Monday, February 16, 2009

Malgudi days

Rajam and Mani

RIVER SARAYU was the pride of Malgudi. It was some ten minutes
walk from Ellaman Street, the last street of the town, chiefly occupied by
oilmongers. Its sand-banks were the evening resort of all the people of the
town. The Municipal President took any distinguished visitor to the top of
the Town Hall and proudly pointed to him Sarayu in moonlight, glistening
like a silver belt across the North.
The usual evening crowd was on the sand. Swaminathan and Mani sat
aloof on a river-step, with their legs dangling in water. The peepul branches
overhanging the river rustled pleasantly. A light breeze played about the
boughs and scattered stray leaves on the gliding stream below. Birds filled
the air with their cries. Far away, near Nallappa's Mango Grove, a little
downstream, a herd of cattle was crossing the river. And then a country cart
drawn by bullocks passed, the cart-man humming a low tune. It was some
fifteen minutes past sunset and there was a soft red in the West.
'The water runs very deep here, doesn't it?' Mani asked.
'Yes, why?'
'I am going to bring Rajam here, bundle him up, and throw him into
the river.'
Rajam was a fresh arrival in the First A. He had sauntered into the
class on the reopening day of the Second Term, walked up to the last bench,
sat beside Mani, and felt very comfortable indeed till Mani gave him a jab in
the ribs, which he returned. He had impressed the whole class on the very
first day. He was a new-comer; he dressed very well—he was the only boy
in the class who wore socks and shoes, fur cap and tie, and a wonderful coat
and knickers.
He came to the school in a car. As well as all this, he proved to be a
very good student too. There were vague rumours that he had come from
some English boys' school somewhere in Madras. He spoke very good
English, 'Exactly like a "European"'; which meant that few in the school
could make out what he said. Many of his class-mates could not trust
themselves to speak to him, their fund of broken English being small. Only
Sankar, the genius of the class, had the courage to face him, though his
English sounded halting and weak before that of Rajam.
This Rajam was a rival to Mani. In his manner to Mani he assumed a
certain nonchalance to which Mani was not accustomed. If Mani jabbed,
Rajam jabbed; if Mani clouted, he clouted; if Mani kicked, he kicked. If
Mani was the overlord of the class, Rajam seemed to be nothing less.
And add to all this the fact that Rajam was a regular seventy
percenter, second only to Sankar. There were sure indications that Rajam
was the new power in the class. Day by day as Mani looked on, it was
becoming increasingly clear that a new menace had appeared in his life.
All this lay behind his decision on the river-step to bundle up Rajam
and throw him into the river. Swaminathan expressed a slight fear: "You
forget that his father is the police superintendent.' Mani remained silent for a
while and said, What do I care? Some night I am going to crack his
shoulders with my clubs.'
'If I were you, I would keep out of the way of policemen. They are an
awful lot,' said Swaminathan.
'If you were me! Huh! But thank God I am not you, a milk-toothed
coward like you.'
Swaminathan bit his lips and sighed.
'And that reminds me,' said the other, 'you are in need of a little
warning. I find you hanging about that Rajam a bit too much. Well, have a
care for your limbs. That is all I can say.'
Swaminathan broke into loud protestations. Did Mani think that
Swaminathan could respect anyone but him, Mani the dear old friend and
guide? What made him think so? As far as Swaminathan could remember,
he had never been within three yards of Rajam. Oh, how he hated him!
That vile upstart! When had Mani seen him with Rajam? Oh, yes, it
must have been during the Drawing period on Monday. It was Rajam who
had come and talked to him in spite of the cold face that Swaminathan had
turned to him.
That ass had wanted a pencil sharpener, which he did not get, as he
was promptly directed to go to a shop and buy it if he needed it so urgently.
Oh, there was no comparison between Rajam and Mani.
This pleased Mani greatly. For the first time that evening he laughed,
and laughed heartily too. He shook Swaminathan and gave such an
affectionate twist to his ear that Swaminathan gave a long howl. And then he
suddenly asked, 'Did you bring the thing that I wanted?'
'Oh, Mani! I beg a hundred pardons of you. My mother was all the
time in the kitchen. I could not get it.' ('It' referred to lime pickles.)
'You are a nasty little coward— Oh, this riverbank and the fine
evening. How splendid it would have been! ...'
Swaminathan was to act as a cord of communication between Rajam
and Mani. They were sitting in the last bench with their backs against the
yellow wall. Swaminathan sat between Rajam and Mani. Their books were
before them on the desks; but their minds were busy.
Mani wrote on a piece of paper 'Are you a man?' and gave it to
Swaminathan, who pushed it across to Rajam, putting on as offensive a look
as possible. Rajam read it, crumpled it, and threw it away. At which Mani
wrote another note repeating the question, with the addition 'You are the son
of a dog if you don't answer this,' and pushed it across. Rajam hissed into
Swaminathan's face, 'You scoundrel, don't disturb me,' and crumpled the
Further progress was stopped.
'Swaminathan, stand up,' said the teacher. Swaminathan stood up
