Khagam by Satyajit Ray
In Khagam by Satyajit Ray we have the theme of tradition, modernity, kindness, trust, curiosity, control, change, arrogance and power. Taken from his The Collected Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed male narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Ray may be exploring the theme of tradition. Babu has no time for Imil Baba or the traditions that he believes in. He much prefers to see scientific evidence when it comes to matters that require an explanation. This may be significant as in many ways Ray is pitting tradition against modernity. With Baba as a holy man being a practitioner of tradition while Babu is the opposite and believes that modernity will give an explanation for everything. It might also be important that the narrator sticks by Babu. Even though he only knows him for two days as this would suggest that the narrator is a good-willed and kind man. Throughout the story he is prepared to help Babu even though he does not have any expected allegiance to him. It is also possible that Ray is exploring the theme of change. With it being clear to the reader that Babu has been transformed by Baba’s curse into a snake.
What is also interesting about the story is how strongly Babu disagrees with Baba. The reader aware that Babu has previously had a negative experience when it came to a holy man and as such no longer trusts holy men. This could be important as Babu is allowing one incident or misfortunate incident with a holy man cloud his judgement when it comes to all holy men. When the reality is that it was Babu’s uncle who sent him to a holy man rather than to a doctor. If anything Babu’s uncle is to blame for what happened Babu when he was younger. It is also interesting that the narrator suggests that Babu should see a doctor as this could suggest that the narrator like Babu believes in modern medical practices over the traditional role played by holy men. However the narrator’s curiosity is so strong he still nonetheless wishes to see Baba. This may be important as it suggests that the narrator is open minded when it comes to both tradition and modernity. Unlike Babu. Who favours one course of action and that is a modern approach.
The fact that Babu kills Balkishen is also interesting as it is as though he is bitter towards Baba and is unable to let go of his previous experiences with holy men. If anything Babu may wish to take control away from Baba and the notion that he has the ability to tame a king cobra snake. If anything it may be a case that Ray is suggesting that by killing Balkishen Babu feels as though there is a battle of wills occurring between him and Baba. A battle that Babu eventually loses due to what some critics might suggest is his ignorance when it comes to the powers and abilities of holy men. At no stage in the story does the reader sense that Babu is open to Baba’s methods. Again the reader aware that Babu is judging Baba based on a previous negative experience that he had with a holy man. The narrator’s concern for Babu also appears to be genuine and at times the reader feels as though the narrator is somewhat afraid. There is a transformation occurring that he does not fully understand but he knows that it is happening. Babu after killing Balkishen is not the same man.
The end of the story is also interesting as the reader realises just how powerful Baba actually is. It is also noticeable that Baba is remarkably calm when he tells the narrator where Babu is. Nothing seems to faze Baba. He sits calmly at his hut as if nothing unusual has happened and in many ways nothing unusual has happened for those who believe in the abilities of a holy man. A lesson that Babu might have been best served to have learnt before he arrogantly killed Balkishen. If anything Babu has paid for his arrogance with his life. Where once he took the form of a human being he is now a king cobra snake under the complete control of Babu. Which is somewhat ironic for a man who did not believe in the abilities of holy men. Any doubt that the narrator may have about Baba’s abilities are also dispelled when he sees Babu’s skin hanging from a tree. If anything Ray may be suggesting that when it comes to holy men or tradition one is better off being open minded. Something that would have saved Babu’s life if he had not been blinded by his own arrogance. Babu paid the ultimate price (his life) for not believing in Baba’s powers.