Monday, February 16, 2009

Malgudi days

The 'M.C.C’

Six WEEKS later Rajam came to Swaminathan's house to announce
that he forgave him all his sins—starting with his political activities, to hisnew acquisition, the Board High School air, by which was meant a certain
slowness and stupidity engendered by mental decay.
After making his exit from Albert Mission School in that theatrical
manner (on the day following the strike), Swaminathan became so
consistently stubborn that a few days later his father took him to the Board
School and admitted him there. At first Swaminathan was rather uncertain of
his happiness in the new school. But he excited the curiosity that all newcomers
do, and found himself to his great satisfaction the centre of attraction
in Second C. All his new class-mates, remarkably new faces, often clustered
round him to see him and hear him talk. He had not yet picked the few that
he would have liked to call his chums. He still believed that his Albert
Mission set was intact, though, since the reopening in June, the set was not
what it had been before. Sankar disappeared, and people said that his father
had been transferred; Somu was not promoted, and that meant he was
automatically excluded from the group, the law being inexorable in that
respect; the Pea was promoted, but he returned to the class exactly three
months late, and he was quite full up with medical certificates, explanations,
and exemptions. He was a man of a hundred worries now, and passed his old
friends like a stranger. Only Rajam and Mani were still intact as far as
Swaminathan was concerned. Mani saw him every day. But Rajam had not
spoken to him since the day when his political doings became known.
And now this afternoon Swaminathan was sitting in a dark corner of
the house trying to make a camera with a card board box and a spectacle
lens. In his effort to fix the lens in the hole that was one round too large, he
was on the point of losing his temper, when he heard a familiar voice calling
him. He ran to the door.
'Hallo! Hallo! Rajam,' he cried, 'why didn't you tell me you were
'What is the thing in your hand?' Rajam asked.
'Oh,' Swaminathan said, blushing.
'Come, come, let us have a look at it.'
'Oh, it is nothing,' Swaminathan said, giving him the box.
As Rajam kept gazing at the world through the hole in the cardboard
box, Swaminathan said, 'Akbar Ali of our class has made a marvellous
'Has he? What does he do with it?'
'He has taken a lot of photos with it.'
'Indeed! Photos of what?'
'He hasn't yet shown them to me, but they are probably photos of
houses, people, and trees.'
Rajam sat down on the door-step and asked, 'And who is this Akbar
'He is a nice Mohammedan, belongs to our class.'
'In the Board High School?' There was just a suspicion of a sneer in
his tone. Swaminathan preferred to ignore this question and continued, 'He
has a bicycle. He is a very fine Mohammedan, calls Mohammed of Gazni
and Aurangazeb rascals.'
‘What makes you think that they were that?'
'Didn't they destroy our temples and torture the Hindus? Have you
forgotten the Somnathpur God? . . .'
'We brahmins deserve that and more,' said Rajam. 'In our house my
father does not care for New-Moon days and there are no Annual
Ceremonies for the dead.' He was in a debating mood, and Swaminathan
realised it and remained silent. Rajam said, 'I tell you what, it is your Board
High School that has given you this mentality.'
Swaminathan felt that the safest course would be to agree with him.
'You are right in a way. I don't like the Board High School.'
'Then why did you go and join it?'
'I could not help it. You saw how beastly our Head Master was. If you
had been in my place, you would have kicked him in the face.'
This piece of flattery did not soothe Rajam, 'If I were you I would
have kept clear of all your dirty politics and strikes.' His father was a
Government servant, and hence his family was anti-political.
Swaminathan said, ‘You are right. I should have remained at home on
the day of the strike.' This example of absolute submissiveness touched
Rajam. He said promptly that he was prepared to forgive Swaminathan his
past sins and would not mind his belonging to the Board School. They were
to be friends as of old. What would you say to a cricket team?' Rajam asked.
Swaminathan had not thought of cricket as something that he himself
could play. He was, of course, familiar with Hobbs, Bradman, and Duleep,
and vainly tried to carry their scores in his head, as Rajam did. He filched pictures of cricket players, as Rajam did, and pasted them in an album,
though he secretly did not very much care for those pictures there was
something monotonous about them. He sometimes thought that the same picture was pasted in every page of the album.
'No, Rajam, I don't think I can play. I don't know how to play.'
‘That is what everybody thinks’ said Rajam, 'I don't know how
myself, though I collect pictures and scores.'
This was very pleasing to hear. Probably Hobbs too was shy and
sceptical before he took the bat and swung it. We can challenge a lot of
teams, including our School Eleven. They think they can't be beaten,' said Swaminathan.
'What! The Board School mugs think that! We shall thrash them. Oh,
'What shall we call it?'
'Don't you know? It is the M.C.C.,' said Rajam.
That is Hobbs's team, isn't it? They may drag us before a court if we
take their name.'
'Who says that? If we get into any trouble, I shall declare before the
judge that M.C.C. stands for Malgudi Cricket Club.'
Swaminathan was a little disappointed. Though as M.C.C. it sounded
imposing, the name was really a bit tame.
'I think we had better try some other name, Rajam.'
What would you suggest?'
Well-I am for "Friends Eleven".'
'Friends Eleven?'
'Or say "Jumping Stars"?' said Swaminathan.
'Oh, that is not bad, not bad you know.'
'I do think it would be glorious to call ourselves "Jumping Stars"!'
Rajam instantly had a vision of a newspaper report: ‘The Jumping
Stars soundly thrashed the Board High School Eleven.' 'It is a beauty, I
think,' he cried, moved by the vision.
He pulled out a piece of paper and a pencil, and said, 'Come on,
Swami, repeat the names that come to your head. It would be better to have a
long list to select from. We shall underline "Jumping Stars" and "M.C.C."
and give them special consideration. Come on.'
Swaminathan remained thoughtful and started,' "Friends Eleven"....
"Jumping Stars".... "Friends Union"...'
'I have "Friends Union" already here,' Rajam said, pointing to the list.
Swaminathan went on: ' "Excelsiors". . . .'
'I have got it.'
' "Excelsior Union".... "Champion Eleven"...' A long pause.
'Are you dried up?' Rajam asked.
'No, if Mani were here, he would have suggested a few more names…
"Champion Eleven".'
'You have just said it.'
' "Victory Union Eleven"...'
That is very good. I think it is very very good. People would be afraid
of us.' He held the list before him and read the names with great satisfaction.
He had struggled hard on the previous night to get a few names. But only
'Friends Union' and 'Excelsiors' kept coming till he felt fatigued. But what a
lot of names Swaminathan was able to reel off. 'Can you meet me to-morrow
evening, Swami? I shall get Mani down. Let us select a name.'
After a while Swaminathan asked, 'Look here, do you think we shall
have to pay tax or something to the Government when we start the team?' The Government seems to tax everything in this world.
My father's pay is about five hundred. But nearly two hundred and
over is demanded by the Government. Anyway, what makes you think that
we shall have to pay tax?'
‘I mean—if we don't pay tax, the Government may not recognise our
team or its name and a hundred other teams may take the same name. It
might lead to all sorts of complications.'
'Suppose we have two names?' asked Rajam.
'It is not done.'
'I know a lot of teams that have two names. When I was in Bishop
Waller's, we had a cricket team that we called I don't remember the name
now. I think we called it "Cricket Eleven" and "Waller's Cricket Eleven".
You see, one name is for ordinary use and the other is for matches.'
'It is all very well for a rich team like your Waller's. But suppose the
Government demands two taxes from us?'
Rajam realised at this point that the starting of a cricket team was the
most complicated problem on earth. He had simply expected to gather a
dozen fellows on the maidan next to his compound and play, and challenge
the world. But here were endless troubles, starting with the name that must
be unique. Government taxes, and so on. The Government did not seem to
know where it ought to interfere and where not. He had a momentary
sympathy for Gandhi; no wonder he was dead against the Government.
Swaminathan seemed to be an expert in thinking out difficulties. He
said, 'Even if we want to pay, whom are we to pay the taxes to?' Certainly
not to His Majesty or the Viceroy. Who was the Government? What if
somebody should take the money and defraud them, somebody pretending to
be the Government? Probably they would have to send the taxes by Money
Order to the Governor! Well, that might be treason. And then what was the
amount to be paid?
