In my school we were always given an option during the library period. Either we could read a fiction book (Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Princess Diaries, Harry Potter,etc) from the selection on the table next to the giant chart of South America or we could stand in a line & enter the inner part of the library where we could choose a classic to read (all abridged).
Being a person of a very unusual temperament, I used to go for the fiction collection. Later on after we were banned from the library because we were in the librarians words , "Evil under the sun", I started to ask my Younger Uncle for books & he presented me with classics. At first I made a wry face & bellowed like a bull but then I turned a page...that got me rolling alright. Then on I realized that, my mind was getting broader & I could ace my English papers with ease.....why ? because I was reading classics.
Classics are those books which have been written by the some of the best authors in the world. These stories or novels were excellent beyond words & so in time, they were hailed as classics, meaning something that will last for all time. There are a variety of great authors who have written stories that have not only been good but have been popular for many generations. The saying goes that we become what we read & if we read good literature...well....we rock !
Classics can be a century old, two centuries old or even a story come from the B.C. period. They are amazing & very informative. Some marvellous classic authors are :
1) Lewis Carroll
2) Charles Dickens
3) Jules Verne
4) H. G. Wells
5) Rudyard Kipling
6) Johanna Spyri
7) Homer & many - many more
Classics can be read over & over again & can improve your vocabulary in a weeks time of reading. Some great classics are :
1) Around The World In Eighty Days
2) Oliver Twist
3) David Copperfield
4) Time Machine
5) Treasure Island
6) Little Women
8) The Invisible Man
10) Anne Of Green Gables
11) What Katy Did ?
12) Journey To The Center Of The Earth
14) Black Beauty
15) Dr. Dolittle
16) The Wizard Of Oz
17) Moby Dick
18) The Secret Garden
20) The Black Arrow & many more
So, what are you waiting for, grab a classic & get on with your reading. If you want more options, google it or find it on Amazon.
Reading is fun & reading classics is extra fun.
Malgudi Schooldays was actually published as ‘Swami & Friends' first when R. K. Narayan first wrote the stories of his child character Swaminathan & his adventures. We all love to read most of the time if not, books about our own lives & about people just like us. That’s why many school stories & novels are popular. R.K. Narayan, the creator of the character Swami was well aware of this fact & so penned the adventures of a boy in Malgudi.
There is however, a stark difference between the school boy Swami & other foreign & well-loved schoolboy characters. Swami is fully Indian & his story is set before India had won her Independence. However, certain childhood fears & preoccupations we notice are common in both the early 20th century Swami & even todays 21st century kids. E.g., the fear of examinations & rival boys etc. I doubt that the pre-Independence Swami however will ever go out of fashion. This is a character who lives on despite changes in technology…because this character is real & very genuine. All the characters in this book are completely real although technically speaking they are ‘made up’.
But lets get to the bottom of R.K. Narayan’s ‘Malgudi Schooldays’.
Most of us who love reading already know that the south Indian town mentioned in this book is fictional & does not really exist just the way Narnia does not as well as Camelot. This town where Swami & his friends stay was created by Narayan for the purpose of literature & adventure.
It is here where we are introduced to a boy called Swami (Swaminathan) who is mischievous & has a mind of his own. He like most of the school going children today does his homework at the last minute & incurs the wrath of his teachers as well as his principal (principals) which gets him into a lot of trouble at the home front as well. Like all school going children, he belongs to a group of friends who he associates himself with just the way you associate yourself with the group of friends that you belong to. His two greatest associates are Mani & Rajam the latter who is from an affluent household. Mani on the other hand represents the ruffian of the group who has more brawn than brain but towards the end of the book, becomes diplomatic & quite wise in a way (he makes Swami think that Rajam will write to him to make Swami feel better). Rajam the police superintendent’s son on the other hand, enters the plot as a very proud & headstrong character but who never lets his wealth go to his head where his friends are concerned. He is partly generous (he gave Swami a green toy engine from his cupboard) & also is a person to mend broken friendships (it was in his house that all the friends of Swami puts aside their issues & befriend each other once again).
In Swami’s family we meet many formidable characters who are immortal not only because of R.K. Narayan but also because, we see such people in our own homes or families. The family of Swami consists of his over indulgent mother (who nags the husband), a strict father & a very forgetful & meek grandmother who gives into whatever Swami says blindly. Swami father runs the show in the family & is often the cause for Swami getting into a lot of trouble.
It is well enough to note that R. K. Narayan himself had a father who was equally strict with the members of his household & an indulgent mother.
