At the first chant 
of prayer before him, he will dance . . . and we 
shall be wiped out. . . ." The sculptor looked so 



SUCH PERFECTION in 

unhappy that the priest added, "Take your chisel 
and break a little toe or some other part of the image, 
and it will be safe. . . ." The sculptor replied that 
he would sooner crack the skull of his visitor. . . . 
The leading citizens of the village came over and 
said, " Don't mistake us. We cannot give your image 
a place in our temple. Don't be angry with us. We 
have to think of the safety of all the people in the 
village. . . . Even now if you are prepared to break 
a small finger . . ." 

" Get out, all of you," Soma shouted. " I don't 
care to bring this Nataraja to your temple. I will 
make a temple for him where he is. You will see 
that it becomes the greatest temple on earth. . . ." 
Next day he pulled down a portion of the wall of the 
room and constructed a large doorway opening on 
the street. He called Rama, the tom-tom beater, 
and said, " I will give you a silver coin for your 
trouble. Go and proclaim in all nearby villages that 
this Nataraja will be consecrated at the Full Moon. If 
a large crowd turns up, I will present you with a 
lace shawl. . . ." 

At the Full Moon, men, women and children 
poured in from the surrounding villages. There was 
hardly an inch of space vacant anywhere. The streets 
were crammed with people. Vendors of sweets and 
toys and flowers shouted their wares, moving about in 
the crowd. Pipers and drummers, groups of persons 
chanting hymns, children shouting in joy, men greeting 
each other all this created a mighty din. Fragrance 
of flowers and incense hung over the place. Presiding 
over all this there was the brightest moon that ever 
shone on earth. 

The screen which had covered the image parted. 



SUCH PERFECTION 

A great flame of camphor was waved in front of the 
image, and bronze bells rang. A silence fell upon 
the crowd. Every eye was fixed upon the image. 
In the flame of the circling camphor Nataraja's eyes 
lit up. His limbs moved, his anklets jingled. The 
crowd was awe-stricken. The God pressed one foot 
on Earth and raised the other in dance. He destroyed 
the Universe under his heel, and smeared the ashes 
over his body, and the same God rattled the drum 
in his hand and by its rhythm set life in motion 
again. . . . Creation, Dissolution, and God, attained 
a meaning now ; this image brought it out . . . the 
bells rang louder every second. The crowd stood 
stunned by this vision vouchsafed to them. . . . 

At this moment a wind blew from the east. The 
Moon's disc gradually dimmed. The wind gathered 
force, clouds blotted out the moon ; people looked up 
and saw only pitch-like darkness above. Lightning 
flashed, thunder roared, and fire poured down from 
the sky. It was a thunderbolt striking a haystack 
and setting it ablaze. Its glare illuminated the whole 
village. People ran about in panic, searching for 
shelter. The population of ten villages crammed in 
that village. Another thunderbolt hit a house. Women 
and children shrieked and wailed. The fires descended 
with a tremendous hiss as a mighty rain came 
down. It rained as it had never rained before. The 
two lakes, over which the village road ran, filled, 
swelled, and joined over the road. Water flowed 
along the streets. The wind screamed and shook the 
trees and the homes. " This is the end of the world ! " 
wailed the people through the storm. 

The whole of the next day it was still drizzling. 
Soxna sat before the image, with his head bowed in 



SUCH PERFECTION 113 

thought. Trays and flowers and offerings lay scattered 
under the image, damped by rain. Some of his 
friends came wading in water, stood before him, and 
asked, " Are you satisfied ? " They stood over him 
like executioners and repeated the question and 
added, " Do you want to know how many lives have 
been lost, how many homes washed out, and how 
many were crushed by storm ? " 

" No, no, I don't want to know anything," Soma 
replied. " Go away. Don't stand here and talk." 

" God has shown us only a slight sign of his power. 
Don't tempt Him again. Do something. Our lives 
are in your hands. Save us, the image is too perfect." 

After they were gone he sat for hours in the same 
position, ruminating. Their words still troubled him. 
" Our lives are in your hands." He knew what they 
meant. Tears gathered in his eyes. " How can I 
mutilate this image? Let the whole world burn, I 
don't care. I can't touch this image." He lit a 
lamp before the God and sat watching. Far off the 
sky rumbled. " It is starting again. Poor human 
beings, they will all perish this time." He looked at 
the toe of the image. "Just one neat stroke with the 
chisel, and all troubles will end." He watched the 
toe, his hands trembled. " How can I ? " Outside 
the wind began to howl. People were gathering in 
front of his house and were appealing to him for help. 

Soma prostrated before the God and went out. 
He stood looking at the road over which the two 
lakes had joined. Over the eastern horizon a dark 
mass of cloud was rolling up. " When that cloud 
comes over, it will wash out the world. Nataraja ! 
I cannot mutilate your figure, but I can offer myself 
as a sacrifice if it will be any use. . . ." He shut 



ii4 SUCH PERFECTION 

his eyes and decided to jump into the lake. He 
checked himself. " I must take a last look at the 
God before I die." He battled his way through the 
oncoming storm. The wind shrieked. Trees shook 
and trembled. Men and cattle ran about in panic. 

He was back just in time to see a tree crash on the 
roof of his house. " My home," he cried, and ran in. 
He picked up his Nataraja from amidst splintered tiles 
and rafters. The image was unhurt except for a little 
toe which was found a couple of yards off, severed 
by a falling splinter. 

" God himself has done this to save us ! " people 
cried. 

The image was installed with due ceremonies at 
the temple on the next Full Moon. Wealth and 
honours were showered on Soma. He lived to be 
ninety-five, but he never touched his mallet and 
chisel again. 



16 
A CAREER 

THE Talkative Man said : 
Years and years ago I had a shop. It was in 
those days when Lawley Extension was not what it is 
now. It consisted of less than a hundred houses. 
Market Road being at least a mile off, the people 
living in the Extension looked on me as a saviour 
when I took up a little building, and on an auspicious 
day hung up a large board with the inscription : The 
National Provision Stores. I went from house to 
house and secured orders. I literally examined every 
pantry in the Extension and filled up the gaps. When 
the bell rang for the midday interval at the Extension 
Elementary School, children swarmed into my shop 
and carried off whatever sweets, ribbons and fancy 
stationery I happened to keep. I did about twenty- 
five rupees credit and ten rupees cash sales every day. 
This gave us at least fifty rupees a month to live on. 
We paid a rent of five rupees and took a small house 
in Kabir Street, which was over a mile from my shop. 
I left at seven in the morning and returned home only 
at nine in the evening, after clearing the daily accounts. 
A year and a half passed thus. One day a young 
fellow presented himself at my shop. He looked 
about twenty, very fair and bright. He wore a 
spotless dhoti and shirt. 

"5 



ii6 A CAREER 

" What can I do for you ? " I asked, taking him 
to be a young customer. 

In answer he brought his palms together in salute 
and said, " I need your help, sir. I will do whatever 
work you may give me in return for a little food and 
shelter and kindness." 

There was something in the young fellow's 
personality which appealed to me. Moreover, he 
had on his forehead three-finger width of sacred ash 
and a dot of vermilion between his eyebrows. He 
looked as if he had just come from a temple. 

" I am very God-fearing, sir, and susceptible to 
religious influences." 

I spoke to him for about an hour. 

He said he belonged to a family of wealthy land- 
holders in a village near Trichinopoly. His mother 
died some years before. His father took a mistress 
who ill-treated the boy and consequently he ran away 
from home. 

A touching story I felt. 

I directed him to my house. When I went home 
in the evening I found that he had already made 
himself a great favourite there. His life story had 
deeply moved my wife. 

" So young ! " she whispered to me, " and to think 
that he should be left at this age without a father or 
a mother ! " she sighed. He had made himself 
lovable in a dozen ways already. He had taken my 
little son out for a walk. The youngster cried as 
aoon as he came home, " Let Ramu stay in our house. 
He is great. He knows magic and can tame tigers 
and elephants." Ramu walked into the kitchen and 
offered assistance. At first my wife protested, 

" Why won't you allow me to go near the oven, 



A CAREER 117 

Mother ? " he asked. " Is it because you think I 
can't cook ? Give me a chance and see." 

He. made a dash for the bathroom, turned the tap 
on himself, and came out dripping. He took a handful 
of sacred ash and smeared it on his forehead. My 
wife was tremendously impressed. She let him do 
the cooking. 

He prepared delicious food for us. We were all 
very pleased. After that he helped my wife with all 
the cleaning and scrubbing. He slept at night on the 
bare floor, refusing the mat and the pillow we offered. 

He was the first to be up next morning. He lit 
the stove and woke up my wife. At midday he brought 
me my food. While I ate he attended to the school 
children, who came into the shop. He handed them 
their knick-knacks with an expert hand. He charmed 
and amused them. He made them laugh. He 
beguiled them with an alternative when he had not 
on hand what they wanted. 

It was inevitable that in a month he should be 
sharing with me the shop work. He had attractive 
ways about him. Customers liked to talk to him. 
Within a short time there was not a single home in 
the Extension where he was not treated as a member 
of the family. He knew the inside story of every 
family. He served every one to the best of his capacity. 
Here he helped a man with his garden, and there he 
pleaded with a house-building contractor and had an 
estimate revised. He patched up quarrels. He tamed 
truants and sent them to school. He took part in all 
the extra-curricular activities of the Extension 
Elementary School. He took an interest in the Club 
Movement. He dressed himself up for the occasion 
when the inspector visited the school, and arranged 



u8 A CAREER 

for the supply of garlands and flowers. And all this 
in addition to assisting me in the shop. He went 
every day to the market and purchased provisions 
from the wholesale merchants, sat down for hours on 
end in the shop and handed out things to customers, 
pored over the accounts till late at night, and collected 
all the bills. 

As a result of Ramu's presence my business increased 
nearly tenfold. I had abundant rest now, I left the 
shop entirely in his hands. I went home for food at 
midday. After that I slept till three in the afternoon. 
And then I went to the shop, but stayed there only 
till five o'clock, when I went to an open space near by 
and played badminton with some friends. I came to 
the shop again only at seven in the evening. 

Once or twice I and my wife talked over the matter 
and tried to fix up a monthly pay for Ramu. We 
felt we ought not to be exploiting Ramu's friendliness. 
But when the subject was mentioned Ramu grew red 
in the face and said, " If you don't want me to stay 
with you any more, you may talk of salary again. . . ." 

Five years passed thus. He aged with us. He 
lived with us through all our joys and sorrows. I 
had four children now. My business had prospered 
enormously. We were now living in a bigger house 
in the same street. I took the shop building on a 
long lease. I had an immense stock of all kinds of 
provisions and goods. 

I extended my business. I purchased large quan- 
tities of butter in all the nearby villages and sold them 
to butter and ghee merchants in Madras. This 
business gave me large profits. It kept me running 
between the villages and Madras. The shop was 
entirely in Ramu's hands. 



A CAREER 119 

At Madras I used to stop with a merchant in George 
Town. Once work kept me on there a little longer 
than I had anticipated. One evening just as I was 
starting out to post a letter for Ramu, a telegraph 
messenger stepped off his cycle and gave me an 
envelope. I tore open the cover and read : " Father 
dying of cholera. Must go at once. Return im- 
mediately. Ramu." 

The next morning at five o'clock I got down at 
Malgudi. Ramu was at the station. He was going 
to Trichinopoly by the same train. The train halted 
only for a few minutes. Red-eyed and sobbing Ramu 
said, " My father, father, cholera. Never thought he 
would get it. . . ." I consoled him. I had never 
seen him so broken. I said feebly, " He will be all 
right, don't worry. ..." I had hardly the heart 
to ask him about the shop. He himself said, " I have 
handed the keys to mother, and all the accounts and 
cash also. . . ." 

" All right, all right, I will look to all that. Don't 
worry," I said. 

The guard blew his whistle. Ramu jumped into a 
third class compartment. The train jerked forward. 
He put his head out of the window and said, " I will 
be back tomorrow by the night train, if my father 
gets better. . . . Whatever happens, I won't be away 
for more than fifteen days. Kittu has asked me to 
bring him ..." his voice and face receded " a 
wooden elephant on wheels. Please tell him that I 
will surely bring it. My namaskarams to mother. . . ." 
Tears rolled down his cheeks. Even long after the 
train had left the platform he was still looking out of 
the window and gesticulating to indicate " I will 
surely be back soon. . . ." 



120 A CAREER 

Having some unfinished Madras business on hand, 
I could hardly go near the shop for a week. When I 
reopened, the first thing that I noticed was that the 
shop was empty. Except for a bag of coarse rice and 
a few bars of cheap soap, all the racks and containers 
were empty. I picked up the books and examined 
them. The entries were all in a mess. I put them 
away. Replenishing the stock was more urgent. I 
made out a list and went to the market. 

Sadik Sait, my wholesale supplier, squatted amidst 
his cushions and welcomed me warmly. I owed my 
start in life to the unlimited credit he allowed me. 
After some preliminary, inconsequential talk, I put 
before him the list. He scrutinized it gloomily and 
shook his head. He said, " You want goods for about 
three hundred rupees. I wouldn't advise you to put 
up your dues. Why don't you take fifty-rupees worth 
now? I am suggesting this only for your own 
convenience . . ." This was the first time in my 
life that he had spoken to me in this manner. And 
he explained, " Don't mistake me, friend. You are a 
business man, so am I. No use talking indirectly and 
vaguely. I will tell you what the matter is. Your 
account with us stands at Rs. 3,500 and if you had 
paid at least a single instalment for these three months, 
we should have felt happier. . . ." 

"But, Sait, last month I sent four-hundred to be 
given to you, and the month before three-hundred and 
fifty, and the month before. . . . There must be 
only a balance of. ..." He took out his ledger. 
There was only one payment made for four months 
when the bill stood at about a thousand. After that 
there had been purchases almost every day for about 
forty rupees. 



A CAREER 121 

" The young fellow said that business was very 
brisk and that you would clear the accounts when 
you returned from Madras." 

My head swam. " I will see you again, 35 I said, 
and went back to the shop. 

I once again examined the books. The pages 
showed a lot of arrears to be collected. Next day I 
went round to collect all my bills. People looked 
surprised, " There must be some mistake. We paid 
our bills completely a fortnight ago. Otherwise Ramu 
wouldn't leave us in peace." 

My wife said, " In your absence he was coming home 
nearly at twelve every night. He used to tell me that 
the accounts kept him late. ' How was business 
today ? ' I unfailingly asked every day. He replied, 
6 Business is good, bad, good and bad. Don't worry. 
Leave it all to me. I will manage.' " 

An old man of Lawley Extension asked me, " Where 
is that boy you had ? " 

I told him. 

" Look here," the old man said. " Keep this to 
yourself. You remember there lived next door to us 
those people from Hyderabad ? " 

" Yes, yes. . . ." 

" Your boy was gadding about with them a little 
too much. You know there was a tall, pretty girl 
with them. Your fellow was taking her out every 
evening in a taxi. He closed the shop promptly at 
six in the evening. Those people went back to 
Hyderabad a few days ago." 

Later on I made enquiries in Market Road and 
learnt that Ramu had had stitched four tweed suits, 
eighteen silk shirts and other clothes worth about a 
hundred rupees, purchased leather suitcases, four pairs 



122 A CAREER 

of pump shoes, two pairs of velvet slippers, a wrist 
watch, two rings, a brooch, silk sarees, blouse pieces, 
and so on. I got in touch with a near relative of 
Ramu's employed in a bank in Madras. I learnt 
that his old father was hale and hearty, and there 
was no mention of cholera. Above all, Ramu was 
never known to have visited Trichinopoly. His 
whereabouts were unknown. The letter concluded : 
" Someone recently returned from a tour mentioned 
that he thought he caught a glimpse of Ramu in a 
large gathering during some music festival in Hydera- 
bad. He was, however, not very certain about it. . . ." 

I sold my shop and everything, paid off my creditors, 
and left Malgudi. I was a bankrupt, with a wife and 
four children to support. We moved from place* to 
place, living on the charity of friends, relatives, and 
unknown people. Sometimes nobody would feed us 
and we threw ourselves down in a dark corner of 
some rest-house, and my ragged children cried till 
sleep overcame them. I needn't weary you with an 
account of my struggles. It is another story. I must 
tell you about Ramu. I have to add only this about 
my own career. Four years later I came across a 
coffee-estate owner in Mempi Hills, and he gave me 
a fresh start ; and I must say, thanks to him, I have 
done very well indeed in the coffee trade. 

Now about Ramu. A year ago I was panting up 
the steps of Thirupathi Hills. I had a vow to fulfil 
at the temple. I had passed two thousand steps when 
a familiar voice assailed my ears from among the 
group of mendicants lining the steps. I stopped and 
turned. And there he was, I could hardly recognize 
him now. I had seen him off at Malgudi station ten 
years before. His face was now dark, scarred and 



A CAREER 133 

pitted. His eyes were fixed in a gaze. I should have 
passed him without noticing if he hadn't called out 
for alms. His voice was still unchanged. I stopped 
and said, " Look here." 

" I can't see, I am blind." 

" Who are you ? Where do you come from ? " I 
asked in a voice which I tried to disguise with a 
little gruffness. 

" Go, go your way. Why do you want to know all 
that ? " he said. 

I had often boasted that if I met him I would 
break his bones first ; but this was not at all how I 
had hoped to see him again. I felt very confused 
and unhappy. I dropped a coin on his upraised palm 
and passed on. But after moving up a few steps I 
stopped and beckoned to another beggar sitting by 
his side. He came up. I held up an anna coin 
before him and said, " You may have this if you will 
tell me something about that blind man. . . ." 

" I know him," said this beggar, who had no arms. 
" We keep together. He has arms, but no eyes ; I 
have eyes, but no arms, and so we find each other 
helpful. We move about together. He is not a 
beggar like me, but a sanyasi. He came here two 
years ago. He had once much money in Hyderabad, 
Delhi, Benares or somewhere. Smallpox took away 
his sight. His wife, a bad sort, deserted him. He is 
vexed with the world. Some pilgrims coming from 
the North brought him here. . . . But, surely you 
won't tell him I have spoken all this ? He becomes 
wild if those days are mentioned. . . ." 

I went back to Ramu, stood before him and watched 
him for a moment. I felt like shouting. " Ramu, 
God has punished you enough. Now come with me. 
i 



124 A CAREER 

Where is your sweetheart? Where is my money? 
What devil seized you ? " But I checked myself. I 
felt that the greatest kindness I could do him was to 
leave him alone. I silently placed a rupee on his 
outstretched palm, and raced up the steps. At the 
bend I turned my head and had another look at him. 
And that was the last I saw of him. For when I 
returned that way four days later, he was not to be 
seen. Perhaps he had moved on to another place 
with his armless companion. 



17 
FATHER'S HELP 

LYING in bed, Swami realized with a shudder that 
it was Monday morning. It looked as though 
only a moment ago it had been the last period on 
Friday ; already Monday was there. He hoped that 
an earthquake would reduce the school building to 
dust, but that good building Albert Mission School 
had withstood similar prayers for over a hundred 
years now. At nine o'clock Swaminathan wailed : 
" I have a headache." His mother said : " Why 
don't you go to school in ajutka ? " 

" So that I may be completely dead at the other 
end ? Have you any idea what it means to be jolted 
in sijutka ? " 

" Have you many important lessons today ? " 

" Important ! Bah ! That geography teacher has 
been teaching the same lesson for over a year now. 
And we have arithmetic, which means for a whole 
period we are going to be beaten by the teacher. . . . 
Important lesson ! " 

And mother generously suggested that Swami might 
stay at home. 

