Monday, February 16, 2009

Malgudi Days

The Day of the Match
A NARROW road branching to the left of the Trunk Road attracted
Swaminathan because it was shaded by trees bearing fruits. The white balllike
wood-apple, green figs, and the deep purple eugenia, peeped out of thick
green foliage. He walked a mile and did not like the road. It was utterly
deserted and silent. He wished to be back in the Trunk Road in which there
was some life and traffic, though few and far between: some country cart
lumbering along; or an occasional motor-car with trunks and bedding
strapped behind, whizzing past and disappearing in a cloud of dust; or
groups of peasants moving on the edge of the road. But this branch road
oppressed him with its stillness. Moreover, he had been wandering for many
hours away from home, and now longed to be back there. He became
desperate at the thought of home. What fine things the cook prepared! And
how mother always insisted upon serving ghee and curds herself! Oh! how
he would sit before his leaf and watch mother open the cupboard and bring
out the aluminum curd-pot, and how soft and white it was as it noiselessly
fell on the heap of rice on the leaf and enveloped it! A fierce hunger now
raged within him. His thighs were heavy and there was pain around his hips.
He did not notice it, but the sun's rays were coming obliquely from the west,
and the birds were on their homeward flight.
When hunger became unbearable, he plucked and ate fruits. There
was a clean pond near by.
He rested for some time and then started to go back home. The only
important thing now was home, and all the rest seemed trivial beside it. The
Board School affair appeared inconsequent. He marvelled at himself for
having taken it seriously and rushed into all this trouble. What a fool he had
been! He wished with all his heart that he had held out his hand when the
Head Master raised his cane. Even if he had not done it, he wished he had
gone home and told his father everything. Father would have scolded him a
little (in case he went too far, granny and mother could always be depended
upon to come to his rescue). All this scolding and frowning would have been
worth while, because father could be depended upon to get him out of any
trouble. People were afraid of him. And what foolishness to forgo practice
with the match only two days ahead! If the match was lost, there was no
knowing what Rajam would do.
Meanwhile, Swaminathan was going back towards the Trunk Road.
He thought he would be presently back in it, and then he had only to go
straight, and it would take him right into Market Road, and from there he
could reach home blindfold. His parents might get angry with him if he
went home so late. But he could tell them that he had lost his way. Or would
that be too mild? Suppose he said that he had been kidnapped by Pathans
and had to escape from them with great difficulty. ...
He felt he had been walking long enough. He ought to have reached
the Trunk Road long ago, but as he stopped and looked about, he found that
he was still going along the thick avenue of figs and wood-apple. The
ground was strewn with discoloured, disfigured fruits, and leaves. The road
seemed to be longer now that he was going back. The fact was that he had
unconsciously followed a gentle imperceptible curve, as the road cunningly
branched and joined the Mempi Forest Road. Some seventy miles further it
split into a number of rough irregular tracks disappearing into the thick belt
of Mempi Forests. If he had just avoided this deceptive curve, he would have
reached the Trunk Road long ago.
Night fell suddenly, and his heart beat fast. His throat went dry as he
realised that he had not reached the Trunk Road. The trees were still thick
and the road was still narrow. The Trunk Road was broader, and there the
sky was not screened by branches. But here one could hardly see the sky; the
stars gleamed through occasional gaps overhead. He quickened his pace
though he was tired. He ran a little distance, his feet falling on the leafcovered
ground with a sharp rustling noise. The birds in the branches
overhead started at this noise and fluttered their wings. In that deep darkness
and stillness, the noise of fluttering wings had an uncanny ghostly quality.
Swaminathan was frightened and stood still. He must reach the Trunk Road
and thence find his way home. He would not mind even if it were twelve
o'clock when he reached the Trunk Road. There was something reassuring in
its spaciousness and in the sparseness of vegetation. But here the closeness
of the tree-trunks and their branches intertwining at the top gave the road the
appearance of a black bleak cavern with an evil spirit brooding over it.
The noise of the disturbed birds subsided. He started on again. He trod
warily so as not to make a noise and disturb the birds again, though he felt
an urge to run, run with all his might and reach the Trunk Road and home.