'What is Lisbon famous for?' asked the teacher.
Swaminathan hesitated and ventured, 'For being the capital of Spain.'
The teacher bit his moustache and fired a second question, 'What do
you know about the Indian climate?'
'It is hot in summer and cold in winter.'
'Stand up on the bench!' roared the teacher. And Swaminathan stood
up without a protest. He was glad that he was given this supposedly
degrading punishment instead of the cane.
The teacher resumed his lessons: Africa was a land of forests., Nile
was the most important river there. Did they understand? What did he say?
He selected someone from the first bench to answer this question. (Nile was
the most important river in Africa, the boy answered promptly, and the
teacher was satisfied.) What was Nile? (The most important river in Africa,
a boy answered with alacrity and was instantly snubbed for it, for he had to
learn not to answer before he was asked to.) Silence. Silence. Why was there
such a lot of noise in the class? Let them go on making & noise and they
would get a clean, big zero in the examination. He would see to that.
Swaminathan paid no attention to the rest of the lessons. His mind
began to wander. Standing on the bench, he stood well over the whole class.
He could see so many heads, and he classified them according to the caps:
there were four red caps, twenty-five Gandhi caps, ten fur caps, and so on.
When the work for the day was over, Swaminathan, Mani, and Rajam,
adjourned to a secluded spot to say what was in their minds. Swaminathan
stood between them and acted as the medium of communication. They were
so close that they could have heard each other even if they had spoken in
whispers. But it was a matter of form between enemies to communicate
through a medium. Mani faced Swaminathan steadily and asked, 'Are you a
Swaminathan turned to Rajam and repeated, 'Are you a man?'
Rajam flared up and shouted, 'Which dog doubts it?'
Swaminathan turned to Mani and said ferociously, 'Which dirty dog
doubts it?'
'Have you the courage to prove that you are a man?' asked Mani.
Swaminathan turned to Rajam and repeated it.
'How?' repeated Swaminathan to Mani.
'Meet me at the river, near Nallappa's Grove, to-morrow evening.'
'Near Nallappa's Grove,' Swaminathan was pleased to echo.
'What for?' asked Rajam.
To see if you can break my head.'
'Oh, to pieces,' said Rajam.
Swaminathan's services were dispensed with. They gave him no time
to repeat their words. Rajam shouted in one ear, and Mani in the other.
'So we may expect you at the river to-morrow,' said Swaminathan.
'Yes,' Rajam assured them.
Mani wanted to know if the ether would come with guards. No, he
would not. And Mani voiced another doubt:
'If anything happens to you, will you promise to keep it out of your
father's knowledge?' Rajam promised, after repudiating the very suggestion
that he might act otherwise.
Nallappa's Grove stood a few yards before them. It was past six and
the traffic for the day between the banks was over. The usual evening crowd
was far behind them. Swaminathan and Mani were squatting on the sand.
They were silent. Mani was staring at the ground, with a small wooden club
under his arm. He was thinking: he was going to break Rajam's head in a
short while and throw his body into the river. But if it should be recovered?
But then how could they know that he had done it? But if Rajam should
come and trouble him at night as a spirit? Since his grandfather's death, he
was sleeping alone. What if Rajam should come and pull his hair at night?
After all it would be better not to kill him. He would content himself with
breaking his limbs and leaving him to his fate. If he should batter his head,
who was going to find it out? Unless of course— He cast a sly look at
Swaminathan, who was blinking innocently. . . .
Unless of course Swaminathan informed the police.
At the sound of the creaking of boots, they turned and found that
Rajam had come. He was dressed in khaki, and carried under his arm an airgun
that was given to him a couple of months ago on his birthday. He stood
very stiff and said: 'Here I am, ready.'
'You are late.'
'We will start.'
Rajam shouldered his gun and fired a shot in the air. Mani was
startled. He stood still, his club down.
'You heard the shot?' asked Rajam. The next is going to be into your
body, if you are keen upon a fight.'
'But this is unfair. I have no gun while you have. ... It was to be a
hand-to-hand fight.'
Then, why have you brought your club? You never said anything
about it yesterday.'
Mani hung down his head.
'What have I done to offend you?' asked Rajam.
'You called me a sneak before someone.'
‘That is a lie.'
There was an awkward pause. 'If this is all the cause of your anger,
forget it. I won't mind being friends.'
'Nor I,' said Mani.
Swaminathan gasped with astonishment. In spite of his posing before
Mani, he admired Rajam intensely, and longed to be his friend. Now this
was the happiest conclusion to all the unwanted trouble. He danced with joy.
Rajam lowered his gun, and Mani dropped his club. To show his
goodwill, Rajam pulled out of his pocket half a dozen biscuits.
The river's mild rumble, the rustling of the peeyul leaves, the halflight
of the late evening, and the three friends eating, and glowing with new
friendship—Swaminathan felt at perfect peace with the world.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,..... This story is in my english book this story is mind blowing it's true