At nine-thirty, when he ought to have been shouting 
in the school prayer hall, Swami was lying on the 
bench in mother's room. Father asked him : " Have 
you no school today ? " 

" Headache," Swami replied. 

" Nonsense ! Dress up and go." 



126 FATHER'S HELP 

" Headache." 

" Loaf about less on Sundays and you will be without 
a headache on Monday." 

Swami knew how stubborn his father could be, and 
changed his tactics. " I can't go so late to the class." 

" I agree, but you'll have to ; it is your own fault. 
You should have asked me before deciding to stay 
away." 

" What will the teacher think if I go so late ? " 

" Tell him you had a headache and so are late." 

" He will beat me if I say so." 

" Will he ? Let us see. What is his name ? " 

" Samuel." 

" Does he beat the boys ? " 

" He is very violent, especially with boys who go 
late. Some days ago a boy was made to stay on his 
knees for a whole period in a 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." 

" If he is so violent, why not tell your headmaster 
about it?" 

" They say that even the headmaster is afraid of 
him. He is such a violent man." 

And then Swami gave a lurid account of Samuel's 
'violence ; how when he started caning he would not 
stop till he saw blood on the boy's hand, which he 
made the boy press to his forehead like a vermilion 
marking. Swami hoped that with this his father 
would be made to see that he couldn't go to his class 
late. But father's behaviour took an unexpected turn. 
He became excited. " What do these swine mean by 
beating our children ? They must be driven out of 
service. I will see. . . ." 



FATHER'S HELP 127 

The result was he proposed to send Swami late to 
his class as a kind of challenge. He was also going 
to send a letter with Swami to the headmaster. No 
amount of protest from Swami was of any avail : 
Swami had to go to school. 

By the time he was ready father had composed a 
long letter to the headmaster, put it in an envelope, 
and sealed it. 

" What have you written, father ? " Swaminathan 
asked apprehensively. 

" Nothing for you. Give it to your headmaster and 
go to your class." 

" Have you written anything about our teacher 
Samuel?;' 

" Plenty of things about him. When your head- 
master reads it he will probably dismiss Samuel from 
the school and hand him over to the police." 

" What has he done, father ? " 

" Well, there is a full account of everything he has 
done in the letter. Give it to your headmaster and 
go to your class. You must bring an acknowledgment 
from him in the evening." 

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 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 centring 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. 



128 FATHER'S HELP 

. . . 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 seen it actually. 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. 

As he approached the yellow building he realized 
that he was perjuring himself and was ruining his 
teacher. Probably the headmaster would dismiss 
Samuel and then the police would chain him and put 
him in jail. For all this disgrace, humiliation, and 
suffering who would be responsible? Swami 
shuddered. The more he thought of Samuel, the 
more he grieved for him the dark face, his small 
red-streaked eyes, his thin line of moustache, his 
unshaven cheek and chin, his yellow coat ; everything 
filled Swami with sorrow. As he felt the bulge of 
the letter in his pocket, he felt like an executioner. 
For a moment he was angry with his father, and 
wondered why he should not fling into the gutter 
the letter of a man so unreasonable and stubborn. 

As he entered the school gate an idea occurred to 
him, a sort of solution. He wouldn't deliver the 
letter to the headmaster immediately, but at the end 
of the day to that extent he would disobey his father 
and exercise his independence. There was nothing 
wrong in it, and father would not know it anyway. 



FATHER'S HELP 129 

If the letter were given at the end of the day there 
was a chance that Samuel might do something to 
justify the letter. 

Swami stood at the entrance to his class. Samuel 
was teaching arithmetic. He looked at Swami for a 
moment. Swami stood hoping that Samuel would 
fall on him and tear his skin off. But Samuel merely 
asked : " Are you just coming to the class ? " 

" Yes, sir." 

" You are half an hour late." 

" I know it." Swami hoped that he would be 
attacked now. He almost prayed : " God of 
Thirupathi, please make Samuel beat me." 

"Why are you late?" 

Swami wanted to reply : " Just to see what you 
can do." But he merely said : " I have a headache, 



sir." 



" Then why did you come to the school at all ? " 

A most unexpected question from Samuel. " My 
father said that I shouldn't miss the class, sir," said 
Swami. 

This seemed to impress Samuel. " Your father is 
quite right ; a very sensible man. We want more 
parents like him." 

" Oh, you poor worm ! " Swami thought. " You 
don't know what my father has done for you." He 
was more puzzled than ever about Samuel's character. 

"All right, go to your seat. Have you still a 
headache ? " 

11 Slightly, sir." 

Swami went to his seat with a bleeding heart. He 
had never met a man so good as Samuel. The 
teacher was inspecting the home lessons, which usually 
produced (at least, according to Swami's impression) 



130 FATHER'S HELP 

scenes of great violence. Notebooks would be flung 
at faces, boys would be abused, caned, and made to 
stand up on benches. But today Samuel appeared 
to have developed more tolerance and gentleness. He 
pushed away the bad books, just touched people with 
the cane, never made anyone stand up for more than 
a few minutes. Swami's turn came. He almost 
thanked God for the chance. 

" Swaminathan, where is your homework ? " 

" I have not done any homework, sir," he said 
blandly. 

There was a pause. 

Why headache ? " asked Samuel. 

" Yes, sir." 

" All right, sit down." Swami sat down, wondering 
what had come over Samuel. The period came to 
an end, and Swami felt desolate. The last period 
for the day was again taken by Samuel. He came 
this time to teach them Indian history. The period 
began at 3.45 and ended at 4.30. Swaminathan had 
sat through the previous periods thinking acutely. He 
could not devise any means of provoking Samuel. 
When the clock struck four Swami felt desperate. 
Half an hour more. Samuel was reading the red 
text, the portion describing Vasco da Gama's arrival 
in India. The boys listened in half languor. Swami 
suddenly asked at the top of his voice : " Why did 
not Columbus come to India, sir ? " 

" He lost his way." 

" I can't believe it ; it is unbelievable, sir." 

"Why?" 

" Such a great 'man. Would he have not known 
the way ? " 

" Don't shout. I can hear you quite well." 



FATHER'S HELP 131 

" I am not shouting, sir ; this is my ordinary voice, 
which God has given me. How can I help it ? " 

" Shut up and sit down." 

Swaminathan sat down, feeling slightly happy at 
his success. The teacher threw a puzzled, suspicious 
glance at him and resumed his lessons. 

His next chance occurred when Sankar of the first 
bench got up and asked : " Sir, was Vasco da Gama 
the very first person to come to India ? " 

Before the teacher could answer, Swami shouted 
from the back bench : " That's what they say." 

The teacher and all the boys looked at Swami. 
The teacher was puzzled by Swami's obtrusive 
behaviour today. " Swaminathan, you are shouting 
again." 

" I am not shouting, sir. How can I help my 
voice, given by God ? " The school clock struck a 
quarter-hour. A quarter more. Swami felt he must 
do something drastic in fifteen minutes. Samuel had 
no doubt scowled at him and snubbed him, but it 
was hardly adequate. Swami felt that with a little 
more effort Samuel could be made to deserve dismissal 
and imprisonment. 

The teacher came to the end of a section in the 
textbook and stopped. He proposed to spend the 
remaining few minutes putting questions to the boys. 
He ordered the whole class to put away books, and 
asked someone in the second row : " What is the 
date of Vasco da Gama's arrival in India ? " 

Swaminathan shot up and screeched : " Sixtcen- 
forty-eight, December twentieth." 

" You needn't shout," said the teacher. He asked : 
" Has your headache made you mad ? " 

" I have no headache now, sir," replied the thunderer 



i3 FATHER'S HELP 

brightly. " Sit down, you idiot." Swami thrilled at 
being called an idiot. " If you get up again I will 
cane you/' said the teacher. Swami sat down, feeling 
happy at the promise. The teacher then asked : " I 
am going to put a few questions on the Mughal period. 
Among the Mughal emperors, whom would you call 
the greatest, whom the strongest, and whom the most 
religious emperor ? " 

Swami got up. As soon as he was seen, the teacher 
said emphatically : " Sit down." 

" I want to answer, sir." 

" Sit down." 

" No, sir ; I want to answer." 

" What did I say I'd do if you got up again ? " 

" You said you would cane me and peel the skin off 
my knuckles and make me press it on my forehead." 

" All right ; come here." 

Swaminathan left his seat joyfully and hopped on 
the platform. The teacher took out his cane from 
the drawer and shouted angrily : " Open your hand, 
you little devil." He whacked three wholesome cuts 
on each palm. Swami received them without 
blenching. After half a dozen the teacher asked : 
" Will these do, or do you want some more ? " 

Swami merely held out his hand again, and received 
two more ; and the bell rang. Swami jumped down 
from the platform with a light heart, though his 
hands were smarting. He picked up his books, took 
out the letter lying in his pocket, and ran to the head- 
master's room. He found the room locked. He asked 
the peon : 

" Where is the headmaster ? " 

" Why do you want him ? " 

" My father has sent a letter for him." 



FATHER'S HELP 133 

" He has taken the afternoon off, and won't come 
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. As soon as 
Swami went home with the letter, father remarked : 
" I knew you wouldn't deliver it, you coward." 

" I swear our headmaster is on leave," Swaminathan 
began. 

Father replied : " Don't lie in addition to being 
a coward. . . ." 

Swami held up the envelope and said : " I will 
give this to the headmaster as soon as he is back. . . ." 
Father snatched it from his hand, tore it up, and thrust 
it into the wastepaper basket under his table. He 
muttered : " Don't come to me for help even if Samuel 
throttles you. You deserve your Samuel. . . ." 



18 
THE SNAKE^SONG 

WE were coming out of the music hall quite pleased 
with the concert. We thought it a very fine 
performance. We thought so till we noticed the 
Talkative Man in our midst. He looked as though 
he had been in a torture chamber. We looked at 
him sourly and remarked : " We suppose you are 
one of those great men who believe that South Indian 
music died one hundred years ago. Or were you at 
any time hobnobbing with all our ancient musicians 
and composers, the only reason many persons like 
you have for thinking that all modern singing is 
childish and inane ? Or are you one of those restless 
theorists who can never hear a song without splitting 
it into atoms ? " 

" None of these," answered the Talkative Man. 
" I am just a simple creature who knows what he is 
talking about. I know something of music, perhaps 
just a little more than anyone else here, and that is 
why I am horrified to see the level to which taste 
has sunk. . . ." 

We tried to snub him by receiving his remarks in 
cold silence and talking among ourselves. But he 
followed us all the way chatting, and we had to 
listen to him. 

Seeing me now (said the Talkative Man) perhaps 
you think I am capable of doing nothing more artistic 
than selling chemical fertilizers to peasants. But I 



THE SNAKE SONG 135 

tell you I was at one time ambitious of becoming a 
musician. I came near being one. It was years and 
years ago. I was living at the time in Kumbum, a 
small village eighty miles from Malgudi. A master 
musician lived there. When he played on the flute, 
it was said, the cattle of the village followed him 
about. He was perhaps the greatest artist of the 
century, but quite content to live in obscurity, hardly 
known to anyone outside the village, giving concerts 
only in the village temple, and absolutely satisfied 
with the small income he derived from his ancestral 
lands. I washed his clothes, swept his house, ran 
errands for him, wrote his accounts, and when he felt 
like it he taught me music. His personality and 
presence had a value all their own, so that even if 
he taught only for an hour it was worth a year's 
tuition under anyone else. The very atmosphere 
around him educated one. 

After three years of chipping and planing my master 
felt that my music was after all taking some shape. 
He said, " In another year, perhaps, you may go to 
the town and play before a public, that is, if you care 
for such things." You may be sure I cared. Not for 
me the greatness of obscurity. I wanted wealth and 
renown. I dreamt of going to Madras and attending 
the music festival next year, and then all the districts 
would ring with my name. I looked on my bamboo 
flute as a sort of magic wand which was going to 
open out a new world to me. 

I lived in a small cottage at the end of the street, 
It was my habit to sit up and practise far into the 
night. One night as I *was just losing myself in 
bhairavi raga, there came a knock on the door. I felt 
irritated at the interruption* 



136 THE SNAKE SONG 

" Who is there ? " I asked. 

" A sadhu ; he wants a mouthful of food." 

" At this hour ! Go, go. Don't come and pester 
people at all hours." 

" But hunger knows no time." 

" Go away. I have nothing here. I myself live on 
my master's charity." 

" But can't you give a small coin or at least a kind 
word to a sadhu ? He has seen Kasi, Rameswaram . . ." 

" Shut up," I cried, glared at the door, and resumed 
my bhairavi. 

Fifteen minutes later the knocks were repeated. I 
lost my temper. " Have you no sense ? Why do you 
disturb me ? " 

" You play divinely. Won't you let me in ? You 
may not give me food for my stomach but don't deny 
me your music." 

I didn't like anyone to be present when I practised, 
and this constant interruption was exasperating. 
" Don't stand there and argue. If you don't go at 
once, I will open the door and push you out." 

" Ah, bad words. You needn't push me out. I 
am going. But remember, this is your last day of 
music. Tomorrow you may exchange your flute for 
a handful of dried dates." 

I heard his wooden clogs going down the house steps* 
I felt relieved and played for about ten minutes. But 
my mind was troubled. His parting words . . . what 
did he mean by them? I got up, took the lantern 
from its nail on the wall, and went out. I stood on 
the last step of my cottage and looked up and down 
the dark street, holding up the lantern. I turned in. 
Vaguely hoping that he might call again, I left the 
door half open. I hung up the lantern and sat down. 



THE SNAKE SONG 137 

I looked at the pictures of gods on the wall and prayed 
to be protected from the threat of the unseen men- 
dicant. And then I was lost in music once again. 

Song after song flowed from that tiny bamboo and 
transformed my lonely cottage. I was no longer a 
petty mortal blowing through a piece of bamboo. I 
was among the gods. The lantern on the wall became 
a brilliant star illuminating a celestian hall. . . . 
And I came to the snake-song in punnaga varali. I saw 
the serpent in all its majesty : the very venom in its 
pouch had a touch of glory : now I saw its divinity 
as it crowned Shiva's head : Parvathi wore it as a 
wristlet : Subramanya played with it : and it was 
Vishnu's couch. . . . The whole composition im- 
parted to the serpent a quality which inspired awe 
and reverence. 

And now what should I see between the door and 
me but a black cobra ! It had opened its immense 
hood and was swaying ecstatically. I stopped my 
song and rubbed my eyes to see if I was fully awake. 
But the moment the song ceased, the cobra turned 
and threw a glance at me, and moved forward. I 
have never seen such a black cobra and such a long 
one in my life. Some saving instinct told me : " Play 
on ! Play on ! Don't stop." I hurriedly took the 
flute to my lips and continued the song. The snake, 
which was now less than three yards from me, lifted 
a quarter of its body, with a gentle flourish reared its 
head, fixed its round eyes on me, and listened to the 
music without making the slightest movement. It 
might have been a carven snake in black stone, so 
still it was. 

And as I played with my eyes fixed on the snake 
I was so much impressed with its dignity and authority 



138 THE SNAKE SONG 

that I said to myself, " Which God would forego the 
privilege of wearing this in His hair ? . . ." After 
playing the song thrice over, I commenced a new song. 
The cobra sharply turned its head and looked at me 
as if to say, " Now what is all this ? " and let out a 
terrible hiss, and made a slight movement. I quickly 
resumed the snake-song, and it assumed once again 
its carven posture. 

So I played the song again and again. And however 
great a composition might be, a dozen repetitions of it 
was bound to prove tiresome. I attempted to change 
the song once or twice, but I saw the snake stir 
menacingly. I vainly tried to get up and dash out, 
but the snake nearly stood up on its tail and promised 
to finish me. And so I played the same song all night. 
My distinguished audience showed no sign of leaving. 
By and by I felt exhausted. My head swam, my 
cheeks ached through continuous blowing, and my 
chest seemed to be emptied of the last wisp of breath. 
I knew I was going to drop dead in a few seconds. 
It didn't seem to matter very much if the snake was 
going to crush me in its coils and fill me with all the 
venom in its sac. I flung down the flute, got up, and 
prostrated before it crying, " Oh, Naga Raja, you are 
a god ; you can kill me if you like, but I can play 
no more. . . . " 

When I opened my eyes again the snake was gone. 
The lantern on the wall had turned pale in the morning 
light. My flute lay near the doorway. 9 

Next day I narrated my experiences to my master. 
He said, " Don't you know you ought not to play 
punnaga varali at night? That apart, now you can 
never be sure you will not get the snake in again if you 
play. And when he comes he won't spare you unless 



THE SNAKE SONG 139 

you sing his song over again. Are you prepared to 
do it ? " 

" No, no, a thousand times no," I cried. The 
memory of that song was galling. I had repeated it 
enough to last me a lifetime. 

" If it is so, throw away your flute and forget your 
music. You can't play with a serpent. It is a play- 
thing of Gods. Throw away your bamboo. It is of 
no use to you any more. ..." I wept at the thought 
of this renunciation. My master pitied me and said, 
" Perhaps all will be well again if you seek your visitor 
of that night and beg his forgiveness. Can you 
find him ? " 

I put away my flute. I have ever since been 
searching for an unknown, unseen mendicant, in this 
world. Even today if, by God's grace, I meet him, 
I will fall at his feet, beg his forgiveness, and take up 
my flute again. 



19 
FORTY-FIVE A MONTH 

O HANTA could not stay in her class any longer. 
*^ She had done clay-modelling, music, drill, a bit of 
alphabets and numbers, and was now cutting coloured 
paper. She would have to cut till the bell rang and 
the teacher said, " Now, you may all go home," or 
" Put away the scissors and take up your alpha- 
bets " Shanta was impatient to know the time. 

She asked her friend sitting next, " Is it five now ? " 
" Maybe," she replied. 

" Or is it six ? " 

" I don't think so," her friend replied, " because 
night comes at six." 

" Do you think it is five ? " 

" Yes." 

" Oh, I must go. My father will be back at home 
now. He has asked me to be ready at five. He is 
taking me to the cinema this evening. I must go 
home." She threw down her scissors and ran up to 
the teacher. " Madam, I must go home." 

" Why, Shanta Bai ? " 

" Because it is five o'clock now." 

" Who told you it was five ? " 

" Kamala." 

" It is not five now. It is do you see the clock 
there? Tell me what the time is. I taught you to 
read the clock the other day." Shanta stood gazing 

140 



FORTY-FIVE A MONTH 141 

at the clock in the hall, counted the figures laboriously 
and declared, " It is nine o'clock." 

The teacher called the other girls and said, " Who 
will tell me the time from that clock ? " Several of 
them concurred with Shanta and said it was nine 
o'clock, till the teacher said, " You are only seeing the 
long hand. See the short one, where is it ? " 

" Two and a half." 

" So what is the time ? " 

" Two and a half." 

" It is two forty-five, understand ? Now you may 

all go to your seats " Shanta returned to the 

teacher in about ten minutes and asked, " Is it five, 
Madam, because I have to be ready at five ? Other- 
wise my father will be very angry with me. He 
asked me to return home early." 

" At what time ? " 

" Now." The teacher gave her permission to leave, 
and Shanta picked up her books and dashed out of 
the class with a cry of joy. She ran home, threw her 
books on the floor, and shouted, " Mother, Mother," 
and Mother came running from the next house where 
she had gone to chat with her friends. 