The conflict between the impulse to run and the caution that counselled him
not to run was fierce. As he walked noiselessly, slowly, suppressing the
impulse to run on madly, his nerves quivered with the strain. It was as if he
had been rope-walking in a gale.
His ears became abnormally sensitive. They caught every noise his
feet made, with the slightest variations. His feet came down on the ground
with a light tick or a subdued crackle or a gentle swish, according to the
object on the ground: small dry twigs, half-green leaves, or a thick layer of
dry withered leaves. There were occasional patches of bare uncovered
ground, and there the noise was a light thud, or pit pat; pit pat pit pat in
monotonous repetition. Every noise entered Swaminathan's ears. For some
time he was conscious of nothing else. His feet said pish—pish—pish—
pat—pit—pat —swish and crackled. These noises streamed into his head,
monotonously, endlessly. They were like sinister whispers, calling him to a
dreadful sacrifice. He clearly heard his name whispered. There was no doubt
about it. 'Swami.... Swami. . . . Swami. . . . Swami. . . . Swami. . . .' the voice
said, and then the dreadful suggestion of a sacrifice. It was some devil,
coming behind him noiselessly, and saying the same thing over and over
again, deep into his ears. He stopped and looked about. There the immense
monster crouched, with its immense black legs wide apart, and its shadowy
arms joined over its head. It now swayed a little. He dared not take his eyes
off it for fear that it might pounce upon him. He stood frozen to the ground
and stared at this monster. Why did it cease its horrid whispers the moment
he turned back? He stood staring. He might have spent about five minutes
thus. And when the first thrill of fear subsided, he saw a little more clearly
and found that the monster consisted of massive tree-trunks and their top
He continued his journey. He was perhaps within a yard of the Trunk
Road, and afterwards he would sing as he sauntered home. He asked himself
whether he would rest awhile on the Trunk Road or go, without stopping,
home. His legs felt as if they had been made of stone. He decided that he
would sit down for some time when he reached the Trunk Road. It did not
matter. The Trunk Road was safe and secure even at twelve o'clock. If he
took a rest, he would probably be able to run home. . . .
He came to a clearing. The stars were visible above. The road wound
faintly in front of him. No brooding darkness, no clustering crowded avenue
here. He felt a momentary ecstasy as he realised that he had come to the
Trunk Road. It bore all the characteristics of the Trunk Road. The sight of
the stars above, clear and uninterrupted, revived him. As he paused and
watched the million twinkling bodies, he felt like bursting into music, out of
sheer relief. He had left behind the horrid, narrow, branch-roofed road. At
this realization his strength came back to him. He decided not to waste time
in resting. He felt fit to go forward. But presently he felt uneasy. He
remembered clearly that the branch road began at right angles to the Trunk
Road. But here it continued straight. He stood bewildered for a moment and
then told himself that it was probably a continuation of the branch road, a
continuation that he had not noticed before. Whatever it was, the Trunk
Road must surely cut this at right angles, and if he turned to his right and
went forward he would reach home. He looked to his right and left, but there
was not the faintest trace of a road anywhere. He soon explained to himself
that he was probably not able to see the Trunk Road because of the night.
The road must be there all right. He turned to his right, took a step or two,
and went knee-deep in quagmire. He waded through it and went forward.
Long spiked grass tickled his face and in some places he was lost in
undergrowth. He turned back and reached the road.
Presently he realised his position. He was on an unknown distant road
at a ghostly hour. Till now the hope that he was moving towards the familiar
Trunk Road sustained him. But now even the false hope being gone, he
became faint with fear. When he understood that the Trunk Road was an
unreal distant dream, his legs refused to support him. All the same he kept
tottering onwards, knowing well that it was a meaningless, aimless, march.
He walked like one half stunned. The strangeness of the hour, so silent
indeed that even the drop of a leaf resounded through the place, oppressed
him with a sense of inhumanity. Its remoteness gave him a feeling that he
was walking into a world of horrors, subhuman and supernatural.
He collapsed like an empty bag, and wept bitterly. He called to his
father, mother, granny, Rajam, and Mani. His shrill loud cry went through
the night past those half-distinct black shapes looming far ahead, which
might be trees or devils or gate-posts of Inferno. Now he prayed to all the
gods that he knew to take him out of that place. He promised them offerings:
two coco-nuts every Saturday to the elephant-faced Ganapathi; a vow to roll
bare-bodied in dust, beg, and take the alms to the Lord of Thirupathi. He
paused as if to give the gods time to consider his offer and descend from
their heights to rescue him.
