ICSE English — Echo –B. Wordsworth — Explanation
B. Wordsworth by V. S. Naipul
About V. S. Naipul.. Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipul(1932-2018) had his ancestral roots in India. His grandparents migrated to the West Indies to work there as plantation workers. Life was very hard as adjusting to a totally alien environment was not easy, especially because they had hardly any skill to take up a well-paying career. Uprooted from their cultural roots, and condemned to low-paying manual job in a distant land, they struggled hard. Lack of English education proved another big hurdle.
Many of Naipul’s novels are rooted in Trinidad and reflect his own life. Like the main actor Mr. Biswas in his highly-acclaimed novel ‘A House for Mr. Biswas’, the protagonist in B. Wordsworth is a rootless, purposeless drifter. The boy, he befriends, is a migrant child. The duo converse in English, but the lack of education reflects in the way they talk.
Naipul suffered similar handicaps in his early life before his literary talent flourished and he went to Oxford. Despite his ascent to world fame, Naipul remained a drifter all his life. His marital life was amorous, and irresponsible. In his Oxford days and later, he would frequently overspend and land himself in debt. All these eccentricities added colour to his personality.
The story …
An ordinary Trinidad home and an extra-ordinary visitor. A tramp invites himself in ostensibly to watch bees.
The story starts in the author’s home in Trinidad. Like many underdeveloped colonies of the British Empire, Trinidad was no stranger to beggars. There were as many of them as we see here in India.
They came to the author’s house at periodic intervals and got fixed amount of alms. There was one odd beggar who had the temerity of asking the house owner to light his cigarette.
On one occasion, a very strange visitor came. He said, he wanted to see the bees in the yard. The author, then a young boy, sought his mother’s permission before letting the stranger in. He was short, but tidily dressed in black pant and white shirt.
The author’s name was Sonny. His mother asked him to keep an eye on the stranger till he was gone.
The short gru-gru palm trees were infested with bees. The duo sat under the palm trees for about an hour watching the humming bees come and go.
Sonny and the stranger chatted for an hour. The latter said that he enjoyed watching bees as much as he enjoyed watching other species like scorpion, centripedes, and congorees have.
A casual conversation leads to a monologue on poetry and Wordsworth…
During the course of the conversation, the stranger tells Sonny that he takes interest in poetry, and one day, he wants to be the greatest poet of the world. He also tells the wide-eyed Sonny that his name is B. Wordsworth, with B standing for Black. He says he is the brother of the celebrated English poet, Wordsworth with equal interest in poetry. The small beauties of Nature like the ‘morning glory’ flower brings the same intense passion in him as it did for Wordsworth, the poet. The flower overwhelms him so much that he begins crying. Sonny appears a bit taken aback. The stranger tell the boy that he sees a poet in him too, and he will also cry when he is moved by something.
Sonny can’t but laugh. On being asked, Sonny says he too cries, but only when his mother spanks him.
An attempt by the vagrant to sell his hand-written poetry is botched by Sonny’s rude mother.
The stranger than proceeds to coax Sonny to buy his hand-written poem scribbled on a piece of paper. He wants just four cents for it.
Sonny runs to his mother for money, only to be rudely turned away. The lady wants the stranger to be thrown out of the house at once. Wordsworth smiles wryly. He murmurs that poets hardly succeed to make money. He had, thus far, hadn’t sold a single poem of his.
Another encounter with B. Wordsworth leads to an unusual bonding. Sonny eats mangoes in the poet’s place, and returns home late or a brutal thrashing by his mother …
Sonny runs into B. Wordsworth again a week later while on his way back from school. It seems Wordsworth had been hanging around in that corner for quite some time waiting for his young friend Sonny.
The two start chatting. ‘No luck with poetry selling,’ Wordsworth rues. He invites him to his house that had mango trees with ripe luscious fruits. The idea appeals to Sonny. Instead of coming home, he accompanies Wordsworth to his tiny one-room sack perched inside a thicket of mango and other trees in Alberto Street. They two talk leisurely there for quite some time. Sonny ate some six ripe mangoes. The juice dripped down and covered his hand, mouth and soiled his shirt.
Sonny returned home unusually late. His irate mother caned him so badly that he rushed out of the house in rage and pain, swearing never to return.
With blood oozing out of his nose, he rushed to Wordsworth’s place for some respite. The latter comforts him, and suggests they go for a walk.
Sonny returns to B. Wordsworth for solace, and the two become nearer…
Sony and Wordsworth walk aimlessly. They go to St. Clair Avenue, then to Savannah, and finally to race course.