Mother asked, " Why are you back so early ? " 

" Has father come home ? " Shanta asked. She 
would not take her coffee or tiffin, but insisted on 
being dressed first. She opened the trunk and insisted 
on wearing the thinnest frock and knickers, while her 
mother wanted to dress her in a long skirt and thick 
coat for the evening. Shanta picked out a gorgeous 
ribbon from a cardboard soap box in which she kept 
pencils, ribbons and chalk bits. There was a heated 
argument between mother and daughter over the 
dress, and finally mother had to give in. Shanta 



142 FORTY-FIVE A MONTH 

put on her favourite pink frock, braided her hair, 
and flaunted a green ribbon on her pigtail. She 
powdered her face and pressed a vermilion mark on 
her forehead. She said, " Now father will say what 
a nice girl I am because I'm ready. Aren't you also 
coming, mother ? " 

" Not today." 

Shanta stood at the little gate looking down the 
street. 

Mother said : " Father will come only after five ; 
don't stand in the sun. It is only four o'clock." 

The sun was disappearing behind the house on the 
opposite row, and Shanta knew that presently it would 
be dark. She ran in to her mother and asked, " Why 
hasn't father come home yet, mother ? " 

" How can I know ? He is perhaps held up in 
the office." 

Shanta made a wry face : " I don't like these 
people in the office. They are bad people " 

She went back to the gate and stood looking out. 
Her mother shouted from inside : " Gome in, Shanta. 
It is getting dark, don't stand there." But Shanta 
would not go in. She stood at the gate and a wild 
idea came to her head. Why should she not go to 
the office and call out father and then go to the 
cinema? She wondered where his office might be. 
She had no notion. She had seen her father take 
the turn at the end of the street every day. If one 
went there, one perhaps went automatically to father's 
office. She threw a glance about to see if mother 
was anywhere and moved down the street. 

It was twilight. Everyone going about looked 
gigantic, walls of houses appeared very high, and 
cycles and carriages looked as though they would bear 



FORTY-FIVE A MONTH 143 

down on her. She walked on the very edge of the 
road. Soon the lamps were twinkling : and the 
passers-by looked like shadows. She had taken two 
. turns and did not know where she was. She sat down 
on the edge of the road biting her nails. She wondered 
how she was to reach home. A servant employed in 
the next house was passing along, and she picked 
herself up and stood before him. 

" Oh, what are you doing here all alone ? " he 
asked. She replied, " I don't know. I came here. 
Will you take me to our house ? " She followed him 
and was soon back in her house. 



Venkat Rao, Shanta's father, was about to start for 
his office that morning when a jutka passed along the 
street distributing cinema handbills. Shanta dashed 
to the street and picked up a handbill. She held it 
up and asked : " Father, will y6u take me to the 
cinema today ? " He felt unhappy at the question. 
Here was the child growing up without having any 
of the amenities and the simple pleasures of life. He 
had hardly taken her twice to the cinema. He had 
no time for the child. While children of her age in 
other houses had all the dolls, dresses, and outings 
that they wanted, this child was growing up all alone 
and like a barbarian more or less. He felt furious 
with his office. For forty rupees a month they seemed 
to have purchased him outright. 

He reproached himself for neglecting his wife and 
child even the wife could have her own circle of 
friends and so on : she was after all a grown-up, but 
what about the child ? What a drab, colourless 
existence was hers ! Every day they kept him at the 



144 FORTY-FIVE A MONTH 

office till seven or eight in the evening and when he 
came home the child was asleep. Even on Sundays 
they wanted him at the office. Why did they think 
he had no personal life, a life of his own ? They 
gave him hardly any time to take the child to the 
park or the pictures. He was going to show them 
that they weren't to toy with him. Yes, he was 
prepared even to quarrel with his manager if necessary. 

He said with resolve : " I will take you to the 
cinema this evening. Be ready at five." 

" Really ! Mother ! " Shanta shouted. Mother 
came out of the kitchen. 

" Father is taking me to a cinema in the evening." 

Shanta's mother smiled cynically. " Don't make 

false promises to the child " Venkat Rao glared 

at her. " Don't talk nonsense. You think you are 
the only person who keeps promises " 

He told Shanta : " Be ready at five, and I will 
come and take you positively. If you are not ready, 
I will be very angry with you." 

He walked to his office full of resolve. He would 
do his normal work and get out at five. If they 
started any old tricks of theirs, he was going to teU 
the boss : " Here is my resignation. My child's 
happiness is more important to me than these horrible 
papers of yours." 

All day the usual stream of papers flowed on to 
his table and out of it. He scrutinized, signed, and 
drafted. He was corrected, admonished, and insulted. 
He had a break of only five minutes in the afternoon 
for his coffee. 

When the office clock struck five and the other 
clerks were leaving, he went up to the manager and 
said : " May I go, sir ? " The manager looked up 



FORTY-FIVE A MONTH 145 

from his paper : " You ! " It was unthinkable that 
the cash and account section should be closing at five. 
" How can you go ? " 

" I have some urgent, private business, sir," he 
said, smothering the lines he had been rehearsing 
since the morning : " Herewith my resignation." He 
visualized Shanta standing at the door, dressed, and 
palpitating with eagerness. 

" There shouldn't be anything more urgent than 
the office work ; go back to your seat. You know 
how many hours I work ? " asked the manager. The 
manager came to the office three hours before the 
opening time and stayed nearly three hours after 
closing, even on Sundays. The clerks commented 
among themselves : " His wife must be whipping him 
whenever he is seen at home ; that is why the old 
owl seems so fond of his office." 

" Did you trace the source of that Ten-Eight 
difference ? " asked the manager. 

" I shall have to examine two hundred vouchers. 
I thought we might do it tomorrow." 

" No, no, this won't do. You must rectify it 
immediately." Venkat Rao mumbled, " Yes, sir," 
and slunk back to his seat. 

The clock showed five-thirty. Now it meant two 
hours of excruciating search among vouchers. All 
the rest of the office had gone. Only he and another 
clerk in his section were working, and, of course, the 
manager was there. Venkat Rao was furious. His 
mind was made up. He wasn't a slave who had 
sold himself for forty rupees outright. He could 
make that money easily ; and if he couldn't it would 
be more honourable to die of starvation. 

He took a sheet of paper and wrote : " Herewith 



146 FORTY-FIVE A MONTH 

my resignation. If you people think you have bought 
me body and soul for forty rupees, you arc mistaken. 
I think it would be far better for me and my family 
to die of starvation than slave for this petty forty 
rupees on which you have kept me for years and years. 
I suppose you have not the slightest notion of giving 
me an increment. You give yourselves heavy slices 
frequently, and I don't see why you shouldn't think 
of us occasionally. In any case it doesn't interest me 
now, since this is my resignation. If I and my family 
perish of starvation, may our ghosts come and haunt 

you all your life " He folded the letter, put it in 

an envelope, sealed the flap and addressed it to the 
manager. He left his seat and stood before the 
manager. The manager mechanically received the 
letter and put it on his pad. 

" Venkat Rao," said the manager. " I'm sure 
you will be glad to hear this news. Our officer 
discussed the question of increments today, and I've 
recommended you for an increment of five rupees. 
Orders are not yet passed and so keep this to yourself 
for the present." Venkat Rao put out his hand, 
snatched the envelope from the pad and hastily slipped 
it in his pocket. 

"What is that letter?" 

" I have applied for a little casual leave, sir, bu 
I think. . . ." 

" You can't get any leave at least for a fortnight to 
come." 

" Yes, sir. I realize that. That is why I am 
withdrawing my application, sir." 

" Very well. Have you traced that mistake ? " 

" I'm scrutinizing the vouchers, sir. I will find it 
out within an hour. . . ." 



FORTY-FIVE A MONTH 147 

It was nine o'clock when he went home. Shanta 
had already slept. Her mother said, " She wouldn't 
even change her frock, thinking that any moment you 
might be coming and taking her out. She hardly ate 
any food ; and wouldn't lie down for fear of crumpling 
her dress. . . ." 

Venkat Rao's heart bled when he saw his child 
sleeping in her pink frock, hair combed, and face 
powdered, dressed and ready to be taken out. " Why 
should I not take her to the night show ? " He 
shook her gently and called, " Shanta, Shanta." 
Shanta kicked her legs and cried, irritated at being 
disturbed. Mother whispered, " Don't wake her," 
and patted her back to sleep. 

Venkat Rao watched the child for a moment. " I 
don't know if it is going to be possible for me to take 
her out at all you see they are giving me an in- 
crement " he wailed. 



20 
DASI THE BRIDEGROOM 

HIS name was Dasi. In all the Extension there was 
none like him an uncouth fellow with a narrow 
tapering head, bulging eyes, and fat neck ; below 
the neck he had an immense body, all muscle. God 
had not endowed him with very fluent speech. He 
gurgled and lisped like an infant. His age was a 
mystery. It might be anything between twenty and 
fifty. He lived in a house in the last street. It was a 
matter of perpetual speculation how he was related to 
the master of the house. Some persons said he was a 
younger brother, and some said he had been a foundling 
brought up by the gentleman. Whatever it was it 
was not a matter which could be cleared by Pasi 
himself for, as I have already said, he could not 
even say how old he was. If you asked, he said a 
hundred one day and five on the next. In return 
for the food and protection he received, he served 
the family in his own way ; he drew water from the 
well from dawn till midday, chopped wood, and dug 
the garden. 

Dasi went out in the afternoon. When he stepped 
out scores of children followed him about shouting 
and jeering. Hawkers and passers-by stopped to 
crack a joke at his expense. There was particularly 
a group in a house nicknamed Mantapam. In the 
front porch of the house were gathered all day a good 

148 



DASI THE BRIDEGROOM 149 

company of old men ; persons who had done useful 
work in their time but who now found absolutely 
nothing to do at any part of the day. They were ever 
on the look out for some excitement or gossip. To 
them Dasi was a source of great joy. The moment 
Dasi was sighted they would shout, " Hey, fellow, 
have you fixed up a bride ? " This question never 
failed to draw Dasi in, for he thought very deeply 
and earnestly of his marriage. When he came and 
squatted in their midst on the floor they would say, 
" The marriage season is closing, you must hurry up, 
my dear fellow." 

" Yes, yes," Dasi would reply. " I am going to the 
priest. He has promised to settle it today." 

" Today ? " 

" Yes, tonight I am going to be married. They 
said so." 

" Who ? " 

" My uncle. . . ." 

" Who is your uncle ? " 

" My elder brother is my uncle. I am in his house 
and draw water from his well. See how my hand is 
... all the skin is gone. . . ." He would spread 
out his fingers and show his palms. They would feel 
his palms and say, " Hardened like wood ! Poor 
fellow ! This won't do, my dear fellow, you must 
quickly marry and put an end to all this. . . ." 
Dasi's eyes would brighten at this suggestion, and his 
lips would part in a happy smile showing an enormous 
front tooth. Everyone would laugh at it, and he, too, 
would sway and rock with laughter. 

And then the question, " Where is your bride ? " 

" She is there ... in Madras ... in Madras. . . ." 

" What is she like ? " 



i 5 o DASI THE BRIDEGROOM 

" She has eyes like this," said Dasi, and drew a large 
circle in the air with his finger. 

" What is the colour of her skin ? " 

" Very, very white." 

" Has she long hair ? " 

Dasi indicated an immense flow of tresses with 
his hand. 

" Is she very good looking ? " 

" She is ... yes, yes." 

Dasi hid his face in his hand, looked at the group 
through a corner of his eye and said shyly, " Yes, yes, 
I also like her." 

" Where have you the money to marry ? " 

" They have to give me three thousand rupees," 
replied Dasi. 

" He means that his wages have accumulated," 
some one explained obligingly. 

When he went home he was asked where he had 
been and he said, " My marriage." And then he 
went and sat down in the shed on his mat, his only 
possession in the world. He remained there brooding 
over his marriage till he was called in to dine, late in 
the night. He was the last to eat because he consumed 
an immense quantity of rice, and they thought it a 
risk to call him in before the others had eaten. After 
food he carried huge cauldrons of water and washed 
the kitchen and dining-hall floor. And then he went 
to his mat and slept till dawn, when he woke up and 
drew water from the well. 

For years out of count this had been going on. 
Even his life had a tone and rhythm of its own. He 
never seemed to long for anything or interfere in 
anybody's business ; never spoke to others except 
when spoken to ; never so much as thought he was being 



DASI THE BRIDEGROOM 151 

joked at ; he treated everyone seriously ; when the 
Extension School children ran behind him jeering he 
never even showed he was aware of their presence ; 
he had no doubt the strength of an ox, but he had also 
the forbearance of Mother Earth ; nothing ever 
seemed to irritate him. . . . 

The little cottage in the third street which had 
remained vacant from time immemorial suddenly 
shed its " To Let " notice. Along with the newspaper 
and the letters, the train one morning brought a 
film star from Madras, called Bamini Bai a young 
person all smiles, silk and powder. She took up her 
abode in the little cottage. 

Very soon the Extension folk knew all about her. 
She was going to stay in Malgudi a considerable time 
training herself under a famous musician of the town. 
She had her old mother staying with her. The 
Extension folk had also a complete knowledge of her 
movements. She left home early in the morning, 
returned at midday, slept till three o'clock, went out 
on a walk along the Trunk Road at five o'clock, 
and so on. 

At the Mantapam they told Dasi one day, " Dasi, 
your wife has arrived." 

" Where ? " asked Dasi. He became agitated, and 
swallowed and struggled to express all the anxiety 
and happiness he felt. The company assumed a very 
serious expression and said, " Do you know the house 
in the next street, the little house. . . . ? " 

" Yes, yes." 

" She is there. Have you not seen her ? " 

Dasi hid his face in his hands and went away. 
He went to the next street. It was about one o'clock 
in the afternoon. The film star was not to be seen. 



i 5 a DASI THE BRIDEGROOM 

Dasi stood on the road looking at the house for some 
time. He returned to the Mantapam. They greeted 
him vociferously. " How do you like her ? " Dasi 
replied, " My eyes did not see her, the door would 
not open." 

" Try to look in through the window. You will 
see her." 

" I will see through the window," said Dasi, and 
started out again. 

" No, no, stop. It is no good. Listen to me. 
Will you do as I say ? " 

" Yes, yes." 

" You see, she goes out every day at five o'clock. 
You will see her if you .go to Trichy Road and 
wait." 

Dasi's head was bowed in shyness. They goaded 
him on, and he went along to the Trunk Road and 
waited. He sat under a tree on the roadside. It was 
not even two o'clock, and he had to wait till nearly 
six. The sun beat down fully on his face. He sat 
leaning against a tree trunk and brooded. A few 
cars passed raising dust, bullock carts with jingling 
bells, and villagers were moving about the highway; 
but Dasi saw nothing and noticed nothing. He sat 
looking down the road. And after all she came along. 
Dasi's throat went dry at the sight of her. His 
temples throbbed, and sweat stood out on his brow. 
He had never seen anything like her in all his life. 
The vision of beauty and youth dazzled him. He 
was confused and bewildered. He sprang on to his 
feet and ran home at full speed. He lay down on 
his mat in the shed. He was so much absorbed in 
his thoughts that he wouldn't get up when they called 
him in to dinner. His master walked to the shed 



DASI THE BRIDEGROOM 153 

and shook him up. " What is the matter with you ? " 
he asked. 

" My marriage. . . . She is there. She is all 
right." 

" Well, well. Go and eat and do your work, you 
fool," said his master. 

Next afternoon Dasi was again at the Trunk Road. 
This became his daily habit. Every day his courage 
increased. At last came a day when he could stare 
at her. His face relaxed and his lips parted in a smile 
when she passed him, but that young lady had other 
thoughts to occupy her mind and did not notice him. 
He waited till she returned that way and tried to 
smile at her again, though it was nearly dark and she 
was looking away. He followed her, his face lit up 
with joy. She opened the gate of her cottage and 
walked in. He hesitated a moment, and followed her 
in. He stood under the electric lamp in the hall. 
The mother came out of the kitchen and asked Dasi, 
" Who are you ? " 

Dasi looked at her and smiled ; at that the old lady 
was frightened. She cried, " Bama, who is this man 
in the hall ? " Bamini Bai came out of her room. 
" Who are you ? " she asked. Dasi melted at the 
sight of her. Even the little expression he was capable 
of left him. He blinked and gulped and looked 
suffocated. His eyes blazed forth love. His lips 
struggled to smile. With great difficulty he said, 
" Wife . . . wife, you are the wife. . . ." 

" What are you saying ? " 

" You are my wife," he repeated, and moved nearer. 
She recoiled with horror, and struck him in the face. 
And then she and her mother set up such a cry that all 
the neighbours and passers-by rushed in. Somebody 



i 5 4 DASI THE BRIDEGROOM 

brought in a police Sub-Inspector. Dasi was marched 
off to the police station. The members of the 
Mantapam used their influence and had him released 
late in the night. He went home and lay on his mat. 
His body had received numerous blows from all 
sorts of people in the evening ; but he hardly felt 
or remembered any of them. But his soul revolted 
against the memory of the slap he had received in the 
face. . . . When they called him in to eat, he refused 
to get up. His master went to him and commanded, 
" Go and eat, Dasi. You are bringing me disgrace, 
you fool. Don't go out of the house hereafter." 
Dasi refused to get up. He rolled himself in the mat 
and said, " Go, I don't eat." He turned and faced 
the wall. 

On the following day Dasi had the misfortune to 
step out of his house just when the children of the 
Elementary School were streaming out at midday 
interval. They had heard all about the incident of 
the previous evening. They now surrounded him and 
cried, " Hey, bridegroom." He turned and looked 
at them ; there were tears in his eyes. He made a 
gesture of despair and appealed to them : " Go, go, 
don't trouble me. . . . Go." 

" Oh, the bridegroom is still crying ; his wife beat 
him yesterday," said a boy. On hearing this Dasi 
let out a roar, lifted the boy by his collar and hurled 
him into the crowd. He swung his arms about and 
knocked down people who tried to get near him. 
He rushed into the school and broke chairs and tables. 
He knocked down four teachers who tried to restrain 
him. He rushed out of the school and assaulted 
everyone he met. He crashed into the shops and 
threw things about. He leapt about like a panther 



DASI THE BRIDEGROOM 155 

from place to place ; he passed through the streets of 
the Extension like a tornado. . . . 

Gates were hurriedly shut and bolted. A group of 
persons tried to run behind Dasi, while a majority 
preferred to take cover. Soon the police were on the 
scene, and Dasi was finally overpowered. 

He was kept that night in a police lock-up, and sent 
to the Mental Hospital next day. He was not very 
easy to manage at first. He was kept in a cell for 
some weeks. He begged the doctor one day to allow 
him to stand at the main gate and look down the road. 
The doctor promised this as a reward for good 
behaviour. Dasi valued the reward so much that he 
did everything everyone suggested for a whole week. 
He was then sent (with a warder) to the main gate 
where he stood for a whole hour looking down the 
road for the coming of his bride. 



21 
OLD MAN OF THE TEMPLE 

THE Talkative Man said : 
It was some years ago that this happened. I 
don't know if you can make anything of it. If you 
do, I shall be glad to hear what you have to say ; 
but personally I don't understand it at all. It has 
always mystified me. Perhaps the driver was drunk ; 
perhaps he wasn't. 

