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Anita Desai is one of the first women writers who has established a name for Indian Writing in English. Anita Desai is of mixed parentage. Her mother being german- and her father a Bengali businessman She has lived in India, Europe and is currently Professor of Creative writing at the MIT. She was born Anita Mazumdar in June 1937. She is a successful novelist and short story writer, who has been countless times nominated for the very prestigious Booker Prize, which her daughter Kiran Desai, incredibly went off to win with her second novel The Inheritance of Loss in 2006. Anita Desai has won many awards:
1978 - National Academy of Letters Award - Fire on the Mountain 1978 - Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize - Fire on the Mountain
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1980 - Shortlisted, Booker Prize for Fiction - Clear Light of Day 1983 - Guardian Children's Fiction Prize - The Village By The Sea 1984 - Shortlisted, Booker Prize for Fiction - In Custody 1993 - Neil Gunn Prize 1999 - Shortlisted, Booker Prize for Fiction: Fasting, Feasting 2000 -Alberto Moravia Prize for Literature (Italy)
She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Girton College, Cambridge and Clare Hall, Cambridge Anita Desai lives in the United States, where she is the John E. Burchard Professor of Writing at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA. The corpus of Anita Desai’s work is quite impressive.
The great poignancy of her style derives from the relentlessness with which she has always attempted to uncover the unspoken layers of human experience, beyond the visible commonplace. Her writing oscillates on the verge of the subconscious experience of the complexity of human relationship. She has a keen sensitive, sharp insight of the fragmentation of human experience, which she captures with incomparable style, through a mixture of imagery, style, setting, psychological understatement and a tragic awareness of the dividing line between expected social roles and the deep demands of the individual psyche. This guide focuses on only one of her collection of short stories- Games at Twilight- which was published in 1978. It was only her first collection of short stories, though her third publication after Cry The Peacock (1963 ) and Fire on the Mountain (1977) In this collection, from the early phase of her career ( It is important to stress this for her writing has considerably evolved over time, though deepening the
introspective themes of the early years) Anita Desai paints various quaint little vignettes of facets of life in mid twentieth century India. Her frame of references range from the affluent urban middle class to the marginals who live on the periphery of mainstream society. Interestingly her secular portrayal of indian society gives wide coverage to customs, manners, way of life and the day to day business of living as young and old struggle to cope with the demands and constraints of their various existence. One theme which predominates in most of the stories is the imbrication of individual lives within social networks with the structure of demands and responsibilities which this implies. This is what Haresh escapes from as he becomes a fake swami in Surface Textures, this is what drives Sonu crazy as he descends into the schizophrenia of his dual mental life between the demands of his exam routine and the unexplainable concern and sociability of his family who is unable to understand that their too great concern is at odds with the expectations they have for the exam candidate. Altogether characters in this collection seem to evolve either on the periphery of what is usually considered to be normal society or they live self-enclosed lives with circular routines which allows them little time for larger social realities. This is the case of the young an in The Accompanist, who has lost all sense of the boundaries of his individual self as he becomes the shadow of his master musician, his very life dissolves into non-being but encountering 'normal' existence through his friends who taunt him with the oddity of his life disrupts his sense of normality temporarily until he returns to his contented inner world of devotion and music. In other stories Desai shows various instances of the indian middle class caught in the exigencies of life's demands, such as the couple in The Farewell Party, or Mr Bose's private tuition to make both ends meet at the end of the month. Her interest with the marginals also encompasses the impoverished Christians (The Pineapple Cake), retired people ( Pigeons at Daybreak, A Devoted Son),the incongruousness of the artistic imagination producing beauty from the midst of industrial squalor, or the complexities of the transcultural experience between the
West and the East, India as the land of backpackers in search of the either the anthropologically authentic or the spiritually fulfilling, all of which comes together in the last story of the collection Scholar and Gypsy.
In this guide we shall proceed to give a brief overview of each story, highlighting its major themes and proposing study questions. Let us first start with preliminaries: Anita Desai's Bibliography Cry, The Peacock Peter Owen, 1963 Voices in the City Peter Owen, 1965 Where Shall We Go This Summer? Vikas (New Delhi), 1975 Fire on the Mountain Heinemann, 1977 Games at Twilight and Other Stories Heinemann, 1978 The Peacock Garden (illustrated by Jeroo Roy) Heinemann, 1979 Clear Light of Day Heinemann, 1980 The Village By the Sea Heinemann, 1982 In Custody Heinemann, 1984 Baumgartner's Bombay Heinemann, 1987 Journey to Ithaca Heinemann, 1995 Fasting, Feasting Chatto & Windus, 1999 Diamond Dust and Other Stories Chatto & Windus, 2000 The Zig Zag Way Chatto & Windus, 2004
1. Games at Twilight:
This is the eponymous story which gives its title to the whole collection.
Although this story deals with children's games it is far from dealing with childhood innocence. Rather, echoing some of the Blakeian overtones of Songs of Experience it captures some of the unconscious cruelties of childhood as well as the metaphysical experience of nihilism which can be the consequence of marginalisation and difference on sensitive souls. The story opens on the evocation of the oppressive nature of the Indian Summer. This is an issue which gives its focus to many other stories in this collection. Adults have one way of dealing with the oppressive heat. The mother in this story for instance, stays indoors, takes lots of showers, wears fresh saris and uses lots of talcum powder. But the wild energies of the children cannot be contained by such strategies. Once given the permission to play outside they burst out violently, the energy of the motion captured in a single image which conveys a sense of pent up energies: "They burst out like seeds from a crackling overripe pod onto the verandah, with such loud maniacal yells,.." This sentence is actually built on two contrasting images- the first derived from the bosom of nature to mark the arrival of the season of plenty, turning to excess with the reference to the 'maniacal yells.' After this brief introduction as to the circumstances in which the game takes place the actual afternoon game starts. Again focus is on the heat and the discomfort of
the afternoon which is too hot and too bright. Many images from nature are evoked to create a sense of the cruel pervasiveness of the heat to which most of the children seem impervious: "The white walls of the verandah glared stridently in the sun." "The bougainvillea hung about in purple and magenta, in livid balloons. "The garden outside was like a tray made of beaten brass, flattened out on the red gravel and the stony soil in all shades of metal, aluminium, tin, copper and brass." The whole paragraph shows how nature is beaten down flat by the oppressive heat. This also affects animals-even the dog is in deep despair: "The outdoor dog lay stretched as if dead on the verandah mat." But impervious to the despair and blinding heat around them the children play on. The contrast is already suggesting the cruel imperviousness of the animal energies of the unconscious, carefree children. However, unknown to themselves they are also part of the great cycle of life energies as they respond unconsciously to the falling of the parrots and begin organising themselves to play hide and seek. The game starts. It is Raghu who is the seeker. Just as he is about to be captured by Raghu Ravi escapes Raghu only to double bolt into the dark shed and into his own consciousness as he waits to be found by the seeker.
