Monday, February 16, 2009

Malgudi days

Father’s Room

IT WAS Saturday and Rajam had promised to come in the afternoon.
Swaminathan was greatly excited. Where was he to entertain him? Probably
in his own 'room'; but his father often came in to dress and undress. No, he
would be at Court, Swaminathan reminded himself with relief. He cleaned
his table and arranged his books so neatly that his father was surprised and
had a good word to say about it.
Swaminathan went to his grandmother. 'Granny,' he said,
'I have talked to you about Rajam, haven't I?
‘Yes. That boy who is very strong but never passes his examination.'
'No. No. That is Mani.'
'Oh, now I remember, it is a boy who is called the Gram or something,
that witty little boy.'
Swaminathan made a gesture of despair. 'Look here granny, you are
again mistaking the Pea for him. I mean Rajam, who has killed tigers, whose
father is the Police Superintendent, and who is great.'
'Oh,' granny cried, 'that boy, is he coming here? I am so glad.'
'H'm. . . . But I have got to tell you—'
'Will you bring him to me? I want to see him.'
'Let us see,' Swaminathan said vaguely, 'I can't promise. But I have
got to tell you, when he is with me, you must not call me or come to my
'Why so?' asked granny.
'The fact is—you are, well you are too old,' said Swaminathan with
brutal candour. Granny accepted her lot cheerfully.
That he must give his friend something very nice to eat, haunted his
mind. He went to his mother, who was squatting before a cutter with a
bundle of plantain leaves beside her. He sat before her, nervously crushing a
piece of leaf this way and that, and tearing it to minute bits.
'Don't throw all those bits on the floor. I simply can't sweep the floor
any more,' she said.
'Mother, what are you preparing for the afternoon tiffin?'
'Time enough to think of it,' said mother.
'You had better prepare something very nice, something fine and
sweet. Rajam is coming this afternoon. Don't make the sort of coffee that
you usually give me. It must be very good and hot.' He remembered how in
Rajam's house everything was brought to the room by the cook. 'Mother,
would you mind if I don't come here for coffee and tiffin? Can you send it to
my room?' He turned to the cook and said: 'Look here you can't come to my
room in that dhoti. You will have to wear a clean, white dhoti and shirt.'
After a while he said: 'Mother, can you ask father to lend me his room for
just an hour or two?' She said that she could not as she was very busy. Why
could he himself not go and ask?
'Oh, he will give more readily if you ask,' said Swaminathan.
He went to his father and said: 'Father, I want to ask you something.'
Father looked up from the papers over which he was bent.
'Father, I want your room.'
'What for?'
'I have to receive a friend,' Swaminathan replied.
'You have your own room,' father said.
'I can't show it to Rajam.'
‘Who is this Rajam, such a big man?'
'He is the Police Superintendent's son. He is—he is not ordinary.'
'I see. Oh! Yes, you can have my room, but be sure not to mess up the
things on the table.'
'Oh, I will be very careful. You are a nice father, father.'
Father guffawed and said: 'Now run in, boy, and sit at your books.'
Rajam's visit went off much more smoothly that Swaminathan had
anticipated. Father had left his room open; mother had prepared some
marvel with wheat, plum, and sugar. Coffee was really good. Granny had
kept her promise and did not show her senile self to Rajam. Swaminathan
was only sorry that the cook did not change his dhoti.
Swaminathan seated Rajam in his father's revolving chair. It was
nearly three hours since he had come. They had talked out all subjects—
Mani, Ebenezar, trains, tiger-hunting, police, and ghosts.
Which is your room?' Rajam asked.
Swaminathan replied with a grave face: This is my room,why?'
Rajam took time to swallow this. 'Do you read such books?' he asked,
eyeing the big gilt-edged law books on the table. Swaminathan was
Rajam made matters worse with another question.
'But where are your books?' There was just a flicker of a smile on his
'The fact is,' said Swaminathan, 'this table belongs to my father. When
I am out, he meets his clients in this room.'
'But where do you keep your books?'
Swaminathan made desperate attempts to change the topic: 'You have
seen my grandmother, Rajam?'
'No. Will you show her to me? I should love to see her’ replied Rajam.
'Wait a minute then,' said Swaminathan and ran out.
He had one last hope that his granny might be asleep. It was infinitely
safer to show one's friends a sleeping granny.