They sat round Rajam's table in his room. Mani held before him a
catalogue of Messrs Binns, the Shop for Sports Goods. He read,' "Junior
Willard Bats, Seven Eight, made of finest seasoned wood, used by
Cambridge Junior Boys', Eleven".'
'Let me have a look at it. . . .' said Rajam. He bent over the table and
said, 'Seems to be a fine bat. Have a look at it, Swami.' Swaminathan craned
his neck and agreed that it was a fine bat, but he was indiscreet enough to say, 'It looks like any other bat in the catalogue.' Mani's left hand shot out and held his neck and pressed his face close to the picture of the bat: 'Why
do you pretend to be a cricket player if you cannot see the difference
between Junior Willard and other bats? You are not fit to be even a sweeper
in our team.'
After this admonition the hold was relaxed. Rajam asked, 'Swami, do
you know what the catalogue man calls the Junior Willard? It seems it is the
Rolls-Royce among the junior bats. Don't you know the difference between
the Rolls-Royce and other cars?'
Swaminathan replied haughtily, 'I never said I saw no difference
between the Rolls-Royce and other cars.'
'What is the difference?' urged Rajam.
Mani laughed and teased, 'Come on. If you really know the difference,
why don't you say it?'
Swaminathan said, 'The Rolls cost a lakh of rupees, while other cars
cost about ten thousand; a Rolls has engines made of silver, while other cars
have iron engines.'
'Oh, oh!' peered Rajam.
'A Rolls never gives trouble, while other cars always give trouble; a
Rolls engine never stops; a Rolls-Royce never makes a noise, while other
cars always make a noise.'
"Why not deliver a lecture on the Rolls-Royce?' asked Mani.
'Swami, I am glad you know so much about the Rolls Royce. I am at
the same time ashamed to find you knowing so little about Willard Junior.
We had about a dozen Willard Juniors when I was in Bishop Waller's. Oh!
what bats! There are actual springs inside the bat, so that when you touch the
ball it flies. There is fine silk cord wound round the handle. You don't know
anything, and yet you talk! Show me another bat which has silk cord and
springs like the Willard.'
There was a pause, and after that Rajam said, 'Note it down, Swami.'
Swaminathan noted down on a paper, Vilord June-ear bat.' And looking up
asked, 'How many?'
'Say three. Will that do, Mani?'
'Why waste money on three bats? Two will do. . . .'
'But suppose one breaks in the middle of a match?' Rajam asked.
'Do you suppose we are going to supply bats to our opponents? They
will have to come provided with bats. We must make it clear.'
'Even then, if our bat breaks we may have to stop playing.'
'Two will do, Rajam, unless you want to waste money.'
Rajam's enthusiasm was great. He left his chair and sat on the arm of
Mani's chair, gloating over the pictures of cricket goods in the catalogue.
Swaminathan, though he was considered to be bit of a heretic, caught the
enthusiasm and perched on the other arm of the chair. All the three devoured
with their eyes the glossy pictures of cricket balls, bats, and nets.
In about an hour they selected from the catalogue their team's
requirements. And then came the most difficult part of the whole affair—a
letter to Messrs Binns, ordering goods. Bare courtesy made Rajam offer the
authorship of the letter to Mani, who declined it. Swaminathan was forced to
accept it in spite of his protests, and he sat for a long time chewing his pencil
without producing a word: he had infinite trouble with spelling, and the
more he tried to be correct the more muddled he was becoming; in the end
he sat so long thinking of spelling that even such words as 'The' and 'And'
became doubtful. Rajam took up the task himself. Half an hour later he
placed on the table a letter:
M.C.C. (And Victory Union Eleven),
Messrs Binns,
Mount Road,
'Please send to our team two junior willard bats, six balls, wickets and
other things quick. It is very urgent. We shall send you money afterwards. Don't fear. Please be urgent.
'Yours obediently,
'CAPTAIN RAJAM (Captain).'
This letter received Swaminathan's benedictions. But Mani expressed
certain doubts. He wanted to know whether 'Dear' could stand at the
beginning of a letter to a perfect stranger. 'How can you call Binns "Dear
Sir"? You must say "Sir".'
Rajam's explanation was: 'I won't say "Sir". It is said only by clerks. I
am not Binns's clerk. I don't care to address him as "Sir".'
So this letter went as it was. After this exacting work they were
resting, with a feeling of relief, when the postman came in with a card for
Rajam. Rajam read it and cried, 'Guess who has written this?'
'Silly. It must be our Head Master.'
'J. B. Hobbs.'
'It is from Sankar,' Rajam announced joyfully.
'Sankar! We had almost forgotten that old thief.' Swaminathan and
Mani tore the card from Rajam's hand and read:
'I am studying here because my father came here. My mother is also
here. All of us are here. And we will be only here. I am doing well. I hope
you are doing well. It is very hot here. I had fever for three days and drank
medicine. I hope I will read well and pass the examination. Is Swami and
Mani doing well! It is very hot here. I am playing cricket now. I can't write more.
'With regards’,
'Your dearest friend,
'P.S. Don't forget me.
They were profoundly moved by this letter, and decided to reply at
Three letters were ready in an hour. Mani copied Sankar's letter
verbatim. Swaminathan and Rajam wrote nearly similar letters: they said they were doing well by the grace of God; they hoped that Sankar would
pass and also that he was doing well; then they said a lot about their cricket
team and hoped that Sankar would become a member; they also said that Sankar's team might challenge them to a match.
The letters were put into a stamped envelope, and the flap was pasted.
It was only then that they felt the need of knowing Sankar's address. They
searched all parts of Sankar's card. Not a word anywhere, not even the name
of the town he was writing from. They tried to get this out of the postmark.
But a dark curved smudge on the stamp cannot be very illuminating.
The M.C.C. and its organisers had solid proof that they were persons
of count when a letter from Binns came addressed to the Captain, M.C.C., Malgudi. It was a joy, touching that beautiful envelope and turning it over in
the hand. Binns were the first to recognise the M.C.C., and Rajam took a
vow that he would buy every bit that his team needed from that great firm.
There were three implications in this letter that filled Rajam and his friends
with rapture: (1) that His Majesty's post office recognised their team was
proved by the fact that the letter addressed to the captain was promptly
delivered to him; (2) that they were really recognised by such a magnificent
firm as Binns of Madras was proved by the fact that Binns cared to reply in a
full letter and not on a card, and actually typed the letter! (3) Binns sent
under another cover carrying four annas postage a huge catalogue. What a
The letter informed the captain that Messrs Binns thanked him for his
letter and would be much obliged to him if he would kindly remit 25% with
the order and the balance could be paid against the V.P.P. of the Railway
Three heads buzzed over the meaning of this letter. The trouble was
that they could not understand whether Binns were going to send the goods
or not. Mani promised to unravel the letter if somebody would tell him what
'Obliged' meant. When they turned the pages of a dictionary and offered him
the meaning, he was none the wiser. He felt that it was a meaningless word
in that place. 'One thing is clear,' said Rajam, 'Binns thanks us for our letter.
So I don't think this letter could mean a refusal to supply us goods.'
Swaminathan agreed with him, 'That is right. If he did not wish to supply
you with things, would he thank you?
He would have abused you.' He scrutinised the letter again to make
sure that there was no mistake about the thanks.
'Why has the fool used this word?' Mani asked, referring to 'Obliged'
which he could not pronounce. It has no meaning. Is he trying to make fun
of us?'
'He says something about 25%. I wish I knew what it was’, said
Swaminathan could hardly contain himself, 'I say, Rajam, I am
surprised that you cannot understand this letter; you got 60% in the last
'Have you any sense in you? What has that to do with this. Even a
B.A. cannot understand this letter.'
In the end they came to the conclusion that the letter was sent to them
by mistake. As far as they could see, the M.C.C. had written nothing in their
previous letter to warrant such expressions as 'Obliged', 'Remit', and '25%'. It
could not be that the great firm of Binns were trying to make fun of them. Swaminathan pointed out 'To the Captain, M.C.C.' at the beginning of the
letter. But he was told that it was also a part of the mistake.