It is a long wait indeed. Initially marked by his fear of darkness and of the squishing insect life which surrounds him, Ravi's fear soon turns to curiosity as he recognises carcasses of furniture from his house: " By now he could see enough in the dark to make out the large solid shape of wardrobes, broken buckets and bedseats piled on top of each other around him. He recognised an old bathtub- patches of enamel glimmered at him." This recognition of signs of domestic familiarity allows Ravi to overcome his fear of the darkness and the unknown it contains. For a moment he imagines the comforting routine activities marking the end of the summer day in the garden: "The parents would sit out on the lawns on cane basket chairs and watch them as they tore around the garden or gathered knots to share a loot of mulburries or black tooth-splitting jamuns.... the gardener would fix the hosepipe to the water tap and water would fall lavishly from the air to the ground,..." But Ravi is not discovered in his hiding place. He stays there all afternoon, hearing the sounds of the garden change, watching the changing colours of light in the dark shed: " It grew darker in the shed as the light at the door grew softer, fuzzier, turned to a kind of crumbling yellow fur, blue fur. Evening, twilight." How long he stays in the shed in his hiding place Ravi does not know . But he stay long enough to unconsciously effect a journey in the darker metaphysical layers of his childhood consciousness as yet unaware of the articulation of metaphysical
preoccupations. The intensity of his participation in the game is in strong contrast to the unconcern of his playmates who look up in surprise when he finally returns to the verandah shouting : "Den! Den ! Den!. " Only to discover that he has been forgotten by one and all, playmates and parents alike.. With a crushing sense of premature nihilism, the young child realises the sense of nothingness and nonbeing. With nerves already frayed out by his long stay in the dark he lies down on the grass silenced by a terrible sense of his own insignificance. The story gives a picture of childhood which is very different from the usual idyllic picture of children's story books. It deals with the darker energies of human nature and shows children as mini adults with all the character cruelties, insouciance and fragility of adult society. It is interesting that the lack of concern of the children for their absent playmate is matched by an equal degree of unconcern of their parents for the absent child. The idyllic pastoral scene is darkened not by the shed or the heat or the fear of the unknown that darkness promises, but by the uncanny lack of concern for an absent child. This total absence of concern, coming hard on the heels of his long double solitude within the dark shed and the inner recesses of his mind lead Ravi to an early experience of metaphysical nothingness.
Main Themes: - Human nature and the flux of animal energies - The unconscious cruelties of childhood - Nihilism
Study Questions: 1. What is the role of the adults in the story? 2. Trace the parallels between childhood energies and the energies of nature. 3. What is the significance of the shed in the story? 4. Compare and contrast the differing natures of Raghu and Ravi. 5. Find out what is Nihilism. Comment upon Ravi's experience in relation to what you find.
2. Private Tuition by Mr Bose:
This is the story of poor Mr Bose, a sanskrit teacher who gives private tuition on the balcony of his cramped flat while his wife cooks the evening meal and looks after their baby son. In the course of the story he has two students, one Pritam, son of a pundit , who is sent to him to study the scriptures on a regular basis . The second student is an attractive young woman, Upneet, who likes the proverbial serpent, comes to disrupt the domestic harmony of Mr Bose's small household. Throughout this story Mr Bose's place on the balcony gives him access to two worlds. As the story starts he is aware of the contrast between the domestic harmony of his cramped flat , embodied in the fascination he feels for his wife's hair, swift wrist movement and soft cooing voice as she rolls the chapati and talks to the baby. All of this symbolises a comfortable routine and domestic contentment. Despite the suggestions of the cramped space inside the flat which forces Bose and his students on the balcony, the poise of the interior is contrasted with the mayhem and disorganisation outside first paragraph. "The River Hooghly ( famous river in Calcutta) would send it ( the balcony) a in the signs of overabundant cramped urban quarters. This is captured in a few images which stand out in the
wavering breeze or two to drift over the rooftops through the washing.. the air hung about them like a damp towel, gagging him..."
In his subsequent dealings with his two students Mr Bose will have to cope with the in betweenness of his position even further. With the students he has to maintain the stern attitude of a teacher. But in both cases , though in differing circumstances, he is brought up short as he slips into his 'other' role as husband and father in the presence of the pupils. This sets up similar reactions in the two pupils Pritam and Upneet- as they both see behind the facade of the stern teacher Mr Bose tries to put up. With Pritam Mr Bose is already impatient. He sees in the young boy's stumbling fingers and shuffling feet signs that 'betrayed his secret life, its scruffiness, its gutters and drains full of resentment and destruction.' To Mr Bose Pritam represents in his ungainly adolescence the very opposite of the poise and balance he seeks to achieve in his own life, marked by an old fashioned sense of decorum. When all the activities and disturbances of the evening are over this is how he perceives the return of harmony in his household: "But gradually, the grammar re-arranged itself according to rule, corrected itself. The composition into quiet made quite clear the exhaustion of the child, asleep or near so." (p.19)
To his teacherlike mind , endowed with a sense of beauty in the sonorousness of the sanskrit verses he intones, which he feels should have been roared out on a hilltop at sunrise, " Pritam represents an anomaly. As the son of a well known priest, who tutors him in the morning only to turn him over to Mr Bose in the evening for additional coaching in the scriptures, Pritam shows very little propensity in his studies.
So firmly entrenched is Mr Bose's belief of the rightness of his attitude and views that he fails to see in Pritam;s body language signs of his adolescent struggles against authority. He fails to see how a routine of days devoted to studying the Mahabharata in the morning and the Vedas in the afternoon can ill withstand the suppressed, angry energies of a growing nature. In fact the story shows an adult world of tuitions, represented by Mr Bose and the priest father- who marginalise adolescence, even as they seek to impress upon them their own rules and force control over the material of youth. However, Pritam shows his rebelliousness to this enforced routine by showing disinterest and apathy in his studies. When asked by Mr Bose about the sacrifical horse he answers: "I didn't know sir, it doesn't say." Pritam's apathy is followed by a look of malice when given an explanation about the role of the Asvamedha, the sacrifical horse which ill tallies with the demands of modern governance. But Mr Bose forces him to read in his halting tongue the sanskrit shlokas. It is at this point that his attention is turned to the scene of domestic harmony playing itself out behind the curtain in the kitchen area. He allows his attention to be drawn to his wife. In a camera-like movement his gaze follows the passage to the kitchen and zooms into his wife's face. He notices that her head is bowed and other details which betray his deep affection : "Some of her hair had freed itself of the long steel pins he hated so much and hung about her pale, narrow, face." ( p.12)
As he watches further her motion the unspoken harmony between the mother and the child . Unconscious to him he is slipping out of his stern pubic role as sanskrit tutor. He longs to be part of the cosy domestic scene he witnesses. This unconsciously shows in his facial expression. ' ..(his) lips were wavering into a smile beneath the ragged moustache. " (p.13)
Unaware that Pritam has noticed his change of mood and has stopped reciting in order to observe him, Mr Bose shares a moment of communion with his wife through an exchange of smiles. "Mr Bose' moustache lifted up like a pair of wings and beneath them his smile lifted up and out with almost a laugh of tenderness and delight. (p.13) The wife responds with mock seriousness trying to recall him to the path of duty,. However, this exchange of unspoken tenderness is interrupted by the malicious theatrical coughing of the student Pritam. The shift in Mr Bose' mood is very abrupt- he wants to pounce on the boy and he sees his impertinence as desecrating the balcony space , which to him is marked by his wife's tender care of the holy 'tulsi' plant she nurtures with care and prayers everyday. But help comes from outside, as one of the neighbours in this cramped area of Calcutta turns on a radio and sends music onto the balcony as a new variable in the suppressed conflict between Pritam and Mr Bose.
