Leela’s Friend by R.K.Narayan pages

Background

Rasipuram Krishaswamy Narayanswarmy was born in the Indian city of Madras in 1906 and, apart from occasional trips abroad, lived in India all his life. His father was the headmaster of a local school. Narayan trained to be a journalist and then went on to win international recognition for his numerous novels, five collections of short stories, four collections of essays and two travel books. He was admired and encouraged by the English novelist Graham Greene, who described him as “the foremost Indian writer in English” and suggested that he should shorten his name for publication purposes. He is widely regarded as the finest Anglo-Indian writer of the twentieth century. He has received several awards and his work has been translated into many different languages. Leela’s Friend is one of his best-known and most popular short stories. Narayan died in May 2001, aged ninety-four.

NB:
Four rupees (line 21): the rupee is the Indian unit of currency. At today’s rates, four rupees are worth about six pence.

What’s the story?

1. After your first reading, fix the story in your mind by identifying seven more main events and listing them in order.

1. Mr and Mrs Sivasanker decide to employ Sidda.
2. ...

Characters-what are they like?

2. What is your view of Sidda, the servant boy? Is he a suitable “friend” for Leela? Do you accept the following evidence against him?

a) He is vague about his previous employer. (lines 9-14)
b) He makes false claims about the moon and misleads Leela
(lines 41-57).
c) He is uneducated and illiterate (lines 63-70)
d) He looks guilty at the mention of the chain and then runs away (lines 93-9)
e) Mrs Sivasanker thinks of him as a “villain” (line 113).
f) He has a criminal record for stealing jewellery from children (lines 125-127)
g) The inspector calls him a “devil” (line 151)
h) Mrs Sivasanker calls him a “rough fellow” (line 172)

What evidence can you select from the story to give a more sympathetic view of Sidda’s character?
3. What is your view of Leela’s parents? Are they good parents? Look at the following evidence in their favour and decide whether you agree. Then identify evidence which is less sympathetic.

a) They are generous with their daughter (like the gift of the gold chain).
b) They provide her with a companion, with books, catalogues, pencils (line 60).
c) They are very concerned for the safety of their daughter (lines 112-14).

4. Finally, what is your view of Leela? Is she just a spoilt, thoughtless, bossy and rather naive five-year-old-or is there more to her than this? Identify evidence from the story for both views of Leela.

The plot-conflicts and twists

There is a clear conflict between Leela’s view of Sidda and her parents’ view of him. The central narrative question is “Did Sidda steal the gold chain?” (or who is right about him-Leela or her parents?

5. Re-read the section (lines 24-84) which describes the times Sidda and Leela spend together. Narayan shares this with the reader but not Leela’s parents. What is there in these lines that might convince you to share Leela’s trust in Sidda?

6. Re-read the final section (line 175to the end). How many twists and ironies and injustices can you find here?

Themes-what is it really about?

7. The honesty, directness and wisdom of children can often expose the stupidity and unfairness of the adult world, and many writers make use of this irony. Look at extracts a-d below, and decide what Narayan might be suggesting through Leela about:

· Prejudice
· Poverty
· Class divisions
· Injustice
· Being a good parent
· What is important and what isn’t

a) “I don’t like you, Mother. You are always abusing and worrying Sidda. Why are you so rough?”
“But he has taken away your chain...”
“Let him. It doesn’t matter. Tell me a story.” (lines 103-6)

b) “Why should Sidda not sit in our chair, Mother?” Mother didn’t answer the question. Leela said a moment later, “Sidda is gone because he wouldn’t be allowed to sleep inside the house just as we do. Why should he always be made to sleep outside the house, Mother? I think he is angry with us, Mother.” (lines 118-23)

c) “He is a thief. He has taken away your gold chain.”
“Let him. I will have a new chain,” Leela said, and all of them laughed. (lines 139-41)

d) Leela felt disgusted with the whole business and said, “Leave him alone, he hasn’t taken the chain.”
“You are not at all a reliable prosecution witness, my child," observed the inspector humorously. (lines 154-8)

The writer and the writing-Narayan at work

Characterisation-the presentation of Sidda

8. In the Characters section, you considered some harsh judgements of Sidda, mainly from the point of view of the adults in the story. In the Plot section, you looked at the time Sidda spent with Leela in order to consider a more sympathetic view of him. Now look at other ways in which Narayan encourages the reader to take a sympathetic view of Sidda and the life he leads. Look at the effect of:

· The way Narayan has Sidda address Mr Sivasanker in the opening section
· The way Narayan lists his jobs (lines 22-3)
· The way Narayan positions him in the house: “She made him squat on the floor...” (line 61), “He sat down on the floor near the bed...” (line 77)
· The description “that good fellow” (line 69). Whose view is this?
· Sidda’s response to the accusations: “His throat went dry. He blinked and answered that he did not know” (lines 93-94); “Sidda stood with bowed head” (lines 134-5); “He looked at her mutely, like an animal” (line 166)

9. Look at the contrast Narayan builds up between Leela’s feelings for Sidda and her feelings for her parents. Find evidence for the following statements in the story.

a) Sidda makes time to play very patiently with Leela, to excite her imagination, to read her stories and to answer her questions.

b) Leela’s parents may give her material things, but they give her no time or attention, they blame her, they laugh at her, fail to answer her questions and discipline her too harshly and angrily.

c) Leela finds joy in the company of Sidda and is deeply unhappy when he is accused and eventually removed.

A closer look at some language choices

10. One of the suggested themes in the Themes section is prejudice. Sidda certainly suffers from the way adults form snap judgements based on appearances or on rumour. How does Narayan draw attention to this prejudging or prejudice:

· In the opening twenty lines
· In Mrs Sivasanker’s instant suspicions (lines 91-3)
· In her disturbed thoughts (lines 110-14)
· In Mr Sivasanker’s final description of Sidda (line 194)?