Swami and Friends by R.K. Narayan
In Swami and Friends by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of disobedience, conflict, control, authority, power, rebellion and independence. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Narayan may be exploring the theme of disobedience. Swaminathan has burnt his school cap in support of Gandhi who has been jailed. As to whether Swaminathan fully understands what is happening is a different matter as he is after all only ten years old. By burning his cap he may not be protesting so much about British injustices in India but rather the fact that he has to go to school in the first place. It is also possible that Swaminathan is impressionable and may have followed the lead of older school boys. How impressionable Swaminathan may be is noticeable by the fact that when he sees the boy outside the school breaking the windows. Swaminathan picks up some stones and begins to break windows too. It might also be important that Swaminathan attempts to impose his own will on the smaller children from the boarding school. He is only too well aware that he will be beaten by the older boys who attend the boarding school if he attempts to intimidate them and as such stays clear of them.
If anything just as the crowd are trying to control their environment outside the school, at the boarding school and at the centre of Market Road. Swaminathan is also attempting to control the infants from the boarding school. It is as though Swaminathan does not actually know why he has not gone into school or as to why he is protesting. Which may be the point that Narayan is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that Swaminathan is caught up in what is happening and is enjoying the fact that he is able to rebel as any young child might like to do. Though again Swaminathan may not know what he is rebelling about. Swaminathan is also very fearful of what his father might say to him when he tells him that he needs another cap. This too might be important as it suggests that Swaminathan realises that he is under the control of his father. It is his father who dictates what will happen. So it is an act of good fortune that the day’s events outside the school can be used to Swaminathan’s advantage. Even if he has to lie about what really happened his cap.
In reality Swaminathan appears to be enjoying the adventure that is to be had as part of the crowd going through the streets of Malgudi. He is free to do as he wishes and he wishes to continue to break windows (boarding school). However his enjoyment soon comes to an end when those in authority take back control and reclaim the streets. For the second time in the story Swaminathan is afraid. He does not necessarily like the police and he knows that they are more powerful than he could ever be. It is as though Swaminathan has met his match and he knows it. Similarly the bruises and aches that Swaminathan feels later in the evening suggest that his day has been one in whereby he has been lucky to escape with his life. Swaminathan’s father does after all mention that people have been killed during the clashes between the crowd and the police. This may be important as it highlights to the reader just how serious the events of the day have been. Even if Swaminathan had viewed the day as being an adventure till the police arrived.
The end of the story is also interesting as Swaminathan appears to knowingly rebel against the system. Though he takes the punishment that is administered to him by the Head Master Swaminathan does everything that he can to show that he is not hurt. He holds back the tears he wants to cry and runs out of the classroom. It is as though things have become personal for Swaminathan. Where previously he was just part of a crowd and following the lead of the crowd. Now Swaminathan is making decisions for himself. If anything as Swaminathan is running out of the classroom he is showing independence. He is able to think for himself. He knows what is happening to him is wrong and he does not wish to be part of a system that treats him unfairly. Something that some critics might suggest is similar to how millions of Indians felt at the time the story is set. Just as they may have felt beaten by British rule so too does Swaminathan feel as though he is being beaten for no good reason. Without knowing it Swaminathan may have learnt an important lesson. At times those in authority can abuse their power.