Swami and Friends

Swami and Friends Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-19


In the next chapter, Swami has disappeared, and we meet Swami’s father wandering through the streets at night, looking for Swami and feeling ashamed of himself for having let him go. His wife and mother are in a frenzy back home. When Swami fails to return home by the ten o’clock bell, he is sent out to look for Swami’s friends and teachers and ask about his whereabouts. His search is fruitless and he returns home without news, which prompts further anxiety that Swami may have been kidnapped or involved in an accident.

His wife asks if he searched the hospital and if he was severe with Swami recently, implying that he is to blame for their son’s disappearance. He walks to the hospital at midnight but lacks the courage to actually enter, fearing what he might see inside. He walks past the main Market Road and along the railway line, examining the iron for a sleeping body, and stops in fear at a wet patch on the rails. He heaves a sigh of relief when he sees that it is only water and not blood.

In the meantime, the perspective switches focus back to Swami as he walks off the main road to a branch path, lured by its fruit-bearing trees. However, he eventually feels oppressed by its stillness compared to the liveliness of the trunk road. He is hungry and misses home desperately, thinking of his mother and the heap of soft white rice that she would serve him. He eats the fruit on a tree and rests, deciding that he must go back home and walk back to the trunk road. All of his concerns seem trivial now and he marvels at his foolishness: for throwing the headmaster’s cane out the window, and for not having gone home and taking the scolding from his father.

He walks long enough without reaching the main trunk road, and the narrator informs us that he has been following a gentle imperceptible curve, and thus has missed the trunk road long ago. He begins to panic and grow frightened in the dark dense forest, but suppresses his urge to run madly and keeps walking. However, Swami’s hearing becomes abnormally sensitive, and he hears a sinister whisper of his name. He stops and looks about. He spots what looks like an immense crouched monster, until after staring for five minutes clarifies that he has been staring at tree trunks. He comes to a clearing and thinks that he has arrived at the trunk road, feeling momentarily ecstatic, but then becomes disoriented and realizes that he must be on an unknown road late at night. He collapses on the road and weeps bitterly, promising the gods many offerings if only they rescue him. He hears heavy footfalls behind and lies flat on the road to hide from a large creature, which he hallucinates as a tiger, then a leopard, then a lion, and then even a whale. He imagines himself back in the cricket game and him leading M.C.C. to victory over their rival. He laughs until he collapses with exhaustion.

A man with a cart finds Swami’s body lying across the road early Saturday morning. He thinks that he might be dead until feeling his body and realizing that he is still warm. He lifts the little boy into his cart and carries him along. Swami wakes up confused and disoriented, slowly making sense of the vague details around him. He sees a figure and cries out "Father!" However, the figure is not his father, though he reassures him that he will soon see his father, and in the meantime asks him many questions. The narrator tells us that the figure is the District Forest Officer, Mr. M. P.S. Nair, who had been camping nearby and was notified of Swami’s situation. Swami was revived after hours of effort with food and medicine but still cannot give a coherent account of himself.

The next morning, the District Forest Officer finds Swami up and active, walking around the compound and practicing for his cricket game. Swami asks the officer what day is today, and he replies that it is Sunday, which freaks Swami, as Sunday is the day of the game. But the officer retracts and says that it is Saturday, lying to Swami and blaming his earlier response as a slip of a tongue.

The cricket match between Swami’s M.C.C. and Y.M.U. happens that same afternoon, and Swami’s team is not doing well without him as their bowler. They lose unimpressively. Rajam's father appears and takes him aside, giving him a letter that divulges Swami’s situation and whereabouts. His father asks if he wants to come with him to find Swami, and Rajam waits silently for a minute and then emphatically declines. When asked why he doesn’t want to see his friend, Rajam replies that he does not care.

Swami is now in bed and is very pleased by the number of well-wishers who have come to see him. His mother comes out with a steaming batch of coffee with sugar, which he downs, and he reflects upon how the forest officer had called and his father, mother, and Rajam’s father had all hastily arrived by car. Struck by their kindness, he blurted out the whole story of his escape, which prompted laughter from everyone involved. Swami feels guilty for not having thanked the forest officer before he left.

