Monday, February 16, 2009

Malgudi days

A Friend in Need

ONE AFTERNOON three weeks later, Swaminathan stood before
Mani's house and gave a low whistle. Mani joined him. They started for
Rajam's house, speculating on the way what the surprise (which Rajam had
said he would give them if they saw him that afternoon) might be.
'I think,' said Swaminathan, 'Rajam is merely joking. It is merely a
trick to get us to his house.' He was very nearly pushed into a gutter for this
'Probably he has bought a monkey or something,' Swaminathan
ventured again. Mani was gracious enough to admit that it might be so. They
thought of all possible subjects that might surprise them, and gave up the
attempt in the end.
Their thoughts turned to their enemies. 'You know what I am going to
do?' Mani asked. 'I am going to break Somu's waist. I know where he lives.
He lives in Kabir Street, behind the market. I have often seen him coming
out at nights to a shop in the market for betel leaves. I shall first fling a stone
at the municipal lamp and put it out. You have no idea how dark Kabir
Street is. ... I shall wait with my club, and as soon as he appears— He will
sprawl in the dust with broken bones. . . .' Swaminathan shuddered at the
thought. 'And that is not all,' said Mani, 'I am going to get that Pea under by
heel and press him to the earth. And Sankar is going to hang by his tuft over
Sarayu, from a peepul branch... .'
They stopped talking when they reached Rajam's house. The gate was
bolted, and they got up the wall and jumped in. A servant came running
towards them. He asked, 'Why, did you climb the wall?' ;
'Is the wall your property?' Mani asked and burst into laughter.
'But if you had broken your ribs—' the servant began.
'What is that to you? Your ribs are safe, are they not?'
Swaminathan asked ungraciously and laughed.
'And just a word more,' Mani said, 'do you happen to be by any
chance the Police Superintendent's son?'
'No, no,' replied the servant.
'Very well then,' replied Mani, 'we have come to see and talk to the
Police Superintendent's son.' The servant beat a hasty retreat.
They banged their fists on Rajam's door. They heard the clicking of
the latch and hid themselves behind the pillar.
Rajam peeped out and shut the door again.
They came out, stood before the door, and wondered what to do.
Swaminathan applied his mouth to the keyhole and mewed like a cat. Mani
pulled him away and putting his mouth to the hole barked like a dog. The
latch clicked again, and the door slightly opened. Mani whispered to
Swaminathan, 'You are a blind kitten, I will be a blind puppy.'
Mani fell down on his knees and hands, shut his eyes tight, pushed the
door with his head, and entered Rajam's room in the role of a blind puppy.
Swaminathan crawled behind him with shut eyes, mewing for all he was
worth. They moved round and round the room, Rajam adding to the interest
of the game by mewing and barking in answer every few seconds. The blind
puppy brushed its side against a leg, and thinking that it belonged to Rajam,
softly bit the calf muscle. Imagine its confusion when it opened its eyes and
saw that it was biting its enemy, Somu! the blind kitten nestled close to a leg
and scratched it with its paw. Opening its eyes it found that it was fondling a
leg that belonged to its enemy, Sankar.
Mani remained stunned for a moment, and then scrambled to his feet.
He looked around, his face twitching with shame and rage. He saw the Pea
sitting in a corner, his eyes twinkling with mischief, and felt impelled to take
him by the throat. He turned round and saw Rajam regarding him steadily,
his mouth still quivering with a smothered grin.
As for Swaminathan he felt that the best place for himself would be
the darkness and obscurity under a table or a chair.
'What do you mean by this, Rajam?' Mani asked.
'Why are you so wild?'
'It was your fault,' said Mani vehemently, 'I didn't know—' He looked
'Well, well. I didn't ask you to crawl and bark, did I?'
Somu and company laughed. Mani glared round, 'I am going away,
Rajam. This is not the place for me.'
Rajam replied, 'You may go away, if you don't want me to see you or
speak to you any more.'
Mani fidgeted uneasily. Rajam took him aside and soothed him.
Rajam then turned to Swaminathan, who was lost in bottomless misery. He
comforted and flattered him by saying that it was the best imitation of a cat
and dog that he had ever witnessed in his life. He admitted that for a few
minutes he wondered whether he was watching a real cat and a dog. They
would get prizes if they did it in fairs. If Swaminathan and Mani would be
good enough to repeat the fun, he would be delighted, and even ask his
father to come and watch.
This was soothing. Swaminathan and Mani felt proud of themselves.
And after the round of eating that followed, they were perfectly happy,
except when they thought of the other three in the room.
They were in this state of mind when Rajam began a lecture on
friendship. He said impressive things about friendship, quoting from his
book the story of the dying old man and the faggots, which proved that
union was strength. A friend in need was a friend indeed. He then started
giving hair-raising accounts of what hell had in store for persons who
fostered enmity. According to Rajam, it was written in the Vedas that a
person who fostered enmity should be locked up in a small room, after his
death. He would be made to stand, stark naked, on a pedestal of red-hot iron,
there were beehives all around with bees as big as lemons.
If the sinner stepped down from the pedestal, he would have to put his
foot on immense scorpions and centipedes that crawled about the room in
(A shudder went through the company.)
—The sinner would have to stand thus for a month, without food or
sleep. At the end of a month he would be transferred to another place, a very
narrow bridge over a lake of boiling oil. The bridge was so narrow that he
would be able to keep only one foot on it at a time. Even on the narrow
bridge there were plenty of wasp nests and cactus, and he would be goaded
from behind to move on. He would have to balance on one foot, and then on
another, for ages and ages, to keep himself from falling into the steaming
lake below, and move on indefinitely. . . .
The company was greatly impressed. Rajam then invited everyone to
come forward and say that they would have no more enemies. If Sankar said
it, he would get a bound note-book; if Swaminathan said it, he would get a
clock-work engine; if Somu said it, he would get a belt; and if Mani said it,
he would get a nice pocket-knife; and the Pea would get a marvellous little
He threw open the cupboard and displayed the prizes. There was
silence for some time as each sat gnawing his nails. Rajam was sweating
with his peace-making efforts. The Pea was the first to rise. He stood before
the cup- board and said, 'Let me see the fountain-pen.' Rajam gave it him.
The Pea turned it round and round and gave it back without any comment.
'Why don't you like it?' Rajam asked. The Pea kept staring into the cupboard
and said, 'Can I have that box?' He pointed at a tiny box with a lot of yellow
and black designs on it and a miniature Taj Mahal on its lid. Rajam said, 'I
can't give you that. I want it.' He paused.
He had two more boxes like that in his trunk. He changed his mind,
'No. I don't want it. You can take the box if you like.'
In a short while, Mani was sharpening a knife on his palm; Somu was
trying a belt on; Sankar was fingering a thick bound note-book; and
Swaminathan was jealously clasping a green engine to his bosom.

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