This letter was put in a cover with a covering letter and dispatched.
The covering letter said:
‘We are very sorry that you sent me somebody's letter. We are
returning this somebody's letter. Please send our things immediately.'
The M.C.C. were an optimistic lot. Though they were still unhonoured
with a reply to their second letter, they expected their goods to arrive with every post. After ten days they thought they would start playing with
whatever was available till they got the real bats, etc. The bottom of a
dealwood case provided them with three good bats, and Rajam managed to
get three used tennis balls from his father's club. The Pea was there, offering
four real stumps that he believed he had somewhere in his house. A neat slip
of ground adjoining Rajam's bungalow was to be the pitch. Everything was
ready. Even if Binns took a month more to manufacture the goods specially
for the M.C.C. (as they faintly thought probable), there need be no delay in
starting practice. By the time the real bats and the balls arrived, they would
be in form to play matches. Rajam had chosen from his class a few who, he
thought, deserved to become members of the M.C.C. At five o'clock on the opening day, the M.C.C. had as sembled, all except the Pea, for whom
Rajam was waiting anxiously. He had promised to bring the real stumps. It
was half an hour past time and yet he was not to be seen anywhere.
At last his puny figure was discovered in the distance. There was a
catch in Rajam's heart when he saw him. He strained his eyes to find out if
the Pea had the things about him. But since the latter was coming from the
west, he was seen in the blaze of the evening sun. All the twelve assembled in the field shaded their eyes and looked. Some said that he was carrying a
bundle, while some thought that he was swinging his hands freely.
When he arrived, Rajam asked, 'Why didn't you tell us that you hadn't
the stumps?'
'I have still got them,' protested the Pea, 'I shall bring them to-morrow.
I am sure my father knows where they are kept.'
'You kept us waiting till now. Why did you not come earlier and tell
us that you could not find them?'
'I tell you, I have been spending hours looking for them everywhere.
How could I come here and tell you and at the same time search?'
A cloud descended upon the gathering. For over twenty hours every
one among them had been dreaming of swinging a bat and throwing a ball.
And they could have realised the dream but for the Pea's wickedness.
Everybody looked at him sourly. He was isolated. Rajam felt like crying
when he saw the dealwood planks and the tennis balls lying useless on the ground. What a glorious evening they could have had if only the stumps had
been brought!
Amidst all this gloom somebody cast a ray of light by suggesting that
they might use the compound wall of Rajam's bungalow as a temporary
A portion of the wall was marked off with a piece of charcoal, and the
captain arranged the field and opened the batting himself. Swaminathan took
up the bowling. He held a tennis ball in his hand, took a few paces, and
threw it over. Rajam swung the bat but missed it. The ball hit the wall right
under the charcoal mark. Rajam was bowled out with the very first ball!
There was a great shout of joy. The players pressed round Swaminathan to
shake him and pat him on the back, he was given on the very spot the tide,

Granny Shoves Her Ignorance

WORK was rather heavy in the Board High School. The amount of
home-work given at the Albert Mission was nothing compared to the heap
given at the Board. Every teacher thought that his was the only subject that
the boys had to study. Six sums in arithmetic, four pages of 'hand-writing
copy', dictionary meanings of scores of tough words, two maps, and five
stanzas in Tamil poetry, were the average home-work every day.
Swaminathan sometimes wished that he had not left his old school. The
teachers here were ruthless beings; not to speak of the drill three evenings a
week, there were scout classes, compulsory games, etc., after the regular
hours every day; and missing a single class meant half a dozen cane cuts on
the following day. The wizened spectacled man was a repulsive creature,
with his screeching voice; the Head of the Albert Mission had a majestic air
about him in spite of all his defects.
All this rigour and discipline resulted in a life with little scope for
leisure. Swaminathan got up pretty early, rushed through all his home-work,
and rose just in time to finish the meal and reach the school as the first bell
rang. Every day, as he passed the cloth shop at the end of Market Road, the
first bell reached his ears. And just as he panted into the class, the second
bell would go off. The bell lacked the rich note of the Albert Mission gong;
there was something mean and nasal about it. But he soon got accustomed to
Except for an hour in the afternoon, he had to be glued to his seat right
on till four-thirty in the evening. He had lost the last-bench habit (it might be
because he had no longer Mani's company in the classroom). He sat in the
second row, and no dawdling easygoing nonsense was tolerated there; you
sat right under the teacher's nose. When the four-thirty bell rang,
Swaminathan slipped his pencil into his pocket and stretched his cramped
aching fingers. The four-thirty bell held no special thrill. You could not just
dash out of the class with a howl of joy. You had to go to the drill ground
and stand in a solemn line, and for three- quarters of an hour the Drill Master
treated you as if you were his dog. He drove you to march left and right,
stand attention, and swing the arms, or climb the horizontal or parallel bars,
whether you liked it or not, whether you knew the thing or not. For aught the
Drill Master cared, you might lose your balance on the horizontal bars and
crack your skull.
At the end of this you ran home to drink coffee, throw down the
books, and rush off to the cricket field, which was a long way off. You
covered the distance half running, half walking, moved by the vision of a
dun field sparsely covered with scorched grass, lit into a blaze by the slant
rays of the evening sun, enveloped in a flimsy cloud of dust, alive with the
shouts of players stamping about. What music there was in the thud of the
bat hitting the ball! Just as you took the turn leading to Lawley Extension,
you looked at the sun, which stood poised like a red hot coin on the horizon.
You hoped it would not sink. But by the time you arrived at the field, the sun
went down, leaving only a splash of colour and light in the sky. The
shadows already crept out, and one or two municipal lanterns twinkled here
and there. You still hoped you would be in time for a good game. But from
about half a furlong away you saw the team squatting carelessly round the
field. Somebody was wielding the bat rather languidly, bowled and fielded
by a handful who were equally languid—the languor that comes at the end
of a strenuous evening in the sun.
In addition to the misery of disappointment, you found Rajam a bit
sore. He never understood the difficulties of a man. 'Oh, Swami, why are
you late again?'
'Wretched drill class.'
'Oh, damn your drill classes and scout classes! Why don't you come
'What can I do, Rajam? I can't help it.' 'Well, well. I don't care. You
are always ready with excuses. Since the new bats, balls and things arrived,
you have hardly played four times.'
Others being too tired to play, eventually you persuaded the youngest
member of the team (a promising, obedient boy of the Fifth Standard, who
was admitted because he cringed and begged Rajam perseveringly) to bowl
while you batted. And when you tired of it, you asked him to hold the bat
and started bowling, and since you were the Tate of the team, the youngster
was rather nervous. And again you took up batting, and then bowling, and so
on. It went on till it became difficult to find the ball in the semi-darkness and
the picker ran after small dark objects on the ground, instead of after the
ball. At this stage a rumour started that the ball was lost and caused quite a
stir. The figures squatting and reposing got busy, and the ball was retrieved.
After this the captain passed an order forbidding further play, and the stumps
were drawn for the day, and soon all the players melted in the darkness. You
stayed behind with Rajam and Mani, perclied upon Rajam's compound wall,
and discussed the day's game and the players, noting the improvement,
stagnation, or degeneration of each player, till it became quite dark and a
peon came to inform Rajam that his tutor had come.
One evening, returning home from the cricket field, after parting from
Mani at the Grove Street junction, Swaminathan's conscience began to
trouble him. A slight incident had happened during the early evening when
he had gone home from the school to throw down the books and start for the
cricket field. He had just thrown down the books and was running towards
the kitchen, when granny cried,
'Swami, Swami. Oh, boy, come here.'
'No,' he said as usual and was in a moment out of her sight, in the
kitchen, violently sucking coffee out of a tumbler. He could still hear her
shaky querulous voice calling him. There was something appealing in that
weak voice, and he had a fit of pity for her sitting and calling people who
paid no heed to her. As soon as he had drunk the coffee, he went to her and
asked, 'What do you want?'
She looked up and asked him to sit down. At that he lost his temper
and all the tenderness he had felt for her a moment back. He raced, 'If you
are going to say what you have to say as quickly as possible. ... If not, don't
think I am a silly fool....'