Reconciling his two world or his inability to do so , stirs up depths of violence in the apparently conventionally calm Mr Bose: he thinks of 'smashing the radio and hurling the Brahmin's son down the stairs.” so as to be able to listen to the soft cooing sounds coming from his wife's kitchen. Mr Bose is himself shocked and ashamed by the excess of his violent emotions. But he comes to the conclusion that the two halves of his world, irreconcilable as they are, have to continue in their opposition, for the tuition allows him to meet the additional expenses of his domestic life. Pritam leaves, giving Mr Bose a brief respite in which he can give his full emotional attention to his wife and child. His great love for his wife is shown in his consciousness of the hand movement as she rolls out the purees and in his longing to touch her hair. The wife laughingly pretends discontent and urges him to attend to the next pupil. But things are about to change. Paradise is about to get bitter. As much as Pritam's scaby impatience reinforced Mr Bose' sense of pride in his own domestic life, Upneet's presence will have the reverse effect and upset his whole balance. Upneet, his second student, is an attractive, smartly dressed young girl who comes to him for coaching in Bengali live poetry. Mr Bose is puzzled as to why she should do so. But he quells his questions as he needs the additional income. From the beginning Mr Bose feels destabilised by Upneet.
“Under Upneet's gaze such ordinary functions of a tutor's life as sitting down at a table, sharpening a pencil and opening a book to the correct page became a matter of farce, disaster and hilarity.” (p.15) He is upset by the strong sense of feminity that she exudes, in strong contrast with his demure, shy wife. “He did not know where to look- everywhere were Upneet's flowers, Upneet's giggles.” He also noted the pointed tips of her sandals moving to the rhythm of the poetry he reads, until the rhythm of the sandal takes over and the poetry reading stops. It is at this point that the hitherto cooing soft sounds coming from the kitchen becomes vigorously ugly and turn into 'bangs and rattle” The anger and unspoken jealousy of his wife at his obvious fascination with the reeling feminity of Upneet is clear. The situation is rendered even more intolerable when he has to read love poetry to her in Bengali. He can only express his sense of bewilderment at the sudden change of mood in the household by referring to grammar: “He could not understand how these two halves of the difficult world that he had been holding so carefully together, sealing them with reams of poetry, reams of sanskrit, had split apart into dissonance.” (p.17)
To the earlier malice of Pritam now succeeds the ' creamy , feline, satirical' face of Upneet. He sees “that lift of the eybrows and that twist of a smile that disjointed him, rattled him.” Rather than be put off she sees amused at the situation, as the veil parts and she is given insight into the domestic condition. Mr Bose tries to overcome the unease of the moment but instead he is overcome withs elf-pity, “he could hear her voice no more than the snake could the pipe.- It was drowned out by the baby's wails, swelling into roars of self-pity and indignation in this suddenly hard-edged world.” ( p.17) Embarrassed, he tries to distract Upneet's attention from the observation of his domestic life. But his despair is further heightened by his sense of futility in his role as tutor there: Upneet seems to have very little mastery of Bengali grammar:' Three months of Bengali to end in this! She was as triumphant as he was horrified.” (p.19) She leaves. Mr Bose stays out on the balcony trying to patch both halves of his disjointed world until peace gradually returns and the normal sounds of evening return. He goes back to his wife in the kitchen, playing up to the role of the contrite husband: “ he turned to go with his shoulders beaten, sagging, an attitude repeated by his moustache,...” Falling into the expected gender roles saves the couple from the discomfort of long explanations over the unexpected storm stirred by Upneet's presence. The wife fusses over his food as he comjplains he is being fed too much. Around this role play they are reconciled and their gentle flirtation soon starts again. Harminy is restored. temporary disharmony Bose's
Study Questions: 1. Describe the character of Mr Bose. 2. Compare and contrast Upneet and Mr Bose's wife. 3. Pick up images which show cramped spaces and comment on them.
3.Studies in The Park:
This is the story of a young man who feels cramped between the twin prisons of family life and parental expectations about his forthcoming exams. Driven crazy by a constant family attention which fails to give him the physical and emotional space to study properly for his exams, Sonu is driven to study in the park. There he meets countless other young students like him who seek privacy away teeming family life. When the story starts Sonu seems to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. By adopting a stream of consciousness style which reproduces the movement of his consciousness Desai shows the young boy gradually sinking into a kind of folly. He is irritated by his father's radio, by the sounds of his mother cleaning and cooking. The first paragraph uses repetition and expletives to show his despair at the noise from his father's room. This despair turns violent in his head: “Turn it off before I smash it into his head, flying it out of the window.” The second paragraph sees the frustrated exasperation transferred to his mother. “ She cuts and fries, cuts and fries.” And to the earlier violence succeeds a kind of madness: “What all does she find to fry and feed us on?...finally she'll slice me and feed me to my brothers and sisters ( p.20) from the claustrophobia of
This streak of exasperation is repeated with the arrival of the milkman and his brothers and sisters from school. Until his father's unnecessarily stern admonition about the need to do well in exams, rather than show him sympathy with the strain he is living through. This forces him out of the house.