Now his head was full of wild imaginings. He heard heavy footfalls
behind, turned and saw a huge lump of darkness coming towards him. It was
too late, it had seen him. Its immense tusks showed faintly white. It came
roaring, on the way putting its long trunk around a tree and plucking it over
by the roots and dashing it on the ground. He could see its’ small eyes,
red with anger, its tusks lowered, and the trunk lifted and poised ready. He
just rolled to one side and narrowly escaped. He lay panting for a while, his
clothes wet with sweat. He heard stealthy footsteps and a fierce growl and
before he could turn to see what it was, heavy jaws snapped behind his ears,
puffing out foul hot breath on his nape. He had the presence of mind to
lower his head and lie flat, and the huge yellow-and-black tiger missed him.
Now a leopard, now a lion, even a whale, now a huge crowd, mixed crowd
of wild elephants, tigers, lions, and demons, surrounded him. The demons
lifted him by his ears, plucked every hair on his head, and peeled off his skin
from head to foot. Now what was this, coiling round his legs, cold an slimy?
He shrank in horror from a scorpion that was advancing with its sting in the
air. No, this was no place for human being. The cobra and the scorpion were
within a inch of him. He shrieked, scrambled to his feet, and ran He kept
looking back, the scorpion was moving as fast as he, there was no escaping
it: he held his breath and with the last ounce of strength doubled his pace—
He had touched the other wicket and returned. Two runs. He stood
with the bat. The captain of the Y.M.U. bowler and he hit a sixer. The cheers
were deafening. Rajam ran round the field in joy, jumped up the wall and
down thrice. The next ball was bowled. Instead of hitting it, Swaminathan
flung the bat aside and received it on his head. The ball rebounded and
speeded back towards the bowler— the Board High School Head Master;
but Swaminathan ran after the ball, overtook it halt-way, caught it, and
raising his arm, let it go with terrific force towards the Captain's head, which
was presently hit and shattered. The M.C.C. had won, and their victory was
marked by chasing the Y.M.U. out of the field, with bricks and wickets, hats
and balls; and Swaminathan laughed and laughed till he collapsed with
Ranga, the cart-man, was returning to his village, five miles on this
side of Mempi Forests, early on Saturday morning. He had left Malgudi at
two in the morning so as to be in his village by noon. He had turned the long
stretch of the Mempi Forest Road, tied the bullock-rope to the cart, and lain
down. The soft tinkling of the bells and the gentle steady pace of the bullock
sent him to sleep at once.
Suddenly the bullock stopped with a jerk. Ranga woke up and uttered
the series of oaths and driving cries that usually gave the bullock speed, and
violently tugged the rope. The bullock merely tossed its head with a
tremendous jingle of its bells, but did not move. Ranga, exasperated by its
conduct, got down to let the animal know and feel what he thought of it. In
the dim morning light, he saw a human form across the way. He shouted,
‘Hi! Get up lazy lubber. A nice place you have found to sleep in! Be up and
doing. Do you follow me'?' When the sleeper was not awakened by this
advice, Ranga went forward to throw him out of the way.
'Ah, a little fellow! Why is he sleeping here'?' he said, and bending
closer still, exclaimed, 'Oh, Siva, he is dead!' The legs and arms, the exposed
portions of the body, were damp with the slight early dew. He tore the boy's
shirt and plunged his hand in and was greatly relieved to find the warmth life
still there. His simple mind tortured itself with the mystery of the whole
situation. Here was a little boy from the town, his dress and appearance
proclaimed, alone in this distant highway, lying nearly dead across the road.
Who was he? Where did he come from? Why was he there? Ranga’s
brain throbbed with these questions. Devils were known to carry away
human beings and leave them in distant places. It might be, or might not be.
He gave up the attempt to solve the problem himself, feeling that he had
better leave such things to learned people like the sircar officer who was
staying in the Travellers' Bungalow three stones on this side the forests. His
(Ranga's) business would be nothing more than taking the boy to the officer.
He gently lifted the boy and carried him to the cart.
