Swami and Friends

Swami and Friends Summary and Analysis of Chapters 10-12


In the next chapter, Swami reflects on the different levels of friendships. He concedes that his attachment to Somu, Sankar, and the Pea is wholly dependent on school and that when school ends, so does their desire for each other’s company. His attachment to Mani and Rajam, however, is more “human,” and now that school is over, they are always together. Swami desperately wants a hoop to play with; he dreams about it day and night. Out of desperation, he tells a coachman, who convinces him that he could find the requisite amount if he were to first give him six rupees.

He gives an elaborate plan of minting currency that would allow him to convert six paise to rupees, which Swami believes. Swami goes off in search of six paise, begging his family for the money. No one obliges, however, so he takes two pebbles and prays to the gods to convert them into money, but to no avail. He eventually gives the money to the coachman, but realizes that he has been swindled when the coachman continually dodges him. Down to his final straw, he asks Rajam for help from the police.

Rajam hatches a plan to get his friend’s money back by kidnapping the coachman’s son, which they rope Mani to help enforce, but Swami begins to have misgivings. He lies that the coachman’s son has returned the money and then pleads with Mani to not go through with the plan out of fear of how the coachman’s son might react, but they follow through with the plan. Swami follows Mani to the coachman’s house, and they get into a fight, with Mani attempting to strangle Swami, who starts to cry. A crowd assembles around them, and then the coachman’s son emerges. Mani tries to get him to follow them by promising him a top, but the boy hoodwinks them, taking the top and disappearing into the house. They knock on the house and a surly man appears and says that the boy is not there. The neighbors begin throwing stones at the two boys due to the disturbance that they’re causing and they run away.

The narrative returns to a description of Malgudi and its intense summertime heat. Swami, Mani, and Rajam, who have firmly coalesced into a trio now, are unbothered by the heat, however, and continue their afternoon rambles. Swami’s father is concerned that Swami is frittering away his break time playing and not studying, so he forces Swami to return to clean his books and start studying. He forces Swami to work on an arithmetic problem, but Swami is too distracted, thinking about mangos, and tries to give up. However, his father questions him further to make him finally solve the problem. After a half hour of agony, Swami finally solves the math problem and bursts into tears. Swami’s father feels bad for pushing his son to tears, so he invites him to come with him to the club, which Swami eagerly accepts. He gets his cap and coat and enjoys watching his father play tennis, convinced that he is the best player and gaining a sense of his own-self importance. To his astonishment, he spots the coachman’s son at the club, who takes out his pocket knife and grins maliciously at him. Seized with fear, he tries to avoid the coachman’s son and stick with his father at all times without drawing enough attention to have to explain. Finally, his father and him get in the car and drive away, and only then does Swami breathe easily.

The next chapter, entitled “Broken Panes,” announces the date: the 15th of August in 1930. In doing so, the novel pans out beyond the private life of Swami and even the provincial life of Malgudi, entering the scale of the global, connected by the calendar. The date marks a day of protest against the arrest of Gauri Sankar, a prominent political worker in Bombay. Swami listens to a speech on how Indians have been reduced to “slaves” and have forgotten their glorious civilizations that they come from—of Ramayana and Mahabharata—and how far they have fallen now under British colonial rule. He blames the disciplining of Indians to the colonial bureaucracy. Swami is deeply stirred by the speaker’s eloquence, shouting “Gandhi ki Jai,” roughly translating to “Victory for Gandhi.” For the rest of the evening, Swami thinks about the political speech and becomes politicized, resolving to boycott English goods and only wear khaddar, or Indian homespun cloth. Mani examines Swami’s own coat and declares that it is Lancashire cloth. The crowd remains riled up and bursts out in nationalistic slogans and songs. Someone accuses Swami of wearing a foreign cap, and Swami quails in shame, ultimately flinging it into the fire as an act of patriotism.

The loss of his cap poses a problem the next day, however, as he cannot go to school without a cap. As he walks to the school gate, a stranger stops him and says that there is no school today due to a famous political figure being sent to prison, which Swami enthusiastically embraces because it gives him a solution for his lack of a cap. He sees a crowd gathering around and joins in. The headmaster urges the students to return to their classes, but the boys refuse, and the headmaster withdraws in defeat to thundering cries of nationalism and freedom. Swami, feeling freed by his anonymity in the crowd, notices a protester throwing stones at the windowpanes of the school building and joins him. He throws stones at the windows of the headmaster’s room, taking deep pleasure at hearing the glass shatter.