I had engaged a taxi for going to Kumbum, which 
as you may already know, is fifty miles from Malgudi. 
I went there one morning and it was past nine in the 
evening when I finished my business and started back 
for the town. Doss, the driver, was a young fellow of 
about twenty-five. He had often brought his car for 
me and I liked him. He was a well-behaved, obedient 
fellow, with a capacity to sit down and wait at the 
wheel, which is really a rare quality in a taxi driver. 
He drove the car smoothly, seldom swore at passers-by, 
and exhibited perfect judgment, good sense, and 
sobriety ; and so I preferred him to any other driver 
whenever I had to go out on business. 

It was about eleven when we passed the village 
Koopal, which is on the way down. It was the dark 
half of the month and the surrounding country was 
swallowed up in the night. The village street was 
deserted. Everyone had gone to sleep ; hardly any 
light was to be seen. The stars overhead sparkled 



OLD MAN OF THE TEMPLE 157 

brightly. Sitting in the back seat and listening to the 
continuous noise of the running wheels, I was half 
lulled into a drowse. 

. All of a sudden Doss swerved the car and shouted : 
" You old fool ! Do you want to kill yourself? " 

I was shaken out of my drowse and asked : " What 
is the matter ? " Doss stopped the car and said, 
"You see that old fellow, sir. He is trying to kill 
himself. I can't understand what he is up to." 

I looked in the direction he pointed and asked, 
" Which old man ? " " There, there. He is coming 
towards us again. As soon as I saw him open that 
temple door and come out I had a feeling, somehow, 
that I must keep an eye on him." 

I took out my torch, got down, and walked about, 
but could see no one. There was an old temple on 
the roadside ; it was utterly in ruins ; most portions 
of it were mere mounds of old brick ; the walls were 
awry ; and there was a main doorway with doors 
shut, and brambles and thickets grew over and covered 
them. It was difficult to guess with the aid of the 
torch alone what temple it was and to what period 
it belonged. 

" The doors are shut and sealed and don't look as 
if they had been opened for centuries now," I cried. 

" No, sir," Doss said coming nearer. " I saw the 
old man open the doors and come out. He is standing 
there ; shall we ask him to open them again if you 
want to go in and see ? " 

I said to Doss, " Let us be going. We are wasting 
our time here." 

We went back to the car. Doss sat in his seat, 
pressed the self-starter, and asked without turning his 
head, " Are you permitting this fellow to come with 



158 OLD MAN OF THE TEMPLE 

us, sir? He says he will get down at the next 
milestone." 

"Which fellow? "I asked. 

Doss indicated the space on his left. 

" What is the matter with you, Doss ? Have you 
had a drop of drink or something ? " 

" I have never tasted any drink in my life, sir," he 
said, and added, " Get down, old boy. Master says 
he can't take you." 

" Are you talking to yourself? " 

" After all I think we needn't care for these unknown 
fellows on the road," he said. 

" Doss," I pleaded. " Do you feel confident you 
can drive ? If you feel dizzy don't venture to start 
the car." 

" Thank you, sir," said Doss. " I would rather 
not start the car now. I am feeling a little out of 
sorts." I looked at him anxiously. He closed his 
eyes, his breathing became heavy and noisy, and 
gradually his head sank. 

" Doss, Doss," I cried desperately. I got down, 
walked to the front seat, opened the door, and shook 
him vigorously. He opened his eyes, assumed a 
hunched-up position, and rubbed his eyes with his 
hands, which trembled like an old man's. 

" Do you feel better ? " I asked. 

" Better ! Better ! Hi ! Hi ! " he said in a thin, 
piping voice. 

" What has happened to your voice ? You sound 
like someone else," I said. 

" Nothing. My voice is as good as it was. When 
a man is eighty he is bound to feel a few changes 
coming on." 

" You aren't eighty, surely," I said. 



OLD MAN OF THE TEMPLE 159 

" Not a day less," he said. " Is nobody going to 
move this vehicle ? If not there is no sense in sitting 
here all day. I will get down and go back to my 
temple." 

" I don't know driving," I said. " And unless you 
care to do it I don't see how the vehicle can move." 

" Me ! " exclaimed Doss. " These new carriages ! 
God knows what they are drawn by, I never under- 
stand, though I could handle a pair of bullocks quite 
well in my time. May I ask a question ? " 

" Go on," I said. 

" Where is everybody ? " 

" Who ? " 

" Lots of people I knew are not to be seen at all. 
All sorts of new fellows everywhere, and nobody seems 
to care. Not a soul comes near the temple. All 
sorts of people go about but not one who cares to stop 
and talk to me. Why doesn't the king ever come this 
way ? He used to go this way at least once a year 
before." 

" Which king ? " I asked. 

" Let me go, you idiot," said Doss, edging towards 
the door on which I was leaning. " You don't seem 
to know anything." He pushed me aside, and got 
down from the car. He stopped as if he had a big 
hump on his back, and hobbled along towards the 
temple. I followed him, hardly knowing what to do. 
He turned and snarled at me : " Go away, leave me 
alone. I have had enough of you." 

" What has come over you, Doss ? " I asked. 

" Who is Doss, anyway ? Doss, Doss, Doss. What 
an absurd name ! Gall me by my name or leave me 
alone. Don't follow me calling * Doss, Doss.' " 

" What is your name ? " I asked. 



160 OLD MAN OF THE TEMPLE 

" Krishna Battar ; and if you go and mention my 
name people will know who it is for a hundred miles 
around. I built a temple where there was only a 
cactus field before I dug the earth, made every brick 
with my own hands and put them one upon another, 
all single-handed. And on the day the temple held 
up its tower over the surrounding country, what a 
crowd gathered ! The king sent his chief minister. . . ." 

" Who was the king ? " 

" Where do you come from ? " he asked. 

" I belong to these parts certainly, but as far as I 
know there has been only a Collector at the head of 
the district. I have never heard of any king." 

" Hi ! Hi ! Hi ! " he cackled, and his voice rang 
through the gloomy silent village. " Fancy never 
knowing the king ! He will behead you if he hears it." 

" What is his name ? " I asked. 

This tickled him so much that he sat down on the 
ground, unable to stand (literally) the joke any more. 
He laughed and coughed uncontrollably. 

" I am unhappy to admit," I said, " that my parents 
have brought me up in such utter ignorance of worldly 
affairs that I don't know even my king. But won't 
you enlighten me ? What is his name ? " 

"Vishnu Varma, the Emperor of emperors. . . ." 

I cast my mind up and down the range of my 
historical knowledge but there was no one of that 
name. Perhaps a local chief of pre-British days, 
I thought. 

" What a king ! He often visited my temple or 
sent his minister for the Annual Festival of the temple. 
But now nobody cares." 

" People are becoming less godly nowadays," I said. 
There was silence for a moment. An idea occurred 



OLD MAN OF THE TEMPLE 161 

to me, I can't say why. "Listen to me," I said. 
" You ought not to be here any more." 

" What do you mean ? " he asked, drawing himself 
up proudly. 

" Don't feel hurt ; I say you shouldn't be here any 
more because you are dead." 

" Dead ! Dead ! " he said. " Don't talk nonsense. 
How can I be dead when you see me before you now ? 
If I am dead how can I be saying this and that ? " 

" I don't know all that," I said. I argued and 
pointed out that according to his own story he was 
more than three hundred years old, and didn't he 
know that man's longevity was only a hundred ? He 
constantly interrupted me, but considered deeply 
what I said. 

He said : " It is like this. ... I was coming 
through the jungle one night after visiting my sister 
in the next village. I had on me some money and 
gold ornaments. Some robbers set upon me. I gave 
them as good a fight as any man could, but they were 
too many for me. They beat me down and knifed 
me ; they took away all that I had on me and left 
thinking they had killed me. But soon I was up and 
tried to follow them. They were gone. And I 
returned to the temple and have been here since. . . ." 

I told him, " Krishna Batta, you are dead, absolutely 
dead. You must try and go away from here." 

" What is to happen to the temple ? " he asked. 

" Others will look after it." 

" Where am I to go ? Where am I to go ? " 

" Have you no one who cares for you ? " I asked. 

" None except my wife. I loved her very much." 

" You can go to her." 

" Oh, no. She died four years ago. . . ." 



162 OLD MAN OF THE TEMPLE 

Four years ! It was very puzzling. " Do you say 
four years back from now ? " I asked. 

" Yes, four years ago from now.' 5 He was clearly 
without any sense of time. So I asked, " Was she 
alive when you were attacked by thieves ? " 

" Certainly not. If she had been alive she would 
never have allowed me to go through the jungle after 
nightfall. She took very good care of me." 

" See here," I said. " It is imperative you should 
go away from here. If she comes and calls you, will 
you go ? " 

" How can she when I tell you that she is dead ? " 

I thought for a moment. Presently I found myself 
saying, " Think of her, and only of her, for a while 
and see what happens. What was her name ? " 

" Seetha, a wonderful girl. . . ." 

" Come on, think of her." He remained in deep 
thought for a while. He suddenly screamed, " Seetha 
is coming ! Am I dreaming or what ? I will go 
with her. . . ." He stood up, very erect ; he appeared 
to have lost all the humps and twists he had on his 
body. He drew himself up, made a dash forward, 
and fell down in a heap. 

Doss lay on the rough ground. The only sign of 
life in him was his faint breathing. I shook him and 
called him. He would not open his eyes. I walked 
across and knocked on the door of the first cottage. 
I banged on the door violently. 

Someone moaned inside, " Ah, it is come ! " 

Someone else whispered, " You just cover your ears 
and sleep. It will knock for a while and go away." 
I banged on the door and shouted who I was and 
where I came from. I sounded the horn of the car 
in the street. The door was opened, and a whole 



OLD MAN OF THE TEMPLE 163 

family crowded out with lamps. " We thought it 
was the usual knocking and we wouldn't have opened 
if you hadn't spoken." 

" When was this knocking first heard ? " I asked. 

" We can't say," an old man replied. " The first 
time I heard it was when my grandfather was living ; 
he used to say he had even seen it once or twice. It 
doesn't harm anyone, as far as I know. The only 
thing it does is to bother the bullock carts passing the 
temple and to knock on the doors at night. . . ." 

I said as a venture, " It is unlikely you will be 
troubled any more." 

It proved correct. When I passed that way again 
months later I was told that the bullocks passing the 
temple after dusk never shied now and no knocking 
on doors was heard at nights. So I felt that the old 
fellow had really gone away with his good wife. 



22 
OUT OF BUSINESS 

LITTLE over a year ago Rama Rao went out of 
work when a gramophone company, of which he 
was the Malgudi agent, went out of existence. He 
had put into that agency the little money he had 
inherited, as security. For five years his business 
brought him enough money, just enough, to help him 
keep his wife and children in good comfort. He built 
a small bungalow in the Extension and was thinking 
of buying an old Baby car for his use. 

And one day, it was a bolt from the blue, the crash 
came. A series of circumstances in the world of 
trade, commerce, banking and politics was responsible 
for it. The gramophone company, which had its 
factory somewhere in Northern India, automatically 
collapsed when a bank in Lahore crashed, which was 
itself the result of a Bombay financier's death. The 
financier was driving downhill when his car flew off 
sideways and came to rest three hundred feet below 
the road. It was thought that he had committed 
suicide because the previous night his wife eloped with 
his cashier. 

Rama Rao suddenly found himself in the streets. 
At first he could hardly understand the full significance 
of this collapse. There was a little money in the 
bank and he had some stock on hand. But the stock 
moved out slowly ; the prices were going down, and 

164 



OUT OF BUSINESS 165 

he could hardly realize a few hundred rupees. When 
he applied for the refund of his security, there was 
hardly anyone at the other end to receive his 
application. 

The money in the bank was fast melting. Rama 
Rao's wife now tried some measures of economy. 
She sent away the cook and the servant ; withdrew 
the children from a fashionable nursery school and 
sent them to a free primary school. And then they 
let out their bungalow and moved to a very small 
house behind the Market. 

Rama Rao sent out a dozen applications a day, 
and wore his feet out looking for employment. For 
a man approaching forty, looking for employment 
does not come very easily, especially when he has just 
lost an independent, lucrative business. Rama 
Rao was very businesslike in stating his request. He 
sent his card in and asked, " I wonder, sir, if you 
could do something for me. My business is all gone 
through no fault of my own. I shall be very grateful 
if you can give me something to do in your office. . . ." 

" What a pity, Rama Rao ! I am awfully sorry, 
there is nothing at present. If there is an opportunity 
I will certainly remember you.*' 

It was the same story everywhere. He returned 
home in the evening ; his heart sank as he turned 
into his street behind the Market. His wife would in- 
variably be standing at the door with the children 
behind her, looking down the street. What anxious, 
eager faces they had ! So much of trembling, hesi- 
tating hope in their faces. They seemed always to 
hope that he would come back home with some magic 
fulfilment. As he remembered the futile way in 
which he searched for a job, and the finality with 



166 OUT OF BUSINESS 

which people dismissed him, he wished that his wife 
and children had less trust in him. His wife looked 
at his face, understood, and turned in without uttering 
a word ; the children took the cue and filed in silently. 
Rama Rao tried to improve matters with a forced 
heartiness. " Well, well. How are we all today ? " 
To which he received mumbling, feeble responses from 
his wife and children. It rent his heart to see them 
in this condition. There at the Extension how this 
girl would sparkle with flowers and a bright dress ; she 
had friendly neighbours, a women's club, and every- 
thing to keep her happy there. But now she hardly 
had the heart or the need to change in the evenings, 
for she spent all her time cooped up in the kitchen. 
And then the children. The house in the Extension 
had a compound and they romped about with a 
dozen other children : it was possible to have numerous 
friends in the fashionable nursery school. But here 
the children had no friends, and could play only in 
the backyard of the house. Their shirts were beginning 
to show tears and frays. Formerly they were given 
new clothes once in three months. Rama Rao lay in 
bed and spent sleepless nights over it. 

All the cash in hand was now gone. Their only 
source of income was the small rent they were getting 
for their house in the Extension. They shuddered to 
think what would happen to them if their tenant 
should suddenly leave. 

It was in this condition that Rama Rao came across 
a journal in the Jubilee Reading Room. It was called 
The Captain. It consisted of four pages and all of 
them were devoted to crossword puzzles. It offered 
every week a first prize of four thousand rupees* 

For the next few days his head was free from family 



OUT OF BUSINESS 167 

cares. He was intensely thinking of his answers : 
whether it should be TALLOW or FOLLOW. Whether 
BAD or MAD or SAD would be most apt for a clue which 
said " Men who are this had better be avoided." 
He hardly stopped to look at his wife and children 
standing in the doorway, when he returned home in 
the evenings. Week after week he invested a little 
money and sent down his solutions, and every week 
he awaited the results with a palpitating heart. On 
the day a solution was due he hung about the news- 
agent's shop, worming himself into his favour in order 
to have a look into the latest issue of The Captain 
without paying for it. He was too impatient to wait 
till the journal came on the table in the Jubilee Reading 
Room. Sometimes the newsagent would grumble, 
and Rama Rao would pacify him with an awkward, 
affected optimism. " Please wait. When I get a 
prize I will give you three years' subscription in 
advance. ..." His heart quailed as he opened the 
page announcing the prize-winners. Someone in 
Baluchistan, someone in Dacca, and someone in 
Ceylon 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. 

This violent alternating between hope and despair 
soon wrecked his nerves and balance. At home he 
hardly spoke to anyone. His head was always bowed 
in thought. He quarrelled with his wife if she refused 
to give him his rupee a week for the puzzles. She 
was of a mild disposition and was incapable of a 
sustained quarrel, with the result that he always got 



i68 OUT OF BUSINESS 

what he wanted, though it meant a slight sacrifice in 
household expenses. 

One day the good journal announced a special offer 
of eight thousand rupees. It excited Rama Rao's 
vision of a future tenfold. He studied the puzzle. 
There were only four doubtful corners in it, and he 
might have to send in at least four entries. A larger 
outlay was indicated. " You must give me five 
rupees this time," he said to his wife, at which that 
good lady became speechless. He had become rather 
insensitive to such things these days, but even he 
could not help feeling the atrocious nature of his 
demand. Five rupees were nearly a week's food for 
the family. He felt disturbed for a moment ; but he 
had only to turn his attention to speculate whether 
HOPE or DOPE or ROPE made most sense (for " Some 
People Prefer This to Despair "), and his mind was 
at once at rest. 

After sending away the solutions by registered post 
he built elaborate castles in the air. Even if it was 
only a share he would get a substantial amount of 
money. He would send away his tenants, take his 
wife and children back to the bungalow in the Ex- 
tension, and leave all the money in his wife's hands 
for her to manage for a couple of years or so ; he 
himself would take a hundred and go away to Madras 
and seek his fortune there. By the time the money 
in his wife's hands was spent he would have found 
some profitable work in Madras. 

On the fateful day of results Rama Rao opened 
The Captain, and the correct solution stared him in 
the face. His blunders were numerous. There was 
no chance of getting back even a few annas now. 
He moped about till the evening. The more he 



OUT OF BUSINESS 169 

brooded over this the more intolerable life seemed. . . . 
All the losses, disappointments and frustrations of his 
life came down on him with renewed force. In the 
evening instead of turning homeward he moved along 
the Railway Station Road. He slipped in at the 
level crossing and walked down the line a couple of 
miles. It was dark. Far away the lights of the town 
twinkled, and the red and green light of a signal post 
loomed over the surroundings a couple of furlongs 
behind him. He had come to the conclusion that life 
was not worth living. If one had the misfortune to 
be born in the world the best remedy was to end 
matters on a railway line or with a rope (" Dope ? 
Hope?" his mind asked involuntarily). He pulled 
it back. " None of that," he said to it and set it rigidly 
to contemplate the business of dying. Wife, children 
. . . nothing seemed to matter. The only important 
thing now was total extinction. He lay across the 
lines. The iron was still warm. The day had been 
hot. Rama Rao felt very happy as he reflected that 
in less than ten minutes the train from Trichinopoly 
would be arriving. 

He lay there he did not know how long. He 
strained his ears to catch the sound of the train, but 
he heard nothing more than a vague rattling and 
buzzing far off. . . . Presently he grew tired of lying 
down there. He rose and walked back to the station. 
There was a good crowd on the platform. He asked 
someone, " What has happened to the train ? " 

" A goods train has derailed three stations off, and 
the way is blocked. They have sent up a relief. 
All the trains will be at least three hours late today. . . ." 

" God, you have shown me mercy ! " Rama Rao 
cried and ran home. 



1 70 OUT OF BUSINESS 

His wife was waiting at the door looking down the 
street. She brightened up and sighed with relief on 
seeing Rama Rao. She welcomed him with a warmth 
he had never known for over a year now. " Oh, why 
are you so late today ? " she asked. " I was somehow 
feeling very restless the whole evening. Even the 
children were worried. Poor creatures ! They have 
just gone to sleep." 

When he sat down to eat she said, " Our tenants in 
the Extension bungalow came in the evening to ask 
if you would sell the house. They are ready to offer 
good cash for it immediately." She added quietly,, 
" I think we may sell the house." 

" Excellent idea," Rama Rao replied jubilantly. 
" This minute we can get four and a half thousand 
for it. Give me the half thousand and I will go away 
to Madras and see if I can do anything useful there. 
You keep the balance with you and run the house. 
Let us first move to a better locality. ..." 

" Are you going to employ your five hundred to 
get more money out of crossword puzzles ? " she asked 
quietly. At this Rama Rao felt depressed for a 
moment and then swore with great emphasis, " No, 
no. Never again." 