He sat in his seat, took the ropes in his hand, raised a foot and kicked
the bullock in the stomach, and loosened the rope with the advice to his
animal that if it did not for once give up its usual dawdling ways, he would
poke a red-hot pike into its side. Intelligently appreciating the spirit of this
advice, the bullock shook itself and set off at a trot that it served for
important occasions.
Swaminathan stared blankly before him. He could not comprehend his
situation. At first he had believed he was where he had been day after day
for so many years—at home. Then gradually, as his mind cleared, he
remembered several remote incidents in a confused jumble. He blinked fast.
He put out his arm and fumbled about. He studied the objects before him
more keenly. It was an immense struggle to keep the mind alert. He fixed his
eyes on a picture on the wall- or was it a calendar?—to find out if it was the
same thing that hung before his bed at home. He was understanding its
details little by little when all of a sudden his mind collapsed with
exhaustion, and confusion began. Was there an object there at all on the
wall? He was exasperated by the prank of the mind. . . . He vaguely
perceived a human figure in a chair near by. The figure drew the chair nearer
and said, That is right, boy. Are you all right now?' . . . These words fell on
ears that had not yet awakened to life. Swaminathan was puzzled to see his
father there. He wanted to know why he was doing such an extraordinary
thing as sitting by his side.
'Father,' he cried, looking at the figure.
'You will see your father presently. Don't worry,' said the figure and
put to him a few questions which would occur to any man with normal
curiosity. Swaminathan took such a long time to answer each question and
then it was all so incoherent and irrelevant that the stranger was first
amused, then irritated, and in the end gave up asking questions.
Swaminathan was considerably weakened by the number of problems that
beset him: Who was this man? Was he father? If he was not, why was he
there? Even if he was, why was he there? Who was he? What was he
saying? Why could he not utter his words louder and clearer?
This father-and-not-father person then left the room. He was Mr. M.
P. S. Nair, the District Forest Officer, just then camping near Mempi Forests.
He had been out in the forest the whole day and returned to the Travellers'
Bungalow only at seven in the evening. He had hardly rolled off his puttees
and taken off his heavy boots when he was told about the boy. After hours of
effort with food and medicine, the boy was revived. But what was the use?
He was not in a fit condition to give an account of himself. If the boy's
words were to be believed, he seemed to belong to some strange
unpronounceable place unknown to geographers.
Early next morning Mr. Nair found the boy already up and very
active. In the compound, the boy stood a few yards from a tree with a heap
of stones at his feet. He stooped, picked up a stone, backed a few yards, took
a few quick steps, stopped abruptly, and let the stone go at a particular point
on the tree-trunk. He repeated this like clock-work with stone after stone.
'Good morning, young man,' Mr. Nair said. 'How are you now?'
'I am grateful to you, sir, you have saved me from great trouble.'
'Oh, yes. . . . You are very busy?'
'I am taking practice, sir. We are playing a match against the Y.M.U.
and Rajam is depending upon me for bowling. They call me Tate. I have not
had practice at all—for—for a long time. I did a foolish thing in starting out
and missing practice with the match coming off on—What day is this, sir?'
'Why do you want to know?'
'Please tell me, sir. I want to know how many days more we have for
the match.'
'This is Sunday.'
'What? What?' Swaminathan stood petrified. Sunday! Sunday! He
gazed dully at the heap of stones at his feet. What is the matter?'
'The match is on Sunday,' Swaminathan stammered.
'What if it is? You have still a day before you. This is only Saturday.'
'You said it was Sunday, sir.'
'No. No. This is Saturday. See the calendar if you like.'
'But you said it was Sunday.'
'Probably a slip of the tongue.'
'Sir, will you see that I am somehow at the field before Sunday?'
'Certainly, this very evening. But you must tell me which your place is
and whose son you are.'

The Return
IT was three-thirty on Sunday afternoon. The match between the
M.C.C. and the Y.M.U. was still in progress. The Y.M.U. had won the toss,
and were all out for eighty-six at two o'clock. The captain's was the top
score, thirty-two. The M.C.C. had none to bowl him out, and he stood there
like an automaton, hitting right and left, tiring out all the bowlers.
He kept on for hours, and the next batsman was as formidable, though
not a scorer. He exhausted the M.C.C. of the little strength that was left, and
Rajam felt keenly the lack of a clever bowler.