She said, 'I shall give you six pies. You can take three pies and bring
me a lemon for three pies.' She had wanted to open this question slowly and
diplomatically, because she knew what to expect from her grandson. And
when she asked him to sit down, she did it as the first diplomatic move.
Without condescending to say yes or no, Swaminathan held out his
hand for the coins and took them. Granny said, 'You must come before I
count ten.' This imposition of a time-limit irritated him. He threw down the
coins and said, 'If you want it so urgently, you had better go and get it
yourself.' It was nearing five-thirty and he wanted to be in the field before
sunset. He stood frowning at her as if giving her the choice of his getting the
lemon late when he returned from the field, or not at all. She said, 'I have a
terrible pain in the stomach. Please run out and come back, boy.'
He did not stay there to hear more.
But now all the excitement and exhilaration of the play being over,
and having bidden the last 'good night', he stood in the Grove and Vinayak
Mudali Street junction, as it were face to face with his soul. He thought of
his grandmother and felt guilty. Probably she was writhing with pain at that
very moment. It stung his heart as he remembered her pathetic upturned face
and watery eyes. He called himself a sneak, a thief, an ingrate, and a
hardhearted villain.
In this mood of self-reproach he reached home. He softly sat beside
granny and kept looking at her. It was contrary to his custom. Every evening
as soon as he reached home he would dash straight into the kitchen and
worry the cook."
But now he felt that his hunger did not matter.
Granny's passage had no light. It had only a shaft falling from the
lamp in the hall. In the half-darkness, he could not see her face clearly. She
lay still. Swaminathan was seized with a horrible passing doubt whether she
might not be dead—of stomach-ache. He controlled his voice and asked,
'Granny, how is your pain?' Granny stirred, opened her eyes, and said,
'Swami, you have come! Have you had your food?'
'Not yet. How is your stomach-ache, granny?'
'Oh, it is all right. It is all right.'
It cost him all his mental powers to ask without flinching,
'Did you get the lemon?' He wanted to know it. He had been feeling
genuinely anxious about it. Granny answered this question at once, but to
Swaminathan it seemed an age—a terrible stretch of time during which
anything might happen, she might say anything, scold him, disown him,
swear that she would have nothing more to do with him, or say reproachfully
that if only he had cared to go and purchase the lemon in time, he might
have saved her and that she was going to die in a few minutes. But she
simply said, 'You did right in not going. Your mother had kept a dozen in
the kitchen.'
Swaminathan was overjoyed to hear this good news. And he
expressed this mood of joy in: 'You know what my new name is? I am Tate.'
'What is Tate?' she asked innocently. Swaminathan's disappointment
was twofold: she had not known anything of his new title, and failed to
understand its rich significance even when told. At other times he would
have shouted at her. But now he was a fresh penitent, and so asked her
kindly, 'Do you mean to say that you don't know Tate?'
'I don't know what you mean.'
‘Tate, the great cricket player, the greatest bowler on earth.’
‘I hope you know what cricket is.'
‘What is that?' granny asked. Swaminathan was aghast at this piece of
illiteracy. 'Do you mean to say, granny, that you don't know what cricket is,
or are you fooling me?'
'I don't know what you mean.'
'Don't keep on saying "I don't know what you mean". I wonder what
the boys and men of your days did in the evenings! I think they spent all the
twenty-four hours in doing holy things.'
He considered for a second. Here was his granny stagnating in
appalling ignorance; and he felt it his duty to save her. He delivered a short
speech setting forth the principles, ideals, and the philosophy, of the game of
cricket, mentioning the radiant gods of that world. He asked her every few
seconds if she understood, and she nodded her head, though she caught only
three per cent of what he said. He concluded the speech with a sketch of the
history and the prospects of the M.C.C. 'But for Rajam, granny,' he said, 'I
don't know where we should have been. He has spent hundreds of rupees on
this team. Buying bats and balls is no joke. He has plenty of money in his
box. Our team is known even to the Government. If you like, you may write
a letter to the M.C.C. and it will be delivered to us promptly. You will see us
winning all the cups in Malgudi, and in course of time we shall show even
the Madras fellows what cricket is.' He added a very important note: 'Don't
imagine all sorts of fellows can become players in our team.'
His father stood behind him, with the baby in his arms. He asked,
"What are you lecturing about, young man?' Swaminathan had not noticed
his father's presence, and now writhed awkwardly as he answered, 'Nothing.
. . . Oh, nothing, father.'
'Come on. Let me know it too.'
'It is nothing—Granny wanted to know something about cricket and I
was explaining it to her.'
'Indeed! I never knew mother was a sportswoman. Mother, I hope
Swami has filled you with cricket-wisdom.'
Granny said, 'Don't tease the boy. The child is so fond of me. Poor
thing! He has been trying to tell me all sorts of things. You are not in the
habit of explaining things to me. You are all big men. . . .'
Father replied, pointing at the baby, 'Just wait a few days and this little
fellow will teach you all the philosophy and the politics in the world.' He
gently clouted the baby's fat cheeks, and the baby gurgled and chirped
joyfully. 'He has already started lecturing. Listen attentively, mother.'
Granny held up her arms for the baby. But father clung to him tight and said,
'No. No. I came home early only for this fellow's sake. I can't. Come on,
Swami, I think we had better sit down for food. Where is your mother?'
The captain sternly disapproved of Swaminathan's ways. 'Swami, I
must warn you. You are neglecting the game. You are not having any
practice at all.'
'It is this wretched Board School work.'
'Who asked you to go and join it. They never came and invited you.
Never mind. But let me tell you. Even Bradman, Tate, and everybody spends
four to five hours on the pitch every day, practising, practising. Do you
think you are greater than they?'
'Captain, listen to me. I do my best to arrive at the field before five.
But this wretched Board High School time-table is peculiar.'
A way out had to be found. The captain suggested, 'You must see your
Head Master and ask him to exempt you from extra work till the match is
over.' It was more easily said than done, and Swaminathan said so, conjuring
up before his mind a picture of the wizened face and the small dingy
spectacles of his Head Master.
'I am afraid to ask that monster,' Swaminathan said. 'He may detain
me in Second Form for ages.'
'Indeed! Are you telling me that you are in such terror of your Head
Master? Suppose I see him?'
'Oh, please don't, captain. I beg you. You don't know what a vicious
being he is. He may not treat you well. Even if he behaves well before you,
he is sure to lull me when you are gone.'
'What is the matter with you, Swami? Your head is full of nonsense.
How are we to go on? It is two months since we started the team, and you
have not played even for ten days... .'
Mani, who had stretched himself on the compound wall, now broke
in: 'Let us see what your Head Master can do. Let him say yes or no. If he
kills you I will pulp him. My clubs have had no work for a long time.'
There was no stopping Rajam. The next day he insisted that he would
see the Head Master at the school. He would not mind losing a couple of
periods of his own class. Mani offered to go with him but was advised to
mind his business.
Next morning at nine-thirty Swaminathan spent five minutes rubbing
his eyes red, and then complained of headache. His father felt his temples
and said that he would be all right if he dashed a little cold water on his
'Yes, father,' Swaminathan said and went out. He stood outside
father's room and decided that if cold water was a cure for headache he
would avoid it, since he was praying for that malady just then. Rajam was
coming to see the Head Master, and it would be unwise to go to the school
that morning. He went in and asked, 'Father, did you say cold water?'
'But don't you think it will give me pneumonia or something? I am
also feeling feverish.'
Father felt his pulse and said, 'Now run to school and you will be all
right.' It was easier to squeeze milk out of a stone than to get permission
from father to keep away from school.
He whispered into his granny's ear, 'Granny, even if I die, I am sure
father will insist on sending my corpse to the school.' Granny protested
vehemently against this sentiment.
'Granny, a terrible fever is raging within me and my head is splitting
with headache. But yet, I mustn't keep away from school.'
Granny said, 'Don't go to school.' She then called mother and said,
'This child has fever. Why should he go to school?'