After circumbulating the area for a while he is recommended the park by the gram vendor. Once in the park he feels release from the pent up pressure of his domestic scene and he gradually learns to unwind and evolve his own study routine even as he discovers the animal and human fauna of the park. He realises that a lot of the inhabitants of the park were ' students who had escaped from their city flats and families life him to come ans study here.” ( p.24) He gradually moves beyond merely identifying those in similar plight s him. He notices the yoga classes, the old men who come to discuss philosophy, athletics, etc,... By being privy to these multiple windows onto the life of the city Sonu calms down and he learns to forget his own cramped world and learns to empathise with the multiple strategies of escaping the claustrophobia of family togetherness in crowded urban homes. However, the earlier pressure makes itself felt when Sonu breaks down with fever at the approach of the exams. The doctor recommends that he does not take his exam in his state of nervosu fragility. His disappointed parenst have to obey. By this time Sonu's mental balance has already slipped and to him the exam becomes the seal od death and the students in the park he sees as being in the anteroom of death ( p.29) Nevertheless, he returns to the park in a moment of great fragility, as the only natural place for him to continue his 'exam-less' existence. By this time the rhythm of his past life has become one upon which he depends, which forms his immediate identity, as there he has a sense of place and belonging in the temporary intimacy of colliding multiple identities. And it is at this point that he has a moment of epiphany.
An Epiphany is here understood as a sudeen, near spiritual insight, a moment in which the onlooker, here Sonu, has a momentary insight in some higher truth, brought about by a commonplace reality, a scene which is in itself far from remarkable to the objective onlooker. He sees a scene which to him represents domestic beauty in the park. He sees a family scene: a very beautiful but sickly young woman in a black burqua, apparently dying in the lap of her very old husband, while their chidlren play around them in the park. The couple seems self-absorbed in each other, impervious to the world. Sonu watches this, to him, idyllic tableau of family harmony. He hides to observe the intense tenderness between the improbable couple and to him this becomes a moment of absolute truth which seals the picture as being the stamp of the living as opposed to the dead people studying for their exams To him this becomes a moment of insight into an alternative reality. The uncanny, unspoken beauty he sees in this scene becomes a moment of revelation where he feels he has access to some higher truth. His known world fades into comparison and his peregrinations in the park henceforth acquire another dimension. He forgets the original reason as to why he is there .By this stage his mind has veered totally into a state of alternative reality. If not exactly madness it is a state close to it. Henceforth Sonu's walks in the park acquire the hue of a quest to seek the intangible absoluteness seeker of the 'absolute'. of the beauty of the improbable family scene. The pathways of the park become so many layers of a mystical quest. He becomes a
This interpretation of his state of mental fatigue is counterbalanced by the obvious distress of his family who despair of having him ever sit for his exams (p.32) To his mind his state changes, he becomes the perpetual student. Study Questions: 1. Comment upon the style of the first 5 paragraphs , showing their effectiveness as an introduction to the story. 2. In what way does the park become a welcome relief from family life? 3. Contrast the symbolic spaces of park and home. 4. Describe Sonu's epiphany. 5. What is the significance of the epiphany to him? 6. Contrast this to the objective reality of what happens to him.
This is yet another short story which explores the unexpected veerings of the unconscious into near madness within the cultural context of indian setting. In brief it is the story of a man who leaves his family to become a hermit, but not in the usual manner. He becomes a hermit by default, when he allows himself to drop away from the normal functions of mainstream existence, as an employee, bread winner, a father, all because of a melon. In overall intent this story can be read as an ironic exploration of india's obsession of sadhu culture. When Haresh becomes a hermit because he loses his job, home, family and lives by the road side, he allows his hair to grow and acquires the unkempt, smelly look, ragged look of beggars and/ or hermits, he is very soon taken to be a hermit by the local people who had initially come to beat him up for frightening their children: Their mothers came with stones and some with canes at the ready but when they saw Harish, his skin parched to a violet shade, sitting on the bank and gazing at the transparent stem of the lotus, they fell back crying, 'Wah!' gatherd closeer together, advanced, dropped their canes and stones and held their children still by their hair and shoulders, and came to bow to him . ' ( p.39) Thus begins the process of honouring the 'swami' with fruits, milk, flowers. Harish consciously or unconsciously plays the game, enters his role, and keeps his silence and become part of the local landscape, as the local swami.
The theme of the propensity for worshipping and creating Fake swami's has been ironically treated by many other indian writers: Rushdie in Midnight's Children has a side story about how one of the friends of his main protahonist- Saleem Sinai is turned into a fake swami. Naipaul in Half a Life makes his character become a swami by default just because of a stubborn wish for silence. However the conscious reason here given for Haresh giving up on his well established domestic comfort is because of a water melon which his wife brings from the market for after dinner dessert after wavering between mangoes, litchees and the melon. Funnily the melon on the table marks the beginning of some kind of awareness for Harish: As he observes the the surface of the melon, its veins and colour, etc,... it is as though he is being plunged into some kind of inner mystical experience. Like Sonu in the previous story Haresh does not behave according to type, according to expected conventions and expectations. Far from being a society which allows space for expression of difference, Anita Desai's novels always portray societies, communities which are unable to cope with the complex unconscious demands of fragmented souls who are not given either the vocabulary of the social space for the acknowledgement of their difference from the mainstream culture in which they evolve. Sonu almost experienced an epiphany when he saw the delicate, fragile face of the dying woman in the park, almost as though he had opened the door to a mystical experience. Uncannily, the melon which to the wife and children of Haresh seems boring, seems to mark some similar kind of mystical experience for Harish.
Whether it is a plunge into the interiority of the self or of creation, we, the readers, like his family, remain mere witnesses to his unexplained transformation which can only be lived from the outside for reader and onlookers alike. For try as she might his wife never obtains either information or reaction from him, through all their travails: when he loses his job, they starve and they lose the house and become split up as a family.
Desai's eye for sharp details is ever to be commended. We have to note the attention which marks the precision of her style: The description of Harish's walking style once he abondons his family and is in turn abandoned by them to become a roadside hermit: His slow silent walk gave him the appearance of sliding rather than walking over the surface of the roads and fields , rather like a snail except that this movement was not as smooth as a snail's but stumbling as if he had only recently become one and was still unused to the pace. Not only his eyes and his hands but even his bare feet seemed to be feeling the earth carefully in search of an interesting surface. Once he found it he would pause, his whole body would gently collapse across it and hours- perhaps days- would be devoted to its investigation and worship.'
Questions: 1.Why does Harish become a hermit? 2.What does the melon symbolise? 3.Why does this happen to Harish?
