The Merchant of Venice Questions and Answers

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
ACT I SCENE I
Q1. Where are Antonio and his friends? What does Antonio say about his sadness?
Answer .. They are in a street in Venice where they generally meet. On being pressed by his friends, Antonio says that he himself is clueless about the reasons of his listlessness.
Q2. Give the meaning of:
(a) Whereof it is born … It means, ‘What triggered it…’.
(b) A want-wit sadness . It means, ‘A sadness that is so intriguing …’.
(c) That I have much ado to know myself… It means, ‘I have great difficulty in understanding myself.’
Q3. What reason does Salarino give as the probable cause of Antonio’s melancholy? .. Answer … Salarino ascribes Antonio’s melancholy to the worry caused by the ships that are yet to return home. Antonio has heavy stakes in his ships, and he knows marine voyages could be very risky at times. These thoughts gnaw at his mental peace relentlessly.
Q4. State in your own words the scene on the ocean as described by Salarino when Antonio’s ships are sailing.
Answer .. Antonio’s ships are sailing back home. They are giant in size, and tower over other small ships in their vicinity. A storm blows and tosses the smaller vessels dangerously, but Antonio’s vessels remain unruffled and steady.
Q5. The play begins in an atmosphere of melancholy. Why do you think that Antonio is presented as melancholic and passive character?
Answer .. The play is centered around Antonio’s sacrifice, suffering, uprightness, and above all, his benign nature. A happy and boisterous person’s sacrifices do not impact the reader’s mind as much as that of a sad and suffering man. Antonio made the ultimate sacrifice for his friend Bassanio who wanted to win Portia’s hand. The guarantee for the loan from the Jew was humiliating and wicked, yet Antonio went for it with the least hesitation.
Q6. Where would Salanio’s attention be if he had business ventures abroad? Why would he be ‘Plucking the grass’? What else would he be doing in that context?
Answer ..If Salanio had overseas business, he would be worried. His mood would be sombre, and his words very circumspect. He would pluck the grass to gauge the wind direction. Additionally, he would seriously empathise with Antonio, and look seaward to spot his own home-bound vessels.
Q7. What would make Salanio fear some danger to his ventures? Give two examples from the opening scene to show how some objects remind Salarino of the danger to the ships.
Answer .. Salanio is from the same community of marine traders as is Antonio. He knows the risks ships face when storms buffet them. When he blew the air from his mouth to the cup of hot soup, images of powerful storms blowing ships adrift and sinking them came to his mind. He also says how the heap of sand in the bottom chamber of his hour glass reminded him of the heap of wreckages from devastated ships.
Q8. Give meanings of:
(a) Plucking the grass to know where sits the wind.
(b) Peering in maps for ports, and piers, and roads.
Answer .. a. When you toss a blade of glass in the wind, it gets carried away in the direction of the wind. This is a very simple way to judge wind direction, so vital for sailors.
b. Maps of seas, ports, waterways, and land are crucial for marine navigation. Sailors and their employers in land refer to them frequently to ascertain the location of ships.
Q9. In spite of the danger to his ships, why is Antonio not worried about his financial security?
Answer .. Antonio is a man of means. He is sagacious and patient. He reckons that even if one of his ships returns home safe, he can ride out the crisis. So, he is not very perturbed about his financial outlook.

Q10. What light does the opening scene throw on the danger that the sea could pose to ships?

Answer .. Sea voyages in those times were fraught and risky. Sometimes luck ran out for the sailors who drowned along with their stricken vessels and cargo. Antonio was acutely aware of this, and was gripped by disturbing thoughts.

Q11. In what mood is Salarino in this scene?
Answer .. Salarino initially was carefree and confident. Later, he became circumspect and started to worry about Antonio’s ships still at sea. He began to empathise with Antonio.
Q12. What would the wind cooling the broth remind Salarino of?
Answer .. Salario became aware of the humungous power of strong winds, and its ability to push heavy objects adrift.
Q13. Give the meaning of:
And see my wealthy Andrew dock’d in sand,  ..It refers to the ship named Andrew laden with costly cargo that has run aground.
Vailing her high-top lower than her ribs  . Lying upside down as a dead and abandoned vessel
To kiss her burial. Awaiting its burial
Q14. What is the ‘sandy hour-glass’?  What would it remind Salarino of?
Answer …An hour glass has a top and a bottom chamber separated by a very narrow constricted passage. Sand falls through it from the upper chamber to make a heap in the lower chamber. Wreckage of wrecked ships often pile up like this.
Q15. What is referred to as ‘wealthy Andrew’?  Why is it so referred? 
Answer .. Andrew is a cargo-laden ship that is worth a lot because of its merchandise.
Q16. When Salarino would go to church what would he see?  What would the scene make him imagine?
Answer …Salarino sees the stone cross in the church. He is so disturbed that the sight of the cross reminds him about the rocks in the sea that bedevil his ships.
Q17. Who said that Antonio was in Love?  What was the reaction of Antonio to that remark?
Answer … Solanio suggested that love was behind Antonio’s sullen mood. Antonio dismissed the suggestion outright showing some amount of irritation.
Q18. Antonio says that he is not sad because of love.  What explanation does Salarino give in this extract for Antonio’s sadness?
Answer .. Salarino suggests that the delay in return of Antonio’s wealth laden ships was behind his mental torment.

Q19. What is meant by the ‘two-headed Janus’?  Why is he referred to in the extract?

Answer .. Two-headed Janus is a two headed mythological God. He is actually the two-heading Roman god of Doorways and Openings, looking to the back (past) and front (future). This description is an allusion by Solarino to Antonio’s dual persona – one cheerful, and the other, despondent.

Q20. Describe in your own words the two types of strange fellows who have been framed by nature.

Q21. Give meaning of:

  • And other of such vinegar aspect … People who are too reserved and dry –emotionless
  • Though Nestor swear the jest be laughable. –A very funny and hilarious situation where anyone would burst out laughing

[To be continued]

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The Merchant of Venice –Explanation — ICSE

The Merchant of Venice

Act 1, Scene 1
Antonio, a wealthy merchant of Venice, made his riches through marine trade. On one occasion, he stands with his two friends, Salarino and Solanio. Antonio feels gloomy and somewhat dejected. He does not know why. This intrigues him and his two friends.
Salanrino suggests that his merchant friend could possibly be worried about his overdue ships, still at sea. To calm his nerves, Salarino says some comforting words. He says that the large ships must be safe and smoothly sailing back home. They are too big to be sunk by the wickedness of the sea. The flotilla of the giant ships tower over the smaller cargo boats around them, and would complete their voyage smoothly.
Solanio empathises with Antonio with more plausible words. He says any merchant facing similar uncertainties would brood endlessly, trying to figure out the direction of the wind with a blade of grass, and delving into the marine maps to guess how the vessels could be, and the ports and waterways en route. Nonetheless, Solanio opined that any delay in return of ships would rob the owner of his peace of mind.
Salarino became serious. Leaving his carefree attitude, he begins to understand why Antonio had become so filled with angst. He narrated how blowing his cup of hot soup reminded him of the ferocity of a raging storm. He also told how the heap of sand at the bottom of his hour glass brought him scenes of his own wrecked ships lying in ruins in the sea beach. Even the stone building of the church sank his heart in fear as it brought him memories of treacherous rocks that imperil floating crafts. A ship wreck instantly reduces its owner to penury when the precious cargo such as that of spices and silk are devoured by the tall angry waves, giving no chance of salvage. He now understands why Antonio is so pensive and perplexed.