'Has he?' mother asked anxiously, and fussed over him. She felt his
body and said that he certainly had a temperature. Swaminathan said
pathetically, 'Give me milk or something, mother. It is getting late for
school.' Mother vetoed this virtuous proposal. Swaminathan faintly said, 'But
father may not like it.' She asked him to lie down on a bed and hurried along
to father's room. She stepped into the room with the declaration, 'Swami has
fever, and he can't go to school.'
'Did you take his temperature?'
'Not yet. It doesn't matter if he misses the school for a day.'
'Anyway, take his temperature,' he said. He feared that his wife might
detect the sarcasm in his suggestion, and added as a palliative, 'that we may
know whether a doctor is necessary.'
A thermometer stuck out of Swaminathan's mouth for half a minute
and indicated normal. Mother looked at it and thrust it back into his mouth.
It again showed normal. She took it to father, and he said, 'Well, it is
normal,' itching to add, 'I knew it.' Mother insisted, 'Something has gone
wrong with the thermometer. The boy has fever. There is no better
thermometer than my hand. I can swear that he has 100.2 now.'
'Quite likely’, father said.
And Swaminathan, when he ought to have been at school, was lying
peacefully, with closed eyes, on his bed. He heard a footstep near his bed
and opened his eyes. Father stood over him and said in an undertone, 'You
are a lucky fellow. What a lot of champions you have in this house when
you don't want to go to school!' Swaminathan felt that this was a sudden and
unprovoked attack from behind. He shut his eyes and turned towards the
wall with a feeble groan.
By the afternoon he was already bedsore. He dreaded the prospect of
staying in bed through the evening. Moreover, Rajam would have already
come to the school in the morning and gone.
He went to his mother and informed her that he was starting for the
school. There was a violent protest at once. She felt him all over and said
that he was certainly better but in no condition to go to school. Swaminathan
said, 'I am feeling quite fit, mother. Don't get fussy.'
On the way to the school he met Rajam and Mani. Mani had his club
under his arm. Swaminathan feared that these two had done something
Rajam said, 'You are a fine fellow! Where were you this morning?'
'Did you see the Head Master, Rajam?'
'Not yet. I found that you had not come, and did not see him. I want
you to be with me when I see him. After all it is your business.'
When Swaminathan emerged from the emotional chaos which
followed Rajam's words, he asked, 'What is Mani doing here?'
'I don't know,' Rajam said, 'I found him outside your school with his
club, when he ought to have been in his class.'
'Mani, what about your class?'
'It is all right,' Mani replied, 'I didn't attend it today.'
'And why your club?' Swaminathan asked.
'Oh! I simply brought it along.'
Rajam asked, 'Weren't you told yesterday to attend your class and
mind your business?'
'I don't remember. You asked me to mind my business only when I
offered to accompany you. I am not accompanying you. I just came this
way, and you have also come this way. This is a public road.' Mani's jest was
lost on them. Their minds were too busy with plans for the impending
'Don't worry, young men,' Mani said, 'I shall see you through your
troubles. I will talk to the Head Master, if you like.'
'If you step into his room, he will call the police,' Swaminathan said.
When they reached the school, Mani was asked to go away, or at
worst wait in the road. Rajam went in, and Swaminathan was compelled to
accompany him to the Head Master's room.
The Head Master was sleeping with his head between his hands and
his elbows resting on the table. It was a small stuffy room with only one
window opening on the weather beaten side-wall of a shop; it was cluttered
with dust-laden rolls of maps, globes, and geometrical squares. The Head
Master's white cane lay on the table across two ink-bottles and some
pads. The sun came in a hot dusty beam and fell on the Head Master's nose
and the table. He was gently snoring. This was a possibility that Rajam had
not thought of.
‘What shall we do?' Swaminathan asked in a rasping whisper.
‘Wait,' Rajam ordered.
They waited for ten minutes and then began to make gentle noises
with their feet. The Head Master opened his eyes and without taking his
head from his hands, kept staring at them vacantly, without showing any
sign of recognition. He rubbed his eyes, raised his eyebrows three times,
yawned, and asked in a voice thick with sleep, 'Have you fellows no
class?' He fumbled for his spectacles and put them on. Now the picture was
complete—wizened face and dingy spectacles calculated to strike terror into
the hearts of Swaminathan. He asked again, 'To what class do you fellows
belong? Have you no class?'
'I don't belong to your school,' Rajam said defiantly.
'Ah, then which heaven do you drop from?'
Rajam said, 'I am the captain of the M.C.C. and have come to see you
on business.'
‘What is that?'
'This is my friend W. S. Swaminathan of Second C studying in your
'I am honoured to meet you,' said the Head Master turning to
Swaminathan. Rajam felt at that moment that he had found out where the
Board High School got its reputation from.
"I am the captain of the M.C.C.'
'Equally honoured. . .’
'He is in my team. He is a good bowler. . . .'
'Are you?' said the Head Master, turning to Swaminathan.
'May I come to the point?' Rajam asked.
'Do, do,' said the Head Master, 'for heaven's sake, do.'
'It is this,' Rajam said, 'he is a good bowler and he needs some
practice. He can't come to the field early enough because he is kept in the
school every day after four-thirty. What do you want me to do?'
'Sir, can't you permit him to go home after four-thirty?'
The Head Master sank back in his chair and remained silent.
Rajam asked again, What do you say, sir, won't you do it?'
'Are you the Head Master of this school or am I?'
'Of course you are the Head Master, sir. In Albert Mission they don't
keep us a minute longer than four-thirty. And we are exempted from drill if
we play games.'
'Here I am not prepared to listen to your rhapsodies on that pariah
school. Get out.'
Mani, who had been waiting outside, finding his friends gone too
long, and having his own fears, now came into the Head Master's room.
‘Who is this?' asked the Head Master, looking at Mani sourly. ‘What
do you want?'
'Nothing,' Mani replied and quietly stood in a corner.
'I can't understand why every fellow who finds nothing to do comes
and stands in my room.'
'I am the Police Superintendent's son,' Rajam said abruptly.
'Is that so? Find out from your father what he was doing on the day a
gang of little rascals came in and smashed these windows. . .. What is the
thing that fellow has in his hand?'
'My wooden club,' Mani answered.
Rajam added, 'He breaks skulls with it. Come out, Mani, come on,
Swami. There is nothing doing with this—this mad- cap.'


Before the Match
THE M.C.C.'s challenge to a 'friendly’ match was accepted by the
Young Men's Union, who kept themselves in form by indefatigable practice
on the vacant site behind the Reading Room, or when the owner of this site
objected, right in the middle of Kulam Street. The match was friendly in
nought but name. The challenge sent by the M.C.C. was couched in terms of
defiance and threat.
There were some terrifying conditions attached to the challenge. The
first condition was that the players should be in the field promptly at eleven
noon. The second was that they should carry their own bats, while the
stumps would be graciously supplied by the M.C.C. The third was not so
much a plain condition as a firm hint that they would do well to bring and
keep in stock" a couple of their own balls. The reason for this was given in
the pithy statement 'that your batsmen might hit your own balls and not
break ours'. The next was the inhospitable suggestion that they had better
look out for themselves in regard to lunch, if they cared to have any at all.
The last condition was perhaps the most complicated of the lot over which
some argument and negotiation ensued: 'You shall pay for breaking bats,
balls, wickets and other damages.'
The Y.M.U. captain was rather puzzled by this. He felt that it was
irrelevant in view of the fact that there were conditions 2 and 3, and if they
broke any bats and balls at all, it would be their own property, and the
M.C.C.'s anxiety to have the damage made good was unwarranted. He was
told that the stumps belonged to the M.C.C. anyway, and there was also the
Y.M.U.'s overlooking clauses 2 and 3. At which the Y.M.U. captain became
extremely indignant and asked why if the M.C.C. was so impoverished, it
should not come and play in their (Y.M.U.'s) own pitch and save them the
trouble of carrying their team about. The stinging rejoinder occurred to the
indignant Rajam exactly twenty minutes after the other captain had left, that
it could not be done as the M.C.C. did not think much of a match played in
the middle of Kulam Street, if the owner of the vacant site behind the
Reading Room should take it into his head to object to the match. Before he
left, the Y.M.U. captain demanded to be told what 'Other damages' in the
last clause meant. Rajam paused, looked about, and pointed to the windows
and tiles of a house adjoining the M.C.C. field.