Wordsworth says they could lie on the grass and stare at the sky, and ponder how far are the stars.
The brief tryst with the distant sky above acts like balm for Sonny’s scars. He feels light and refreshed. The angers melts away. Wordsworth names the stars they see up in the sky.
A beat policeman comes, and asks the duo what they are doing. But, he just walks away finding nothing sinister.
Wordsworth asks Sonny to keep their friendship secret, for no apparent reason.
Wordsworth implores Sonny to keep their friendship, the mango tree and the plum tree things secret. He claims that he could find out, if Sonny divulges anything, as he was a poet.
Sonny never broke the promise.
On one occasion, Sonny asks Wordsworth while the bushes have grown so wildly, and haven’t been pruned. Wordsworth begins to unravel the story. It runs like this.
Wordsworth’s story about the mystery hidden in the wild bushes..
Once upon a time, there was a boy and there was a girl, both deeply in love. Both were poets. The girl carried their baby in her womb. Sadly, the girl died, so did the yet-to-be-born poet in her womb. It was so tragic. He was heart-broken. From that day, he never touched anything in the girl’s garden. Thus, the grasses had become tall and unwieldy.
Wordsworth seems to age rather too fast…
As Wordsworth narrated the story, he seemed to grow old quite fast.
From then on, the two got closer. They went for long walks– to Botanical Garden, Rock Garden, Chancellor Hill, and further afield. They see Port of Spain sink into dusk’s darkness, as lights light up everywhere.
The two wander around, enjoying their chat…
Wordsworth enjoys the time as the duo meander through the sea fronts and the streets.
Wordsworth suggests they have some ice cream. With some fanfare, they go into a parlour.
Wordsworth offers to unveil a secret. He talks about his poetic journey…
On an occasion some days later, while inside a yard, Wordsworth tells Sonny that he has a great secret that he wants to tell the latter. Sonny appears somewhat bewildered. Wordsworth says he is writing a poem that would be the world’s greatest. Sonny had expected something startling. The mention of the poem leaves him with an anti-climax.
Wordsworth says he has been working on his poem for five years, and it might take another twenty-two to finish it. Sonny finds it quite puzzling. Wordsworth adds to his wonder by saying that he writes just a line a day.
With a curious look, Sonny asks what the last month’s line was. Wordsworth says, “The past was deep.” Sonny nods in appreciation. The balance encourages the poet to say with such Haiku –type compositions, he could write the world’s best poem, but only y the end of the twenty-two year period.
Sonnu’s stood there wonderstruck.
Wordsworth proceeds to another brain-teaser. He wants Sonny to say if a pin dropped in water would sink or float. The two try the experiment. The pin sinks.
B. Wordsworth reveals how he earns a living…
They didn’t talk about the poem any more. Wordsworth was ageing fast. Once Sonny asked the poet how he made his both ends meet. Wordsworth didn’t have a straight answer. He said he sang calypsos in calypso season, and made do for the whole year with whatever he earned in these few months.
Reassuringly, Sony told him that after his poetry sees the light of the day, he would be the richest man on earth.
The curtain begins to come down.
One day Sonny goes to see the poet in his shack. He is shocked to see the poet lying helplessly on his bed. The zest and the optimism seem to have left him for good. He is looking away through the window towards the coconut tree. Quite magically, his face becomes wrinkled and pallid in very short time. He seems to be clutching to the last strand of his life helplessly.
Sonny is shocked beyond belief. A terrible pain grips him. His eyes well up. Wordsworth drew Sonny nearer and made him sit on his knees. Rather stoically, Wordsworth says that he could see the grief in Sonny’s face, because he is a poet. These words impel Sonny.
Wordsworth pulls Sony to his chest and offers to tell a funny story. But, he makes Sony swear that he will never come there again after he hears out the story.
Wordsworth discloses that the story about a boy and a girl in love that he had told him earlier was just fiction. So was his ambition to become the world’s greatest poet.
As he speaks, his voice falters. Perhaps, the emotion overwhelms him.
The reverie vanishes…
Perplexed and grief-stricken, Sonny runs back towards his home. As he passes through Alberto Street, he finds only concrete blocks standing where Wordsworth’s house stood. The mango tree, the plum tree and the coconut tree have been felled. There is no trace of the foliage.
For Sonny, Wordsworth appeared to be reverie – so unreal, so full of fantasy.
Question answer ..
- Do you think the theme of the short story is fatalistic? Justify your answer.
- Why did you think Sonny was drawn towards B. Wordsworth?
- Do you feel v. s. Naipul’s own life gets reflected in the short story? Give reasons.
———————-To be contd——————–