Mani visits Swami, expressing his anger that Swami had not called upon him before running away. He calls him a fool and coward, which Swami takes submissively. Swami tells Mani about the guilt he feels for not having thanked the forest officer for rescuing him. Mani breaks the news to Swami that they had already finished the cricket match and that he M.C.C. had been defeated. Swami then realizes that the officer had deceived him by telling it was Saturday. Mani relays to him that Rajam has declared that Swami ruined the M.C.C. and Swami weeps, begging Mani to interfere and mediate between them. The subject turns back to school, as Swami’s father has convinced the headmaster to let him back to the Board High School.

We meet Swami back at his home as he wakes up at five o’clock to meet Rajam at the train station before he and his family leave Malgudi permanently. He had not known that Rajam’s father was transferred to another city until Mani had told him the night before, against Rajam’s orders. Swami is devastated; he cannot think of a world without Rajam. Swami rummages around to find a gift for Rajam and settles on a volume of Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales, which has too many unpronounceable English words for him.

When Swami arrives at the station, he shrinks at the sight of Rajam, who is dressed like a "European boy." The platform fills with police officers, and Swami is stuck on the outside, trying to find gaps in the mass. The train starts hissing and the party moves closer to the train. Out of desperation, Swami gives his book to Mani and tells him that it must be given to Rajam. Mani calls out to Rajam, who sticks his head out of the train compartment. Swami appears, too, and cries out for him, saying, "Oh, Rajam, Rajam, you are going away, away. When will you come back?” He opens his mouth to reply, but his voice gets lost in the tremendous noise of the train as it begins to move. Mani runs along the platform and hands the book of fairy tales to Rajam, saying that it is a gift from Swami. Rajam takes the book and waves goodbye. Swami breaks down and cries, wondering if his friend will ever think of him again. Mani tries to console Swami, saying that Rajam will write to him and that he had asked Mani for Swami’s address. But Swami refutes this as a lie, as Mani does not know Swami’s address. Swami scrutinizes Mani’s face to see whether he is joking or in earnest, but his friend’s face has become inscrutable.


In the “Swami Disappears” chapter, the narrative perspective switches from Swami to his father searching for his missing son. Thus, Swami disappears not only from his family and friends, but from us, the readers, as well. His father, who thus far has been characterized as an emotionally cold and prideful figure, is unusually vulnerable and wracked with regret, so much so that he is twice described as “ashamed of himself.” In a reversal of roles, the father, instead of Swami, considers himself the fool. The father’s humiliation is reinforced by his fruitless wandering through town; he goes to all the places notable to Swami’s life—to the Board School, Mani’s house, and Rajam’s house — but Swami is nowhere to be found.

Swami has wandered off the main trunk road to a branch road, lured by the sight of fruit-bearing trees, and is now coming to terms with the consequences of his impulsive decision to flee. He is hungry, cold, exhausted, and lost in the woods. He has not resolved his problems, but rather landed himself in a more desperate situation that puts his previous challenges in perspective. Home beckons him fiercely and he hungers after his mother’s cooking.

His disorientation is also registered through moments of dramatic irony. He believes that he is walking back toward the trunk road, but the narrator has informed the reader that he has actually missed the trunk road by following a deceptively imperceptible curve of the road. The narrator’s commentary distances us from Swami, putting us outside of his own disorientation, and creates a narrative suspense over whether he will eventually realize the knowledge that we have been privy to.

The language grows more descriptive and sensory as Swami trods further into the forest. In particular, the description becomes very attentive to sounds—the stillness, rustling, fluttering, crackling, and swishing—of the forests. The sensitivity to sounds reflects Swami’s own blindness as he walks in pitch black darkness and must rely on sounds to gain information about his environment. Bereft of visual cues, his imagination begins running wild as he imagines monsters and devils. The realism that dominated the narrative before fades away and is overtaken by a kind of gothic and horror imagery and tone.

Eventually, Swami collapses, weeps bitterly, and hallucinates about playing in the cricket game with his team, M.C.C. The game is the last image he sees before he falls asleep, showing how deeply important the game is to him. He eventually falls asleep and is saved by a kind stranger, returned to his father and mother and reinstated back to the Board High School through his father's maneuverings, demonstrating his comparative well-being. However, he has missed the all-important cricket game and Rajam has resolved to no longer be his friend. The unequal dynamic of Swami attempting to court Rajam's favor ends sadly with Swami desperately trying to give a parting present to Rajam as he leaves on the train, prompting an unsatisfying and indeterminate response from Rajam. While Swami still has his friend Mani by his side, the end of his relationship with Rajam signals an end of a naive aspiration to have his boyhood self affirmed by a figure of authority.