Essay, Pages 9 (2009 words)
‘A Horse and Two Goats’ is a masterpiece of literature by R. K. Narayan (1906 – 2001). The writer is a brightly shining star in the galaxy of the leading literary Indian fiction writers, particularly who wrote in English including Mulk Raj Anand and Raja Rao. Narayan is given credit for bringing the Indian Literature in English to show the whole world. For this great service to the Indian literary world, he is rendered as the greatest Indian novelist and short story writer.
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The setting of this story is in the real and small village, Kritam unlike his most of the stories.
His stories have simple language and common characters that are grappling with their social problems of everyday life as we see in his story ‘A Horse and Two Goats’. Narayan has been compared to as great writers as William Faulkner and Guy de Maupassant. He has reflected humour and passions of ordinary life and exposes the bitter truths about human life in different shades and colours.
With respect to this trait, he is counted a humanitarian artist in his own way and distinctive style. However, R.K. Narayan’s style has met bitter criticism for simplicity of his diction. It is said that he is too simple to be intellectually entertaining.
The story has just two main characters. Muni, an old and very poor Indian and a red-faced American. Both of them represent their cultures through language. They speak their own languages and hardly can understand each other.
In other words, language proves a great barrier in communication between the two individuals who belong to two entirely different cultures. This difference of cultures speaks volumes about the conflict of the East and West, with their own distinctive values and standards. Moreover, the two characters represent their respective nations. One is from the First World, America, the highly developed one and the other is from India, the Third World. Muni is symbol of austere poverty, materially as well as morally. He is in fact telling a lie to his wife when he tells her that ‘I have sold our goats to a red-faced man. He was absolutely crazy to have them, gave me all this money carried them off in his motor car’ (p.16). The American has mistakenly bought the statue of horse.
He misunderstands that the horse-statue belongs to the poor old man, Muni. His misunderstanding is owing to his utter ignorance of the Indian culture as well as his materialistic outlook. He misunderstands that money can buy anything he likes. He stands as a symbol of the American that their material superiority can make them able to buy the cultures of the poor nations with money. He time and again talks about his business and his keen desire to become a big businessman. This fact can be seen in these wistful words of him: I repeat I am not a millionaire. Ours is a modest business; after all, we can’t afford to buy more than sixty minutes of TV time in a month, which works out to two minutes a day, that’s all, although in the course of time we’ll may be sponsor a one-hour show regularly if our sales graph continues to go up…(p.14).
Moreover, the American fails to discern the reality that the horse-statue is not the possession of the poor goat-man but it belongs to the whole village of Kritam. On contrary, Muni is very poor but he is not preoccupied with materialistic pursuits. He talks about his religious and spiritual preoccupation. According to him: …our pundit […] told us that Vishnu is the highest god. Whenever evil men trouble us, he comes down to save us. He has come many times. The first time he incarnated as a great fish, and lifted the scriptures on his back when the floods and sea waves … (p.12).
This discourse exposes the truth about the conflict of the East and West on spiritual and materialistic grounds respectively. The writer seems to suggest that West is hollow at heart and worshipper of materialism whereas East is spiritually rich and deep-rooted in culture and traditions which cannot be snatched from them because they are their life and spirit. Muni’s these words point this fact out that ‘ At the end of Kali Yuga, this world and all other worlds will be destroyed and the Redeemer will come in the shape of a horse called “Kalki”, this horse will come to life and gallop and trample down all bad men’(page:13).
Similarly, at individual and social level, the story exposes evils of poverty. Muni is awfully poor and under the burden of loans even for bare bread. The story reveals the fact that how strange the way of the world are. When Muni grows poorer and poorer, the people of his village begin to look down upon him as someone low and base. They do not treat him as a respectable individual of the society. It implies about the inhuman behavior of the fellow beings with one another when their social status is not equal. Poverty becomes a curse at home and in the society for the poor people like Muni. His wife quarrels with him because there is nothing to eat to live.
Owing to his poverty nobody is ready to give him loans. The shop man who used to give him small loans has now refused to give anymore because the poor Muni has piteously failed to repay his former loans. Muni promises but without any use that ‘I will pay you everything on the first of the next month’ (p.3). His poverty causes him a great disgrace and he helplessly utters ‘My poverty is exposed to everybody. But what can I do’ (p.4)? He gets rid of the shopkeeper when he insults him before the eyes of the people Muni tells him that he will pay back as soon his daughter sends him money on his fiftieth birthday. Thus Muni’s poverty is symbolic to the poverty of the common people who are maltreated only for their poverty in this world which is mad with worship of the wealth and material things.