The grandmother however, captured my interest the most. The reason for me being interested in the activities of the old grandmother is because of the way she is so important to the main character Swami without him realizing it (well, until his father makes him sleep alone in his office away from the grandmother). He sleeps with the grandmother, the grandmother tells him stories about the great warriors of India & she is the one who gives Swami a listening ear in the whole household. Note that R. K. Narayan also in the first formative years of his life was brought up by his grandmother (mother’s mother) who had a great influence in his life. Swami’s mother throughout the story keeps herself quite distant from the boy (but cries for him when he gets lost) while Swami’s father has a military disposition in the bringing up of his son & never interferes with him. Till the end of the story we see that Swami holds a lot of ill feeling towards his father & his father’s behaviour is not at all what one would call, compassionate. There is yet again a similarity between Narayan’s own father & the father of Swami.
There is always a bit of a funny bone in Narayan which also shows itself in this work especially during the legendary Satyagraha against the Albert Mission School where Swami takes a substantial part in & breaks the glass of the principals ventilator. He is also told to throw his cap into a bonfire which is first thought to be of foreign make but which in the end turns out to be quite Indian. The whole purpose of Gandhi’s Satyagraha is warped here in the story where violence takes place among the protestors & no one knows the difference between Khadi & foreign cloth.
Although we get morals like bravery, friendship, loyalty etc.from the narrative, it’s the narrative itself that gives the reader pleasure beyond comparison. It acts like a mirror for youngsters to see their reflection & also gives us a glimpse of the corruption in the education system. Religious fanaticism is brought out through the unstable personage of the teacher Ebenezer but Narayan takes on this topic in his usual elementary manner without really hurting religious sentiment but showing us that religious fanaticism comes not from wisdom but, ignorance.
On the whole, I appreciated this work especially the additions of two stories from the actual ‘Malgudi Days’ which are masterpieces in their own right. Swami is a character who can evoke in us the unsureness of childhood & its highs & lows.
All in all, a really good read for the weekend.
Saki's 'The Stalled Ox' from his 1914 collection 'Beasts and Super-Beasts'
Saki is the true master of witty & macabre storytelling. He proves himself to be a person who does not analyse situations at their face value & gets into the minds of people professing certain ideas. For H.H. Munro, also well known as Saki, the world of simplicity is a world full of weird possibilities. He advances this theory of his, in his story ‘The Stalled Ox’ which appears in the 1914 collection ‘Beasts & Super-Beasts’.
In the story like in most of Saki’s witty stories, especially in this collection of short stories, he presents to the reader an almost ideal set up, where suddenly an unusual problem arises where absurdity begins leading to an anti-climax of a conclusion which at times shocks a person or makes the reader grin wisely. In the story, the main character is an artist named Theophil Eshley who paints cattle for a living, not because he is obsessed with the theme of dairy farming but because as Saki states, it has become his trademark. This trademark has been linked to him to such an extent that even his two attempts to break away from his own tradition leads him to failure. In the first paragraph of the story itself, one gets an idea of the hum-drum life of a simple painter who to us on the face of it, will never amount to anything in life but a cattle painter. Saki however, points to us an alternate philosophy to our prejudiced theorization in the form of his ‘problematic situation’.
Most of Saki’s problematic situations are life changing. In this narrative as well, the issue brought to the notice of the artist Eshley by his neighbour Adela Pingsford changes the artist’s life forever. The situation is urgent & absurd to a logical thinker, but simple enough as it goes where probabilities are rampant. Eshley is faced with a situation in which an animal….an ox holds a prominent position. Saki I have observed enjoys to use animals of all kinds, as miscreants of the human world of so called ‘order’. Infact wherever there is a slight trace of order going on, an animal like a piglet, a cock, an elk etc.., play the role of the tutor of humility.
In the story, an ox has entered the garden of the artist’s neighbour which she definitely objects to, as the alleged ox was upsetting her chrysanthemums. The neighbour implores the artist to drive the wayward ox away from her garden. She is of the opinion that since Eshley the artist was a cattle painter, he would be having a sort of ‘extra’ knowledge about how to get an ox off her land. There issues forth a cacophony of crazy dialogues which is hilarious in its simplicity & forwardness.
An avid Saki reader would definitely be aware of the fact that dialogues are of the utmost importance in the author’s short stories. Dialogues are the tools which Saki uses to dish out to the voracious reader of satire a hilarious stream of wacky possibilities which seem so real & yet so fantastic. The dialogues between the artist Eshley & his neighbour Adela are ingenious. The absurdness of human thought & action is presented by Saki very vividly.
Eshley in the story asks rather odd questions to his flushed neighbour that increase the flame of her rage. Eshley also is so indifferent to the whole situation that makes the reader want to chuckle out loud. Sarcasm is used by Saki to the fullest especially through the person of Adela. When Eshley quaintly asks whether the ox won’t just go out on its own, Adela angrily retorts that if it was the beasts initial intention she would not have taken the trouble to meet the artist in the first place & ask for help. Also, when Eshley very feebly tries to drive the stalled ox away with cries of ‘Hish’ & ‘Shoo’, Adela indignantly states that the next time a hen sets foot into her garden, she would definitely call the artist for his assistance in the form of his useless bird calls like ‘Hish’ & ‘Shoo’.