4.How are we to read this story, as a serious or an ironic story which unveils the unspoken problems and constructed hyprocrisies of a section of indian society? 5.Critically analyse this story as a commentary on materialism. 6.Contrast Haresh' detachment with the experience of the woman in Scholar and Gypsy
The figure of artists is usually imbued with Romantic hues in most western fiction. Even in stories which deal with the madness and frenzy of artists, western artistic history is full of stories of unhappy artists like Toulouse Lautrec or Vincent Van Gogh, who have achieved immovable iconic status in Western as well as Global sensibility and awareness that the usual figure of the talented but poor artistic genius seems to empower all contemporary artists in their higher projection of themselves beyond the demands of daily reality and its material needs. However, not all artists live in such glorious romantic poverty. The present story skirts the dichotomy between the inherited idea of the artist and the reality of the squalid conditions in which the artist live within his immediate surroundings. The plot follows a simple line: An artist welcomes prospective buyers to his workshop in the very living room of his cramped house, hoping they will buy and give him an advance for the much needed money to keep his household going. The visitors: three men and one woman admire and extol upon his work. But in the end they leave him running and begging for them to buy his work as they leave with changing demands and promises for the future. The visitors come with middle class expectations. They crowd around the artist and admire his creative frenzy. They admire his art work- the creative imagination which can paint birds even when he cannot see birds. They admire his stroke of colour, the special palette of mixed hues which he obtains by a special mixture. They admire his sudden burst of enthusiasm as he remembers a moment of his childhood, unconsciously brought to the surface, prompted by his visitors/prospective buyers obvious admiration of his work, his talent , his
imagination. It s more than clear that these middle class visitors have a romantic picture of the frenzied inspired and talented artist . They crowd around him and admire his work. They probably see his squalid living environment as part of his romantic aura- he shows them the window unfurling the dark fumes which constitute his only vision onto th e world. They admire the flowers he paints for his son, when he cannot bring a garden of flowers to him. However, They also have a romantic sense of themselves as romantic, artistically oriented middle class. In the end they refuse to buy any paintings- saying they were looking for figurines and landscapes, arguing they are looking for a special something which will bring life to their living room. They slough away in distaste when the man behind the artist run after their car begging for cash advance, begging that he needs money for his family. The romantic, artistically inclined buyers fail to see the human reality behind what they are so happy to accept as the romantic vision of a latter day Van Gogh, talented but poor. They fail to respond to the obvious cramped living conditions of the artist in human terms, or even in social terms . They fail to see the real misery which lies behind the littered paintings, the anxious wife ate the door and the ultimate letting down of dignity when the man runs after their car and begs for one of his paintings to be bought. They leave, the woman slouching at the far end of the car, one of the ,men jovially and lightheartedly showing his empty pockets and making promises in the air
about advances they will give if he paints a tableau for them in the near future. When their romantic vision of the poor artist comes too close to a material reality then social distance takes over and class realities become more omnipresent than romantic imaginings. They leave, wealthy, powerful middle class, refusing to empathise with the obvious distress of the lower middle class man behind the artist. Although while the blurb lasted within the overcrowded living room which serves as the artist's studio, while the illusion of romantic detachment lasted they had invited him to come and have dinner with them at their house only to retreat and run away now when material and social reality become too powerful.
Study Questions; 1.Comment of the contrasting attitude of the woman visitor with that of the wife of the artist.One shows interest and enthusiasm, the other shows anger and anxiety. 2.Trace the changing moods of the artist from the moment the knocking starts at the door to the moment the visitors leave in their car. 3.Show how two contrasting worlds and their attendant contrasting visions collide in this short story.
6.Pineapple Cake: The present story is one of those typical stories which captures Anita Desai’ sense of pathos for the broken realities of life, of people living in conditions of misery while attempting to maintain their self-respect. Her sympathy goes beyond the deboir of any self-enclosed community. In the present story it is the life of a widowed and impoverished young Catholic mother realising the extent of her fall from social grace that becomes her preoccupation as she attends a wedding. In one of those moments of deep insight and sympathy Anita Desai tells the story of Mrs Fernandez and her son Victor who are to attend the wedding of a wealthy relative. Mrs Fernandes dresses Victor in his best clothes and takes him to the church ceremony while regretting that she does not have a pretty girl to wear dresses and carry followers and be proud of at the wedding. When comes the time for her to find a car to attend the wedding reception her ego is mortified todiscover that she is among the least important guests both for car service and for seating place at the wedding reception hall. She observes and eats, while discoursing with her table neighbours while keeping Victor happy with the prospect of eating a nice pineapple cake as crowning glory to a sad day of social mortification. However, an unexpected happening occurs: one of the wedding guest dies when at table and casts a gloomy pall over the wedding proceedings. He has to be brought out . The little Victor wants to leave the banquet hall as soon as he can. But he is forced back tp his seat by his mother who shows him the dessert plate arriving. He refuses to eat the infamous pineapple cake, seeing the goriness of the recent
death in it spongy texture. But the piece of cake is gulped down by his mother, in a swift single gesture . She is then ready to leave. Some interesting strokes in this story exist in the depiction of the way of life, beliefs and social heirarchies existing among the Indian Christians in Bombay. We should also note the psyche of the mother , living squashed between a dream of grandeur and the reality of her social place within her community.
Themes: The life of the impoverished middle class Christian Exp-loration of the psyche of oppressed young mother. The way of life, customs and social decorum of the Indian Christians in Bombay.
In what way if the death of th old man important in the continuation of the story?
What is the significance of the pineapple cake in the relationship between the mother and the boy?
What ultimate meaning does it have in the mother’s final comical gesture. In what way does the eating of the pineapple cake help unlock a whole lifetime of deprivation and impoverished desires?
Who is most to be pitied between the mother and the child?
Discuss in what way this story stands as representative of a whole way of life?
Among all the depressing stories in this collection this must be the most depressing of them all. Anita Desai gives us the story of a man who has become a ghost, not to some passion, either through love or hate. He has become a ghost to his own life out of devotion to a a man, a famous music maestro, who seems unaware of his very existence. The story is told in the first person singular as the tanpura player remembers how he has come to be part of the travelling troupe of his famous music maestro, the sitar player. He first comes to him as a yound , timid adolescent who comes to deliver a tanpura from his father for the musician's troupe. His father's fame as a maker of musical instruments opens his way immediately as he is taken on to replace the late tanpura player. From then on his silence and timidity allows the music maestro to decide for him. He beomes one of the silent musicians which grace his troupe as he travels nationally and internationally. The paper thin existence of a musician's accompanist is drawn out to extremes as this unnamed young man abandons family, home and hearth to follow his master. He had friends, hobbies, likes and dislikes, desires, as a normal young man. 'But all fell away from me, all disappeared in the shadows, on the side, when I met my Ustad and began to play for him. He took the place of my mother's sweet halwa, the cinema heroines, the street beauties, marbles and stolen money, all the
pleasures and riches I had so far contrived to extract from the hard stones of existence in my father's house in the music lane “ ( p.62)” He marries but leaves his wife with his mother to tour in the wake of his Ustad. He grows used to the routine and the invisibility, he finds fulfillment in the unequal guru chela relationship. Read differently the treatment the maestro metes out to him could be qualified as indifference. As the story starts he is wishing that he were told what the maestro had planned to play that night. Is it a degree of the maestro's supreme trust or his supreme indifference which makes him fail to tell his tanpura player what he will play while all the other musicians know their part. As his adolescent friends reminds him when he comes back to his town one day, the tanpura is probably the most boring of instruments“What sort of instrument is the tanpura?..Not even an accompaniment. It is nothing. Anyone could play it. Just three notes, over and over again.”(p.65) The perspective of his friends represent the objective perspective of the onlooker about the monastic style existence of people involved within the classical music scene. But the irreverence of his friends further confirm to the narrator that his chosen pathway of devotion and selflessness, invisibility and transparence in the wake of his guru is his chosen destiny. He is so involved with his role that he fails to see the relativity of instruments, and even within the variety of players at the concert his perspective narrows down to the one instrument he plays to the exclusion of everything else, apart from his Ustad's.