23 
OLD BONES 

THE Talkative Man said : 
I was canvassing agent for a company manu- 
facturing chemical fertilizers, and my work took me 
into the country for over twenty days in the month. 
One night I was held up in a dak bungalow, a mile 
outside the village Tayur. 

If ever there was a deserted dak bungalow it was 
this. It was over a hundred years old, built in the 
company days, a massive rounded structure, with a 
fine circular veranda, hefty pillars, and plaster standing 
out in flakes ; the whole thing was tucked away in a 
casuarina grove. I had to spend a night in it, and a 
little fellow, a nephew of mine, happened to be with me. 

The caretaker, a parched old man, who looked like 
a lost soul, opened the door for me, placed a rusty oil 
lamp on the table in the hall, pushed up and down 
some heavy furniture, hovered about till we had had 
our dinner, and then said that he must go away for 
the night. 

My nephew somehow seemed to dislike the idea : 
" Uncle, why should he go ? " 

" Perhaps he has a home in the village ; whatever 
it is, why do you want him ? " I asked. 

He could not explain. He merely mumbled, " I 
thought it might be interesting." 

" I hope you are not afraid " 

" No, not at all," said the boy. 
L 171 



172 OLD BONES 

But I could see that he was slightly nervous. He 
was brought up in Madras, accustomed to crowds and 
electric lights ; this loneliness in an ancient bungalow 
with a shadow-throwing rusty lamp gave him a 
feeling of discomfort. So I tried to persuade the old 
man : " Why won't you sleep here ? " 

" No, no, I can't," wheezed the old man. " I have 
been a caretaker for over forty years now, and I won't 
sleep here. You may write a complaint if you like. 
I don't care if I lose this job. Such a riddance it will 
be for me and they won't get another even if they 
offer a thousand sovereigns." Jingling his key bunch 
he hobbled away. I made a bed for the boy, drew 
it close to mine, and asked him to lie down. I shut 
the front door, opened a window or two, sat down at 
the table, and opened my portfolio. I had my journal 
to write and check accounts. I drew the lamp close 
to my papers, and was soon absorbed in work. The 
boy snored. Outside the casuarina murmured. For 
a while noises from the village barking of dogs, 
snatches of songs and arguments came floating in 
the air, and then they ceased. Even the boy ceased 
to snore. 

It was past eleven when I finished my work. I put 
away my papers, blew out the lamp, and lay down. 
I am not a very sound sleeper. I usually lie blinking 
in the dark for a long time. It must have been past 
midnight. I was just falling asleep when I heard the 
banging of a window shutter. I got up, turned up 
the stays of the shutter, and returned to bed. As I 
was dozing off it banged again. " Damn," I 
said. There was not the slightest breeze. Why did 
these things rattle? I fumbled about in the dark 
and shut the windows tight. I returned to bed and 



OLD BONES 173 

lay awake. Shutters in another part of the building 
rumbled. It was irritating. I took out my torch to 
see if the boy had been disturbed. He was fast asleep. 
I went over to every corner of the building and hooked 
up the shutters and doors. 

When I lay down again, a new kind of disturbance 
began. There was a noise as if the front door was 
being violently kicked and fisted. I started up. 

" Who is there ? " I bellowed. The noise moved 
away, and now another door was kicked and fisted, 
and then the closed windows. This was a travelling 
process : someone seemed to be flying round, battering 
all the doors and shutters. The din was continuous. 
"Who is there? Who is there?" I cried, almost 
running round and round as the noise passed on from 
place to place. I grew anxious about the boy. What 
a fright he would get if he woke up ! 

I picked up the box of matches and struck a stick. 
As I took it near the wick of the lamp, it was blown 
off. I struck another with no better success. I wasted 
half the box. And then the glass chimney flew off 
the table and splintered on the floor. I flashed the 
torchlight on the boy, fervently hoping that he still 
slept ; but he was sitting up in bed. 

" Raju, lie down, it is nothing," I began. 

" You lie down if you like," replied the boy. His 
voice was changed. It was gruff like an adult's. 
There was no banging on the doors now, and so I 
said to him : " Some loose shutters rattled, so it 
has stopped now, you see " 

" Shut up, will you ? " he said in answer. " You 
are a whole set of selfish brutes ; won't trouble to 
know what a man wants " 

" What are you saying ? " I asked. 



174 OLD BONES 

" You know where my bones are ? " 

" Under your skin, I am sure." 

" You will learn not to joke with me," said the 
gruff voice. And then the boy left his bed, took me 
by the neck, and pushed me out. I was nearly ten 
stone, and that was a young fellow of twelve. How 
could he handle me in this manner ? I felt indignant 
and tried to resist. But it was no use. He displayed 
enormous strength. He wheeled me about, almost 
tore open the front door, and flung me out. I flew 
across the veranda and came down on the lawn, 
bruised and shaken. The door shut behind me. 

I sat there I don't know how long, frightened out 
of my wits. Presently my sense of responsibility 
returned. How could I let that youngster shut 
himself in ? It was my duty to return him intact to 
his parents. I felt truly sorry for having brought him 
down with me. 

I got up with difficulty, limped up the steps, knocked 
on the door. 

" Go away," screamed the boy, " or I will rip 
you up." 

" Raju, Raju," I pleaded. " Won't you open the 
door for your, uncle ? " 

" See here, I am not Raju. So don't call me Raju 
hereafter, do you understand ? " 

" Who are you ? " 

" Do you want to know ? " 

" Certainly." 

" Ah, I am so happy you are prepared to hear 
about me ! But what is the use ? You won't help 



me." 



" Oh, I will do anything for you. But tell me who 
you are." 



OLD BONES 175 

I am Murugesan- 

" Oh, Murugesan, what are you doing here ? " 

" Good man," said the boy happily, greatly pleased 
at being called Murugesan. 

" What are you doing here ? " I persisted. 

" Where can I go ? These scoundrels are defiling 
my bones. I won't move till that is stopped." 

" Do you want me to do anything ? " I asked, my 
voice trembling involuntarily : the prospect of picking 
unknown bones at midnight shook me. 

" Yes," said the boy. " Go to the backyard and 
dig out the roots of the big tamarind tree. You will 
find my bones. Take them and throw them into the 
well, and I promise I will go away and never come 
again." 

" If I don't do it ? " 

" I will never leave this place, nor open the door." 

" Murugesan," I said a few minutes later, " won't 
you tell me something about your good self? " 

" I stayed here for a night on my way to Malgudi. 
That man suffocated me while I slept and stole my 
purse. He pressed a pillow on my face and I think 
he sat on it." 

" Who did it ? " 

" The old man who has the keys of this bungalow." 

" Isn't he too old to do such a thing ? " 

" Oh, no. He is very deft with the pillow. . . . 
And then he buried me under the tamarind tree. 
Now every pig which noses about for filth stamps 
over my head all day ; and every donkey and every 
passer-by defiles my bones, and they heap all kinds 
of rubbish there. How can I rest ? " 

" If I throw the bones into the well, will you open 
the door and quit the building for ever ? " 



176 OLD BONES 

" I promise," said the nephew. 

I went down, clutching my torch, and searched for 
something to dig with. I pulled out a couple of 
bamboo palings from a fence, went to the backyard, 
and set to work. I am not a coward, but the whole 
situation shook my nerves. The backyard was a most 
desolate place, an endless vista of trees and shrubs 
and a rocky hillock looming over it all. Jackals 
howled far off, and night insects whirred about and 
hummed. And this strange task of digging up an 
unknown grave at night ! 

I placed the lit torch on the ground and cleared a 
part of the rubbish dumped under the tree. After 
throwing up earth for half an hour I picked up a 
skull and a few leg bones. I felt sick. I could not 
find more than six or seven pieces. I picked them up. 
A few yards off there was the well, weed-covered, 
with all its masonry crumbling in. I flung the bones 
into the well, and as they splashed into the water I 
heard the boy shout from within the house : " Many 
thanks. Good-bye." 

I ran in. The door was open, and the boy lay 
across the threshold. I carried him to his bed. 

Next morning I asked him, " Did you sleep well ? " 

" Yes. But I had all sorts of wild dreams." His 
voice was soft and boyish. I asked, " Can you lift me 
and throw me out ? " The boy laughed. " What a 
question, uncle ! How can I ? " 

The old caretaker came up at about six. I was 
ready to start. I had to walk a couple of miles to 
the cross-roads and catch an early bus for Malgudi. 
I settled accounts with the old man : the broken 
chimney had to be paid for, and then the rent for the 
night. 



OLD BONES 177 

As I was about to leave I couldn't resist it. I 
called the old man aside and asked : " You know of 
a person called Murugesan who spent a night in this 
bungalow ? " 

The old man's face turned pale. He replied : " I 
know nothing. Go about your business." 

" My business will be to tell the police what I know." 

" The police ! " He fell down at my feet and 
cringed : " I know nothing. Please don't ruin an 
old man." 

I went away and joined my nephew. He asked, 
" Why did the old man fall on the ground, uncle ? " 

" I don't know," I replied. 

Till I reached the bus road I debated within myself 
whether to tell the police, but ultimately decided 
against it. I am a busy man, and getting mixed up 
in a police case is a whole-time job. Some day when 
I don't have much work I will take it up. 



24 
ATTILA 

IN a mood of optimism they named him " Attila." 
What they wanted of a dog was strength, formid- 
ableness, and fight, and hence he was named after the 
" Scourge of Europe." 

The puppy was only a couple of months old : he 
had square jaws, red eyes, pug nose and a massive 
head, and there was every reason to hope that he 
would do credit to his name. The immediate reason 
for buying him was a series of house-breakings and thefts 
in the neighbourhood, and our householders decided 
to put more trust in a dog than in the police. They 
searched far and wide and met a dog fancier. He 
held up a month-old black-and-white puppy and said, 
" Come and fetch him a month hence. In six months he 
will be something to be feared and respected." He 
spread out before them a pedigree sheet which was 
stunning. The puppy had, running in his veins, the 
choicest and the most ferocious blood. 

They were satisfied, paid an advance, returned a 
month later, paid down seventy-five rupees, and took 
the puppy home. The puppy, as I have already 
indicated, did not have a very prepossessing appearance 
and was none too playful, but this did not prevent 
his owners from sitting in a circle around him and 
admiring him. There was a prolonged debate as to 
what he should be named. The youngest suggested, 
" Why not call him Tiger ? " 

178 



ATTILA 179 

" Every other street-mongrel is named Tiger," came 
the reply. " Why not Caesar ? " 

" Caesar ! If a census were taken of dogs you would 
find at least fifteen thousand Caesars in South India 
alone. . . . Why not Fire ? " 

" It is fantastic." 

"Why not Thunder?" 

" It is too obvious." 

" Grip ? " 

" Still obvious, and childish." 

There was a deadlock. Someone suggested "Attila," 
and a shout of joy went up to the skies. No more 
satisfying name was thought of for man or animal. 

But as time passed our Attila exhibited a love of 
humanity which was disconcerting sometimes. The 
Scourge of Europe could he ever have been like this ? 
They put it down to his age. What child could help 
loving all creatures ? In their zeal to establish this 
fact, they went to the extent of delving into ancient 
history to find out what " The Scourge of Europe " 
was like when he was a child. It was rumoured that 
as a child he clung to his friends and to his parents' 
friends so fast that often he had to be beaten and 
separated. But when he was fourteen he showed the 
first sign of his future : he knocked down and plunged 
his knife into a fellow who tried to touch his marbles. 
Ah, this was encouraging. Let our dog reach the 
parallel of fourteen years and people would get to 
know his real nature. 

But this was a vain promise. He stood up twenty 
inches high, had a large frame, and a forbidding 
appearance on the whole but that was all. A variety 
of people entered the gates of the house every day : 
mendicants, bill-collectors, postmen, tradesmen, and 



i8o ATTILA 

family friends. All of them were warmly received by 
Attila. The moment the gate clicked he became alert 
and stood up looking towards the gate. By the time 
anyone entered the gate Attila went blindly charging 
forward. But that was all. The person had only to 
stop and smile, and Attila would melt. He would 
behave as if he apologized for even giving an impression 
of violence. He would lower his head, curve his body, 
tuck his tail between his legs, roll his eyes, and moan 
as if to say : " How sad that you should have mistaken 
my gesture ! I only hurried down to greet you." 
Till he was patted on the head, stroked, and told that 
he was forgiven, he would be in extreme misery. 

Gradually he realized that his bouncing advances 
caused much unhappy misunderstanding. And so 
when he heard the gate click he hardly stirred. He 
merely looked in that direction and wagged his tail. 
The people at home did not very much like this 
attitude. They thought it rather a shame. 

" Why not change his name to Blind Worm ? " 
somebody asked. 

" He eats like an elephant," said the mother of the 
family. "You can employ two watchmen for the 
price of the rice and meat he consumes. Somebody 
comes every morning and steals all the flowers in the 
garden and Attila won't do anything about it . . ." 

" He has better business to do than catch flower 
thieves," replied the youngest, always the defender 
of the dog. 

" What is the better business ? " 

" Well, if somebody comes in at dawn and takes 
away the flowers do you expect Attila to be looking 
out for him even at that hour ? " 

" Why not ? It's what a well-fed dog ought to be 



ATTILA 181 

doing instead of sleeping. You ought to be ashamed 
of your dog." 

" He does not sleep all night, mother. I have often 
seen him going round the house and watching all 
night." 

" Really ! Does he prowl about all night ? " 

" Of course he does," said the defender. 

" I am quite alarmed to hear it," said the mother. 
" Please lock him up in a room at night, otherwise he 
may call in a burglar and show him round. Left 
alone a burglar might after all be less successful. It 
wouldn't be so bad if he at least barked. He is the 
most noiseless dog I have ever seen in my life." 

The young man was extremely irritated at this. 
He considered it to be the most uncharitable cynicism, 
but the dog justified it that very night. 

Ranga lived in a hut three miles from the town. 
He was a " gang cooly " often employed in road- 
mending. Occasionally at nights he enjoyed the thrill 
and profit of breaking into houses. At one o'clock 
that night Ranga removed the bars of a window on 
the eastern side of the house and slipped in. He 
edged along the wall, searched all the trunks and 
almirahs in the house, and made a neat bundle of all 
the jewellery and other valuables he could pick up. 

He was just starting to go out. He had just put 
one foot out of the gap he had made in the window 
when he saw Attila standing below, looking up 
expectantly. Ranga thought his end had come. He 
expected the dog to bark. But not Attila. He waited 
for a moment, grew tired of waiting, stood up and put 
his forepaws on the lap of the burglar. He put back his 
ears, licked Ranga's hands, and rolled his eyes. Ranga 
whispered, " I hope you aren't going to bark. . . ." 



i8* ATTILA 

" Don't you worry. I am not the sort," the dog 
tried to say. 

"Just a moment. Let me get down from here," 
said the burglar. 

The dog obligingly took away his paws and 
lowered himself. 

" See there," said Ranga pointing to the backyard, 
" there is a cat." Attila put up his ears at the 
mention of the cat, and dashed in the direction 
indicated. One might easily have thought he was 
going to tear up a cat, but actually he didn't want to 
miss the pleasure of the company of a cat if there 
was one. 

As soon as the dog left him Ranga made a dash for 
the gate. Given a second more he would have hopped 
over it. But the dog turned and saw what was about 
to happen and in one spring was at the gate. He 
looked hurt. " Is this proper ? " he seemed to ask. 
" Do you want to shake me off? " 

He hung his heavy tail down so loosely and looked 
so miserable that the burglar stroked his head, at 
which he revived. The burglar opened the gate and 
went out, and the dog followed him. Attila's greatest 
ambition in life was to wander in the streets freely. 
Now things seemed to be shaping out ideally. 

Attila liked his new friend so much that he wouldn't 
leave him alone even for a moment. He sat before 
Ranga when he sat down to eat, sat on the edge of his 
mat when he slept in his hut, waited patiently on the 
edge of the pond when Ranga went there now and then 
for a wash, slept on the roadside when Ranga was 
at work. 

This sort of companionship got on Ranga's nerves. 
He implored, "Oh dog. Leave me alone for a 



ATTILA 183 

moment. Won't you ? " Unmoved Attila sat before 
him with his eyes glued on his friend. 

Attila's disappearance created a sensation in the 
bungalow. " Didn't I tell you," the mother said, 
" to lock him up ? Now some burglar has gone away 
with him. What a shame ! We can hardly mention 
it to anyone." 

" You are mistaken," replied the defender. " It is 
just a coincidence. He must have gone off on his 
own account. If he had been here no thief would 
have dared to come in. . . ." 

" Whatever it is, I don't know if we should after 
all thank the thief for taking away that dog. He may 
keep the jewels as a reward for taking him away. 
Shall we withdraw the police complaint ? " 

This facetiousness ceased a week later, and Attila 
rose to the ranks of a hero. The eldest son of the 
house was going towards the market one day. He 
saw Attila trotting behind someone on the road. 

" Hey," shouted the young man ; at which Ranga 
turned and broke into a run. Attila, who always 
suspected that his new friend was waiting for the 
slightest chance to throw him, galloped behind Ranga. 

" Hey, Attila ! " shouted the young man, and he 
also started running. Attila wanted to answer the 
call after making sure of his friend ; and so he turned 
his head for a second and galloped faster. Ranga 
desperately doubled his pace. Attila determined to 
stick to him at any cost. As a result of it he ran so 
fast that he overtook Ranga and clumsily blocked 
his way, and Ranga stumbled over him and fell. As 
he rolled on the ground a piece of jewellery (which 
he was taking to a receiver of stolen property) flew 
from his hand. The young man recognized it as 



184 ATTILA 

belonging to his sister, and sat down on Ranga. A 
crowd collected and the police appeared on the scene. 

Attila was the hero of the day. Even the lady of 
the house softened towards him. She said, " Whatever 
one might say of Attila, one has to admit that he is 
a very cunning detective. He is too deep for words." 

It was as well that Attila had no powers of speech. 
Otherwise he would have burst into a lamentation 
which would have shattered the pedestal under his feet. 



25 
THE AXE 

AN astrologer passing through the village foretold 
that Velan would live in a three-storied house 
surrounded by many acres of garden. At this every- 
body gathered round young Velan and made fun of 
him. For Koopal did not have a more ragged and 
God-forsaken family than Velan's. His father had 
mortgaged every bit of property he had, and worked, 
with his whole family, on other people's lands in 
return for a few annas a week. A three-storied house 
for Velan indeed ! . . . But the scoffers would have 
congratulated the astrologer if they had seen Velan 
about thirty or forty years later. He became the sole 
occupant of" Kumar Baugh " that palatial house on 
the outskirts of Malgudi town. 

When he was eighteen Velan left home. His father 
slapped his face one day for coming late with the 
midday meal, and he did that in the presence of 
others in the field. Velan put down the basket, 
glared at his father, and left the place. He just 
walked out of the village and walked on and on till 
he came to the town. He starved for a couple of 
days, begged wherever he could, and arrived in 
Malgudi, where after much knocking about an old 
man took him on to assist him in laying out a garden. 
The garden yet existed only in the mind of the gardener. 
What they could see now was acre upon acre of 



i86 THE AXE 

weed-covered land. Velan's main business consisted 
in destroying all the vegetation he saw. Day after 
day he sat in the sun and tore up by hand the unwanted 
plants. And all the jungle gradually disappeared and 
the land stood as bare as a football field. Three sides 
of the land were marked off for an extensive garden 
and on the rest was to be built a house. By the time 
the mangoes had sprouted they were laying the 
foundation of the house. About the time the margosa 
sapling had shot up a couple of yards the walls were 
also coming up. 

