"You know why I am here?" asked the headmaster... "I am here to look after you," said the headmaster... "you must come to me if you want any help, before you go to your father." Swaminathan furtively glanced at Ebenezar, who writhed in his chair.
In this passage, the headmaster of the Albert Mission School responds to a grievance launched by Swami's father of abuse that he had suffered under one of his teachers, Dr. Ebenezar, who teaches scripture. The headmaster intervenes in the classroom and brings Swami to his office and asks him, "Do you know why I am here?" and answers his own question, saying, "I am here to look after you." He establishes himself as a figure whose relationship to Swami as student even supercedes that of his father—the care, and implicit authority, of the headmaster becomes totalizing, eclipsing even the importance of family. The headmaster establishes the role of the school as one of ultimate power, both to discipline and denigrate its students, and to manage how "care" is meted out in response.
In the ill-ventilated dark passage between the front hall and the dining room, Swaminathan's grandmother lived with all her belongings, which consisted of an elaborate bed made of five carpets, three bed sheets, and five pillows, a square box made of jute fiber, and small wooden box containing copper coins, cardamoms, cloves and areca nut.
Swami's grandmother is introduced not by a description of her appearance, personality, or life story, but through the physical objects and space that she inhabits. She appears to live in a marginalized and ignoble part of the house—" ill-ventilated and dark"—and is surrounded by a multitude of her belongings, most of which are furniture and a box of coins and spices. The solidity and stagnancy of the objects are part of her characterization, and she appears throughout the novel to be a figure of stability and tradition, a calm figure for the always frenetic Swami.
Mother had been abed for two days past. Swmainathan missed her very much in the kitchen, and felt uncomfortable without her attentions.
Unlike his father, a figure of authority and discipline over Swami, his mother is a figure of comfort, domesticity, and attention. When she is bedridden, pregnant with his little brother, he sulks and feels abandoned by his mother, becoming cold, reserved, and disheveled without her attentions.
He opened the political map of Europe and sat gazing at it. It puzzled him how people managed to live in such a crooked country as Europe. He wondered what the shape of the people might be who lived in places where the outline narrowed as in a cape, and how they managed to escape being strangled by the contour of their land. And then another favourite problem began to tease him: how did those map makers find out what the shape of a country was?
Swami pondering a political map of Europe is one of the instances when his boyhood self wanders into the realm of global politics and where his innocence ironically removes us from the text. Swami, ignorant of how maps function as two-dimensional, miniature representations of the earth, asks questions about the map that take it literally at face value. His naive wonder forces the reader to approach at a remove and wonder about the technology of mapmaking—what they are for, how they represent land as a political entity, and more. The irony of the passage also makes us wonder why Swami is required to study a map of Europe rather than a map of the place in which he lives, Malgudi, or even India at large. The presence of the map associates political power with Europe and Malgudi with a religious, mythical dimension.
River Sarayu was the pride of Malgudi. It was some ten minutes' walk from Ellamen Street, the last street of the town, chiefly occupied by oilmongers. Its sandbanks 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.
This passage helps establish the world of Malgudi and offers the river as an orientating geographic and social landmark. The river is understood to be a democratic and unifying feature of the town and that gives it a coherent profile. The spatial details and the details of tourism blend together naturalism and human activity to give a harmonious image of Malgudi.
Every pore in Swaminathan's body burnt with the touch of the cane. He had a sudden flood of courage, the courage that comes of desperation. He restrained the tears that were threatening to rush out, jumped down, and, grasping his books, rushed out muttering, "I don't care for your dirty school."
The passage represents a breaking point in which Swami, unable to withstand the physical abuse of his headmaster, expels himself from the school. The physical beating is an overt distillation of the often painful discipline by the school. Its oppressiveness becomes too much for Swami to take, forcing him to expel himself in a desperate attempt to find freedom.
Swaminathan quailed with shame. "Oh, I didn't notice," he said, and removing his cap flung it into the fire with a feeling that he was saving the country.
This line brings youthful boyhood and the nationalist freedom movement together in a single action of throwing away the cap. The throwing of the cap, while wholly insignificant in the larger scheme of things, and actually prompted by a misunderstanding (since his father later reveals to him that his cap is actually khaddar, meaning made from Indian cloth), evinces the kind of huge symbolism and feeling that animates even the smallest gestures. Boyhood is a scale through which adult life gets rehearsed and gradually understood, and with that little gesture of a cap throwing, Swami is dipping his toes into the waters of nationalism.
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.
Swami is excited about his new cricket team and bursting to tell granny about his new position as the "Tate" in the team, but granny does not know what the sport cricket is, nor who "Tate," referring to the English cricketeer, is. Cricket is a British colonial export, and thus granny is less accustomed or assimilated into colonial norms in the way that Swami is. His reaction in her "appalling ignorance" and "stagnating" and the sense of "duty to save her" reeks of the idea of the white man's burden and the paternalistic rhetoric that Britain demonstrated toward its colonized people. In this case, the paternalism of colonialism has made Swami esteem cricket as a sport aligned with knowledge and progress, and his granny, by not knowing cricket, with stagnancy and ignorance. His talking down to granny evinces the softer ways that colonialism manifests even in the supposed innocence of boyhood.
The M.C.C. and its organizers 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.
This passage represents the recognition and affirmation of the boys' collective status as a team. This brings them together through the luster of prestige represented by the envelope and the title of "captain."
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.
Escape does not mean freedom; instead escaping the Albert Mission School and now the Board High School has made Swami feel more isolated than ever before. Unbridling himself from these oppressive institutions does not bring him the joy of freedom, but strikes him deep with a sense of self-disgust and the isolation of an outcast. Social status and belonging are revealed as architectural.
Swami and Friends Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Swami and Friends is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.