In this tragic story of loss, the narrator finds fulfillment and meaning. As his inner world becomes more stretched out into its paper thin existence, the reclusive inner life takes over and the disappearing individuality becomes a cause for quiet celebration for the narrator. Study Questions: 1. Comment on the life of musicians as portrayed in the story. 2. Comment on the attitude of the Ustad towards the narrator. 3. Discuss the narrator's charcater. Do you find him (a) believable, (b) sympathetic as a charcater. 4. Find out what kind of instrument the tanpura is and its relevance in classical Indian music. 5. Can you see similarities between the tanpura and its player, as portrayed in this story?
8.A Devoted Son This is a story which deals with the cultural complexities of the Indian family set up with its complicated demands and allegiances within the family set up which so complicatedly conditions social identities. The story is that of a son so devoted keeping up with the traditional expectations of his parents about his behaviour that he seems unbelievable in his perseverant devoiion. From the moment his results are announced in the morning papers Rakesh's 'career' as a devoted son starts playing up to the expectations of his parents. He is first a brilliant student but a grateful son, then through the scholarship won he is for a while a student abroad but with none of the cultural betrayals of migration. He remains a loyal Indian who comes back to marry in his village and settle down in his private practice so as to be the pride of his ageing parents who never tarry of boasting of his any virtues as well as his great professional success. However this idyllic family relationship does suffer from the demands of practical reality as well as inevitably contrasting understanding of what constitute filial devotion. The aged parents have one conception of filial obedience to which their son lives up to almost to the point of suffocation in the earlier part of the story. To the extent that the reader wonders whether Rakesh has any individuality despite his brilliant medals. However, in his father’s old age, his sense of duty as a doctor nursing his ageing father comes into conflict with these very family expectations which have turned him into the caricatural figure he is.
As a conscientious doctor Rakesh monitors his father’s diet, refuses him sweets and oily food and prescribes only boiled food. This tasteless diet is not to the liking of the old man who sees in this a plan to kill him. The many years of absolute devotion are forgotten as the father becomes increasingly irascible and complains that his son is out to starve him to death. This complaint forms a wonderful subject of debate to be shared with his visiting old neighbours. By subtle strokes Desai shows that behind the idyllic picture are less wonderful, more subtle human emotions, maybe closer to a known reality. For instance when Rakesh first refuses to allow his father to eat oily food, the old man notices his daughter in law smiling to herself. Repeatedly he notices this unobtrusive gesture on the part of his daughter in law which shows that behind the façade of family duties, the thinking brain behind the woman has also found uncomfortable the unstinting filial devotion of her husband. Not allowed to say anything she is duty bound to comnform but rejoices at the signs of discord in the household. The irascible old man’s vengeful mood never relents but rather grows more and more peevish with every passing day until he at last refuses medication and asks to be allowed to go to his maker in peace and lies down. Finally his act of immobility is not taken as comic or petulant, finally a serious adult emotion play sitself out and makes the old man a credible character in relation to his son. Rakesh remains a two dimensional character whose progress and action becomes important only in relation t his parents' interpretation of that reaction. The soruce of condlict comes in the latter part of this idyllic family story, and turns the old father into a subject of interest. In his old age petulance and irascibility he is comic and tragic and the very embodiment of the passage of time and the inevitability of changing cultural tastes, (re: in relation to food).The narrator also suggests by deft
strokes a changing world view throuh suggestions of deeper dimensions to the younger couple- Rakesh and his wife- which remain invisible in the public reading the parents make of them throughout their existence. Study Questions: 1. Discuss the tragi-comedy of the old father's behaviour in this story. 2. In what way does this story embody the reality of the passage of time. 3. Discuss the figure of Rakesh. How credible is he? 4. Discuss what the two minor characters Veena, the daughter in law, and Bhatia, the old man's daily visitor.
9.The Farewell Party
This is one of the short stories in which we see Anita Desai talent at its best as she weaves personal stories with intimate awareness of the complexities of the fabric of urban social life. Around the story of Bina and Raman throwing a farewell party as they are about to leave the town for Mumbai, she paints a tableau of society both specific and representative of a way of life, so that her characters and their supporting cast of guests become embodiments of larger social realities in a changing world. The story plays on two levels. On the one hand the couple welcome their guests and suffer then through . We can identify three waves of socialization in the story. In the first place the unease of both Bina and Raman among the town’s socialites and well-to-do yuppies and their expansive socialite spouses. Bina and Raman are conscious of both being part of their world and not quite belonging. This for two reasons, on the one hand because Raman works only for an Indian company rather than a foreign one, on the other because of their spastic child around which has been woven their activities during their stay in the unnamed town. These occupy the scene when the story opens, causing the sense of unease of Raman and Bina. Then the neighbours arrive and create greater intimacy (as opposed to the work relations) as they are people with whom conversation can move to the realms of immediate domestic preoccupations rather than the enforced pretense of work space camaraderie. And finally the third wave of the party, where the couple feels greater warmth and sense of belonging, comes when the hospital doctors where their spastic child has
been nursed and where the mother has spent countless hours in the company of her child. The doctors and their wives show their open concern about the child whom Bina feels free to go up and fetch without fear of offending the sensibilities of her guests.. Bina is described as a young woman of 35, grown bony with worry and suffering. The neighbours think her frigid and friendless. Her devotion to her spastic child amounts almost to despair and she is said to have no life preoccupation with her family concerns. The imminence of their departure creates a sense of warmth between Bina and the various inhabitants of the town. Such as Mrs Ray, the Commisioner’s wife, then the smooth talking flirtation of the Bengali employee of the local museum; Mr Bose. . The great internal hypocrisy of the upper middle class is ripped apart by one who lives her life too intensely for the superficialities of the sophisticated urbanites. The formidable society women are described by Bina as ‘wives of men who represented various mercantile companies in the town- Imperial Tobacco, Brooke Bond, Esso and so on- and although theyt might seem exactly alike to one who did not belong to this circle, inside it were subtle gradations of importance according to the partiucular company for which each one’s husband worked and of these only themselves were initiates.' In contrast to these women, the school. Teacher, Mrs D’Souza’s arrival is a welcome change, for her honesty and straightforwardness. Bina’s husband Raman on the other hand has to entertain with the prosperous, successful husbands of the formidable society women. He is relieved at having to struggle with the drinks rather than have to converse with his guests. The sense of the party atmosphere to the harassed Raman in just a blur: outside her