After the interval the game started again at two-thirty, and for the hour
that the M.C.C. batted the score stood at the unimpressive figure of eight
with three out in quick succession. Rajam and Mani had not batted. Rajam
watched the game with the blackest heart and cursed heartily everybody
concerned. The match would positively close at five-thirty; just two hours
more, and would the remaining eight make up at least seventy-eight and
draw the match? It was a remote possibility. In his despair he felt that at
least six more would follow suit without raising the score even to twenty.
And then he and Mani would be left. And he had a wild momentary
hope that each might be able to get forty with a few judicious sixers and
He was squatting along with his players on the ground in the shade of
the compound wall.
'Raju, a minute, come here,', came a voice from above.
Rajam looked up and saw his father's head over the wall.
'Father, is it very urgent?'
'It is. I won't detain you for more than a minute.'
When he hopped over the wall and was at his father's side, he was
given a letter. He glanced through it, gave it back to his father, and said
casually, 'So he is safe and sound. I wonder what he is doing there.' He
ruminated for a second and turned to go.
'I am sending this letter to Swaminathan's father. He is sure to get a
car and rush to the place. I shall have to go with him. Would you like to
Rajam remained silent for a minute and said emphatically, 'No.'
'Don't you want to see your friend and bring him back?'
'I don't care,' Rajam said briefly, and joined his friends. He went back
to his seat in the shade of the wall. The fourth player was promising. Rajam
whispered to Mani, 'I say that boy is not bad. Six runs already! Good, good.'
'If these fellows make at least fifty we can manage the rest.'
Rajam nodded an assent, but an unnoticed corner of his mind began to
be busy with something other than the match. His father's news had stirred in
him a mixture of feelings. He felt an urgent desire to tell Mani what he had
just heard. 'Mani, you know Swami—' he said and stopped short because he
remembered that he was not interested in Swaminathan. Mani sprang up and
asked, 'What about Swami? What about him? Tell me, Rajam. Has he been
'I don't know.'
'Oh, Rajam, Rajam, you were about to say something about him.'
'Nothing. I don't care.'
Swaminathan had a sense of supreme well-being and security. He was
flattered by the number of visitors that were coming to see him. His granny
and mother were hovering round him ceaselessly, and it was with a sneaking
satisfaction that he saw his little brother crowing unheeded in the cradle, for
once overlooked and abandoned by everybody.
Many of father's friends came to see him and behaved more or less
alike. They stared at him with amusement and said how relieved they were
to have him back and asked some stereo typed questions and went away
after uttering one or two funny remarks. Father went out with one of his
friends. Before going, he said, 'Swami, I hope I shall not have to look for
you when I come back.' Swaminathan was hurt by this remark. He felt it to
be cruel and inconsiderate.
After his father left, he felt more free, free to lord over a mixed
gathering consisting of mother's and granny's friends and some old men who
were known to the family long before Swaminathan's father was bom.
Everybody gazed at Swaminathan and uttered loud remarks to his
face. Through all this crowd Swaminathan espied the cook and bestowed a
smile on him. Over the babble the cook uttered some irrelevant, happy
remark, which concluded with the hope that now father, mother and granny
might resume the practice of taking food. Swaminathan was about to shout
something in reply when his attention was diverted by the statement of a
widow, who, rolling her eyes and pointing heavenward, said that He alone
had saved the boy, and who could have foreseen that the Forest Officer
would be there to save the boy from die jaws of wild beasts?
Granny said that she would have to set about fulfilling the great
promises of offerings made to the Lord of the Seven
Hills to whom alone she owed the safe return of the child. Mother had
meanwhile disappeared into the kitchen and now came out with a tumbler of
hot coffee with plenty of sugar in it, and some steaming tiffin in a plate.
Swaminathan, quickly and with great relish, disposed of both. A mixed
fragrance, delicate and suggestive, came from the kitchen.
Swaminathan cast his mind back and felt ashamed of himself for his
conduct with the Forest Officer, when that harassed gentleman was waiting
for a reply from the Deputy Superintendent of Police, which took the form
of a taxi drawing up before the Travellers' Bungalow, disgorging father,
mother, Rajam's father, and an inspector of police. What a scene his mother
created when she saw him! He had at first feared that Rajam's father and the
inspector were going to handcuff him. What a fine man Rajam's father was!