The flowers hibiscus, chrysanthemum, jasmine, 
roses, and cannae in the front park suddenly created 
a wonderland one early summer. Velan had to race 
with the bricklayers. He was now the chief gardener, 
the old man he had come to assist having suddenly 
fallen ill. Velan was proud of his position and 
responsibility. He keenly watched the progress of the 
bricklayers and whispered to the plants as he watered 
them, " Now look sharp, young fellows. The building 
is going up and up every day. If it is ready and we 
aren't we shall be the laughing-stock of the town." 
He heaped manure, aired the roots, trimmed the 
branches, and watered the plants twice a day, and 
on the whole gave an impression of hustling Nature ; 
and Nature seemed to respond. For he did present 
a good-sized garden to his master and his family 
when they came to occupy the house. 

The house proudly held up a dome. Balconies 
with intricately carved wood-work hung down from 
the sides of the house ; smooth, rounded pillars, deep 
verandas, chequered marble floors, and spacious halls 
ranged one behind another, gave the house such an 
imposing appearance that Velan asked himself, " Can 



THE AXE 187 

any mortal live in this? I thought such mansions 
existed only in Swarga Loka" When he saw the 
kitchen and the dining room he said, " Why, our 
whole village could be accommodated in this eating 
place alone ! " The housebuilder's assistant told him, 
" We have built bigger houses, things costing nearly 
two lakhs. What is this house ? It has hardly cost 
your master a lakh of rupees. It is just a little more 
than an ordinary house, that is all. . . ." After 
returning to his hut Velan sat a long time trying to 
grasp the vision, scope and calculations of the builders 
of the house, but he felt dizzy. He went to the margosa 
plant, gripped its stem with his fingers and said, " Is 
this all, you scraggy one ? What if you wave your 
head so high above mine ? I can put my fingers 
around you and shake you up like this. Grow up, 
little one, grow up. Grow fat. Have a trunk which 
two pairs of arms can't hug, and go up and spread. 
Be fit to stand beside this palace ; otherwise I will 
pull you out." 

When the margosa tree approximately came up to 
this vision the house had acquired a mellowness in 
its appearance. Successive summers and monsoons 
had robbed the paint on the doors and windows and 
woodwork of their brightness and the walls of their 
original colour, and had put in their place tints and 
shades of their own choice. And though the house 
had lost its resplendence it had now a more human 
look. Hundreds of parrots and mynas and unnamed 
birds lived in the branches of the margosa, and under 
its shade the master's great-grand-children and the 
(younger) grand-children played and quarrelled. The 
master walked about leaning on a staff. The lady of 
the house, who had looked such a blooming creature 



i88 THE AXE 

on the inauguration day, was shrunken and grey and 
spent most her time in an invalid's chair in the veranda, 
gazing at the garden with dull eyes. Velan himself 
was much changed. Now he had to depend more 
and more upon his assistants to keep the garden in 
shape. He had lost his parents, his wife, and eight 
children out of fourteen. He had managed to reclaim 
his ancestral property which was now being looked 
after by his sons-in-law and sons. He went to the 
village for Ponged, New Year, and Decpavali, and 
brought back with him one or the other of his grand- 
children of whom he was extremely fond. 

Velan was perfectly contented and happy. He 
demanded nothing more of life. As far as he could 
see, the people in the big house too seemed to be 
equally at peace with life. One saw no reason why 
these goods things should not go on and on for ever. 
But Death peeped around the corner. From the 
servant's quarters whispers reached the gardener in 
his hut that the master was very ill and lay in his 
room downstairs (the bedroom upstairs so laboriously 
planned had to be abandoned with advancing age). 
Doctors and visitors were constantly coming and going, 
and Velan had to be more than ever on guard against 
" flower-pluckers." One midnight he was awakened 
and told that the master was dead. " What is to 
happen to the garden and to me ? The sons are no 
good," he thought at once. 

And his fears proved to be not entirely groundless. 
The sons were no good, really. They stayed for a 
year more, quarrelled among themselves, and went 
away to live in another house. A year later some other 
family came in as tenants. The moment they saw 
Vdan they said, " Old gardener ? Don't be up. to 



THE AXE 189 

any tricks. We know the sort you are. We will sack 
you if you don't behave yourself." Velan found life 
intolerable. These people had no regard for a garden. 
They walked on flower beds, children climbed the 
fruit trees and plucked unripe fruits, and they dug 
pits on the garden paths. Velan had no courage to 
protest. They ordered him about, sent him on errands, 
made him wash the cow, and lectured to him on how 
to grow a garden. He detested the whole business 
and often thought of throwing up his work and 
returning to his village. But the idea was unbearable : 
he couldn't live away from his plants. Fortune 
however, soon favoured him. The tenants left. The 
house was locked up for a few years. Occasionally 
one of the sons of the late owner came round and 
inspected the garden. Gradually even this ceased. 
They left "the keys of the house with Velan. 
Occasionally a prospective tenant came down, had 
the house opened, and went away after remarking 
that it was in ruins plaster was falling off in flakes, 
paint on doors and windows remained only in a few 
small patches, and white ants were eating away all 
the cupboards and shelves. ... A year later another 
tenant came, and then another, and then a third. No 
one remained for more than a few months. And then 
the house acquired the reputation of being haunted. 

Even the owners dropped the practice of coming and 
seeing the house. Velan was very nearly the master 
of the house now. The keys were with him. He was 
also growing old. With the best he could do, grass 
grew on the paths, weeds and creepers strangled the 
flowering plants in the front garden. The fruit trees 
yielded their load punctually. The owners leased out 
the whole of the fruit garden for three years. 



igo THE AXE 

Velan was too old. His hut was leaky and he had 
no energy to put up new thatch. So he shifted his 
residence to the front veranda of the house. It was 
a deep veranda running on three sides, paved with 
chequered marble. The old man saw no reason why 
he should not live there. He had as good a right as 
the bats and the rats. 

When the mood seized him (about once a year) he 
opened the house and had the floor swept and scrubbed. 
But gradually he gave up this practice. He was too 
old to bother about these things. 

Years and years passed without any change. It 
came to be known as the " Ghost House," and people 
avoided it. Velan found nothing to grumble in this 
state of affairs. It suited him excellently. Once a 
quarter he sent his son to the old family in the town 
to fetch his wages. There was no reason why this 
should not have gone on indefinitely. But one day a 
car sounded its horn angrily at the gate. Velan 
hobbled up with the keys. 

" Have you the keys ? Open the gate," commanded 
someone in the car. 

" There is a small side-gate," said Velan meekly. 

" Open the big gate for the car ! " 

Velan had to fetch a spade and clear the vegetation 
which had blocked the entrance. The gates opened 
on rusty hinges, creaking and groaning. 

They threw open all the doors and windows, went 
through the house keenly examining every portion, 
and remarked : " Did you notice the crack on the 
dome ? The walls too are cracked . . . There is no 
other way. If we pull down the old ramshackle 
carefully we may still be able to use some of the 
materials, though I am not at all certain that the 



THE AXE 191 

wooden portions are not hollow inside. . . . Heaven 
alone knows what madness is responsible for people 
building houses like this. . . ." 

They went round the garden and said, " We have 
to clear every bit of this jungle. All this will have 
to go. . . ." Some mighty person looked Velan up 
and down and said, " You are the gardener I suppose ? 
We have not much use for a garden now. All the 
trees, except half a dozen on the very boundary of 
the property, will have to go. We can't afford to 
waste space. This flower garden . . . H'm it is ... 
old fashioned and crude, and apart from it the front 
portion of the site is too valuable to be wasted. . . ." 

A week later one of the sons of his old master came 
and told Velan, " You will have to go back to your 
village, old fellow. The house is sold to a company. 
They are not going to have a garden. They are 
cutting down even the fruit trees : they are offering 
compensation to the leaseholder ; they are wiping out 
the garden, and pulling down even the building. 
They are going to build small houses by the score 
without leaving space even for a blade of grass. . . ." 

There was much bustle and activity, much coming 
and going, and Velan retired to his old hut. When 
he felt tired he lay down and slept ; at other times 
he went round the garden and stood gazing at his 
plants. He was given a fortnight's notice. Every 
moment of it seemed to him precious and he would 
have stayed till the last second with his plants but for 
the sound of an axe which stirred him out of his 
afternoon nap two days after he was given notice. 
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 



192 THE AXE 

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, " Brother, 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," 



26 
ENGINE TROUBLE 

THERE came down to our town some years ago 
(said the Talkative Man) a showman owning an 
institution called the Gaiety Land. Overnight our 
Gymkhana Grounds became resplendent with 
banners and streamers and coloured lamps. From 
all over the district crowds poured into the show. 
Within a week of opening, in gate money alone they 
collected nearly five hundred rupees a day. Gaiety 
Land provided us with all sorts of fun and gambling 
and side-shows. For a couple of annas in each booth 
we could watch anything from performing parrots to 
crack motor cyclists looping the loop in the Dome of 
Death. In addition to this there were lotteries and 
shooting galleries where for an anna you always stood 
a chance of winning a hundred rupees. 

There was a particular corner of the show which 
was in great favour. Here for a ticket costing eight 
annas you stood a chance of acquiring a variety of 
articles pincushions, sewing machines, cameras or 
even a road engine. On one evening they drew a 
ticket number 1005, and I happened to own the 
other half of the ticket. Glancing down the list of 
articles they declared that I became the owner of the 
road engine ! Don't ask me how a road engine came 
to be included among the prizes. It is more than I 
can tell you. 

193 



194 ENGINE TROUBLE 

I looked stunned. People gathered around and 
gazed at me as if I were some curious animal. " Fancy 
anyone becoming the owner of a road engine ! " some 
persons muttered and giggled. 

It was not the sort of prize one could carry home 
at short notice. I asked the showman if he would 
help me to transport it. He merely pointed at a 
notice which decreed that all winners should remove 
the prizes immediately on drawing and by their own 
effort. However they had to make an exception in 
my case. They agreed to keep the engine on the 
Gymkhana Grounds till the end of their season and 
then I would have to make my own arrangements to 
take it out. When I asked the showman if he could 
find me a driver he just smiled : " The fellow who 
brought it here had to be paid a hundred rupees for 
the job and five rupees a day. I sent him away and 
made up my mind that if no one was going to draw 
it, I would just leave it to its fate. I got it down 
just as a novelty for the show. God ! What a bother 
it has proved ! " 

" Can't I sell it to some municipality ? " I asked 
innocently. He burst into a laugh. " As a showman 
I have enough troubles with municipal people. I 
would rather keep out of their way. . . ." 

My friends and well-wishers poured in to con- 
gratulate me on my latest acquisition. No one knew 
precisely how much a road engine would fetch; all 
the same they felt that there was a lot of money in it. 
" Even if you sell it as scrap iron you can make a 
few thousands," some of my friends declared. Every 
day I made a trip to the Gymkhana Grounds to have 
a look at my engine. I grew very fond of it. I loved 
its shining brass parts. I stood near it and patted it 



ENGINE TROUBLE 195 

affectionately, hovered about it, and returned home 
every day only at the close of the show. I was a poor 
man. I thought that after all my troubles were 
coming to an end. How ignorant we are ! How 
little did I guess that my troubles had just begun. 

When the showman took down his booths and 
packed up, I received a notice from the municipality 
to attend to my road engine. When I went there 
next day it looked forlorn with no one about. The 
ground was littered with torn streamers and paper 
decorations. The showman had moved on, leaving the 
engine where it stood. It was perfectly safe anywhere ! 

I left it alone for a few days, not knowing what to 
do with it. I received a notice from the municipality 
ordering that the engine should at once be removed 
from the ground as otherwise they would charge rent 
for the occupation of the Gymkhana Grounds. After 
deep thought I consented to pay the rent, and I paid 
ten rupees a month for the next three months. Dear 
sirs, I was a poor man. Even the house which I and 
my wife occupied cost me only four rupees a month. 
And fancy my paying ten rupees a month for the road 
engine. It cut into my slender budget, and I had to 
pledge a jewel or two belonging to my wife ! And 
every day my wife was asking me what I proposed to 
do with this terrible property of mine and I had no 
answer to give her. I went up and down the town 
offering it for sale to all and sundry. Someone 
suggested that the Secretary of the local Cosmopolitan 
Club might be interested in it. When I approached 
him he laughed and asked what he should do with a 
road engine. " I'll dispose of it at a concession for 
you. You have a tennis court to be rolled every 
morning/' I began, and even before I saw him smile 



196 ENGINE TROUBLE 

I knew it was a stupid thing to say. Next someone 
suggested, " See the Municipal Chairman. He may 
buy it for the municipality." With great trepidation 
I went to the municipal office one day. I buttoned 
up my coat as I entered the Chairman's room and 
mentioned my business. I was prepared to give 
away the engine at a great concession. I started a 
great harangue on municipal duties, the regime of 
this chairman, and the importance of owning a road 
roller but before I was done with him I knew there 
was greater chance of my selling it to some child on 
the roadside for playing with. 

I was making myself a bankrupt maintaining this 
engine in the Gymkhana Grounds. I really hoped 
some day there would come my way a lump sum and 
make amends for all this deficit and suffering. Fresh 
complications arose when a cattle show came in the 
offing. It was to be held on the grounds. I was 
given twenty-four hours for getting the thing out of 
the ground. The show was opening in a week and 
the advance party was arriving and insisted upon 
having the engine out of the way. I became desperate ; 
there was not a single person for fifty miles around 
who knew anything about a road engine. I begged 
and cringed every passing bus driver to help me ; 
but without use. I even approached the station 
master to put in a word with the mail engine driver. 
But the engine driver pointed out that he had his 
own locomotive to mind and couldn't think of jumping 
off at a wayside station for anybody's sake. Meanwhile 
the municipality was pressing me to clear out. I 
thought it over. I saw the priest of the local temple 
and managed to gain his sympathy. He offered me 
the services of his temple elephant. I also engaged 



ENGINE TROUBLE 197 

fifty coolies to push the engine from behind. You 
may be sure this drained all my resources. The coolies 
wanted eight annas per head and the temple elephant 
cost me seven rupees a day and I had to give it one 
feed. My plan was to take the engine out of the 
gymkhana and then down the road to a field half a 
furlong off. The field was owned by a friend. He 
would not mind if I kept the engine there for a couple 
of months, when I could go to Madras and find a 
customer for it. 

I also took into service one Joseph, a dismissed 
bus-driver who said that although he knew nothing 
of road rollers he could nevertheless steer one if it 
was somehow kept in motion. 

It was a fine sight : the temple elephant yoked to 
the engine by means of stout ropes, with fifty 
determined men pushing it from behind, and my 
friend Joseph sitting in the driving seat. A huge 
crowd stood around and wa,tched in great glee. The 
engine began to move. It seemed to me the greatest 
moment in my life. When it came out of the gym- 
khana and reached the road it began to behave in a 
strange manner. Instead of going straight down 
the road it showed a tendency to wobble and move 
zig-zag. The elephant dragged it one "way, Joseph 
turned the wheel for all he was worth without any 
idea of where he was going, and fifty men behind it 
clung to it in every possible manner and pushed it 
just where they liked. As a result of all this 
confused dragging the engine ran straight into the 
opposite compound wall and reduced a good length 
of it to powder. At this the crowd let out a joyous 
yell. The elephant, disliking the behaviour of the 
crowd, trumpeted loudly, strained and snapped its 



ig8 ENGINE TROUBLE 

ropes and kicked down a further length of the wall. 
The fifty men fled in panic, the crowd created a 
pandemonium. Someone slapped me in the face it 
was the owner of the compound wall. The police 
came on the scene and marched me off. 

When I was released from the lock-up I found the 
following consequences awaiting me : (i) Several 
yards of compound wall to be built by me. (2) Wages 
of fifty men who ran away. They would not explain 
how they were entitled to the wages when they had 
not done their job. (3) Joseph's fee for steering the 
engine over the wall. (4) Cost of medicine for 
treating the knee of the temple elephant which had 
received some injuries while kicking down the wall. 
Here again the temple authorities would not listen 
when I pointed out that I didn't engage an elephant 
to break a wall. (5) Last, but not the least, the 
demand to move the engine out of its present station. 

Sirs, I was a poor man. I really could not find 
any means of paying these bills. When I went home 
my wife asked : " What is this I hear about you 
everywhere ? " I took the opportunity to explain 
my difficulties. She took it as a hint that I was again 
asking for her jewels, and she lost her temper and 
cried that she would write to her father to come and 
take her away. 

I was at my .wit's end. People smiled at me when 
they met me in the streets. I was seriously wondering 
why I should not run away to my village. I decided 
to encourage my wife to write to her father and 
arrange for her exit. Not a soul was going to know 
what my plans were. I was going to put off my 
creditors and disappear one fine night. 

At this point came an unexpected relief in the shape 



ENGINE TROUBLE 199 

of a Swamiji. One fine evening under the distinguished 
patronage of our Municipal Chairman a show was 
held in our small town hall. It was a free performance 
and the hall was packed with people. I sat in the 
gallery. Spellbound we witnessed the Swamiji's yogic 
feats. He bit off glass tumblers and ate them with 
contentment ; he lay on spike boards ; gargled and 
drank all kinds of acids ; licked white-hot iron rods ; 
chewed and swallowed sharp nails ; stopped his 
heart-beat, and buried himself underground. We 
sat there and watched him in stupefaction. At the 
end of it all he got up and delivered a speech in which 
he declared that he was carrying on his master's 
message to the people in this manner. His per- 
formance was the more remarkable because he had 
nothing to gain by all this extraordinary meal except 
the satisfaction of serving humanity, and now he said 
he was coming to the very masterpiece and the last 
act. He looked at the Municipal Chairman and 
asked : " Have you a road engine ? I would like to 
have it driven over my chest." The chairman looked 
abashed and felt ashamed to acknowledge that he 
had none. The Swamiji insisted, " I must have a 
road engine." 

The Municipal Chairman tried to put him off by 
saying, " There is no driver." The Swamiji replied, 
" Don't >vorry about it. My assistant has been 
trained to handle any kind of road engine." At this 
point I stood up in the gallery and shouted, " Don't ask 
him for an engine. Ask me. . . ." In a moment I 
Ws on the stage and became as important a person 
as the fire-eater himself. I was pleased with the 
recognition I now received from all quarters. The 
Municipal Chairman went into jthe background. 



200 ENGINE TROUBLE 

In return for lending him the engine he would drive 
it where I wanted. Though I felt inclined to ask for 
a money contribution I knew it would be useless to 
expect it from one who was on a missionary work. 

Soon the whole gathering was at the compound 
wall opposite to the Gymkhana. Swamiji's assistant 
was an expert in handling engines. In a short while 
my engine stood steaming up proudly. It was a 
gratifying sight. The Swamiji called for two pillows, 
placed one near his head and the other at his feet. 
He gave detailed instructions as to how the engine 
should be run over him. He made a chalk mark on 
his chest and said, " It must go exactly on this ; not 
an inch this way or that." The engine hissed and 
waited. The crowd watching the show became 
suddenly unhappy and morose. This seemed to be a 
terrible thing to be doing. The Swami lay down on 
the pillows and said, " When I say Om, drive it on." 
He closed his eyes. The crowd watched tensely. I 
looked at the whole show in absolute rapture after 
all, the road engine was going to get on the move. 