Submerged in grass,in glass, in night in chatter teeth on biscuit, teeth on teeth. Enamel and gold. Crumbs and drugs. All awash, all soaked in night. Watery sound of speech, liquid sound of drink. Water and ice and night.(p.89)
This curious passage shows Raman's sense of helplessness in it sjumble of awareness, as though he is simultaneously part of the plant world and the human world. He is so ill at ease among his guests that he considers fleetingly staying with the waiters given that everyone seems to have forgotten the host. His unease stems from the subtle gradations in class status among the urban middle class, and the sense of not quite belonging by virtue of his 'Indian' company and because of his family’s lifestyle which revolves around their sick child, rather than golf, bridge, etc,… Within this society Mr Raman’s harmless-hermit like and artistic hobby of going for long walks and picking up pieces of wood for sculpture is perceived as eccentric and not in keeping with the social smart pretenses of the inhabitants. To Raman as to his wife Bina, the society with whom they currently socialize, is altogether perceived as being a monolithic block . There is no better way of illustrating this than when Raman is falsely congratulated for his move to Mumbai- the text reads: “One of them- was he Polson’s Coffee of Brooke Bond Tea?- claspe Raman about the shoiulders as proper men do on meeting, and hearty voices rose together, congratulating him on his promotion….One- was he Voltas or Ciba?- talked of golf matches ….as though he had opften played there with Raman.” Later we are told Esso and Caltex left together, arms about each other…” town
As they did with his wife, the privileged society of golf clubs, charity lunches and other social functions parts to admit him as an intimate because he is about to leave the town , therefore his eccentricities and his family’s disturbing failure to conform to mainstream acceptable behavior can be temporarily forgotten, as they all enact the pretence of deep friendship . “ Amazed and grateful as a schoolboy admitted to a closed society, Raman nodded and put in a few cautious words, put away his cigarettes,… The difference in the atmosphere can be felt when the neighbours come. The author emphasizes this difference by saying : Their talk had a vivid intimacy that went straight to the heart. Indeed rather than parties and clubs the neighbours talk about their children, their garden,their pets,.. But the real intimacy comes when unexpectedly the hospital doctors come out of the shadows. The overwrought parents are moved by the attention that their sick child gets from the hospital doctors and their wives. They share sorrow, drinks and the langorous sweetness of Tagore’s Bengali songs stamp the appropriate note of sweet sadness which marks passage of time and the imminence of departure. The tableau is complete, peace has descended on the farewell party. We have been made the complex social position of the Raman's and through them a whole tapestry of urban living has been presented and sastirised. Study Questions: 1. To what extent does this story present and interesting portrayal of social types? 2. Discuss the reasons for Bina and Raman's unease at their own farewell party, in their own garden.
3. Trace the three successive waves of change in relation to the three sets of guests in the story.
10. Pigeons at Daybreak There are some customs so typical to Indian life that it is difficult for us to imagine a world which reproduces these habits. Such as the one of sleeping out in the open, or on rooftops in the company of neighbours during summer months. In this story the old couple whose life is the focus of the narrative engage in this long lost habit when the electricity goes off in their area of Darya Ganj in Delhi, forcing them to resort to habits they had long grown unused to. They decide to spend the night on the rooftops. This brings out memories of their past However,the man is uncomfortable throughout and makes his wife run up and down the stairs to minister to his comfort, until daybreak, when he asks to be left alone, rather than go back to the now cooler flat ( the electricity having returned) to watch a flight of pigeons on the horizon. As the story opens the old man is grumbling as he waits for his wife to finish the morning chores before she comes to read to him from the morning papers. His grouchiness is emphasized by his inability to appreciate the multi tasking to which she resorts to deal with household cleaning, cooking as well as her ailing husband. The character of both is suggested in their physical features which further sharpens the psychological knowledge we are given of each . Mr Basu stressed and dissatisfied mind is irritated by everything his wife does, her lack of organisation, her repeated loss of her glasses about the house. The inactivity of waiting Mr Bose is contrasted to that of his uncomplaining wife:
“When she had finally come to the end of that round of activity, moving from stove to bucket, shelf to table, cupboard to kitchen, she came out on the balcony again, triumphantly carrying with her the newspaper as well as the spectacles.” Impervious to her husband’s ironies and imprecations Mrs Basu is described as a picture of unconcern: “ like a large soft cushion of white cotton.’ However later on in the story after having been overused and over fatigued by looking after her hypochondriac husband all day Mrs Basu is described “ like a bundle of damp washing slowly falling.” Even as she bustles about her husband after having read in the morning papers that the electricity is going to be switched off, Mrs Basu comes across as a selfless woman, all given over to her duties. However, Mr Basu thinks of nothing but his own comfort. Not only is he unable to appreciate all the effort put in by his wife to read to him. He also fails to see that all day and all afternoon his wife does nothing buy tend to his needs. It is the second story to feature old people in the present collection. Typical of Anita Desai's sharp, uncompromising insight into the complexity of lived relationship , the story subtly shows the daily routine of the couple through one day and night. It is a story of devotion and selfishness facing each other, both taking for granted each other's behaviour. Never wondering whether age. Study Questions: 1.Who do you sympathise with- Mr Basu pr Mrs Basu? Give reasons for your answer. their constructed gender roles within their couple could have been different, even in old
2. Discuss the relevance of the title to the story.
11.Scholar and Gypsy This is the last story of the collection. All of Anita Desai's novels or short story anthologies usually portray at least one perspective of her world seen from the other side of the cultural barrier. In this story an Anerican couple has come to India. David is an anthropology student, a city boy, who has come to colect material for a Ohd thesis. He is accompanied by Pat, his high-school educated wife from Vermont. As the story starts the coupe is in Bombay/Mumbai. While David enjoys himself immensely Pat feels nauseous by the overpowering of her senses through noise, smell, colour, and the vibrant vitality of public and private spaces alike.At one point she says that her extreme reaction to people and places, her sense of wilting, nausea and fainting, are caused by a cultural shock at encountering a culture so different. All this amplified due to her not attending university like her husband David. The differing reactions of the two to the people they meet are quite interesting. To David the people he meets are very urbanised and he believes “ these people would be at home in any New York party (p.110) But to Pat, they seem primitive. As they move to Delhi her sense of despair grows worse as they leave behind affluence to come to the life of devoted social workers, living out their middle class existence amidst the squalor of their job.