And how extraordinarily kind his own father was! So much so that, five
minutes after meeting him, Swaminathan blurted out the whole story, from
his evasion of Drill Classes to his disappearance, without concealing a single
detail. What was there so funny in his narration? Everybody laughed
uproariously, and mother covered her face with the end of her sari and wiped
her eyes at the end of every fit of laughter. . . .
This retrospect was spoiled by one memory. He had forgotten to take
leave of the Forest Officer, though that gentleman opened the door of the car
and stood near it. Swaminathan's conscience scorched him at the recollection
of it.
A gulp came to his throat at the thought of the kindly District Forest
Officer, looking after the car speeding away from him, thoroughly brokenhearted
by the fact that a person whose life he had saved should be so
wicked as to go away without saying 'Good-bye.'
His further reflections on the subject and the quiet discussion among
the visitors about the possible dangers that might have befallen
Swaminathan, were all disturbed—destroyed, would be more accurate—by a
tornado-like personality sweeping into their midst with the tremendous
'What! Oh! Swami!' The visitors were only conscious of some
mingled shoutings and brisk movements and after that both Swaminathan
and Mani disappeared from the hall. As they came to a secluded spot in the
backyard, Mani said, 'I thought you were dead or some such thing.'
'I was, nearly.'
'What a fool you were to get frightened of that Head Master and run
away like that!’ Rajam told me everything.
I wanted to break your shoulders for not calling me when you had
come to our school and called Rajam. . . .'
'I had no time, Mani.'
'Oh, Swami. I am so glad to see you alive. I was—I was very much
troubled about you. Where were you all along?'
'I—I—I really can't say. I don't know where I was. Some- where—'
He recounted in this style his night of terrors and the subsequent events.
'Have I not always said that you were the worst coward I have ever
known? You would have got safely back home if you had kept your head
cool and followed the straight road.
‘You imagined all sorts of things.'
Swaminathan took this submissively and said, 'But I can't believe that
I was picked up by that cart-man. I don't remember it at all.'
Mani advised, 'If he happens to come to your place during Deepavali
or Pongal festival, don't behave like a niggard. He deserves a bag of gold. If
he had not cared to pick you up, you might have been eaten by a tiger.'
'And I have done another nasty thing,' Swaminathan said, 'I didn't
thank and say "Good-bye" to the Forest Officer before I came away. He was
standing near the car all the time.' 'If he was so near why did you seal your
'I didn't think of it till the car had come half-way.'
'You are a—a very careless fellow. You ought to have thanked him.'
'Now what shall I do? Shall I write to him?'
'Do. But do you know his address?'
'My father probably does.'
'What will you write?'
'Just tell him—I don't know. I shall have to ask father about it. Some
nice letter, you know. I owe him so much for bringing me back in time for
the match.'
'What are you saying?' Mani asked.
'Are you deaf? I was saying that I must ask father to write a nice letter,
that is all.'
'Not that. I heard something about the match. What is it?'
'Are you mad to think that you are in time for the match?' asked Mani.
He then related to Swaminathan the day's encounter with the Y.M.U. and the
depressing results, liberally explaining what Swaminathan's share was in the
collapse of the M.C.C.
'Why did you have it to-day?' Swaminathan asked weakly.
‘Why not?'
'But this is only Saturday.'
'Who said that?'
‘The Forest Officer said that this was only Saturday.’
'You may go and tell him that he is a blockhead,' Mani retorted.
Swaminathan persisted that it could not be Sunday, till Mani
threatened to throw him down, sit on his body, and press his entrails out.
Swaminathan remained in silence, and then said, 'I won't write him that
letter. He has deceived me.'
'The Forest Officer. . . . And what does Rajam say about me?'
'Rajam says a lot, which I don't wish to repeat. But I will tell you one
thing. Never appear before him. He will never speak to you. He may even
shoot you on sight.'
'What have I done?' asked Swaminathan.
'You have ruined the M.C.C. You need not have promised us, if you
had wanted to funk. At least you could have told us you were going away.
Why did you hide it from Rajam when you saw him at our school? That is
what Rajam wants to know.'