 

Antanio begs to differ. He says the risk of the vessels does not worry him as he has other assets to preempt a sudden descent to bankruptcy.
Solanio butts in with his theory. He says his friend is sad because he pines for love. Antanio promptly rebuts Solanio’s contention, and pleads to be left alone.
Solanio can’t remain mum. He urges Antonio to cheer up so as to dispel the gloom from his mind. He asks Antonio to revel and make merry.
Perhaps, to vent his disappointment with Antanio’s continuing sulkiness, Solanio remarked that some people are innately jovial where as a few others (meaning Antanio) are, by nature, grumpy.
Three of Antanio’s other friends, Bassanio, Lorenzo, and Gratanio arrive in the scene.  Solanio hails the trio in and leaves. Salarino stays back to take part in the discussion.
Salarino prepares to leave, but is held back. Antanio is ready to let him leave to attend to his business.
Bassanio is in upbeat mood. He asks both Salarino and Solanio to fix a time so that they all can have some good time.
Salarino offers to join the party.
Lorenzo invites all for dinner that night, as he too starts to leave.
Gratiano too finds Antonio unusually reserved and de-spirited. He advises Antonio to take things easy and pull himself up. Antonio’s reticence confounds him. He pleads with Antonio not to let his brooding tell upon his health and wellbeing.
Antonio becomes philosophical. He says that perhaps, melancholy is written into his role in this world, where he, like others, plays an assigned role.
Gratiano erupts into a bout of boisterous boast. He says, given a choice, he would indulge in anything joyful, and splurge in wines imperilling his liver, rather than burn away like a lamp in a dark remote corner. He beseeches his dear friend Antonio to reclaim his jovial airs, and waste away like a lifeless statue. A sullen, dry demeanour does no good, pleads Gratiano. His love and concern for Antonio are apparent from the way he begs him to come out of the morass. Gratiano pours his scorn over the stern and vainglorious persons who think they only have all the wisdom in the world. When these dour persons begin to speak, they demand everyone’s, even a nearby dog’s undivided attention. Gratiano asserts that these tight-lipped persons are in fact ignorant. If ever, they speak, their shallow words attracts derision and mocking. Before leaving with Lorenzo, Gratiano makes a final plea to his dear friend Antanio to cast aside his gloom and regain his jest for a cheerful life.
Lorenzo leaves too, promising to be there for the dinner. Light-heartedly, he adds that he would choose to be silent like the ‘wise men’ of Gratiano. He jokes that in earlier occasions Gratiano had seldom allowed him to talk as he wished.

Gratiano was ready with his riposte. He said that if Lorenzo lives with him for two years, he would lose his power of speech.