He saw her sitting on her bed complacently. He was disappointed. He
stood staring at her, lost in thought.
'What is it, boy?' granny asked, 'Do you want anything?'
'No. Aren't you asleep? Granny,' he said a few minutes later, 'I have
brought Rajam to see you.'
'Have you?' cried granny, 'Come nearer, Rajam. I can't see your face
well. You know I am old and blind.'
Swaminathan was furious and muttered under his breath that his
granny had no business to talk all this drivel to Rajam.
Rajam sat on her bed. Granny stroked his hair and said that he had
fine soft hair, though it was really short and prickly. Granny asked what his
mother's name was, and how many children she had. She then asked if she
had many jewels. Rajam replied that his mother had a black trunk filled with
jewels, and a green one containing gold and silver vessels. Rajam then
described to her Madras, its light house, its sea, its trams and buses, and its
cinemas. Every item made granny gasp with wonder.
When Swaminathan entered the class, a giggle went round the
benches. He walked to his seat hoping that he might not be the cause of the
giggling. But it continued. He looked about. His eyes travelled up to the
black-board. His face burnt red. On the board was written in huge letters
'TAIL'. Swaminathan walked to the black-board and rubbed it off with his
hands. He turned and saw Sankar's head bent over his note-book, and the
Pea was busy, unpacking his satchel. Without a word Swaminathan
approached the Pea and gave him a fierce slap on his cheek. The Pea burst
into tears and swore that he did not do it. He cast a sly look at Sankar, who
was absorbed in some work. Swaminathan turned to him and slapped his
face also.
Soon there was pandemonium, Sankar, Swaminathan, and the Pea,
rolling over, tearing, scratching, and kicking one another. The bell rang.
Rajam, Somu, and Mani entered. The teacher came in and stood aghast. He
could do little more than look on and ejaculate. He was the old Tamil Pundit,
the most helpless teacher in the school.
Somu and Mani parted the fighters. The teacher ascended the platform
and took his seat. The class settled down. Somu got up and said: 'Sir, please
let us go out. We do not want to disturb the class.' The teacher demurred; but
already Mani had gone out, pushing Swaminathan and the Pea before him.
Somu followed him with Sankar.
They came to a lonely spot in the field adjoining the school. There
was tense silence for a while, and Mani broke it: "What is wrong with you,
you little rogues?' Three started to speak at once. Swaminathan's voice was
the loud- protest: 'He—the Pea— wrote TAIL—Big Tail—on the Blackboard—
'No—I didn't, you—' screamed the Pea.
The other two wrote it,' cried Swaminathan pointing at Sankar.
'Rascal! Did you see me?' howled Sankar.
Mani covered their mouths with his hands. 'What is a tail, anyway?' he
asked, not having been told anything about it till then.
'They call me Rajam's tail,' sobbed Swaminathan.
A frozen expression came over Mani's face, and he asked,
'And who dares to talk of Rajam here?'
'Oh, dare!' repeated Somu.
'If any of you fellows have done it—' growled Mani, looking at the
trembling Sankar and the Pea.
'If they have, what can you do?' asked Somu with a contemptuous
'What do you mean, Somu, what do you mean?'
'Look here, Mani,' Somu cried, 'for a long time I have been waiting to
tell you this: you think too much of yourself and your powers.' Mani swung
his hand and brought it down on Somu's nape. Somu pushed it away with a
heavy blow. Mani aimed a kick at Somu, which would send him rolling.
Somu stepped aside and delivered one himself, which nearly bent the other.
The three youngsters could hardly believe their eyes. Somu and Mani
fighting! They lost their heads. They thought that Somu and Mani were
killing each other. They looked accusingly at one another, and then ran
towards the school.
They burst in upon the Head Master, who gathered from them with
difficulty that in the adjacent field two murders were being committed at that
very moment. He was disposed to laugh at first. But the excitement and
seriousness on the boy's faces made him check his laughter and scratch his
chin. He called a peon and with him set off to the field.
The fighters, rolling and rolling, were everywhere in the field. The
Head Master and the peon easily picked them apart, much to the
astonishment of Swaminathan, who had thought till then that the strength
that Somu or Mani possessed was not possessed by anyone else in the world.

No comments:

Post a Comment