Swaminathan quietly wept, and begged Mani to pacify Rajam and
convey to him Swaminathan's love and explanations. Mani refused to
interfere, 'You don't know Rajam. He is a gem. But it is difficult to get on
with him.' With a forced optimism in his tone Swaminathan said,
'He will be all right when he sees me. I shall see him tomorrow
Mani wanted to change the topic, and asked: 'Are you going back to
'Yes, next week. My father has already seen the Head Master, and it
seems things will be all right in the school. He seems to have known
everything about the Board School business.'
‘Yes, I and Rajam told him everything.'
'After all, I shall have to go back to the Board High School. Father
says I can't change my school now.'

Parting Present
ON Tuesday morning, ten days later, Swaminathan rose from bed
with a great effort of will at five o'clock. There was still an hour for the train
to arrive at the Malgudi Station and leave it four minutes later, carrying
away Rajam, for ever.
Swaminathan had not known that this was to happen till Mani came
and told him, on the previous night at about ten, that Rajam's father was
transferred -to Trichinopoly and the whole family would be leaving Malgudi
on the following morning. Mani said that he had known it for about a week,
but Rajam had strictly forbidden him to say anything about it to
Swaminathan. But at the last moment Mani could not contain himself and
had violated Rajam's ban.
A great sense of desolation seized Swaminathan at once. The world
seemed to have become blank all of a sudden. The thought of Lawley
Extension without Rajam appalled him with its emptiness. He swore that he
would never go there again. He raved at Mani. And Mani bore it patiently.
Swaminathan could not think of a world without Rajam. What was he to do
in the evenings? How was he to spend the holiday afternoons? Whom was
he to think of as his friend?
At the same time he was filled with a sense of guilt: he had not gone
and seen Rajam even once after his return. Fear, shame, a feeling of
uncertainty, had made him postpone his visit to Rajam day after day. Twice
he had gone up to the gate of Rajam's house, but had turned back, his
courage and determination giving way at the last moment. He was in this
state, hoping to see Rajam every to-morrow, when Mani came to him with
the shattering news. Swaminathan wanted to rush up to Rajam's house that
very second and claim him once again. But—but—he felt awkward and
shirked. Tomorrow morning at the station. The train was leaving at six. He
would go to the station at five.
'Mani, will you call me at five to-morrow morning?'
'No. I am going to sleep in Rajam's house, and go with him to the
For a moment Swaminathan was filled with the darkest jealousy.
Mani to sleep in Rajam's house, keep him company till the last moment, talk
and laugh till midnight, and he to be excluded! He wanted to cling to Mani
desperately and stop his going.
When Mani left, Swaminathan went in, opened his dealwood box, and
stood gazing into it. He wanted to pick out something that could be
presented to Rajam on the following morning. The contents of the box were
a confused heap of odds and ends of all metals and materials. Here a
cardboard box that had once touched Swaminathan's fancy, and there a toy
watch, a catalogue, some picture books, nuts and bolts, disused insignificant
parts of defunct machinery, and so on to the brim. He rummaged in it for
half an hour, but there seemed to be nothing in it worth taking to Rajam. The
only decent object in it was a green engine given to him over a year ago by
Rajam. The sight of it, now dented and chipped in a couple of places and
lying between an empty thread-reel and a broken porcelain vase, stirred in
him vivid memories. He became maudlin. . . . He wondered if he would have
to return that engine to Rajam now that they were no longer friends. He
picked it up to take it with him to the station and return it to Rajam. On
second thoughts, he put it back, partly because he loved the engine very
much, partly because he told himself that it might be an insult to reject a
present after such a long time. . . . Rajam was a good reader, and
Swaminathan decided to give him a book. He could not obviously give him
any of the text-books. He took out the only book that he respected (as the
fact of his separating it from the text-books on his desk and giving it a place
in the dealwood box showed). It was a neat tiny volume of Andersen's Fairy
Tales that his father had bought in Madras years ago for him. He could never
get through the book to his satisfaction. There were too many unknown
unpronounceable English words in it. He would give this book to Rajam. He
went to his desk and wrote on the fly-leaf 'To my dearest friend Rajam'.