Antonio bids his friends goodbye assuring them that he would be more forthcoming from now on.
Gratiano adds to the humour saying that cooked ox tongues and those of the old maids need to be silent, not of any humans present.
Gratiano and Lorenzo exit.
Antonio is plunged in self doubt. He asks Bassanio if Gratiano is right in his contention.
Bassanio is going through a bad patch financially, chiefly because he spends more than he earns. Yet his dire financial straits do not affect his exterior. Bassanio intends make his own case for Antonio to emulate. Bassanio concedes that he does not disown his debts, but wants to redeem them and restore his standing in society. Bassanio reiterates his desire to liquidate the loan he has taken from Antonio. He hints that he has some plan to carry out.
Antanio, as always, lends a sympathetic ear to Bassanio’s desires. He says that he will assist in carrying it to fruition anyhow.  In his good-natured way, Antonio demands to know what help Bassanio wants.
Bassanio speaks about the beautiful wealthy lady of Belmont he is enamoured of. She has got huge property as inheritance, and has captivated him. She is Portia. Bassanio has met her before and assumes that she loves him too. Portia is a paragon of beauty. No wonder, she has no dearth of suitors who hail from far and wide. To match these wealthy men, Bassanio has to flaunt his wealth, but he has little to show.
Antonio rues that all his wealth is tied up in his ships that are not yet ashore. Nevertheless, he offers to use his creditworthiness to avail loan for use by Bassanio.
——————–End of Scene 1————————
Act 1, Scene 2 …
Portia, the most cherished woman from Belmont, feels bored and insipid. She confides to her maid Nerissa about it.
Nerissa has little to offer to help her mistress Portia’s spirits. Rather vaguely, she tells Portia that people with too little or too much wealth suffer too. She advises a middle path. In practice, the advice means nothing.
Portia complements her rather casually.
Portia moans saying that it is not easy to do good deeds as people flounder while attempting it. She candidly says that it’s easier to pontificate about righteous living to twenty people than to be the one person out of twenty who actually practices what one preaches. The mind must listen to the conscience. Hot-headedness makes doing good things difficult. She is tired of seeking out her husband. How would she ‘choose’ her husband, Portia wonders. She laments that she can’t choose whom she likes, or refuse others. She is bound by her father’s wishes. She expresses her despair at her predicament.  Nerissa listens.
Quite a few royal suitors have descended on Belmont to see if they could win Portia’s hand. She is confused and a bit wary. Nerissa breaks a secret about Portia’s father’s intentions. While in his death bed, he had see a vision about the choosing of a husband for his daughter.
He had desired that there would be three boxes – of gold, silver and lead. The would-be husband should choose the right box that holds the message of Portia’s choice.
After divulging this, Nerissa wanted to know if any of the princely figures indeed measured up to Portia’s expectations.
Portia asks Nerissa to go through the list of suitors. She would then narrate her impression about each of them. From this, Nerissa could surmise who meets Portia’s approval.
Nerissa takes the name of the prince from Naples.
Portia ridicules him saying that this man is a horse enthusiast. He boasts about his ability to nail a horse alone. Portia discards the case calling the prince a ‘blacksmith’.
Nerissa then goes to Count Palatine.
Portia sees him as a self-centered, ego-filled man. He is so dour that a funny story can not make him smile. So humourless young man would become a moron in old age, fears Portia. Portia turns down the case vehemently.
Nerissa then proceeds to the French lord, Monsieur le Bon.
Portia is no kinder to him than she was to others. She disapproves of his infatuation of his own horse, and thinks the man is self-cantered and disgustingly pretentious in nature. His flamboyance is repelling. With a chuckle, Portia says that marrying the French is equal to marrying 20 persons as he shows of the skills of almost 20 others. Portia pours scorn on him and draws the curtain on his bid to win her hands.
Nerissa then proceeds to Falconbridge, that young English baron?
Portia reacts nonchalantly, showing no excitement. The Baron does not speak Latin and Portia does not speak English. This means a huge lifelong language barrier between the two. So, the proposal is still-born. This apart, the Baron’s sartorial taste was not to her liking. He wore an Italian tie, German hat and French trousers! 
Nerissa then broached the case of the Frenchman’s neighbor, the Scottish lord.
Portia assumed that he was very forgiving, since he didn’t recoil in vengeance when the Englishman slapped him on the ear. Rather than defending himself aggressively on the spot, he just walked away giving a threat that he intended to avenge the insult later. threatened to pay the Englishman back later. Quite interestingly, the Frenchman promised to help the Scot pay the Englishman back, and added a slap of his own. It was a double whammy that sealed the Scot’s fate.
Nerissa then turned to the young German, the duke of Saxony’s nephew.
Portia was dismissive about him from the start. He is an alcoholic, who can be likened to an animal. She would be happier as his widow than as his wife, said Portia disparagingly.
Nerissa reminds Portia about her father’s desire to marry the man who won the box riddle. She can’t possibly disregard her father’s desires.
Portia is circumspect. She asks Nerissa to put a nice big glass of white wine on the wrong box. It could lure him to choose the wrong one.   Portia averred that she would never marry a drunk.   I’ll do anything rather than marry a drunk, Nerissa.
Nerissa firmly brought the curtain down on all these contestants. She knew that they all would confine her to the home, and rob her of her freedom. She began to think of ways to pre-empt the possibility of any of the unworthy persons from winning the box contest.
Portia bemoans her fate saying she would die an old maid unless she can be won according to the rules set by her father’s will. She feels relieved thinking these suitors are sensible enough to stay away. She wants to see their back.
Nerissa asks Portia if she remembered a Venetian scholar-cum- soldier who accompanied the marquess of Montferrat there once when her father was still alive.
Portia promptly recalled that it was Bassanio.
Nerissa spoke flatteringly about him.
Portia seems to adore him too.
At this point, a servant makes his appearance. Portia eagerly asks him if she has brought any news.
The servant announces the arrival of the four suitors. They have come to say goodbye. But, there is one more man. He is the messenger of the prince of Morocco – the fifth suitor. The prince will arrive the same night.
Portia is not the least amused. In fact, she feels he is un-welcome. Mockingly, she says that if he’s as good as a saint but is black like a devil, she’d rather want him to hear her confession than marry her. Portia lets the servant leave and hastens to go and see off the messenger.
—————————-END OF SCENE 2————
Bassanio has reached Shylock’s house to negotiate the loan of 3000 ducats that he needs for his rendezvous with Portia.
Shylock puts on the air of a reticent lender, miser with his words, and cunning in his questions.
Bassanio will take the loan for three months with Antonio as the underwriter.
Shylock engages in some frivolous self-talk, perhaps cooking up some nasty thoughts to push Antonio to a corner. He does not deny that Antonio is an affluent man, but, typical of a stern lender, casts doubt on Antonio’s assets (cargo-laden ships) still locked. It is amazing how he has managed to keep track of Antonio’s ships in far-off seas – in England, Mexico, the Indies, and Tripoli. Perhaps to undermine Antonio’s standing, he says that ships are tangible assets that can vanish quickly if things go awry. There are many imponderables in the high seas that make marine trade fraught and risky, mentions Shylock.
Feigning some reluctance Shylock offers to give 3000 ducats as loan under Antonio’s guarantee.
Shylock still holds back, saying he has to have iron-clad guarantee built into the loan paper. For this, he desires to speak to Antonio.
Antonio enters the scene. Bassanio respectfully announces his coming.
Bassanio suggests that the trio has dinner together to thrash out the terms.
Shylock, most impolitely, utters hurtful words aimed at Antonio. His pent-up rage against the prospective borrower is alight. Antonio hates usury, Shylock practises it. This lies at the root of Shylock’s chagrin against Antonio. Shylock makes no effort to hide his utter disapproval of Antonio’s attitude towards the Jews and his interest-free lending.
Shylock continues to drag his feet with regard to the loan. First he says he does not have the entire amount ready in hand. He will borrow the shortfall from Tubal, a fellow Jew.  Antonio comes into the chamber.
He makes his formal request to Shylock for the loan conceding that he agrees to pay interest on the borrowed amount (contrary to his principles).
Shylock drags the discussion towards the repayment terms and the consequences of possible default.
To drive home his justification of charging interest, he cites the story of Jacob & Laban from the Bible. Quite interestingly, Antonio, in his goodness, draws a totally opposite conclusion from the episode.
In Genesis, Jacob is a shepherd who keeps an eye on his uncle Laban’s sheep as they graze. For this service rendered, he was to marry Laban’s daughter. Jacob and his uncle Laban come to an agreement that Jacob would, in due course, get all the striped and spotted animals. Cunningly, Jacob placed striped branches in front of the sheep when they mated, as a result the sheep gave birth to striped lambs. Jacob enriched himself by doing this trick.
Shylock invoked the story to press home the point that one should make some extra income when the opportunity comes. Antonio, a Christian, interprets the story in starkly different way.  He feels that God was kind on Jacob to get the additional number of lambs.
A Christian and a Jew thus argue on the ethics of usury. Antonio loathes it, but Shylock finds it as a legitimate practice.   
Shylock persists in his justification of charging of interest on loans, where as Antonio seethes in anger at the stance of Shylock which he finds as morally reprehensible. He virtually explodes in utter indignation at the Jew.
Antonio’s outrage has little effect on Shylock. He returns to the matter of loan negotiation.
Shylock dithers, and procrastinates, apparently to tease Antonio.
Antonio is restless. He demands to know if Shylock would indeed give the loan.
Shylock makes use of Antonio’s urgent need of funds that make him look so vulnerable. Shylock has the upper hand. As the lender, he acidly reminds Antonio of the scorn and humiliation poured on him at Rialto, by the man who stands before him as the borrower. He reiterates vehemently that charging interest is neither undesirable, nor abominable. Not charging interest was foolish.
Shylock boils in anger as he recalls how Antonio called him names, spat on him, and excoriated him mercilessly on the principle of usury. Quite tauntingly, he asks Antonio if he would still advance the loan, with all the insults fresh in his mind.
Antonio refuses to be browbeaten by Shylock’s rant. He expresses no remorse and asserts that he would continue to bitterly oppose Shylock’s charging of interest on his loans.
Like a valiant upholder of ethical lending practices, he seeks no mercy or leniency from Shylock. He urges the Jew to perceive him as an enemy and impose such default terms as an enemy.
The wily Shylock softens his stand. Quite intriguingly, he agrees to give the loan interest-free.
Bassanio is pleasantly surprised.
Shylock has hideous motives. Putting up a benign appearance, he offers to execute the loan bond adding that it is better if it is done before a notary. Quite light-heartedly, he proposes to incorporate a very dangerous clause for default. In case he failed to repay the amount on the due date, he (Antonio) would give a pound of his flesh carved out if his heart. Antonio is told that it is a joke, but the ulterior intent does not sink into the borrower’s or his friend’s mind at that point of time.
Antonio, unaware of this innocuous clause, accepts it readily.
Bassanio is hesitant. He urges his friend Antonio to step back.
Antonio shrugs off the fears. He feels the occasion of default does not arise as his ships would be home in two months time, and he would have enough money to pay back the loan.
Shylock feigns innocence claiming that the flesh extraction clause is nothing but non-sense. In case of default, what he needs is his money, not some human flesh. He puts up the air of a very friendly lender.
Antomio volunteers to sign the loan deed with that flesh clause.
Shylock asks the two borrowers to proceed to the notary to prepare the loan document. He said he will go to fetch the money in the meanwhile.
Shylock leaves.
Antonio assures Bassanio that nothing untoward is going to happen.
—————————-END OF ACT1—————-

