Born in 1906, R. K. Narayan was brought up in a country struggling to gain independence. ‘The M. C. C. ’, an excerpt taken from the larger novel Swami and Friends by Narayan, was published in 1935, a time when Anti-British sentiments were at their height, engaging Indians from every corner of the country. In fact, Narayan himself was quoted as saying, “growing up in the first half of the twentieth century in India one couldn’t but be swept away by the rising tide of the nationalist movement,” (p. 202, Alam). The 1930’s were a time where “all that a writer could write about became inescapably political,” (p. 79, Alam). The first part of a trilogy, the semi-autobiographical Swami and Friends was Narayan’s first published work. The excerpt covers Swami and his friends’ attempts at starting their own cricket team, and the comical twist of events that follows. Through the excerpt, Narayan offers his quiet critique of colonialism mainly through clever use of humour and comedy, as well as bringing to the fore the concept of ‘colonial modernity’. Narayan’s simple, unpretentious narrative style serves to contrast with, and thus highlight, numerous amusing over-dramatizations of events taking place in the chapter.
Using the simplistic views of his child-protagonists, Narayan exaggerates various occurrences in the story, casting them in a laughable, almost farcical light. From the very beginning of the chapter, Rajam’s musings that he forgave Swami for his sins and political activities is an over-the-top way of describing the reasons for their fight. Similarly the line, “Rajam had not spoken to him since the day when his political doings became known,” (p. 72, MIL) adds as an example of the pettiness and immaturity of the boys. The Pea, too, is described as being “a man of a hundred worries now,” (p. 3, MIL) an amusing exaggeration in attempting to describe Swami’s feelings at losing his old group of friends. Upon receiving the reply from Messrs Binns, the children’s failure to comprehend the meaning of certain words lead them to feel ridiculed by Binns, claiming they “had written nothing in their previous letter to warrant such expressions as ‘obliged’, ‘remit’ & ‘25%’,” (p. 81) again a heavy over-dramatization. The final scenes in the excerpt are resplendent with hyperbolic expressions, representing the children’s emotions. For example, once they realize the Pea fails to bring the wickets, “a cloud descended upon the gathering,” (p. 2) symbolic of the sadness they were experiencing. Moreover, this exaggerated imagery is described again as an idea is seen as a ray of light being cast. As shown through the characters Swami and Rajam, Narayan manages to articulate the thought-processes and sensitivities of children in a light yet effective manner. The children, in their naivety and innocence, both serve to be enjoyable vessels for humour in the chapter, displaying an almost unconscious irony in them, in that what they perceive to be so in a situation often is the opposite of the true happenings.
The children’s triviality is on display when their friend Somu who failed to advance to the next year, was “automatically excluded from the group, the law being inexorable in that respect,” (p. 73, MIL). After expressing his apprehension about playing cricket for the first time, Swami finally comes to the simplistic conclusion that “probably (Jack) Hobbs was too shy and sceptical before he took the bat and swung it,” (p. 74, MIL) somewhat oblivious to the rationalization that confidence comes through practice.
Also, there lies an innocent honesty in the children which also serves to add humour to situations. Examples of this honesty are when Swami and Rajam are cutting out pictures of cricket players, though Swami “secretly did not very much care for those pictures, as there was something monotonous about them. He sometimes thought that the same picture was pasted in every page of the album,” (p. 74, MIL). Swami, though not fully able to comprehend the sport and activity they were undertaking doing still continued due to a slight fear and pressure from the more dominant Rajam.
Also, when looking through the catalogue, Swami though also pretending to admire a cricket bat, was “indiscreet enough to say, ‘It looks like any other bat in the catalogue’,” (p. 77, MIL). Upon receiving a reply from Messrs Binns, Swami also comes to the conclusion that they would receive goods, naively declaring, “If he did not wish to supply you with things, would he thank you? He would have abused you,” (p. 81). Both children, while enthusiastic about starting a cricket team, have little to no knowledge on the exact procedure. Hilarity ensues as they start to worry about being taxed for their team name, with Rajam later going on to ay “the government seems to tax everything in this world,” (p. 76). He later adds that “the government did not seem to know where it ought to interfere and where not,” (p. 76). Evident here is a passive criticism of government taxation policies, though not fully comprehended as it is from the point of view of a child. The children’s imagination get the better of them after they start speculating about paying taxes, the government wouldn’t recognize their team, as well as the shock of being asked for two separate taxes from the team.
In their despair, “Rajam realized at this point that the starting of a cricket team was the most complicated problem on Earth,” (p. 76) again a sweeping statement meant to be humorous. Requiring cricket supplies for their team, the boys decide to mail a letter of order to Messrs Binns, taking half an hour to think of what to say. After fixating over trivialities like whether to address Binns by sir or not, finally the letter, full of punctuation errors and humorously dramatic reads, “Dear Sir,
Please send to our team junior Willard bats, six balls, wickets and other things quick. It is very urgent. We shall send you money afterwards. Don’t fear. Please be urgent. Yours Obediently, Captain Rajam (Captain). ” Upon sending the letter, the children immediately receive another letter, and fantastically think it to be from Binns, J. B. Hobbs, or their Headmaster among others. Again on display is Narayan’s talent for writing from a child’s perspective, capturing the wild imagination and far-fetched suggestions that are so common among them.