The match was to be played on Sunday two weeks later. Rajam lost all
peace of mind. He felt confident that his team could thrash the Y.M.U. He
himself could be depended upon not to let down the team. Mani was steady
if unimpressive. He could be depended upon to stop with his head, if
necessary, any ball. His batting was not bad. He had a peculiar style. With
his bat he stopped all reasonable approaches to the wicket and brought the
best bowlers to a fainting condition. Rajam did not consider it worth while
to, think of the other players of the team. There was only one player who
caused him the deepest anxiety day and night.
He was a dark horse. On him rested a great task, a mighty
responsibility. He was the Tate of the team, and he must bowl out all the
eleven of the other team. But he looked uncertain. Even with the match only
a fortnight off, he did not seem to care for practice. He stuck to his old habit
of arriving at the field when darkness had fallen on the earth. 'Swami,'
Rajam pleaded, 'please do try to have at least an hour's practice in the
'Certainly Rajam, if you can suggest a way. . . .'
Why not you tell your Head Master that. . . .'
'Oh, no, no,' Swaminathan cried, 'I am grateful to you for your
suggestion. But let us not think of that man. He has not forgotten your last
visit yet.'
'I don't care. What I want is that you should have good practice. If you
keep any batsman standing for more than five minutes, I will never see your
face again. You needn't concern yourself with the score. You can leave it to
us. . . .'
Just seven days before the match, Swaminathan realised that his
evenings were more precious than ever. As soon as the evening bell rang, he
lined up with the rest in the drill ground. But contrary to the custom, he had
not taken off his coat and cap. All the others were in their shirts, with their
dhotis tucked up. The Drill Master, a square man with protruding chest, a
big moustache sharpened at the ends, and a silk turban wound in military
style, stood as if he posed before a camera, and surveyed his pupils with a
disdainful side-glance. The monitor called out the names from the greasy
register placed on the vaulting horse. The attendance after an interminable
time was over and the Drill Master gave up his pose, came near the file, and
walked from one end to the other, surveying each boy sternly. Swaminathan
being short came towards the end of the file. The Drill Master stopped
before him, looked him up and down, and passed on muttering: 'You won't
get leave. Coat and cap off.' Swaminathan became desperate and pursued
him: 'Sir, I am in a terrible state of health. I can't attend Drill to-day. I shall
die if I do. Sir, I think I shall—' He was prancing behind the Drill Master.
The Drill Master had come to the last boy and yet Swaminathan was
dogging him. He turned round on Swaminathan with a fierce oath: 'What is
the matter with you?'
'Sir, you don't understand my troubles. You don't even care to ask me
what I am suffering from.'
'Yes, yes, what exactly is ailing you now?'
Swaminathan had at first thought of complaining of headache, but
now he saw that the Drill Master was in a mood to slight even the most
serious of headaches. He had an inspiration and said: 'Sir, the whole of last
night I was delirious.' The Drill Master was stunned by this piece of news.
'YOU were delirious! Are you mad?'
'No, sir. I didn't sleep a wink last night. I was delirious. Our doctor
said so. He has asked me not to attend Drill for a week to come. He said that
I should die if I attended Drill.'
'Get away, young swine, before I am tempted to throttle you. I don't
believe a word. But you are a persevering swine. Get out.'
The intervening period, about half an hour, between leaving the drill
ground and reaching the cricket field, was a blur of hurry and breathlessness.
Everybody at the field was happy to see him so early. Rajam jumped with
On the whole everything was satisfactory. The only unpleasant
element in all this was an obsession that the Drill Master might spy him out.
So that, when they dispersed for the evening, Swaminathan stayed in
Rajam's house till it was completely dark, and then skulked home, carefully
avoiding the lights falling in the street from shop-fronts.
The next morning he formed a plan to be free all the evenings of the
week. He was at his desk with the Manual of Grammar open before him. It
was seven-thirty in the morning, and he had still two and a half hours before
him for the school.
He did a little cautious reconnoitering: mother was in the baby's room,
for the rhythmic creaking of the cradle came to his ears. Father's voice was
coming from the front room; he was busy with his clients. Swaminathan
quietly slipped out of the house.
He stood before a shop in front of which hung the board; 'Doctor T.
Kesavan, L.M. & S. Sri Krishna Dispensary.' The doctor was sitting at a
long table facing the street. Swaminathan found that the doctor was alone
and free, and entered the shop.
'Hallo, Swaminathan, what is the matter?'
'Nothing, sir. I have come on a little business.'
'All well at home?'
'Quite. Doctor, I have got to have a doctor's certificate immediately.'
'What is the matter with you?'
‘I will tell you the truth, doctor. I have to play a match next week
against the Young Men's Union. And I must have some practice. And yet
every evening there is Drill Class, Scouting, some dirty period or other. If
you could give me a certificate asking them to let me off at four-thirty, it
would help the M.C.C. to win the match.'
'Well, I could do it. But is there anything wrong with you?'
Swaminathan took half a second to find an answer: 'Certainly, I am
beginning to feel of late that I have delirium.'
'What did you say?' asked the doctor anxiously.
Swaminathan was pleased to find the doctor so much impressed, and
repeated that he was having the most violent type of delirium.
'Boy, did you say delirium? What exactly do you mean by delirium?'
Swaminathan did not consider it the correct time for cross
examination. But he had to have the doctor's favour. He answered: 'I have
got it. I can't say exactly. But isn't it some, some kind of stomach ache?'
The doctor laughed till a great fit of coughing threatened to choke
him. After that he looked Swaminathan under the eye, examined his tongue,
tapped his chest, and declared him to be in the pink of health, and told him
he would do well to stick to his drill if he wanted to get rid of delirium.
Swaminathan again explained to him how important it was for him to
have his evenings free. But the doctor said: 'It is all very well. But I should
be prosecuted if I gave you any such certificate.'
'Who is going to find it out, doctor? Do you want our M.C.C. to lose
the match?'
'I wish you all success. Don't worry. I can't give you a certificate. But
I shall talk to your Head Master about you and request him to let you off
after four-thirty.'
'That will do. You are very kind to me, doctor.'
At four-thirty that evening, without so much as thinking of the
Scouting Class in the quadrangle of the school, Swaminathan went home
and then to the cricket field. Next day lie had Drill Class, and he did not give
it a thought. He was having plenty of practice. Rajam said: "Swami, you are
wonderful! All that you needed was a little practice. What have you done
about your evening classes?'
'It is a slight brain-work, my boy. Our doctor has told the Head Master
that I should die if I stayed in the school after four-thirty. I got him to do it.
What do you think of it?"
Mani dug him in the ribs and cried: 'You are the brainiest fellow I
have ever seen.' Rajam agreed with him, and then was suddenly seized with
worry: 'Oh, I don't know if we shall win that match. I will die if we lose.'
Mani said: 'Here, Rajam, I am sick of your talks of defeat. Do you
think those monkey-faced fools can stand up to us?' 'I shall write to the
papers if we win,' said Rajam.
'Will they print our photos?' Tate asked.
Without doubt.'
It was during the Geography hour on Friday that the Head Master
came to the class, cane in hand. The Geography Master, Mr. Rama Rao, a
mild elderly person, rose respectfully. The Head Master gave the full benefit
of his wizened face to the class. His owl-like eyes were fixed upon
Swaminathan, and he said: 'Get up.'
Swaminathan got up.
'Come here.'
Swaminathan 'came' there promptly. 'Show your shameless face to the
class fully.' Swaminathan now tried to hide his face. The Head Master threw
out his arm and twisted Swaminathan's neck to make him face the class, and
said: 'This great man is too busy to bother about such trivial matters as Drill
and Scouting, and has not honoured these classes with his presence since last
Monday.' His lips twisted in a wry smile. The class considered it safer to
take the cue, and gently giggled. Even on the Geography Master's face there
appeared a polite smile.
'Sir, have you any explanation to give?' the Head Master asked.
With difficulty Swaminathan found his voice and answered: 'It was
the doctor—didn't the doctor talk to you about me, sir?'
'What doctor talk about what?'
'He said he would,' faintly answered Swaminathan.