Act 2, Scene 1

The eminent visitor from Morocco comes in first. He is black, but chivalrous too. His dark skin could put Portia off, he fears. So, in all manners, he pleads with the lady not to be prejudiced against him for skin colour. He says, his blood is red as that of all humans – black or white, he has many military exploits to his credit.
Portia intercedes to assure the prince from Morocco that she takes a more holistic view of a man’s worth than his colour. She, however, laments that she has hardly any leeway in the matter, as she has to abide by what comes out of the ‘box’ test.
The royal Morocco thanks Portia for her assurances. Then he reels off the many victories he has own using his sword, and it is the same sword he would use today to summon the might, intuition, and wisdom needed to win the casket test. He exudes confidence in his own luck which brings unexpected bonanza at times. He cites how Hercules was defeated by Lychas, his servant in the game of dice simply because his servant’s luck sided with him on that occasion. He says that it would break his heart if someone less deserving won the casket test by dint of his luck.
Portia has some stern words to convey. Either the Moroccan wins the casket test and so her hand, or forsakes conjugal happiness throughout his life.
The Moroccan royal picks up the gauntlet, and agrees to remain a celibate in the event of his defeat.
Portia suggests that they visit the temple, and then have dinner before the visitor tries his luck.
The Moroccan agrees, brimming with confidence.
They exit.
Launcelot, the servant of Shylock, enters the scene. He knows the many crooked ways of his master and abhors him as a person. He is caught in a dilemma. His mind says that he should run away from the service under Shylock, but his conscience says it would be unethical and immoral. His conscience implores him to continue to serve his master, Shylock despite his many devilish traits.
Torn between his instinct and his inner voice, Launcelot is caught in a quandary.
Gobbo, the half-blind father of Launcelot enters the scene. Because of his poor vision, he can’t recognize his own son. Gobbo asks Launcelot to show him the way to Shylock’s home.
Launcelot gives him the direction through some left-right-left turn advice.
Gobbo, with his impaired sight finds the direction confusing. He asks Launcelot if he knew a young man called Launcelot working in the Shylock home.
In a hushed voice, Launcelot wants to know if Gobbo (his father) refers to a man named Master Launcelot.
Gobbo is humble to say that Launcelot is a young man born to a poor man, pointing to himself. The fate has been unkind to him as he is going to face the hardships of a long life.
Launcelot, no admirer of his father for his past deeds, does not want to be associated with his legacy.
Gobbo still insists that ‘Master Launcelot’ must not be undermined by calling him plain Launcelot.
Launcelot is clearly uncomfortable with his father’s presence. He wants to end the unpleasant encounter. To do this, he says, though falsely, that ‘Master’ Launcelot is dead.
Gobbo is gripped by despair, as he finds that there would be no heir to support him in his old age.
Launcelot virtually recoils with indignation. He identifies himself and gives vent to his displeasure of his father’s expectations of him.
Gobbo says he is half-blind and can’t recognize Launcelot.
Launcelot seethes in anger at his father who has led an immoral life. Clearly, Launcelot and his father are poles apart.
Gobbo refuses to admit that the young man before him is indeed Launcelot, his son.
Gobbo is shaken to the core. Perplexed and downcast with grief, he beseeches Launcelot to tell him for certain if his son is indeed dead.
With searching eyes, Launelot asks Gobbo if he really can’t recognize his son (Launcelot).
Gobbo reiterates that he can’t recognize him as his vision is too poor.
Launcelot pours out his venom at his father for whom he has no love or respect. Launcelot seeks Gobbo’s blessing, but acidly reminds him that a murder is a hard act to hide. Truth will unravel sooner than later.
Gobbo asks Launcelot to stand erect, and says that he is indeed the lost son.
Launcelot identifies himself correctly, and affirms that he was, is, and will be his dear son in future. Launcelot is gracious.
Launcelot’s candid admission leaves Gobbo flabbergasted.
Launcelot reminds his father that he is now a Jew’s servant, and is the son of Margery, the rightful wife of Gobbo.
Gobbo acts as if his heart overflows with affection. He caresses Laucelot’s head and face and says he has more hair than his horse, Dobblin.
Launcelot alludes to his long absence from home saying that Dobbin’s tail must be growing backward as the pony had more hair on his tail than he has on his face when he last saw him.
Gobbo is surprised to see how much Launcelot has changed in the period he has been away. Gobbo says that he has brought a present for Shylock.
Launcelot says he is all right. Then he drops a bombshell saying that he has decided to run away, and he needs to do it fast.  Quite irritably he says that his master’s a total Jew. He does not deserve to be given a present.  Quite disparagingly, he says that the Jew deserves a noose to hang himself.  Launcelot then says how his master keeps him half-fed. Due to lack of food, he is famished and his ribs are visible.
Saying these words, Launcelot says that the right deserving person is Bassanio, not the despicable Jew. I’m glad you’ve come, father. Give me your present to give to Master Bassanio. He is so generous that he gives his servants beautiful new uniforms.
Launcelot says he is looking forward to work under the caring Bassanio. Just around this time, Bassanio appears in the scene with Leonardo and one or two attendants.
He asks one of the attendants to go and arrange for the supper, order the uniforms, deliver the letters and ask Gratiano to come and visit him at the earliest.
Launcelot, embarrassed to approach Bassanio for a servant’s job. He asks his father to plead on his behalf.
Gobbo says that his son is fed up of his employer, the Jew Shylock. He comes forward to narrate the harrowing time he has under the Jew. He wants to work under Bassanio.
With so much of prompting and indirect talking, Bassanio is confused. He wants either G   obbo or Launcelot to clear the air.
Launcelot finally says what he needs – a job under Bassanio.
Things ease up surprisingly for Launcelot and Gobbo. Bassanio says he has already spoken to Shylock in the matter. In fact, it was Shylock who proffered the name of Launcelot as servant for Bassanio. He was humble enough to say that the choice was Launceot’s – a rich Jew as master or a poor merchant.
Launcelot cites the old proverb “The grace of God is enough.” He says that it could be divided between Bassanio and Shylock, with Bassanio getting “the grace of God,” and the Jew “enough.”
Bassanio appreciates Launcelot’s wit and grace.
He advises the father-son duo to and formally take leave of Shylock before joining him. He asks his attendant to give the new recruit a nice pair of uniform.