Pat's despair grows even more. By this time the estrangement between husband and wife has become stronger. David seems to be enjoying himself while Pat wilts. It is at this stage that David suggests a visit to the hills of Manali, to escape the heat of the plains and to bring some life back to his wife. As they move to the Kulu Manali valley a curious circular transformation takes place. David becomes more apathetic and Pat seems to revive and find comfort in the coolness of the place, the solitude of forests and temples, as well as the company of the European pilgrims who are living heir live as impoverished gypsies in the valleys of Manali.
The story of Western incursion into India in search of gypsy Nirvana is a story which is decades long. It started in the 1970's with the rebellious Flower Power generation who sought to oppose war and American materialism through a rediscovery of non-violence. Initially a political movement , initiated through Gandhi, moving to America by way of its influence on Martin Luther King, Flower Power soon became less politicised and emphasized simple living and a return to roots. Many of the practitioners of Flower Power came to India and reinvented communal ways of living, and pushed hedonism to the extreme through consumption of drugs. They can still be seen as a feature of Indian society in the Northern hills. In one of the scenes in the story David is ashamed that his compatriots, together with his wife,have become a tourist attraction to Indian tourists who “had made an outer circ le around this central core of seekers of nirvana and bliss-through-bang, as if this were one of the sights of the kulu Valley that they had paid to see. ( p.132)
Gradually Pat's fascination with the forests, landscapes and deserted temples of the Kulu valley draw her to her gypsy compatriots who have, like her, come to connect with nature. David watches with increasing distaste as his wife turns into a hippy. He at first notices a streak of fanaticism in her as she defends the people of the valley from David's sarcasm. Gradually this fanaticism makes itself seen as she becomes a visiting member of a community of gypsies and partakes their food and beliefs about the need to return to nature. In this section David's distaste with his surroundings grows by the day. He abandons his research , and even any pretcence of it. The teeming multitudes of India's cities having been left behind, David finds no interest in the hill people of their gypsy guests.
He comes to realise how different they are as Pat sets into her mysterious ways. This is suggested through deft strokes as David notices changes in her body movement : “As she grew browner from the outdoor life and her limbs sturdier from the exercise, it seemed to him she was losing the fragility, the gentleness that he had loved in her, that she was growing into some tough, sharp countrywoman who might very well carry loads, chop wood, haul water and harvest, but was scarcely fit to be his wife...her movements were marked by rough angles that jarred on him, her voice, ...was brusque and abrupt.' ( p.130) David becomes increasingly conscious of his American background, of his identity as “The charming, socially graceful yound David of Long Island upbringing.” ( p. 130) even as his wife's personality seems to be fading into the life of the valley.
As david tries to buy ticket to get out of what has become to him a cultural as well as a domestic trap , he is caught in as bus engine explosion, suffers from minor injury and is tended to by an American doctor. It is interesting to note his relief when , with his hands over his eyes he hears the voice of the doctor giving him instructions: “ a blessedly American voice spoke.” He opens his eyes ans gazes upon the American doctor ' as a vision of St Michael at the golden gates.” ( p.135) This representative of America, of his land, of his people, this American who gives him a sense of comfort and companionship in what has become to him a land of aliens, David, the erstwhile anthropology student come to study the people of India, whom he used to find fascinating in the varied realities, sees as a' gorgeous man, solid and middle-age and wondrously square,” This strange enthusiam of David is to be explained by his relief at seeing what to hin is a 'normal' American after the bony , crass Americna gypsies who have been taking away all the known parameters of his life and his identity. He fells reassured, comforted by the doctor's strong mainstream American presense, his booming voice, his easy gossip about his work, in ' his heavy voice from the Middle West. David's sense of relief at being taken care of goes beyond the immediate injury he has suffered. “ He sat back, as helpless as a baby, and felt those large dry hands with their strong growth of ginger hair gently dab at his face, bringing peace, blessing in thei wake.” ( p.135) David experiences this meeting as a return to the bosom of his culture, as a protective blanket which he returns to him his dissolving American identity, and the boundaries of his culotural references.
After this climax, Pat and David make their choices. Pat goes to live with the gypsies, David returns back to Delhi and to civilisation. The great interest of this story lies in the balance of opposite experiences felt by David and Pat throughout. As an anthropology student one would have imagined that David would have felt at ease with the variegated cultures and customs he has come to study. However, Gypsy culture and hill people do not fall within the realm of his academic interest and knowledge. To him, that experience in the hills is one of loss because he loses his bearing as a researcher, an academic, and an american husband. Despite all his seeming openness to other cultures, David is shown in his rejection of the harsh angle Pat has become, to be very copnscious of his identity as a middle class American. It is from this position that he sets out to study India,, secure in his cultural parameters. When these dissolve the interest of India lessens. Pat by contrast, apologises for her ignorance which does not allow her to appreciate theis social life in Bombay and Delhi. However, once in Manali she is shown to have an intuitive connection with the spirit of the place. In one of the rare conversation with her husband in Manali, she reproaches him for being too intellectual, for being unable to empathise with the world around him. David, the scholar, who had come to India on a research trip, abandons his mission as he watches his wife gradually grow into a gypsy and join the legions of converts to the natural life. He returns to Delhi, wifeless. In the final ironic conclusion to the story, Desai says, starting with the ponderous tones of an eighteenth century novelistic voice:
“If truth were to be told, he felt graeter regret at having to arrive in Delhi with a face painted like a baboon's than to arrive without his wife.” Study Questions: 1. Discuss the relevance of the title to the story. 2. Discuss the charcater of Pat and David as a study in contrasts. 3. Discuss the various aspects of cultural collusion in this story. 4. Who do you find more sympathetic, David or Pat or none of them.
1. Discuss the themes of loss in this story. 2. Pick up two charcaters you sympathise with and comment upon them. 3. Do the same for two characters you fell little sympathy for.
4. Compare and contrast the two boys in Games at Twilight and Pineapple
cake. Do you see similarities between them?
5. In what way is Haresh's hermit like existence in Surface Textures different
from that of Pat in Scholar and Gypsy?
6. “Bina and Raman, in The Farewell Party, seem to be the only characters
who are close to mainstream identities, in the whole collection.” Comment upon this statement 7. In what way does this anthology show Anita Desai's fascination with marginal characters?
8. Compare Mr Basu, in Pigeons at Day Break, and the old father in A
Devoted Son. In what way are they similar?
9. Compare the three depictions of gradual descent into madness or
marginality in Studies in the Park, Surface Textures and Scholar abd Gypsy.
10. How tragic is the life of the artist in Sale?
11. Do these stories overall give a realistic or idealistic portrayal of life in Indian society?
12. Comment on the tragi-comedy of the two situations depicted in Private
Tuition by Mr Bose and Pineapple Cake.
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