Another example of Narayan’s prowess at depicting children is through the second letter by Sankar, Swami’s old friend. Again, full of the same grammatical mistakes and peculiar writing that boys of that age are prone to, the letter contains laughable lines like, “my father came here. My mother is also here. All of us are here. And we will be only here,” (p. 79). The simplistic logic employed by the children and their inability to comprehend certain situations fills the excerpt with instances of situational humour.
The children, after reading Sankar’s letter, enthusiastically decide to reply at once. “Mani copied Sankar’s letter verbatim,” (p. 79) an instance of idiocy on the part of the boys add humour to the situation. Further foolishness is committed on Rajam’s part when he concludes that Binns would supply them goods simply because he thanked them for their letter. Even after informing Binns that they had received the wrong letter, they still continue to be optimistic in receiving their supplies, completely unaware of the situation.
Narayan’s character Rajam also serves as a deeper symbol of British colonialism and modernity. His very domineering nature, his elitism and cynicism are all manifestations of 20th century colonialism. He speaks of his father being modern and secular, another symbol of the specific kind of modernity that colonialism engendered in India. Being the son of a government servant, Rajam does not approve of Swami’s previous political activities as his family works under the British.
His strong personality is evident during his conversations with Swami, in lines like, “he was in a debating mood, and Swami realized it and remained silent,” (p. 74). Rajam is constantly in an argumentative mood and adopts a sceptical tone in conversations with the others. He continuously refers back to his days at Bishop Waller’s school as being superior, and derides Swami for his ‘Board High School’ mentality. Furthermore, his elitist leanings are on display from the line, “I won’t say ‘Sir’. It is said only by clerks. I am not Binns’ clerk,” (p. 9). While writing the letter, he self-appoints himself as the Team Captain, and later during the match proceeds to open the batting himself. As Rajam belongs to the comprador class of Anglicised Indians he has almost internalized the colonial arrogance and prejudice from the people of the time. Swaminathan by contrast is reflective of the Indians under British rule, and serves as Rajam’s foil of sorts. Swami is more docile in nature, and continuously submits to Rajam’s will, reminiscent of subjugated Indians under the ruling British.
This is apparent from lines like “Swami felt the safest course would be to agree with him,” (p. 74). In addition, the “example of absolute submissiveness,” (p. 74) Swami makes by agreeing with Rajam flatters him, catering to his whims and fancies. Swami at times is also bullied into certain things, as shown by the line “Swaminathan was forced to accept it in spite of his protests,” (p. 78) consolidating the reading the boys have internalized the master and subject relationship fostered by colonialism.
Towards the end of the chapter, the instance of Swami bowling out Rajam could be seen as a disguised challenge to colonialism and British rule at the time, leaving the reader end on a rather amicable and optimistic note, possibly significant of Narayan’s own aspirations regarding Independence. Also prevalent in the excerpt are instances and references to the concept of ‘colonial modernity’, and the subconscious influence the British have on the town Malgudi and its inhabitants. The very title, ‘M. C. C. ’ for Marylebone Cricket Club is an example of British influence on the residents, a very prestigious and successful club in the UK.
The children’s own prejudices are revealed when Swami admits that “As M. C. C. it sounded imposing, the name (Malgudi Cricket Club) was really a bit tame,” (p. 75). The game of cricket itself at the time was a colonial and very elite pastime, and Swami admits to not having “thought of cricket as something that he himself could play,” (p. 74). While the boys are busy deciding on how to form the cricket team, they are more concerned with the government recognizing them officially than concerned with the players in it, the idea of being recognized and given legal legitimacy also a Western concept.
The very idea of ordering goods from a catalogue, all produced and manufactured from factories is a direct example of industrialization and modernity. Finally, the example Rajam uses of a Rolls-Royce also serves as a benchmark for quality, as well as prestige. Even more interestingly enough, all the boys seem to be very familiar with the Rolls-Royce and its specifications, regardless of whether they have their facts correct or not, exhibiting more of the subconscious British influence on them.
In conclusion, though ‘The M. C. C. ’ only serves as an entree to ‘Swami and Friends’, it nevertheless offers enough scope for analysis in R. K. Narayan’s colonialist critique. Masked by the innocence and naivety of children, the excerpt doesn’t openly indicate Narayan’s stance on colonialism and Indian independence, yet it simultaneously offers a subtle criticism and opinion of colonial attitudes towards Indians. The humour and comedy serve to lighten he undertones of the novel, which allowed Narayan to apply focus to his main characters without it becoming too idealistic, allowing people of all ages to relate as well as enjoy ‘Swami and Friends’.