As the first-generation descendant of indentured Indian labourers brought in to service the rubber plantations of British colonial Malaya, Maniam knows too well the trauma and losses attendant on that position of cultural, linguistic, geographic and temporal displacement. Early stories such as “Ratnamuni”, and “The Third Child” and “Removal in Pasir Panjang” capture the nuances and particular texture of diasporic Indian life, replete with its fears, failures and feelings of betrayal as its members cling desperately to familiar, long-ago rituals that are fast losing their currency in the new cultural location.
Tradition vs Changes – perspectives on striking changes which have taken place in modern Malaysia and Singapore societies. Power relation – human relationship in different strata and racial aspects.
Penang in post independence time
Small town – Pasir Panjang (refer to the text how the writer describes the town – the shop, the school, the buildings etc) The road – its significance impact to the town people
Nathan, Ramasamy representing the Indian, Ah Seng and CRC the Chinese community, the students etc The housing development on the other side of the river – representing changes The CRC (Chinese Recreation Club) – representing the tradition
A subtly paced contrast of this life with the more rapid changes brought about by urban development. There is a comic strand running throughout the story, the better because it is played by seriousness, concerning Nathan (protagonist) the school teacher’s resignation from CRC. Nathan sent in his resignation from the CRC
The reaction of CRC concerning his decision
CRC bent their rules to admit him, and send successive deputations to urge him to rejoin. The building of the road – Leng Leng’s death and other children who were also killed on the same road after its completion brings in the irony of the story (changes come with a price!) This highway/road causes upheaval in the slow-paced town
Ironically yet tragic is the case of Leng Leng the orphan boy which in turn a comic in the case of Ah Seng the shop keeper, who fears he will lose his customers (being superstitious) Nathan’s impatience with Li Hwa (one of his students) show his desire to be out of the small town and join the development on the other side of town Nathan made his frequent visit to the jetty, watching the development on the other side of the river. As readers, we see from his observation, how the development springing but again development is partly shown in the darker side of betterment (e.g. prostitution, gangster elements etc)
Nathan met Yahaya a stranger on the jetty, who warned him about interfering with the across river development. They both became friends and together contemplate the invasion of the new with a peculiar mixture of interest and dismay. There is the case alienation when Nathan who s beaten up by newer gangster elements who came with development. Cheng the school clerk came to nurse his wound
Then a visit by Hock Guan, a CRC member together with Li Hwa, lightens up his misery. Li Hwa showed her charitable and respect for Nathan by giving him fruits The story ends with both Li Hwa and Nathan said sorry to one another – a pang of irony as they both did not like each other initially.
Important points to look at:
Language and style:
3rd person narrative – but we see the atmosphere and environment through the main protagonist, Nathan It indirectly brings us to dive into his emotion and conflict with the surrounding and himself. Irony and comic elements implanted – the portrayal of the old laterite road in contrast o the new road, the old slow-paced morbid town and the rapid development of the other side of town (across the jetty where Nathan stood almost every evening), Ah Seng fear of losing business when the new road claimed its victim mostly children. The use of multi racial background accentuates the theme of power relation, how each character deals with their conflicts.
Their role and characteristics
A school teacher – he showed lack of patience at times but committed himself to his work He bit of a loner and indifferent especially with his students He desired changes and wanted to be transferred out of the town to a bigger town An ex member of CRC (he was admitted to the club on special condition – on the basis of a kind Catch 22 clause) He mixed well with other races though his efforts in mixing around looks superficial (except with Yahaya)
An orphan mute boy who got his name from “his frenzied activity” “Street boys”, “not a pest” etc (read pg 154 for vivid description of him) Very fond of Nathan an d he will try to impress others through his comical antics He was killed at the opening of the new road by a speeding car. His short-lived character represent innocence and naivety (naïve) who was caught between tradition and changes)
A member of CRC
He owns a shop in town
Friendly to Nathan
A symbol of tradition – he showed mix-feeling about the progression of the road Always trying to advise Nathan
A stranger that Nathan met
A mysterious person
Probably a gardener
Like Nathan, he went to the jetty to see the other side of the world Friendly and smoking companion with Nathan
He knew about the sleazy underworld where he constantly reminded Nathan to stay away from the development at the other side of town
He bought lands – the developer
Big mouth Ramasamy
He brought changes into town