'If you talk in enigmas I shall strip you before the class and thrash
'Dr. Kesavan said—'
‘What about Dr. Kesavan?'
'He said he would talk to you about me and get me exemption from
Drill and other extra periods. He said that I should die if I attended Drill for
some days to come.'
'And pray what is your trouble?'
'He thinks it is some—some kind—of—delirium, you know.' He had
determined to avoid this word since he met the doctor last, but at this critical
moment be blundered into it by sheer habit.
The Head Master turned to the teacher and raised his brow. He waited
for some time and said: 'I am waiting to hear what other words of truth and
wisdom are going to drop from your mouth.'
'Sir, I thought he had talked to you. He said he would....'
'I don't care to have every street mongrel come and tell me what to do
in my school with my boys. It is a good thing that this Surgeon-General did
not come. If he had, I would have asked the peon to bash his head on the
Swaminathan realised that the doctor had deceived him. He
remembered the genial smile with which the doctor had said that he would
see the Head Master. Swaminathan shuddered as he realised what a deepdyed
villain Dr. Kesavan was behind that genial smile. He would teach that
villain a lesson; put a snake into his table-drawer; he would not allow that
villain to feel his pulse even if he (Swaminathan) should be dying of fever.
Further plans of revenge were stopped by a flick of the cane on his knuckles.
The Head Master held the cane ready and cried: 'Hold out your hand. Six on
each hand for each day of absence, and the whole of the next lesson on the
bench. Monitor, you had better see to it. And remember W. S. Swaminathan,
if you miss a single class again, I shall strip you in the school hall and ask
the peon to cane you. You can't frighten me with your superintendent? of
police, their sons, grandsons, or grandfathers. I don't care even if you
complain to His Majesty.' He released Swaminathan's neck and raised the
Another moment and that vicious snake-like cane, quivering as if with
life, would have descended on Swaminathan's palm. A flood of emotion
swept him off his feet, a mixture of fear, resentment, and rage. He hardly
knew what he was doing. His arm shot out, plucked the cane from the Head
Master's hand, and flung it out of the window. Then he dashed to his desk,
snatched his books, and ran out of the room. He crossed the hall and the
veranda in a run, climbed the school gate because the bolt was too heavy for
him, and jumped into the end of Market Road.
He sat under a tree on the roadside to collect his thoughts. He had left
the school to which he would never go back as long as that tyrant was there.
If his father should hear of it, he would do heaven knew what. He would
force him to go back, which would be impossible. . . . He had got out of two
schools in this fashion. There were no more schools in Malgudi. His father
would have to send him to Trichinopoly or Madras. But probably the Board
High School Head Master would write to all the schools, telling them who
Swaminathan was. He would not be admitted to any school. So he would
have to work and earn. ... He might get some rupees—and he could go to
hotels and buy coffee and tiffin as often as he pleased. What divine sweets
the Bombay Anand Bhavan made! There was some green slab on the top left
of the stall, with almonds stuck on it. He had always wanted to eat it, but
lacked the courage to ask the hotel man, as he believed it to be very costly. .
. . His father would not allow him to remain in the house if he did not go to
school. He might beat him. He would not go home that day nor on any other
day. He could not face his father. He wondered at the same time where he
could go. Anywhere. If he kept walking along Market Road where would it
lead him? Probably to Madras. Could he reach Bombay and England if he
went further? He could work in any of those places, earn money and do what
he pleased. If he should go by train. . . . But what to do for money? There
might not be much trouble about that. The station master was an amiable
man, and Swaminathan knew him.
The school bell rang, and Swaminathan rose to hurry away. The boys
might come out, stand around, and watch him as if he were something
He hurried along Market Road, turned to his right, along Smith Street,
and taking a short-cut through some intricate lanes, stood before his old
school, the Albert Mission. The sight of the deep yellow building with its
top-story filled him with a nostalgia for old times. He wished he had not left
it. How majestic everything there now seemed! The Head Master, so
dignified in his lace-turban, so unlike the grubby wretch of the Board.
Vedanayagam, Ebenezar, even Ebenezar. D. P. Pillai, how cosy and homely
his history classes were! Swaminathan almost wept at the memory of Somu
and the Pea. . . . All his friends were there, Rajam, Somu, Mani, and the Pea,
happy, dignified, and honoured within the walls of the august Albert Mission
School. He alone was out of it, isolated, as if he were a leper. He was an
outcast, an outcast. He was filled with a sudden self-disgust. Oh, what would
he not give to be back in the old school! Only, they would not take him in. It
was no use. He had no more schools to go to in Malgudi. He must run away
to Madras and work. But he had better see Rajam and Mani before going
He lingered outside the school gate. He had not the courage to enter it.
He was the enemy of the school. The peon Singaram might assault him and
drive him out if he saw him. He discreetly edged close to the massive
concrete gate-post which screened him from a direct view of the school. He
had to meet Rajam and Mani. But how? He stood still for a few minutes and
formed a plan.
He went round behind the school. It was a part of the building that
nobody frequented. It was a portion of the fallow field adjoining the school
and terminating in the distant railway embankment. Swaminathan had not
seen this place even once in all the six or seven years that he had spent at the
school. Here the school compound wall was covered half with moss, and the
rear view of the school was rather interesting. From here Swaminathan could
see only the top half of the building, but even that presented a curious
appearance. For instance, he could not at once point out where his old
Second A was situated. He rolled up a stone to the foot of the wall, and
stood on it. He could just see the school compound now. It was about
twelve, the busiest hour in the school, and there was not a single person in
the compound. He waited. It was tedious waiting. After a short time, a very
small person came out of the First Standard, to blow his nose. The three
sections of the First Standard were in a block not a dozen yards from
Swaminathan whistled softly, and the very small person did not hear.
Swaminathan repeated the whistling, and the very small person turned and
started as if he saw an apparition. Swaminathan beckoned to him. The small
person took just a second to decide whether to obey the call of that
apparition or to run back to the class. Swaminathan called him again. And
the very small man drew towards him as if in a hypnotic state, staring
Swaminathan said: 'Would you like to have an almond peppermint?'
The very small man could hardly believe his ears. Here was a man
actually offering almond peppermints! It could not be true. There was
probably some fraud in it. Swaminathan repeated the offer and the small
man replied rather cautiously that he would like to have the peppermint.
'Well, then,' Swaminathan said, 'you can't have it just now. You will
have to earn it. Just go to Second Form A and tell M. Rajam that somebody
from his house wants him urgently and bring him over here, and then hold
out your hand for the peppermint. Maybe you will be given two.'
The small man stood silent, assimilating every detail of the question,
and then with a puckered brow asked: 'Where is Second Form A?'
'Oh!' the boy ejaculated with a note of despair, and stood ruminating.
'What do you say?' Swaminathan asked, and added: 'Answer me
before I count ten. Otherwise the offer is off. One, two, three—'
You say it is upstairs'?' the boy asked.
'Of course, I do.'
'But I have never gone there.'
'You will have to now.'
'I don't know the way.'
'Just climb the stairs.'
‘They may—they may beat me if I am seen there.'
'If you care for the almond peppermint you will have to risk it. Say at
once whether you will go or not.'
'All right. Wait for me.' The very small man was off.
Ten minutes later he returned, followed by Rajam. Rajam was
astonished to see Swaminathan's head over the wall. What are you doing
'Jump over the wall. I want you very urgently, Rajam.'
'I have got a class. I can't come out now.'
'Don't be absurd. Come on. I have something very urgent to say.'
Rajam jumped over the wall and was by his side.
Swaminathan's head disappeared from view. A pathetic small voice
asked over the wall: 'Where is my peppermint?'
'Oh, I forgot you, little one,' Swaminathan said reappearing, 'come on,
catch this.' He tossed a three-pie coin at the other.
'YOU said almond peppermint,' the boy reminded.
'I may say a thousand things,' Swaminathan answered brusquely, 'but
isn't a three-pie coin sufficient? You can buy an almond peppermint if you
'But you said two almond peppermints.'
'Now be off, young man. Don't haggle with me like a brinjal seller.
Leam contentment,' said Swaminathan and jumped down from the stone.