Launcelot is immensely happy and greatly relieved. He points to his father Gobbo that he has one of the most wretched fates. His palm lines show he will have umpteen wives to support, and he would almost drown  to death on a few occasions. He would be caught red-handed in the act of cuckolding and face the wrath of the husband. Despite all these ominous omens, he would escape calamity because his palm-lines have a escape route. He vows that he would never again work under a Jew.

Then he urges his father to hurry up for the       Jew’s wife, so that the formality of bidding good-bye to Shylock could be complete without delay.

Launcelot and his father leave.

Bassanio has made his purchases. These are the items he needs to carry to Portia. He hands over the list to

Leonardo. Bassanio appears to be in joyful mood. He says he is going for dinner that night, apparently with Antonio.

Leonardo says he would do his best.

Gratiano enters and looks around for Bassanio.  Spotting him, he pleads with him to accompany him to Belmont.

Bassanio accedes to Gratiano’s request readily, but advises him to be restrained, calm, and

Decent in Belmont, and not allow his boorish ways to show up.

Gratiano submits to Bassanio’s wishes and promises to rein in his boisterous instincts while in Belmont.

Bassanio good-humouredly agrees and says he will keep an eye on his ebullient friend.

Gratiano jokes that the restrictions do not apply for that night’s supper.

Bassanio says he must be his usual jovial self during the supper.

Gratiano hurries to join Lorenzo and the others, promising to be back for supper.

 

Act 2, Scene 3

Jessica is Shylock’s daughter. As the only other  member of the family, she suffers miserably at the hands of her phlegmatic father uninterested in anything other than money-lending. She is sorry at Launcelot’s leaving the household whom she looked forward to for some pleasant diversion from the humdrum of the Jre’s house. She is in love with Lorenzo, a Bassanio confidant. She gives a ducat to Launcelot as parting gift and secretly gives a letter to him to be given to Lorenzo. She does not want her father to see the two talking like this.
Launcelot becomes emotional as tears roll do9wn his eyes. Citing some curses against the Jew, he departs.
Jessica is plunged in thoughts. She resents being the daughter of a thoroughly reprehensible character like Shylock, and seeks deliverance from the disgrace by marrying her lover Lorenzo.
She exits.
Lorenzo too is restless for the marriage, and perceives Shylock to be an insurmountable hurdle. Shylock would never reconcile to his only daughter marrying a Christian, he knows. So, he thinks of ways to somehow do a clandestine operation so that Jessica could slip out of the house.
He thinks of a way for this secret mission. He thinks that Jessica could somehow sneak out of her house during supper time, hide in Lorenzo’s house where they both could wear some masks to hide their identities. After that, they can escape to get married secretly, away from Shylock’s clutches.
Gratiano is incredulous about the plan, since it has niot even been discussed.
Salarino thinks the same way too.
Sloanio has some sane advice. He fears that the plan to evade the Jew’s prying eyes could fizzle out leading to a major embarrassment and catastrophe for the lovers.
It is 4 O’clock and Lorenzo thinks he has to do everything in the next two hours.
Launcelot enters with a letter.
Lorenzo and Gratiano and he engage in some friendly banter about the contents of the letter from Jessica.
Launcelot wants to leave to invite his former employer, Shylock, to come for the evening supper with Bassanio and his friends.
Launcelot leaves.
Salarino, Solanio and Lorenzo decide to congregate in Shylock’s house.
Gratiano still wonders if the letter is indeed from Jessica.
Lorenzo now discloses the elopement plan hatched by Jessica and him. She would come disguised.
Lorenzo is confident the escape operation will be fruitful. And never be punished for her intention is noble. He hands over the letter to Gratiano to read for himself.
He says Jessica would lead him for the deliverance.

 