At this point a police inspector came into the crowd 
with a brown envelope in his hand. He held up his 
hand, beckoned to the Swamiji's assistant, and said : 
" I am sorry I have to tell you that you can't go on 
with this. The magistrate has issued an order pro- 
hibiting the engine from running over him." The 
Swamiji picked himself up. There was a lot of 
commotion. The Swamiji became indignant. " I 
have done it in hundreds of places already and nobody 
questioned me about it. Nobody can stop me from 
doing what I like it's my master's order to demon- 
strate the power of the Yoga to the people of this 
country, and who can question me ? " 



ENGINE TROUBLE 201 

" A magistrate can/* said the police inspector, and 
held up the order. " What business is it of yours or 
his to interfere in this manner ? " "I don't know all 
that ; this is his order. He permits you to do every- 
thing except swallow potassium cyanide and run this 
engine over your chest. You are free to do whatever 
you like outside our jurisdiction." 

" I am leaving this cursed place this very minute/' 
the Swamiji said in great rage, and started to go, 
followed by his assistant. I gripped his assistant's 
arm and said, " You have steamed it up. Why not 
take it over to that field and then go." He glared at 
me, shook off my hand and muttered, " With my 
Guru so unhappy, how dare you ask me to drive ? " 
He went away. I muttered, " You can't drive it 
except over his chest, I suppose ? " 

I made preparations to leave the town in a couple 
of days, leaving the engine to its fate, with all its 
commitments. However, Nature came to my rescue 
in an unexpected manner. You may have heard of 
the earthquake of that year which destroyed whole 
towns in Northern India. There was a reverberation 
of it in our town, too. We were thrown out of our 
beds that night, and doors and windows rattled. 

Next morning I went over to take a last look at 
my engine before leaving the town. I could hardly 
believe my eyes. The engine was not there. I 
looked about and raised a hue and cry. Search 
parties went round. And the engine was found in a 
disused well near by, with its back up. I prayed to 
heaven to save me from fresh complications. But 
the owner of the house when he came round and saw 
what had happened, laughed heartily and beamed at 
me : " You have done me a service. It was the 



ENGINE TROUBLE 

dirtiest water on earth in that well and the municipality 
was sending notice to close it, week after week. I 
was dreading the cost of closing, but your engine fits 
it like a cork. Just leave it there." 

" But, but . . ." 

" There are no buts. I will withdraw all complaints 
and charges against you, and build that broken wall 
myself, but only leave the thing there." 

" That's hardly enough." I mentioned a few other 
expenses that this engine had brought on me. He 
agreed to pay for all that. 

When I again passed that way some months later 
I peeped over the wall. I found the mouth of the 
well neatly cemented up. I heaved a sigh of great 
relief. 



27 
ALL AVOIDABLE TALK 

HE was told to avoid all quarrels that day. The 
stars were out to trouble him, and even the 
mildest of his remarks likely to offend and lead to a 
quarrel. The planets were set against him, and this 
terrified him beyond description. Many things that 
were prophesied for him lately were coming true. 
He sat in a corner of a big jeweller's shop and added 
up numbers all day. He left it at the end of a day, 
and on his way home, dropped in for a moment to 
exchange tit-bits with a friend near his house, who 
affected great knowledge of the stars. Occasionally 
the friend gave out free prophecies. Many things 
that he said came true. " You will have bother about 
money matters . . . for a fortnight. Even your 
legitimate dues will not reach your hand in time. . . ." 
Too true. The usual rent he received from his village 
by money order went all over India before coming to 
him because of a slight error in the addressing. And 
then his friend told him : " Saturn will cause minor 
annoyances in the shape of minor ailments at 
home. . . ." And the following week everyone, 
from his old mother down to the four-month-old, 
went down with cold and fever. He himself felt Kke 
taking to bed, but his jeweller chief would not let 
him go. And now his friend had told him on the 
ptevioti* evening, " Now, I see your worst period is 

903 



204 ALL AVOIDABLE TALK 

coming to an end, but avoid all avoidable talk to- 
morrow the whole of Monday. There is always the 
danger of your irritating others and finding others 
irritating." 

The moment he opened his eyes and lay in bed, he 
told himself : " Must not talk to anyone today who 
can see where a word will lead ? " He pinched the 
cheek of the youngest, patted the back of another, 
found the boy of seven unwilling to start for school : 
was about to shout at him, but decided not to interfere, 
a happy godsend for the boy. His wife appealed : 
" Why do you allow him to have his own way ? " 
He merely shook his head and went off to the bathroom. 
His daughter had locked herself in that meant she 
would not come out for an hour ; she had once again 
broken the specific order not to go in to bathe at office 
time. He tapped the door twice or thrice, glared at 
it, and went away and put himself under the tap in 
the front garden. All through his dinner he sat with 
bowed head, maintaining a determined silence, 
answering his wife's questions with a curt " Yes " or 
" No/* While starting for his office it was his usual 
practice to stand in the passage and ask for a little 
betel-nut and leaves, with a cynical remark that they 
might have consideration for a man who had to catch 
an early tram. . . . Today he stood on the threshold 
waiting to see if anyone would serve him and stepped 
out into the street, with the reflection : " If they have 
not the sense to do a piece of regular duty without 
reminder ... I won't chew betel, that is all. . . ." 

The tram was crowded as usual. Somebody stood 
on his toe. He bore it patiently. The tram conductor 
pushed him aside and uttered rude remarks for standing 
in the way. He kept quiet. The inspector who 



ALL AVOIDABLE TALK 205 

hopped into the tram for checking would not budge 
at the rjiagic word " Pass " but insisted on seeing it, 
and fretted and swore while Sastri fumbled with his 
buttons and inner pocket. Sastri never uttered a 
word, and bore it like a martyr. 

At the office he was only two minutes late, but his 
employer, already seated on his cushion, glared at 
him and behaved as if he had been two hours late. 
Sastri stood before him dumb, listening patiently to 
all the charges. " You stand there like a statue, 
saying nothing, it must be very convenient, I 
suppose . . ." said his employer, looking him up. 
" What has come over you ? " nearly escaped Sastri's 
lips, but he checked himself as he came to " What 
has . . ." 

" Eh ? " demanded his employer. 

" What is ... What is the time now, sir ? " he 
asked. 

" You ask me the time ! Go, go to your seat, 
Sastri, before I am very angry with you. . . ." Sastri 
slunk back to his place. The routine of office life 
started. The attendant wiped and rearranged the 
showcases : customers started coming in to buy and 
sell gold trinkets and jewels, the small fan whirred 
and gyrated, wafting cool air on his chiefs face, the 
other partner came in at about midday and took his 
seat. The younger son of the master came in demand- 
ing some cash for some extravagance, and went away, 
and Sastri sat in his corner surrounded by heavy 
registers. Looking at the figures in the pages, he 
reflected, " Nearly two o'clock ; another eight hours 
of this place, and the day will be over." A customer 
stopped before him, held up a trinket and asked : 
" Look here, can this diamond be taken out and reset 



ad6 ALL AVOIDABLE TAL& 

in platinum?" Sastri looked dully at the trinket 
and said : " You must ask over there." " It's all right, 
1 know that," replied the customer haughtily. 
"Answer my question first. . . ." Sastri shook his 
head. " Evidently you know nothing about these 
matters." 

" I know nothing," Sastri said. 

" Then get out of a shop like this," answered the 
other, and moved on and sat before the proprietor. 
The proprietor presently called, " Sastri, come here." 

" Yes, sir," Sastri said, without lifting up his head. 
There were three more lines to be added to complete 
the page. If he was interrupted, he would have to 
start from the top of the gigantic folio all over again. 
So there was some delay before he could respond to 
his master's call. Before that his master lost his 
temper and shouted : " Drop the pen and come here 
when I call, will you ? " There was still one more 
line to go in. If this link was missed, there was the 
ghastly prospect of having to spend the whole evening 
in the company of figures. The master's call became 
insistent. Sastri looked up for a moment from his 
ledger ; he caught a glimpse of the other's face a 
red patch, flushed with anger. He compressed his 
Hps and resolved more than ever not to rise without 
completing the totalling. He sat as if deaf, calmly 
going through the work. By the time he stood before 
his master, the latter had gripped in his hand a leaden 
paperweight. " Perhaps he wanted to fling it at me," 
Sastri reflected, and was overwhelmed for a moment 
^rith resentment. The troublesome customer sat there 
comfortably and watched the scene with a self-satisfied 
grin. Looking at him Sastri felt it was an added 
indignity. " He pays me fifty rupees not for nothing ; 



ALL AVOIDABLE TALK 207 

I slave for him. But what right has he to insult 
me. , . ? " He felt desperate. His brow puckered ; 
he asked, looking at the paperweight in his master's 
hand: " What's that for ?" 

c< Idiot ! What has come over you ? Mind your 
own business," said his boss. " Why can't you come 
up when you are called ? " Sastri had meantime 
recovered his temper, realizing how near an explosion 
he had been. " I was totalling up, sir," he said, 
disciplining himself resolutely. " Learn to come up 
when called. Why were you rude to this gentleman ? ' ' 
" I wasn't," replied Sastri briefly. 

" Do you think I'm lying ? " shouted the customer, 
and scowled. Sastri gulped down his reply, just 
remembering in time the injunction, " Avoid all 
avoidable talk," though he felt like hitting his adversary 
now. His boss looked up at him and said : " Sastri, 
I must warn you for the last time. You must be 
courteous to all my customers : otherwise you may 
get out of this shop." " I merely said I didn't know 
about platinum." 

" I don't want all that. Everyone in this shop 
must be able to answer about any department. Other- 
wise I don't want him in my service. Do you under- 
stand ? " Sastri turned back to go. The customer 
added : " I only wanted to know if this could be set 
in platinum. Can't he answer that simple question ? " 

" Oh, is that all ! Even a child should be able to 
answer that," echoed his master. " Sastri, come here." 
Sastri again stood before him : " What do you know 
of platinum setting ? " 

" I don't know anything, sir." 

" You sfcy that to me ! All right, go back to your 
seat. I wiQ deal with you presently. Get out of my 



ao8 ALL AVOIDABLE TALK 

sight now. . . ." Sastri sighed and turned back. 
While he was going back to his seat, he overheard the 
customer saying : " These fellows have become very 
arrogant nowadays." 

Sastri, sitting in his corner, tried to drown his 
thoughts in figures. He partly succeeded, one part 
of his mind kept smarting : " Some fool comes in, and 
because of him, I must stand every insult ! I've 
served here for twenty years." The customer had 
finished his work and was going past him, throwing 
at him a triumphant and contemptuous look. Sastri 
quickly turned away and gazed at the folio. " Is this 
man born to torment me ? I don't know who he is ! " 

A blue beam of sunlight strayed in through a 
coloured window pane and moved up to the ceiling : 
that meant it was nearing dusk. His boss got up and 
passed out : as the motor-car started down below, the 
others in the office also rose to go, and filed past the 
door, all but Sastri and the watchman. The inter- 
ruption from his boss had cut in so badly that numbers 
jumped at each other's throats, and knotted themselves 
into hopeless tangles ; which meant he would have 
to go over immense areas of the ledgers ; he switched 
on the light and worked till nine. Stretching his 
cramped fingers, he descended the staircase and was 
on the road. " I have been called names. I have 
been insulted by strangers and by my officer, before 
everyone. Platinum ! Platinum ! I've served for 
twenty years for less than fifty rupees a month. . . ." 
He wondered why he had become so degenerate as 
not to be able to earn this anywhere else. " Tonight 
I will not dine without extracting an apology from 
my boss. Otherwise I shall throw off this work. I 
don't care what happens. . . ." He had in a flash 



ALL AVOIDABLE TALK 209 

a vision of his wife and children starving. It seemed 
insignificant to him now. " I will somehow manage. 
Open a small shop, with a loan or something, and 
manage somehow. I don't care." Nothing seemed 
to him important now except redeeming his dignity 
as an ordinary human being without any reference to 
his position as an accountant or the head of a family. 
He remembered the lead paperweight : that hurt his 
mind more than anything else. He walked down the 
tramline, sunk in thought. A tram for Royapetta 
stopped near him. He checked his impulse to climb 
into it and go home. He let it go. He sought out 
the bus for Kilpauk and got into it. 

It was nearly ten when he reached the gates of his 
master's bungalow. " Amber Gardens." The watch- 
man said : " So late, Sir ! " " Yes, I've to see the 
master," he replied. " Is he awake ? " " Yes, he has 
just had his dinner and is sitting in the front room. . . ." 

Half way up, Sastri felt uneasy as he recollected 
the advice of his friend, " Avoid all avoidable talk. . . ." 
But he could not turn back now. Fate seemed to be 
holding him by the scruff and propelling him forward. 
He stood in the hall. His boss had spread himself on 
a sofa with a sheet of newspaper before him. Sastri 
stood hesitating : " Avoid all ... avoidable. . . ." 
his friend's words, drumming themselves through his 
brain. " Nothing more avoidable than this. . . ." he 
told himself. He wished he could turn back and go 

away. Better to tackle him in the office It 

is difficult to talk to a boss in his home. 

Before he could make up his mind about it, his boss, 
turning over a page, observed him standing meekly ; 
he stared at him for a while and then said : " Sastri ! 
H'm. I see now that you have enough sense to fed 



2io ALL AVOIDABLE TALK 

sorry for your own conduct. I was thinking of you. 
If I find you again talking back to me I will dismiss 
you on the spot, remember. And again, I find you 
are rude to others too. That man comes asking about 
platinum setting." 

" Yes, sir, platinum setting," echoed Sastri. 

" That was a madman. You saw me with a paper- 
weight in my hand, while he sat before me. . . ." 

" Yes, sir, I noticed it." 

" But it is none of your concern. Whether mad 
or sane, whoever it may be, it is your business to 
answer politely whether it be about platinum, silver, 
clay, or rag. Everyone in my office should know 
about every other department. I would have dismissed 
you for your speech and conduct today. But you 
have saved yourself now. It is my principle to forgive 
a fellow who sincerely repents. It is late. You may 
go now." 

" I am very grateful to you. Good night, sir," 
Sastri said, putting extreme politeness in his tone. 
While going home he did not feel the tediousness of 
the way or the hour, for he was quietly gloating over 
the fact that he had triumphed over his stars that day. 



28 
FRUITION AT FORTY 

RAMA Rao obtained his officer's permission to 
absent himself on the following day. " Happy 
returns," exclaimed his officer. " Honestly, I did 
not think you were forty ! " 

Walking down the road to the bus stand, Rama Rao 
paused for a minute to view himself in a large mirror 
that blocked the entrance to a hair-cutting establish- 
ment. " I don't look forty," he told himself and 
passed on. 

When he left home he had not known that it was 
the eve of his birthday. It was while drafting an 
office note that he realized that the i4th of April was 
ahead. As a rule they never fussed over birthdays 
at home, but this was a special event : crossing the 
fortieth milestone seemed to be an extremely significant 
affair, which deserved to be marked down with 
feasting and holiday. 

At Parry's Corner he struggled into a bus and hung 
on to a strap. " Good thing we were monkeys once," 
he reflected. " Otherwise how could we perform our 
dinging, and hanging down ; exactly the operations 
of a monkey, the only difference being that they get on 

smoothly in a herd while we " The conductor 

had tried to push him out, somebody squeezed his 
sides and scowled at him, and someone was repeatedly 
trying to stand on his toes, and the driver was 

an 



212 FRUITION AT FORTY 

to rattle the passengers to their bones by stopping and 
starting with fierce jerks. Rama Rao wriggled through 
and fought his way out when the bus stopped at 
Central Station. He walked down to Moore Market 
for a little shopping. Nobody at home knew of his 
birthday. He would surprise them with gifts ; printed 
silk pieces, coloured ribbons, building blocks, and 
sweets. It would be such a novelty, giving gifts 
instead of receiving. He must also buy vegetables 
and provisions for a modest feast. It was going to be 
a quiet family party and if the children were dis- 
inclined to go to school he would not force them. 

He went round the Moore Market corridor, for a 
preliminary survey. " Shall buy vegetables last," he 
told himself. He went into a cloth shop and demanded 
to be shown printed silk and selected three or four 
bits. The bill was made up. As he scrutinized the 
items his hand went into his pocket to bring out the 
purse. It was not in its place. He returned the 
package. He walked out of Moore Market, rambled 
aimlessly, his mind all in a boil. He sought a park 
bench and sat down, trying to recollect when he had 
last taken out his purse. " Must have brushed against 
a pick-pocket in the bus," he told himself. He felt 
depressed. He looked about : a mendicant was 
sleeping on another bench, some children were gleefully 
destroying a flower bed. " Some pick-pocket to 
deprive me of my fortieth birthday ! " He felt angry 
with the perverse fates which messed up and destroyed 
all one's plans. 

People said forty was a man's best age. Every one 
attained maturity of mind and body. A man's habits 
were fixed, his prejudices and favours were solidified 
once for all : and his human relationships were well 



FRUITION AT FORTY 213 

defined and would be free from shocks and surprises. 
Rama Rao dwelt on all these fruitions of forty and was 
filled with misgivings. " What have I achieved at 
forty ? I have lived sixteen years beyond the point 
marked by the statistician as the expectation of life 
for an Indian. I have completed three quarters of 
the longevity of my elders. What have I achieved ? " 
He brooded over it and answered. " I have four 
children, the eldest reads in a college. The wife has 
all the jewellery she had asked for. I have risen to be 
the head of my section in the office . . . yet I live 
only in a rented house. The marriage of my daughter 
and the career of my son will have to be tackled by 
me within five years. Am I good for it ? " He was 
filled with consternation at being forty, at the duties 
that were definitely expected of him because he was 
supposed to have reached maturity. He beat his brow 
at this thought. He wondered if he had really changed. 
He cast his mind back. The earliest birthday he 
could remember was the one when his father had 
presented him with a glittering lace cap ; then there 
was his twentieth birthday soon after his B.A., when he 
resolved he would not be this or that ; it was a 
catalogue of " I won't this or that " among them he 
could only recollect that he had resolved never to 
marry and never to take up any employment unless 
they offered him three hundred rupees for a start, 
some job which would put him on a swivel chair 
behind a glass door. And then his thirtieth birthday 
when he was seized with panic as he realized that he 
was a father of three. He then believed that things 
would somehow be clear-cut and settled at forty. 
And now here he was. What was it going to be like 
at fifty or sixty ? Things would remain just the same. 



814 FRUITION AT FORTY 

If one did not worry about oneself one started worrying 
over children and grand-children. Things did not 
change. Rama Rao did not feel that the person who 
was pleased with the gift of a lace cap was in any way 
different from the one who felt a thrill when the 
office communicated an increment. The being who 
felt the home-tutor's malicious grip now felt the same 
emotion when the Officer called him up in a bad 
temper. Deep within he felt the same anxiety 
and timidity and he wondered how his wife and 
children could ever look up to him for support at all. 
He suddenly felt that he had not been growing and 
changing. It was an illusion of his appearance caused 
by a change of curly hair into grey hair, and by the 
wearing of longer clothes. This realization brought 
to his mind a profound relief, and destroyed all notions 
of years ; at the moment a birthday had no more 
significance and fixity than lines marked in the air 
with one's fingers. He decided not to mention to 
anyone at home that it was his birthday. 

