The Performing Child by R.K. Narayan
In The Performing Child by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of aspirations, control, selfishness, acceptance and freedom. Taken from his An Astrologer’s Day and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realizes that Narayan may be exploring the theme of aspirations. Firstly Kutti is dreaming of what she would like, the railway engine, and secondly Kutti’s mother is waking her up from her dream in order to fulfil her and her husband’s dreams. All three aspire to reach a goal. Though as the reader reads story it is obvious that Kutti dos not have the same aspirations as her parents. Who appear to be pushing Kutti in a direction she does not wish to go. For example Kutti does not want to let her hair run freely, preferring it braided and in plaits and does not initially want to sing the song she is being asked to sing. It is clear that Kutti is being controlled by her parents at the behest of the men from the films.
If anything Kutti’s parents, in particular her father, are acting selfishly. He cannot see or does not accept the fact that Kutti does not want to perform the song she is being asked to sing. Regardless of this Kutti’s father and mother push her to sing the song. What is interesting as the reader progresses through the story is that Kutti’s parents in reality are only thinking of themselves and how they might alleviate the financial difficulties they are incurring. At no stage (until the end of the story) does either parent take into consideration how Kutti might feel about performing. The parents assume that Kutti is like a machine and can be turned on to perform on instruction. It is as though they do not allow Kutti to have a free mind. Again she is under the control of her parents who have questionable reasons for Kutti to be a successful actress.
There may be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The railway engine that Kutti dreams she is riding and which comes to an abrupt stop when Kutti is woken up could symbolize Kutti herself. Just as Kutti is riding the engine so too are Kutti’s parents riding on the coat-tails of Kutti. Putting all their faith into their child. Hoping that she will bring them riches. The chocolate the film men give Kutti, in reality bribing her to perform, could symbolically suggest that the film men know how to exert a degree of control over Kutti. They know she is too young to understand the importance of money and what it can do. She prefers chocolate to money. She is after all only a child. The fact that Kutti’s father is prepared to spend sixty rupees on a six rupee railway engine suggests that he has lost all reason and is looking at the end goal, Kutti in a film. He is not putting Kutti first.
The end of the story is interesting as Kutti’s mother appears to have an epiphany or moment of realization. She sees how upset Kutti is and promises her that she will not have to perform for the film men again. This is the only time in the story that Kutti’s feeling are taken into consideration. Prior to this Kutti’s parents where putting their hopes and aspirations ahead of Kutti’s. Which may be the point that Narayan is attempting to make. He may be suggesting the importance of allowing for children to be free and not constrained or hindered by the aspirations of their parents. That a parent should accept their child for who they are and not who a parent might want their child to be.