The crowd moves from the Albert Mission to another school, the Board High School, and a spokesperson declares that the school must be closed because their leader is in the gaol, prison. The headmaster refuses, and the crowd becomes belligerent and starts smashing furniture and windows. Most of the students, including Swami, join the frenzy. The crowd is successful in shutting down the Board School and moves down the road, singing and sloganeering. The protestors are confronted by fifty policemen armed with lathis (clubs) led by, to Swami's horror, Rajam’s father, the deputy police superintendent. He orders his men to charge at the civilian protesters, dispersing the crowd. Swami runs away and is nearly killed as he witnesses his fellow protestors being brutally beaten by the police. Caught by a policeman who asks him what business he has here, Swami pleads ignorance and is let go with a light tap.

When his father returns home from work, he speaks about the strikes and inquires if Swami was involved, which Swami denies. He makes up an excuse that a striker tore off his cap because he thought it was foreign, which his father debunks, saying that he had bought it from the khaddar stores, meaning it is home-made. Swami cannot fall asleep, his body bruised and heavy all over. He contemplates how a policeman had called him a monkey, when in fact, it was the policemen who had acted like monkeys. The next day, the headmaster enters class in a rage and coerces all the students who were absent from class yesterday to identify themselves and explain their absence. He has each of them stand up, one by one, and explain, and promptly abuses them for their flimsy excuses and issues a punishment. Swami is shaking, and when the headmaster gets to him, Swami is so distressed that he speaks in disjointed, incoherent fragments. The headmaster brings in the peon (a low-ranking worker) who says that he saw Swami throwing stones at the headmaster’s windows. Swami is without defense, and the headmaster begins beating him to the extent that Swami’s body is on fire. Suddenly, a rush of courage streams through his body and he jumps away from the headmaster, grabs his books and runs away, muttering, “I don’t care for your dirty school.”


School is over, and Swami is free to spend his time according to his desires. His friendship with Rajam and Mani consolidates and strengthens as they spend more time together during the school break. Acquiring a hoop becomes his latest obsession; without the external schedule and structure of school, Swami’s moods and desires take charge, driving the plot, often to ill-fated ends, such as them becoming enemies of the coachman’s son. Their boyhood misadventures often come about due to their naive and myopic thinking; the episodic structure of the novel, therefore, formally reflects the ways in which Swami acts and thinks in highly impressionable and short-term ways.

The cap is an important symbol in different ways. In one instance, the cap is interpreted as a sign of colonial domination because of its mistaken origins in Lancaster, England. When his father disabuses Swami of this incorrect notion and claims that the cap is khaddar, the cap becomes a sign of patriotic nationalism. Clothing is political. The cap is also a necessary part of Swami’s school uniform; he is too afraid to attend school without the cap, and so he seizes upon the political strike as his excuse for not attending school, when his real motivation is to escape punishment for missing his cap.

The story, which had always been enmeshed in historical conditions, turns most explicitly toward history with the strike on August 15, 1930 as part of Gandhi's non-cooperation movement. Swami's irreverent disposition aligns with the rebellious, nationalist uprisings, and he gets caught up in the frenzy and ends up breaking the windows of his school building, which puts him at odds with Rajam, who is aligned with institutional power as the son of the police superintendent. Swami's self-expulsion from the Albert Mission School is a culmination of his continuous conflict toward school and authority figures at large and represents a desperate seizure of freedom through escape, but one that ends him in yet another institution, the Board High School.

The police's violent suppression of the strike is an explicit instance of the motif of physical violence that runs through the novel. The lathis (clubs) that the policemen use on the protestors resonate with the cane that the headmaster uses on Swami to punish him for missing class. Swami’s teachers and the policemen are united in their use of physical violence to enforce their lessons and punish the disobedient. Thus, physical violence is used by institutions as a tool of pedagogy and punishment. Violence is a frequent tool of oppression. The two times Swami runs away from school—first from Albert Mission School and then the Board High School—occur when he is being beaten.

The political action of a strike is resonant with the anti-work theme implicit in Swami’s resistance to school. School is his most recurring antagonist during the story. Swami does his homework at the very last minute in the morning before school begins and resists efforts to discipline him. His boyish rebelliousness, however, is politicized when he attends the rally and participates in the school strike. There exists a kind of parallel between the political non-cooperation independence roiling through India and Swami’s own private attempts at freeing himself from the yoke of school; something deep inside Swami is stirred when he hears the political speeches calling for Indian independence, as he himself is striving for a freedom from institutions that have defined his life.