Act 2, Scene 5
Shylock says his final words to Launcelot. He calls out to Jessica to get up and get dressed.Jessica is slow in her response.
Launcelot calls out Jessica, which Shylock does not like.
Jessica enters. Shylock says that he is going to the supper quite hesitantly as he knows he is not very much liked by others there.
Saying this, he asks Jessica to keep the house key and keep an watch over everything. Shylock is in apprehensive mood as he has seen money bags in his dreams the previous night.
Launcelot urges his earlier master, Shylock to hurry up for the supper.
As expected, Shylock replies sarcastically. He knows his hosts have no love for him.
Launcelot drops hints that there could be a masquerade party organized by the hosts.
Seeing a bad omen, Shylock asks Jessica to be vigilant inside the house, and not even peep through the widow out of curiosity on seeing the people in the streets with masks.
He sets out to go for the supper.
Launcelot cryptically tells Jessica to be alert to come out on seeing him in the streets.
Launcelot exits.
Shylock is uncomfortable at Launcelot’s message to his daughter.
Jessica makes light of Launcelot’s parting advice.
Shylock can’t make sense of the plot well under way. Even after Launcelot’s leaving his service, he blisters at him, calling him slow and a glutton. He quips that Launcelot’s leaving him is good riddance.
While leaving for the supper, he reiterates his instructions to Jessica to guard the house sincerely.
Jessia murmurs that if luck sides with her she would escape leaving her father behind.
She exits
Act 2 Scene 6
Gratiano reaches the appointed spot.
There is no trace of Jessica and Launcelot. That worries Gratiano and Salarino.
They engage in some light banter about the jest and zeal of new lovers.
Gratiano cites many examples to show how excitement peters out after a person accomplishes something, like a man after a hearty meal, or a horse striding, or a ship returning from voyage.
Lorenzo arrives.  They stop talking.
Lorenzo begins to describe why he is late.
Just then Jessica arrives disguised as a boy, taking everyone by surprise.
Jessica and Lorenzo identify one another quickly and aver their mutual love and commitment.
Lorenzo has made plans for a masquerade, and wants Jessica to head the procession as the torch bearer.
Jessica declines the role, saying that the candle would expose her face more. Jessica feels guilty for eloping like this, and feels she must not do the noble role of the torch bearer who brings light and love. She feels she deserves to be hidden in the dark.
Lorenzo reassures her saying she is in disguise, and not recognizable by others.
Jessica hurries up to get in to her house to pick up some more ducats and lock it up before escaping.
Gratiano appreciates her forthrightness, adding that such a good person can not be a Jew.
Lorenzo adds to Gratiano’s adulation saying that Jessica is an embodiment of beauty, honesty and nobility.
They all, including Jessica, leave to join the masquerade.
Antonio and Gratiano meet each other.
It is 9, and Antonio is worried. He says all his friends are all waiting for Gratiano. There’s no masquerade tonight, he fumes. The wind is blowing right, so Bassanio’s going onboard immediately. Antonio says how worried he is for him.
Gratiano’s mood is upbeat.
Act 2, Scene 7
Portia asks her servant to show the caskets to the prince aspiring for her hand. The caskets become visible as the curtains are drawn apart.
It is time for the prince from Morocco to prove his mettle. He contemplates.
The first one, the gold one, has an inscription that says, “He who chooses me will get what many men want.” The second one, the silver one, says, “He who chooses me will get what he deserves.” And this third one is made of dull lead. It has a blunt warning that says, “He who chooses me must give and risk all he has.”
The Moroccan prince is lost in thought. He is baffled by the challenge. How would he know which casket is the right one to choose?
Portia drops a hint.
One of the caskets contains her picture. If he chooses that one, she will be his, along with the picture.
The prince from Morocco is caught in a quandary. He seeks divine help. He decides to read the inscription again. What does the lead box say? “He who chooses me must give and risk all he has.” He is totally confused by the riddle. He wonders if a worthless thing like lead can deserve all he has. He decides to skip the lead casket.
He proceeds to weigh the option of the silver casket.
It reads, “He who chooses me will get as much as he deserves.” Again the prince is plunged in confusion. He delves deeper into the description’s hidden meaning. He thinks, if his reputation is trustworthy, he deserves a lot. A feeling of self doubt grips him. He asserts, “He deserves Portia”.  In terms of wealth, talents, and upbringing, and especially love, he deserves her, he assures himself.
He thinks he must weigh the gold casket option before he took his call. The inscription on the gold casket reads, “He who chooses me will get what many men want.” He jumps in excitement as he feels it is time for the most momentous decision of his life. He reckons, “That’s Portia! Quite madly he sings her glory. The whole world wants her. They come from the four corners of the earth to kiss this shrine and see this living, breathing saint. Princes travel across deserts and the vast wilderness of Arabia to come see the beautiful Portia. The wide ocean doesn’t prevent them from coming to see her—they travel across it as if it were a little stream. One of these three boxes contains her lovely picture.”
He wonders if the lead one contains the picture? No, the lowly lead can’t have it, he reasons. He asks himself, “Is she enclosed in silver, which is ten times less valuable than gold?” Again he fumbles. Nobody ever set a gem like her in a worse setting than gold. They have a coin in England stamped with the figure of an angel, but that’s just engraved on the surface.
The prince of Morocco is caught in a whirlpool of desire, love, confusion, self-doubt and romance. Portia’s beauty has overwhelmed him.
He decides to go for the gold casket.
Portia offers him the key and says that if the picture is there, she belongs to him.
The prince opens the gold casket.
Instead of the picture, the prince finds a skull. He recoils in horror.
He finds these lines written on the skull.
“All that glitters is not gold—
You’ve often heard that said.
Many men have sold their souls
Just to view my shiny surface.
But gilded tombs contain worms.
If you’d been as wise as you were bold,
With an old man’s mature judgment,
You wouldn’t have had to read this scroll.
So goodbye—you lost your chance.”
The Moroccan prince is devastated. Heart-broken, he retreats from the scene gracefully and quickly.
The prince from Morocco exits with his entourage.
Portia is immensely relieved. She wishes that other contenders make the same mistake as the Prince of Morocco.
Act 2, Scene 8 ….
It seems Lorenzo and his beloved Jessica have fled in a gondola. The Jew is wild with fury. He has gone and complained to the duke about the deceit of Lorenzo and Jessica’s involvement in the plot.
The duke sets out in the sea to apprehend the duo, but he chases the wrong ship, that of Bassanio and Gratiano. Antonio assures the duke that the lover duo is not in Bassanio’s ship. Bassanio and Gratiano head towards Belmont to meet Portia.
Salarino and Solanio discuss the matter. Solanio describes how the Jew spewed fire at Lorenzo for the loss of his daughter and his money. That his daughter Jessica chose a Christian was like rubbing salt on his wound.
Salarino adds that the Jew is being jeered in the streets.
Solanio fears that the Jew, wounded and humiliated, might turn on Antonio if the later defaults.
Salarino has heard from a Frenchman that a Venetian ship has sunk with its cargo in the English Channel. He said he hopes that it is not Antonio’s ship.
Solanio suggests that his friend Salarino apprise Antonio about the accident, exercising due caution.
Salarino has seen how warmly Antonio wished good luck to Bassanio on his mission, advising him to be intelligent and wise in his race for Portia. Such a gesture speaks volumes about Antonio’s noble self.
Solanio and Salarino agree that Antonio has a heart of gold.
Act 2, Scene 9 ..
The prince of Arragon has arrived. He has taken his oath, and is coming forward to try his luck. Nerissa has the curtains quickly drawn.
Trumpets play. The Prince of Arragon, his entourage, and Portia enter.
Portia shows him the boxes. As usual, she says that he must choose the box having her picture inside to win her hand. If he failed in doing so, he must leave immediately.
Arragon promises to do three things. He wouldn’t tell anyone the box he chooses. If he chooses the wrong box, he will shun conjugal happiness all his life. Lastly, in case of failure, he would depart immediately.
Arragon is ready to try his luck. He is optimistic. He reads the writings on the boxes carefully.
Like the earlier contenders, he examines the sense of the writings incisively. After a lot of very careful evaluation, he chooses the casket that has this writing.  “He who chooses me will get what he deserves.”
Alas! It is the wrong box.
Arragon finds the picture of an idiot holding a scroll up for him to read! He reads it. It is a bitter anti-climax for him. He wonders how his reasoning and choice could go wrong.
Quite quickly and gracefully, he makes his exit.
Portia castigates the unsuccessful contenders, calling them ‘moths’ lured by candles that would devour them.
Nerissa says it is all written in destiny.
A messenger arrives in the scene to announce the coming of his master. The messenger has brought nice gifts sent by his master. He sings the praise of his master. Quite humbly he says that this servant (meaning himself) has arrived before his master the way a sweet spring day hints about a lush summer. He says it is a great auspicious day.
Portia stops the messenger from further eulogizing his master. She goes with Nerissa to see the contender.
—————————End of Act 2———————-
[To be continued with model questions and answers]