As he walked back home his mind was still worried 
about the purse. After all only twenty rupees and 
an old purse containing receipts, but his wife would 
positively get distracted if she heard of the loss. Last 
time when he could not account for five rupees after 
a shopping expedition she completely broke down. 
She must on no account be told of the present loss. 
He would keep her mind free and happy that would 
be the birthday gift for her keeping away from her 
the theft of the purse just as the purse itself was a gift 
to an unknown pick-pocket. 

He went home late, since he had to walk all the 
way. " Held up by unexpected business on the way," 
he explained. Next morning he went $9 bis pfficc fg 



FRUITION AT FORTY 215 

usual. " Your birthday over ? " asked his chief. 
" Yes, sir, over earlier than I expected," he explained. 
" Very good," said his officer. " I was hoping 
you would turn up for at least half-a-day, a lot of things 
to do." " I knew that, sir," Rama Rao said, going 
to his desk. 



29 
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT 

" T A THAT is sixteen and three multiplied? "Basked 

y V the teacher. The boy blinked. The teacher 
persisted, and the boy promptly answered : " Twenty- 
four," with, as it seemed to the teacher, a wicked 
smile on his lips. The boy evidently was trying to 
fool him and was going contrary on purpose. He had 
corrected this error repeatedly, and now the boy 
persisted in saying " Twenty-four." How could this 
fellow be made to obtain fifty in the class test and go 
up by double-promotion to the first form, as his parents 
fondly hoped ? At the mention of " Twenty-four " 
the teacher felt all his blood rushing to his head. He 
controlled himself, and asked again : " How much ? " 
as a last chance. When the boy said the same thing 
obstinately, he felt as if his finger was releasing the 
trigger : he reached across the table, and delivered a 
wholesome slap on the youngster's cheek. The boy 
gazed at him for a moment and then burst into tears. 
The teacher now regained his normal vision, felt 
appalled by his own action, and begged frantically : 
" Don't cry, little fellow, you mustn't. . . ." 

" I will tell them," sobbed the boy. 

" Oh, no, no, no," appealed the teacher. He 
looked about cautiously. Fortunately this nursery was 
at a little distance from the main building. 

" I'll tell my mother," said the boy. 
216 



CRIME AND PUNISHMENT 217 

According to the parents, the boy was^a little angel, 
all dimples, smiles, and sweetness only wings lacking. 
He was their only child, they had abundant affection 
and ample money. They built up a nursery, bought 
him expensive toys, fitted up miniature furniture sets, 
gave him a small pedal motor-car to go about in all 
over the garden. They filled up his cupboard with 
all kinds of sweets and biscuits, and left it to his good 
sense to devour them moderately. They believed a 
great deal in leaving things that way. 

" You must never set up any sort of contrariness or 
repression in the child's mind," declared the parents. 
" You'll damage him for life. It no doubt requires a 
lot of discipline on our part, but it is worth it," they 
declared primly. " We shall be bringing up a healthy 
citizen." 

" Yes, yes," the teacher agreed outwardly, feeling 
more and more convinced every day that what the 
little fellow needed to make him a normal citizen was 
not cajoling but an anna worth of cane, for which 
he was prepared to advance the outlay. To the 
teacher it was a life of utter travail the only relieving 
feature in the whole business was the thirty rupees 
they paid him on every first day. It took him in all three 
hours every evening of which the first half an hour 
he had to listen to the child-psychology theories of the 
parents. The father had written a thesis on infant- 
psychology for his M.A., and the lady had studied a 
great deal of it for her B.A. They lectured to him 
every day on their theories, and he got more and more 
the feeling that they wanted him to deal with the boy 
as if he were made of thin glass. He had to pretend 
that he agreed with them, while his own private view 
was that he was in charge of a little gorilla. 



2i8 CRIME AND PUNISHMENT 

Now the teacher did not know how to quieten the 
boy, who kept sobbing. He felt desperate. He told 
the youngster, " You must not cry for these trifling 
matters, you must be like a soldier. . . ." 

" A soldier will shoot with a gun if he is hit," said the 
boy in reply. The teacher treated it as a joke and 
laughed artificially. The boy caught the infection 
and laughed too. This eased the situation somewhat. 
" Go and wash your face," suggested the teacher a 
fine blue porcelain closet was attached to the nursery. 
The boy disobeyed and commanded : " Close the 
lessons today." The teacher was aghast. " No, no," 
he cried. 

" Then, I will go and tell my mother," threatened 
the boy. He pushed the chair back and got up. 
The teacher rushed up to him and held him down. 
" My dear fellow, I've to be here for another hour." 
The boy said : "All right, watch me put the engine 
on its rails." 

" If your father comes in," said the teacher. 

" Tell him it is an engine lesson," said the boy and 
smiled maliciously. He went over to his cupboard, 
opened it, and took out his train set, and started 
assembling the track. He wound the engine and put 
it down, and it went round and round. " You are 
the Station Master," proclaimed the boy. " No, no," 
cried the teacher. " You have your tests the day after 
tomorrow." The boy merely smiled in a superior 
way and repeated. " Will you be a Station Master 
or not ? " The teacher was annoyed. " I won't be 
a Station Master," he said defiantly, whereupon the 
young fellow said : " Oh, oh, is that what you say ? " 
He gently touched his cheek, and murmured : " It is 
paining me here awfully, I must see my mother." He 



CRIME AND PUNISHMENT 219 

made a movement towards the door. The teacher 
watched him with a dull desperation. The boy's 
cheek was still red. So he said : " Don't boy. You 
want me to be a Station Master? What shall I 
have to do ? " 

The boy directed, " When the train comes to 
your station, you must blow the whistle and cry 
c Engine Driver, stop the train. There are a lot of 
people today who have bought tickets '. . . ." 

The teacher hunched up in a corner and obeyed. 
He grew tired of the position and the game in thirty 
minutes, and got up, much to the displeasure of his 
pupil. Luckily for him the engine also suddenly 
refused to move. The boy handed it to him, as he 
went back to his seat and said : " Repair it, sir." 
He turned it about in his hand and said : " I can't. 
I know nothing about it." 

" It must go," said the boy firmly. The teacher 
felt desperate. He was absolutely non-mechanical. 
He could not turn the simplest screw if it was to save 
his life. The boy stamped his foot impatiently and 
waited like a tyrant. The teacher put it away 
definitely with : " I can't and I won't." The boy 
immediately switched on to another demand. " Tell 
me a story. . . ." 

" You haven't done a sum. It is 8.30." 

" I don't care for sums," said the boy, " Tell me 
a story." 

" No. . . ." 

The boy called, " Appa ! Appa ! " 

" Why are you shouting like that for your father ? " 

" I have something to tell him, something im- 
portant. . . ." 

The teacher waa obliged to begin the story of a 



220 CRIME AND PUNISHMENT 

bison and a tiger, and then he passed on to All Baba 
and the Forty Thieves, and Aladin's Lamp. The boy 
listened rapt, and ordered : " I want to hear the 
story of the bison again. It is good. . . ." The 
teacher was short of breath. He had done during 
the day six hours of teaching at school. " Tomorrow. 
I've lost all my breath. . . ." 

" Oh ! All right. I'll go and tell. . . ." exclaimed 
the boy ; he got up and started running all of a 
sudden towards the house, and the teacher started 
after him. The boy was too fast for him, wheeled 
about madly, and made the teacher run round the 
garden thrice. The teacher looked beaten. The boy 
took pity on him and stopped near the rose bush. 
But the moment he went up and tried to put his hand 
on him, the boy darted through and ran off. It was 
a hopeless pursuit ; the boy enjoyed it immensely, 
laughing fiendishly. The teacher's face was flushed 
and he gasped uncomfortably. He felt a darkness 
swelling up around him. He sank down on the 
portico step. 

At this moment father and mother emerged from 
the house. " What is the matter ? " The teacher 
struggled up to his feet awkwardly. He was still 
panting badly and could not talk. He had already 
made up his mind that he would confess and take 
the consequence, rather than stand the blackmail by 
this boy. It seemed less forbidding to throw himself 
at the mercy of the ciders. They looked enquiringly 
at the boy and asked : " Why have you been running 
in the garden at this hour ? " The boy looked 
mischievously at the teacher. The teacher cleared 
his throat and said : " I will explain. . . ." He was 
trying to find the words for his sentence. The father 



CRIME AND PUNISHMENT 221 

asked : " How's he preparing for his test in arithmetic 
. . . ? " On hearing the word " test " the boy's face 
fell ; he unobtrusively slunk behind his parents and 
by look and gestures appealed to the teacher not 
to betray him. He looked so pathetic and desperate 
that the teacher replied. " Only please let him mug 
up the 1 6th table a little more. . . . He is all right. 
He will pull through." The boy looked relieved. 
The teacher saw his grateful face, felt confident that 
the boy would not give him up .now, and said : 
" Good-night, sir ; we finished our lessons early, and 
I was just playing about with the child . . . something 
to keep up his spirits you know." 



30 
UNDER THE BANYAN TREE 

r | TrfE village Somal, nestling away in the forest 
JL tracts of Mempi, had a population of less than 
three hundred. It was in every way a village to make 
the heart of a rural reformer sink. Its tank, a small 
expanse of water, right in the middle of the village, 
served for drinking, bathing, and washing the cattle, 
and it bred malaria, typhoid, and heaven knew what 
else. The cottages sprawled anyhow and the lanes 
twisted and wriggled up and down and strangled 
each other. The population used the highway as the 
refuse ground and in the backyard of every house 
drain water stagnated in green puddles. 

Such was the village. It is likely that the people 
of the village were insensitive : but it is more than 
likely that they never noticed their surroundings because 
they lived in a kind of perpetual enchantment. The 
enchanter was Nambi, the story-teller. He was a man 
of about sixty or seventy. Or was he eighty or one 
hundred and eighty ? Who could say ? In a place 
so much cut off as Somal (the nearest bus-stop was 
ten miles away) reckoning could hardly be in the 
familiar measures of time. If anyone asked Nambi 
what his age was he referred to an ancient famine 
or an invasion or the building of a bridge and 
indicated how high he ha<J stood from the ground at 
the time. 

222 



UNDER THE BANYAN TREE 2*3 

He was illiterate, in the sense that the written word 
was a mystery to him ; but he could make up a story, 
in his head, at the rate of one a month ; each story 
took nearly ten days to narrate. 

His home was die little temple which was at the 
very end of the village. No one could say how he 
had come to regard himself as the owner of the temple. 
The temple was a very small structure with red-striped 
walls, with a stone image of the Goddess, Shakti, in 
the sanctum. The front portion of the temple was 
Nambi's home. For aught it mattered any place 
might be his home ; for he was without possessions. 
All that he possessed was a broom with which he 
swept the temple ; and he had also a couple ofdhotits 
and upper cloth. He spent most part of the day in 
the shade of the banyan which spread out its branches 
in front of the temple. When he felt hungry he 
walked into any house that caught his fancy and 
joined the family at dinner. When he needed new 
clothes they were brought to him by the villagers. 
He hardly ever had to go out in search of company; 
for the banyan shade served as a club house for the 
village folk. All through the day people came seeking 
Nambi's company and squatted under the tree. If 
he was in a mood for it he listened to their talk and 
entertained them with his own observations and 
anecdotes. When he was in no mood he looked at 
the visitors sourly and asked, " What do you think 
I am ? Don't blame me if you get no story at the 
next moon. Unless I meditate how can the Goddess 
give me a story? Do you think stories float in the 
air ? " ; and moved out to the edge of the forest and 
squatted there contemplating the trees. 

Oa Friday evenings the village turned up at the 



224 UNDER THE BANYAN TREE 

temple for worship, when Nambi lit a score of mud 
lamps and arranged them around the threshold of 
the sanctuary. He decorated the image with flowers, 
which grew wildly in the backyard of the temple. He 
acted as the priest and offered to the Goddess fruits 
and flowers brought in by the villagers. 

On the nights he had a story to tell he lit a small 
lamp and placed it in a niche in the trunk of the 
banyan tree. Villagers as they returned home in the 
evenings saw this, went home, and said to their wives, 
" Now, now, hurry up with the dinner, the story-teller 
is calling us." As the moon crept up behind the 
hillock, men, women and children, gathered under the 
banyan tree. The story-teller would not appear yet. 
He would be sitting in the sanctum, before the 
Goddess, with his eyes shut, in deep meditation. He 
sat thus as long as he liked and when he came out, 
with his forehead ablaze with ash and vermilion, he 
took his seat on a stone platform in front of the temple. 
He opened the story with a question. Jerking his 
finger towards a vague, far-away destination, he asked, 
" A thousand years ago, a stone's throw in that 
direction, what do you think there was ? It was not 
the weed-covered waste it is now, % for donkeys to roll 
in. It was not the ash-pit it is now. It was the 
capital of the king. , . ." The king would be 
Dasaratha, Vikramaditya, Asoka, or anyone that came 
into the old man's head ; the capital was called 
Kapila, Kridapura, or anything. Opening thus the 
old man went on without a pause for three hours. 
By then brick by brick the palace of the king was 
raised. The old man described the dazzling durbar 
hall where sat a hundred vassal kings, ministers, and 
subjects ; in another part of the palace all the musicians 



UNDER THE BANYAN TREE 225 

in the world assembled and sang ; and most of the 
songs were sung over again by Nambi to his audience ; 
and he described in detail the pictures and trophies 
that hung on the walls of the palace. . . . 

It was story-building on an epic scale. The first 
day barely conveyed the setting of the tale, and 
Nambi's audience as yet had no idea who were all 
coming into the story. As the moon slipped behind 
the trees of Mempi Forest Nambi said, " Now friends, 
Mother says this will do for the day." He abruptly 
rose, went in, lay down, and fell asleep long before 
the babble of the crowd ceased. 

The light in the niche would again be seen two or 
three days later, and again and again throughout the 
bright half of the month. Kings and heroes, villains 
and fairy-like women, gods in human form, saints and 
assassins, jostled each other in that world which was 
created under the banyan tree. Nambi's voice rose 
and fell in an exquisite rhythm, and the moonlight 
and the hour completed the magic. The villagers 
laughed with Nambi, they wept with him, they adored 
the heroes, cursed the villains, groaned when the 
conspirator had his initial success, and they sent up 
to the gods a heartfelt prayer for a happy ending. . . . 

On the last day when the story ended, the whole 
gathering went into the sanctum and prostrated before 
the Goddess. . . . 

By the time the next moon peeped over the hillock 
Nambi was ready with another story. He never 
repeated the same kind of story or brought in the same 
set of persons, and the village folk considered Nambi a 
sort of miracle, quoted his words of wisdom, and 
lived on the whole in an exalted plane of their own, 
though their life in all other respects was hard and drab. 



226 UNDER THE BANYAN TREE 

And yet it had gone on for years and years* And 
one moon he lit the lamp in the tree. The audience 
came. The old man took his seat and began the 
story. ". . . When King Vikramaditya lived, his 
minister was . . ." He paused. He could not get 
beyond it. He made a fresh beginning. " There was 
the king . . ." he said, repeated it, and then his 
words trailed off into a vague mumbling. " What 
has come over me ? " he asked pathetically. " Oh, 
Mother, great Mother, why do I stumble and falter ? 
I know the story. I had the whole of it a moment 
ago. What was it about ? I can't understand what 
has happened ? " He faltered and looked so miserable 
that his audience said, " Take your own time. You 
are perhaps tired." 

" Shut up ! " he cried. " Am I tired ? Wait a 
moment ; I will tell you the story presently." 
Following this there was utter silence. Eager faces 
looked up at him. " Don't look at me ! " he flared 
up. Somebody gave him a tumbler of milk. The 
audience waited patiently. This was a new experience. 
Some persons expressed their sympathy aloud. Some 
persons began to talk among themselves. Those who 
sat in the outer edge of the crowd silently slipped away. 
Gradually, as it neared midnight, others followed this 
example. Nambi sat staring at the ground, his head 
bowed in thought. For the first time he realized that 
he was old. He felt he would never more be able to 
control his thought or express them cogently. He 
looked up. Everyone had gone except his friend 
Man the blacksmith. " Man, why aren't you also 
gone?" 

Mari apologized for the rest : " They didn't want 
to tire you ; so they have gone away " 



UNDER THE BANYAN TREE $27 

Nambi got up. " You arc right. Tomorrow I 
will make it up. Age, age. What is my age? It 
has come on suddenly." He pointed at his head and 
said, " This says ' Old fool, don't think I shall be your 
servant any more. You will be my servant hereafter.* 
It is disobedient and treacherous." 

He lit the lamp in the niche next day. The crowd 
assembled under the banyan faithfully. Nambi had 
spent the whole day in meditation. He had been 
fervently praying to the Goddess not to desert him. 
He began the story. He went on for an hour without 
a stop. He felt greatly relieved, so much so that he 
interrupted his narration to remark, " Oh, friends. 
The Mother is always kind. I was seized with a 
foolish fear . . ." and continued the story. In a few 
minutes he felt dried up. He struggled hard : " And 
then . . . and then . . . what happened ? " He 
stammered. There followed a pause lasting an hour. 
The audience rose without a word and went home. 
The old man sat on the stone brooding till the cock 
crew. " I can't blame them for it," he muttered to 
himself. " Can they sit down here and mope all 
night ? " Two days later he gave another instalment 
of the story, and that, too, lasted only a few minutes. 
The gathering dwindled. Fewer persons began to take 
notice of the lamp in the niche. Even these came only 
out of a sense of duty. Nambi realized that there was 
no use in prolonging the struggle. He brought the 
story to a speedy and premature end. 

He realized what was happening. He was harrowed 
by the thoughts of his failure. " I should have been 
happier if I had dropped dead years ago/ 9 he said to 
himself. " Mother, why have you struck me 
dumb: . . ? " He shut himself up in the sanctum, 



UNDER THE BANYAN TREE 

hardly ate any food, and spent the greater part of 
the day sitting motionless in meditation. 

The next moon peeped over the hillock, Nambi lit 
the lamp in the niche. The villagers as they returned 
home saw the lamp, but only a handful turned up at 
night. " Where are the others ? " the old man asked. 
" Let us wait." He waited. The moon came up. 
His handful of audience waited patiently. And then 
the old man said, " I won't tell the story today, nor 
tomorrow unless the whole village comes here. I 
insist upon it. It is a mighty story. Everyone must 
hear it." Next day he went up and down the village 
street shouting, " I have a most wonderful tale to tell 
tonight. Gome one and all ; don't miss it. . . ." 
This personal appeal had a great effect. At night a 
large crowd gathered under the banyan. They were 
happy that the story-teller had regained his powers. 
Nambi came out of the temple when everyone had 
settled and said : " It is the Mother who gives the 
gifts ; and it is She*who takes away the gifts. Nambi 
is a dotard. He speaks when the Mother has anything 
to say. He is struck dumb when She has nothing to 
say. But what is the use of the jasmine when it has 
lost its scent ? What is the lamp for when all the oil 
is gone ? Goddess be thanked. . . . These are my 
last words on this earth ; and this is my greatest 
story." sHe rose and went into the sanctum. His 
audience 4 hardly understood what he meant. They sat 
there till they became weary. And then some of them 
got up and stepped into the sanctum. There the 
story-teller sat with his eyes shut. " Aren't you going 
to tell us a story ? " they asked. He opened his eyes, 
looked at them, and shook his head. He indicated 
by gesture that he had spoken his last words. 



UNDER THE BANYAN TREE 



229 



When he felt hungry he walked into any cottage 
and silently sat down for food, and walked away the 
moment he had eaten. Beyond this he had hardly 
anything to demand of his fellow-beings. The rest 
of his life (he lived for a few more years) was one 
great consummate silence.