I’ve noticed also where this story is concerned (as well all of Saki’s short stories) Saki has been able in single sentences even to satirise a lot of events, institutions, ideologies & people. Example is when Eshley mocks the cinema when he states that the oxen that are rounded up on screen may be fake even though they contain a lot of horses to help along with many ‘accessories’. He also picks on The Royal Academy stating that they prefer ‘orderly & methodical habits in its children’.
Another part of the story that amuses me is the almost human side that is given to the ox which seems quite devoid in the artist or the artist’s neighbour. The ox is the one who understands that he is not welcome in the garden after a pea-stick is thrown at him & thus drags himself into Adela’s morning room. Adela on the other hand is flabbergasted when she sees the ox entering her morning room & makes the hilarious statement that where personal preference was concerned, she preferred the ox to stay in the garden rather than in her house. She is also the one who induces the novel idea into the artist to paint the picture of the ox in her morning room which he undertakes to do immediately after it was suggested. The situation seems absurd & nonsensical but Eshley’s painting of, ‘Ox In A Morning Room Late Autumn’ makes him a real success at last although it does not improve his equation with his neighbour. The story is an anti-climax typical of Saki where the ox that caused a lot of trouble becomes a sensation in the world of art.
In all, the story of ‘The Stalled Ox’ appealed a lot to my taste in subtle humour as well as my love for macabre literature.
Ziya's Last Dance
It was the Christmas Night Party and all the college students in their tight miniskirts and hipster jeans were there all bright & happy. They joked and danced the jive to the beat of the music provided by the DJ—–all except, little Ziya.
Ziya was a young teenager who was feeling rather awkward amidst all the short skirted variety while she was dressed in a violet salwar kameez. Ziya had come alone to the party and she knew or thought she knew that like all other Christmas parties this evening too, no one would ask her for a dance. For Ziya was not like every other teenager, she was different ——and very quiet so everyone preferred to keep away from her. She truly was personification of the ‘one, who stands throughout life all alone’, but yet even such a person is never alone as this story will tell.
The last song was being played by the DJ, it was a waltz. Every couple was waltzing slowly over the dance floor engrossed in each other’s eyes. Ziya knowing it was late lifted herself from the plastic white chair she sat on the whole evening and walked to the exit when someone tapped her shoulder. She turned around to see a handsome young man with sea green eyes and bright golden hair staring at her fixedly. The man said “Will you dance with me?” And without giving a second thought, Ziya put her hand into his and they started to waltz to the tune of the Anniversary song. As they danced Ziya was captivated by the young man’s gaze who emanated a soothing calmness that she had never experienced before – she knew she was falling in love. When the song ended Ziya asked the young man who he was. But the young man with a gentle smile held the chin of the excited little Ziya and said:
“Do you want to dance with me again?”
“Yes”, exclaimed Ziya.
“Then next year come to this party once again and I will dance with you”, said the young man releasing Ziya’s chin and running out of the party hall before Ziya could catch him.
Ziya looked for him everywhere even tried later at home to find him on the computer – but she did not see her sea green eyed dancing partner——until the following year when they met again at the same Christmas Party. This time the young man was dressed in a suit and Ziya was a year older. But, they danced the night away without a word passing between them and like the previous year the young man promised Ziya to meet her the following year again and he disappeared.
Every year Ziya danced with her golden haired stranger, her love never failing just like his promise, every Christmas dance.
One year however Ziya got the news from her doctor that she had been diagnosed with Cancer – the last stage. Ziya was not worried about dying really, she always walked this world alone and thus she knew her end would also leave her soul desolate but — she yearned to see her dancing partner.
That Christmas, Ziya was in the Cancer hospital, her hair shaven and her eyes sunken. Her body ached but all she could think of was the words of her partner: “Then next year come to this party once again and I will dance with you”.
The Christmas day was spent in agonizing pain, while Ziya cried thinking of the Christmas Party that she would miss that night.
When night came, Ziya started to cry again, when suddenly she heard the sound of the tune of the Anniversary Waltz.
“Can it be”, wailed Ziya raising her weak self from the bed —- and behold the young man emerged from the darkness of the room and held out his hand….and they danced.
However when the song ended that night, the young man clasped Ziya’s pale and cold hands and said:
“Do you want to dance with me again?”
Ziya cried on hearing his words knowing that her time had come but as she held the palms of his hands….she felt a slight hollowness at the centre of both the palms of the young man….she realized who he was and answered:
“I want to dance every Christmas night with you —- my Lord” and she fell into his arms and breathed her last.
Now those of you who will go for Christmas parties and dance away, here is something you must do. Go to the window and look up at the sky ——-and you will see many stars twinkling as Ziya and her dancing partner dance through the heavens showing that you are never alone. Someone somewhere out there always wants to dance with you.
A story from my book ‘S.O.S. Animals And Other Stories’