 

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ICSE and CBSE creative writing exercises Model questions and answers

Write a short story with the following beginnings. [Don’t spend more than 20 minutes on each.]
a. A few miles down a rutted dirt road, and many more miles from the nearest town, a small farmhouse stands surrounded by dense green bush. … Continue
b. There was a boom, and suddenly, all hell broke loose. … Continue

————————————————————————————————–.——————Answer of the first question …

A few miles down a rutted dirt road, and many more miles from the nearest town, a small farmhouse stands surrounded by dense green bush.
Gomti sits there all alone within the green hedge of the cottage. The shades of the tall papal tree caused by the setting Sun are extending longer and longer. It is getting late. Her father, Radheshyam, a wood cutter, has not returned from the forest. Her mother Gurubari, has not returned too. She has gone to the village landlord’s paddy fields to sow paddy saplings. It has rained the whole day. Poor Gurubari has to stand bent 90 degrees to the front in the mud and the rain for 10 hours to earn her daily wage – a paltry Rs.50.
She will buy some rice and a few potatoes on her way back for the night’s dinner, but Radheshyam must return by then with the firewood, so that the frugal meal can be cooked.
Gomti is 16 – old enough to have been married, but paucity of money has stood on the way. Radheshyam has to face a lot of derision from his clan for having kept a ‘grown-up’ daughter at home.
Gomti sits with her head wedged between her knees. How long will she be here to face the taunts?
Gurbari returns, virtually running and panting for breath! The Zamindar wants to see Gomti the next day. He is adamant. ‘Why’, worries Gurubari. Lust! A chill runs through her spine. But, she is powerless. Her husband owes the Zanindar Rs.500 still.
Radheshyam returns with his load of firewood. Gomti pulls him to a corner for consultation. Within earshot, Gomti overhears it, and concludes she must prepare for a life of a concubine. Tears roll down her eyes.
Next morning, the trio sets out to meet the Zanmindar. Radheshyam has made up his mind. Gurbari has no inkling of what her husband thinks. He carries his billhook. Gomti and Gurbari wonder what can be its need, but dare not ask him. All three speak not a word.
They reach the Zamindar’s haveli. The Zamindar’s wife comes in and whispers something to Gurbari’s ears. Radheshyam can’t understand what transpired between the two. His nerves are taut. He gently moves his hand over his tool, and grips its handle hard.  He is ready. He is his daughter’s saviour.
He is flummoxed to see Gurbari wilfully touching the Zamindar’s wife’s feet. Quite surprisingly, Gyrbari appears very happy. Has she capitulated, he wonders.
A young man dressed as a groom emerges. Radheshyam identifies him to be one of his very distant relation. The Zamindar comes out and makes an announcement. He is doing kanyadan by arranging Gomti’s marriage. An astrologer had told him that his own unmarried daughter would get a groom if he does a kanyadan. With grace and gratitude, he announces the waiver of the Rs.500 loan of Radheshyam.
Gomti does not return home. She leaves for her new home.
[Answers to the second will be posted after a week.]
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CBSE English Class 7 — The One Who Survived: AdaBlackjack — Expanding the story

Expanding a story …

The One who Survived: Ada Blackjack
Or
Ada Blackjack – the Woman who Looked Adversity in the Eye and Won
——————————–.—————————–
In the days when large parts of the earth had not been explored, and sea faring was very fraught, four men and a woman set out on a voyage. The three men Frederick Maurer (28), E Lone Knight (28), Allan R Crawford (20), set out under the leadership of Stefansson to discover new lands and conquer them. The spirit of adventure and the lure of virgin islands drove them, where as the fourth member, a woman named Ada Blackjack (23) undertook the perilous journey to resuscitate
her ailing son battling T.B. What unfolded during the voyage is both saddening and heartening.
———————————.———————–
Ada was born in the year 1898. Curiously, she avoided going out to play with other children preferring to stay indoors to do household chores to help her grandma. The exuberance of a youngster was missing in her.
By 1921, Ada had married, and become a mother, but sadly had lost two of her babies. The five-year-old Bennett lay in bed, afflicted by TB. Woefully short of money, Ada could ill-afford good medical care for her sick son. She could do nothing but bemoan her fate.  

 

At this point of time, entered Stifansson, the leader of the expedition. He made a proposal to Ada. Stifansson needed a help who would accompany the four young sailors aboard their ship. She had to do cooking, mending clothes and other such sundry work. Could she accompany the expedition, asked Stifansson. But, Ada had her leg tied to Bennett’s sick bed. She could never leave him to die. She was lost in thoughts.
Stifansson made an enticing offer. He would make arrangements for Bennett’s comprehensive medical care to turn him around till Ada returned.
Ada weighed the offer, and concluded that the medical care was vital for her sick son. She could bear the separation from her son for some time if it could ensure his recovery from TB. She would also get her remuneration. With mind engulfed in torment, she agreed to Stifansson’s offer to work as a cook and a seamstress for the Arctic expedition. Stiffanson was delighted.

 

On 21st September, the group set out for Wrangel Island. Initially, the other members of the group felt Ada was too frail to stand the cold hazardous journey, but Ada showed remarkable determination and resilience. They agreed.
Stifansson saw off the group assuring that the place they were heading to was awash with wild life. The young men could haunt them for the meat. Stifansson had six months ration loaded on the ship. Additionally, he assured that he would send another supply ship after six months to replenish the stock.

 

Their ship Silverwave left the port. Soon, on board the ship, Bennett’s memory began to haunt Ada. She consoled herself thinking that it was more important for Bennett to stay alive than her remaining close to him.

 

The expedition landed in the island. Unlike their earlier assumption, the island turned out to be a vast swathe of land, not a tiny patch. Ada made up her mind to stick to her assigned work – sewing and cooking. The young men decided to begin hunting from the next day.
It was 1922. Spring arrived. Life was rather easy for the members of the expedition. There were games aplenty for hunting. Seals, polar bears, ducks and geese provided plentiful of the much-needed meat for consumption in that desolate cold land. The crew decided to build a snow-house for shelter to keep warm.