'Rajam, do you know what has happened in the school to-day? I have
fought with the Head Master. I am dismissed. I have no more schools or
‘You fought with the Head Master?'
‘Yes, he came to assault me about the Drill attendance, and I
wrenched his hand, and snatched the cane. ... I don't believe I shall ever go
back to the school. I expect there will be a lot of trouble if I do.'
'What a boy you are!' exclaimed Rajam. 'YOU are always in some
trouble or other wherever you go. Always, always—'
'It was hardly my fault, Rajam,' Swaminathan said, and tried to
vindicate himself by explaining to him Dr. Kesavan's villainy.
'You have no sense, Swami. You are a peculiar fellow.'
'What else could I do to get the evenings off for practice. The Y.M.U.
are no joke.'
'You are right, Swami. I watched the fellows at practice this morning.
They have morning practice too. They are not bad players. There is one
Mohideen, a dark fellow, oh, you know—you will have to keep an eye on
him. He bats like Bradman. You will have to watch him. There is another
fellow, Shanmugam. He is a dangerous bowler. But there is one weakness in
Mohideen. He is not so steady on the leg side. . . . Swami, don't worry about
anything for some time to come. You must come in the morning too tomorrow.
We have got to beat those fellows.'
Swaminathan had really called Rajam to bid him good- bye, but now
he changed his mind. Rajam would stop him if he came to know of his
adventurous plans. He wasn't going to tell Rajam, nor anybody about it, not
even Mani. If he was stopped, he would have no place to stay in. The match
was still two days off. He would go away without telling anyone, somehow
practice on the way, come back for a few hours on the day of the match,
disappear once again, and never come back to Malgudi—a place which
contained his father, a stem stubborn father, and that tyrant of a Head
Master. . . . And no amount of argument on his part could ever make his
father see eye to eye with him. If he went home, father might beat him,
thrash him, or kill him, to make him return to the Board High School. Father
was a tough man. ... He would have to come back on the day of the match,
without anybody's knowledge. Perhaps it would not be necessary. He asked
suddenly: 'Rajam, do you think I am so necessary for the match?'
Rajam regarded him suspiciously and said: 'Don't ask such questions.'
He added presently: 'We can't do without you, Swami. No. We depend upon
you. You are the best bowler we have. We have got to give those fellows a
beating. I shall commit suicide if we lose. Oh, Swami, what a mess you have
made of things! What are you going to do without a school?'
'I shall have to join a workshop or some such thing.'
‘What will your father say when he hears of it?'
'Oh, nothing. He will say it is all right. He won't trouble me,'
Swaminathan said.
'Swami, I must get back to the class. It is late.' Rajam rose and
sprinted towards the school, crying: 'Come to the field early. Come very
soon, now that you are free. . . .


Swami Disappears

SWAMINATHAN'S father felt ashamed of himself as he approached
Ellaman Street, the last street of the town, which turned into a rough track
for about a hundred yards, and disappeared into the sands of the Sarayu
River. He hesitated for a second at the end of Market Road, which was
bright with the lights of a couple of late shops and a street gas lamp, before
he turned to plunge into the darkness and silence of Ellaman Street. A shaft
of greenish light from the gas-lamp fell athwart Ellaman Street, illuminating
only a few yards of the street and leaving the rest in deep gloom. A couple of
municipal lanterns smouldered in their wicks, emphasising the darkness
Swaminathan's father felt ashamed of himself. He was going to cross
the street, plod through the sand, and gaze into the Sarayu—for the body of
his son! His son, Swami, to be looked for in the Sarayu! It seemed to him a
ridiculous thing to do. But what could he do? He dared not return home
without some definite news of his son, good or bad. The house had worn a funereal appearance since nine o'clock. His wife and his old mother were
more or less dazed and demented. She—his wife—had remained cheerful till
the Taluk Office gong struck ten, when her face turning white, she had asked
him to go and find out from Swaminathan's friends and teachers what had
happened to him.
He did not know where Swaminathan's Head Master lived. He had
gone to the Board School and asked the watchman, who misdirected him and
made him wander over half the town without purpose. He could not find
Mani's house.
He had gone to Rajam's house, but the house was dark, everybody had
gone to bed, and he felt that it would be absurd to wake up the household of
a stranger to ask if they had seen his son. From what he could get out of the
servant sleeping in the veranda, he understood that Swaminathan had not
been seen in Rajam's house that evening. He had then vaguely wandered in
the streets. He was doing it to please his wife and mother. He had not shared
in the least his wife's nervousness. He had felt all along that the boy must
have gone out somewhere and would return, and then he would treat him
with some firmness and nip this tendency in the bud. He had spent nearly an
hour thus and gone home. Even his mother had left her bed and was
hobbling agitatedly about the house, praying to the God of the Thirupathi
Hills and promising him rich offerings if he should restore Swaminathan to
her safe and sound. His wife stood like a stone image, looking down the
street. The only tranquil being in the house was the youngest member 'of the
family, whose soft breathings came from the cradle, defying the gloom and
heaviness in the house.
When Swaminathan's father gave his wife the news—or no news—
that he had gathered from his wanderings, he had assumed a heavy
aggressive cheerfulness. It had lasted for a while, and gradually the anxiety
and the nervousness of the two women infected him. He had begun to feel that something must have happened to his son—a kidnapping or an accident.
He was trying to reason out these fears when his wife asked in a trembling
voice: 'Did you search in the hospital?' and broke into a hysterical cry. He received this question with apparent disdain while his mind was conjuring
up a vision of his son lying in a pulp in the hospital. He was struggling to
erase this picture from his mind when his mother made matters worse with
the question: 'Tell me— tell me—where could the boy have gone? Were you
severe with him for anything this morning?' He was indignant at this
question. Everybody seemed to be holding him responsible for
Swaminathan's disappearance. Since nine o'clock he had been enduring the
sly references and the suspicious glances. But this upset him, and he sharply
asked his mother to return to her bed and not to let her brain concoct silly questions. He had after that reviewed his behaviour with his son since the morning, and discovered with surprise and relief that he had not seen him
the whole day. The boy had risen from bed, studied, and gone to school,
while he had shut himself up in his room with his clients. He then wondered
if he had done anything in the past two or three days. He was not certain of
his memory, but he felt that his conduct was blameless. As far as he could remember there had not been any word or act of his that could have
embittered the boy and make him do—do—wild things. It was nearing
twelve and he found his wife still sobbing. He tried to console her and rose
to go out saying, again with a certain loud cheerfulness: 'I am going out to look for him. If he comes before I return, for Heaven's sake don't let him
know what I am out for. I don't care to appear a fool in his eyes.'
He had walked rather briskly up Hospital Road, but had turned back
after staring at the tall iron gates of the hospital. He told himself that it was
unnecessary to enter the hospital, but in fact knew that he lacked the
courage. That very window in which a soft dim light appeared might have behind it the cot containing Swaminathan all pulped and bandaged. He
briskly moved out of Hospital Road and wandered about rather aimlessly through a few dark lanes around the place. With each hour, his heart became
heavier. He had slunk past Market Road, and now entered Ellaman Street.
He swiftly passed through Ellaman Street and crossed the rough tootpath leading to the river. His pace slackened as he approached the river. He
tried to convince himself that he was about to do a piece of work which was
a farce.
But if the body of his son, sodden and bloated, should be seen stuck
up among the reeds, and rocking gently on the ripples.... He shut his eyes
and prayed: 'Oh, God, help me.' He looked far up and down the river which
was gliding along with gentle music. The massive -peepul trees overhanging
the river sighed to the night. He started violently at the sight of the flimsy
shadow of some branch on the water; and again as some float kept tilting
against the moss-covered parapet with muffled thuds.
And then, still calling himself a fool, he went to the Malgudi Railway
Station and walked a mile or so along the railway line, keenly examining the
iron rails and the sleepers. The ceaseless hum and the shrill whistle of night
insects, the whirring of bats, and the croaking of frogs, came through the
awful loneliness of the night. He once stooped with a shudder to put his
finger on some wet patch on the rails. As he held up the finger and examined
it in the starlight and found that it was only water and not blood, he heaved a
sigh of relief and thanked God.

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