Muni unlike the American is conservative. He says, the cinema has spoiled the people and taught them how to do evil things. He has least lust for material things and no high ideals in life. He only dreams of opening up small shop under a thatched roof, selling fried nuts, sweets and coconut to the travelers in need of quenching their thirst and mitigate their hunger. In other words, Muni is very good-hearted poor man who loves to serve humanity but the American has excessive lust for wealth has no love to serve humanity. He tries to gratify his aesthetic sense by buying the statue-horse but never thinks about spending his money for the benefits of the humanity. Besides, the story stresses upon the fact that the poor may have tender feelings for humanity but not the rich because they have mostly the hearts of gold and silver which are without sympathetic feelings for others.
The American talks to Muni so long only because he has a great desire to buy the statue. In addition, the two men have little knowledge about each other’s society and culture. Muni fails to understand the reason why the American wants to buy the statue when it has no practical benefit at all. It also indicates that the poor and illiterate people have mostly least approach beyond their belly. The American also cannot realize that the statue is the cultural symbol of the people belonging to a small village, Kritam which represents whole India. To sell the statue is tantamount to sell cultural identity. However, Muni sells his two goats and the statue for hundred rupees because he has nothing to eat due to his poverty. He tells lie to his wife that he has sold his two goats in hundred rupees without mentioning the sale of the statue. Perhaps he does so due to two reasons.
One reason is that he cannot imagine that the statue has such great importance for the American and he will not take it with him. Second reason is that the statue does not belong to him only but the whole village and by selling it he will get money to take home and please his wife who is mostly annoyed with him for poverty. It means that poverty may compel a person to go to such limits as telling lies and selling ones legacy. Furthermore, the Big House stands for discrimination in village of Kritam. It is only one such big house in the village whereas other abodes are no more than mere huts and mud houses. It is the symbol of monopoly and feudalism. Muni has to pay for using the back part of the Big House for his goats and sheep when Muni had good days and prosperous life with as many as forty goats in his pen. However, the Big House is a great source of relief for Muni and his family.
He has hardly anything in his house even water and is dependent on the Big House for drinking purposes. Muni says, ‘Bath! Who can dream of a bath when you have to scratch the tank-bed for a bowl of water? We would all be parched and dead but for the Big House, where they let us take a pot of water from their well’ (p.4). In other words, the writer criticizes the poor condition of the South Indian people who been kept so much deprived by the rulers. They have worst condition and have no availability of daily communities as essential as drinking water. The writer wants to convey the message to the State about negligence and least care of the masses who living in exceedingly miserable plight. This poor condition also goes back to the colonial age of the Subcontinent when the colonizers ruled their colonies and did least for the welfare of the people who were the subjects.
They proved looters of the resources of their colonies and did not improve their poor condition. They rather cause the flourishment of the feudal culture which is there long after their departure from the subcontinent. They have left but have left behind their influence and their discriminatory system among the Indians. The Big House is the representative of this concept. The Big House has well of water whereas the other population, not to speak of other daily commodities of life, has not even water for them to drink.
The American has come to visit India which was colony like his own country of the USA but America has rose successfully from the slavery and has come to the fore front due to their sincere leaders and their welfare system of the State. The writer wants the world know about the poor condition of the South India where there is no standard of living at all. He seems to expose the bitter realities of life in pinching grip of austere poverty. Narayan like Guy de Maupassant is ranked as great figure in the world of modern short story.
Maupassant he has followed the last two conditions as a writer: 1. a moral relation of the author to the subject, 2. the clearness of exposition, 3. sincerity, that is, an undisguised feeling of love or hatred for what the artist describes, But Narayan has followed the whole three ones quite successfully in his short stories. Also like him Narayan has the ability to compress text without losing the basic message. He was endowed with that particular gift, called talent, which consists in the author’s ability to direct, according to his tastes, his intensified, strained attention to this or that subject, in consequence of which the author who is endowed with this ability sees in those subjects upon which he directs his attention, something new, something which others did not see. Narayan evidently possessed that gift of seeing in subjects something which others did not see.