Malgudi Station was half dark when Swaminathan reached it with the
tiny volume of Andersen's Fairy Tales in his hand. The Station Master was
just out of bed and was working at the table with a kerosene light, not
minding in the least the telegraph keys that were tapping away endless
messages to the dawn.
A car drew up outside. Swaminathan saw Rajam, his father, mother,
someone he did not know, and Mani, getting down. Swaminathan shrank at
the sight of Rajam. All his determination oozed out as he saw the captain
approach the platform, dressed like a 'European boy'. His very dress and
tidiness made Swaminathan feel inferior and small. He shrank back and tried
to make himself inconspicuous.
Almost immediately, the platform officers and policemen. Rajam was
unapproachable. He was standing with his father in the middle of a cluster of
people in uniform. All that Swaminathan could see of Rajam was his left leg,
through a gap between two policemen. Even that was obstructed when the
policemen drew closer. Swaminathan went round, in search of further gaps.
The train was sighted. There was at once a great bustle.
The train hissed and boomed into the platform. The hustle and activity
increased. Rajam and his party moved to the edge of the platform. Things
were dragged and pushed into a Second Class compartment with desperate
haste by a dozen policemen. Rajam's mother got in. Rajam and his father
were standing outside the compartment. The police officers now barricaded
them completely, bidding them farewell and garlanding them. There was a
momentary glimpse of Rajam with a huge rose garland round his neck.
Swaminathan looked for, and found Mani. 'Mani, Rajam is going
'Yes, Swami, he is going away.'
'Mani, will Rajam speak to me?'
'Oh, yes. Why not?' asked Mani.
Now Rajam and his father had got into the compartment. The door
was closed and the door-handle turned.
'Mani, this book must be given to Rajam.' Swaminathan said. Mani
saw that there was no time to lose. The bell rang. They desperately pushed
their way through the crowd and stood under a window. Swaminathan could
hardly see anything above. His head hardly came up to the door-handle.
The crowd pressed from behind. Mani shouted into the compartment:
'Here is Swami to bid you good-bye.' Swaminathan stood on his toes. A head
leaned over the window and said: 'Good-bye, my Mani. Don't forget me.
Write to me.
'Good-bye friend. . . . Here is Swami,' Mani said. Rajam craned his
neck. Swaminathan's upturned eyes met his. At the sight of the familiar face
Swaminathan lost control of himself and cried: 'Oh, Rajam, Rajam, you are
going away, away. When will you come back?' Rajam kept looking at him
without a word and then (as it seemed to Swaminathan) opened his mouth to
say something, when everything was disturbed by the guard's blast and the
hoarse whistle of the engine. There was a slight rattling of chains, a
tremendous hissing, and the train began to move. Rajam's face, with the
words still unuttered on his lips, receded. Swaminathan became desperate
and blurted: 'Oh, Mani! This book must be given to him,' and pressed the
book into Mani's hand. Mani ran along the platform with the train and
shouted over the noise of the train: 'Good-bye, Rajam. Swami gives you this
book.' Rajam held out his hand for the book, and took it, and waved a
farewell. Swaminathan waved back frantically.
Swaminathan and Mani stood as if glued, where they were, and
watched the train. The small red lamp of the last van could be seen for a long
time, it diminished in size every minute, and disappeared around a bend. All
the jarring, raiding, clanking, spurting, and hissing of the moving train
softened in the distance into something that was half a sob and half a sigh.
Swaminathan said: 'Mani, I am glad he has taken the book. Mani, he waved
to me. He was about to say something when the train started. Mani, he did
wave to me and to me alone. Don't deny it.'
'Yes, yes,' Mani agreed.
Swaminathan broke down and sobbed.
Mani said: 'Don't be foolish, Swami.'
'Does he ever think of me now?' Swaminathan asked hysterically.
'Oh, yes,' said Mani. He paused and added: 'Don't worry.
If he has not talked to you, he will write to you.' What do you mean?'
'He told me so,' Mani said.
'But he does not know my address.'
'He asked me, and I have given it,' said Mani.
'No. No. It is a lie. Come on, tell me, what is my address?'
'It is—it is—never mind what.... I have given it to Rajam.'
Swaminathan looked up and gazed on Mani's face to find out whether
Mani was joking or was in earnest. But for once Mani's face had become

No comments:

Post a Comment