 

Things started to take a turn for the worse. Lone Knight returned to the camp after swimming across the Skeleton River. The cold water and the exhaustion took their toll. Lone felt uneasy. Soon he was taken ill. No amount of care and nourishing could revive him. His condition went from bad to worse.

 

The members of the crew began to worry stock of essential items like sugar, coffee, bean and flour reached critically low levels. Lone showed no sign of recovery. His moral was low, as he felt he couldn’t pull it through. Ada was there with her words of comfort, but Lone had slipped past the threshold. Doom and despondency was in the air.

 

One of the crew members suggested that they could cross the icy Chukki Sea to reach the land where they could seek help for themselves and the beleaguered comrades left behind. In other words they mulled over the idea of expedient escape from the camp.

 

Lone’s condition deteriorated fast. Leaving him to the care of Ada, the three other crew members left the camp for their onward journey. The demure Ada could neither demur, nor vent her anxiety.

 

It was January 1923. Crawford, Malle and Gaurer headed for Siberia crossing the Chukki Sea. Ada did her best to instill some confidence in the ailing Lone, but his condition was too grim for her kind words to have any salutary effect. There was no food to eat. It was a desperate situation. Starvation loomed over the duo – one critically ill, the other, a frail woman with little skill to gather food in those hostile cold surroundings.

 

Ada pulled herself up and decided to go ahunting. Lone protested, but Ada said she would do it – anyhow. She managed to kill a few animals, and could fend off starvation. Tragedy befell again. Lone passed away, leaving Ada heart-broken, and alone. There was no trace of the three men. The ghoulish wilderness gnawed her relentlessly. But, she refused to capitulate. She thought of Bennett, and drew comfort from the fact that he must be recovering fast. She had a reason to stay alive. She kept the fire burning in her tent. Inside her, the fire of hope and energy remained aglow. Despair and despondency began to recede. She clung to her life and spirit.

 

On August 23, 1923, a merchant ship named Donaldson laid anchor in the shore. The sailors took good care of Ada, by then half-starved and battered by the cold. Her ordeal was finally over.

 

When she reached home, she was treated like a hero. She became the darling of the media who gave her front-page coverage. She was invited to gatherings to recount her struggle with the adversity and the elements. Felicitations flowed from all quarters.
Ada narrated her learning experience – how she studied maps, and how she hunted foxes with the help of traps. Her story became an inspiring saga of struggle and survival.

 

With her accumulated salary, she took her fit and fine son to Seattle to start life anew. She declared that the spirit of adventure was still alight in her. The indomitable Ada finally went to Arctic and made it her home.
———————-.———————————
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CBSE English Class 7 –When Wishes Come True

When Wishes Come True

Subal Chandra and Sushil Chandra were father and son. The duo had one unusual thing in common: They were opposite to what their names suggested. Sushil (meaning calm and docile) was a bouncy little lad. His childish exuberance was evident from the many ways he troubled the neighbours with his small acts of mischief. On the contrary, his father, Subal (meaning strong) was enfeebled by his age and rheumatism.
The Father didn’t quite like the son’s penchant for antics, which some in the neighborhood found quite annoying. Sushil was too agile for his father and could easily slip away to evade thrashing from his enraged father. But, once in awhile, he got caught, and had to face his father’s wrath.

It was a Saturday. School started in the morning and got over by 2pm. Sushil lay in his bed deep in his sleep. Sushil found the call of school very disgusting. He had two good reasons to feel so. First, he sulked at the idea of writing the Geography test scheduled for that day. Second, the preparations for the fireworks at the house of Bose during the day were too exciting for him to miss. The sight and sound of fireworks were to set the sky aglow in the evening the same day.

Sushil wanted to avoid going to school. He feigned sickness of stomach and lay in bed. He sought to be excused from school. But, Subal, was not the least convinced. He saw through the trick of his truant son. He planned his counter move.

Quite impassively, he turned to Sushil and advised him to lie in bed. He would not have the lozenges brought for him. Instead, he would drink a brew that would cure him of the stomach ache. With such advice, Subal went to make the brew, bolting the door from outside.

Sushil was perplexed. ‘Had he jumped from a frying pan to fire,’ he wondered. He detested the brew his father had made him drink in earlier occasions. It was too awful.

Subal entered the room with the pot of brew. Sushil sprang out of his bed and declared that the stomach ache was gone and there was no need for the weird drink. He was ready to go to school.

Subal sternly ordered that Sushil must stay in bed the whole day. With these words, he made his son to drink the dreadful drink. Sushil had no option but to drink it. Subal locked his son and went out.

As the day dragged on, Sushil’s agony mounted. The forced incarceration in his room was too hard for the boisterous boy to bear. He wept endlessly. He rued his being a young boy, and fancied being a old grown-up man, so that he could take decisions about himself on his own.

Outside the room, Subal sat brooding and reminiscing about his childhood days. During those carefree days, he studied as he pleased, and paid little heed to his parents’ admonitions. His parents fawned over him then. He regretted his neglect of studies. He yearned to be young again, so that he could make amends for his past behavior by being a studious student again.

When both the father and the son were lost in thoughts about travelling back and forth in time, the goddess who fulfilled the desires of her devotees happened to pass by. She heard the pleas of the father and the son, and granted their prayers. The two seemed joyful in their new Avatars the next morning.

Old Subal normally slept late and lay in his bed until the late hours in the morning. But, now he was a sprightly youngster. He sprang out of his bed as soon as the Sun rose the next morning. His limbs were supple and his teeth were firm. His clothes appeared too over-sized to wear. He felt odd.

Sushil, on the other hand, was sluggish and late to leave his bed. His eyes were dreary as he struggled to get up. His father (now young Subal) was making a lot of noise outside. His clothes clung too tightly to his body. He had outgrown them overnight. Beard and moustache had grown all over his face clouding his childlike innocence. To his horror, he found that he had pate on his head. Quite uncharacteristically, he body struggled to break free from the bed. The warm bed’s embrace was too good to forgo.

The abrupt make-over had caught the father-son duo off guard. They found it hard to come to terms with their new physique. The lure for the freedom to indulge in youthful adventures had driven Sushil to ask the goddess to make him older. However, Sushil (now old) felt no urge for outdoor adventures. He had no desire to climb trees, swim in the pond, or just wander around. Instead, he felt drained and lazy. But, he shook off his lethargy and indulge in the youthful frenzy.

He proceeded to the nearby Olive tree, wanted to climb it, but found it an uphill task. To have some fun, he hang from a low branch, but it gave way under his weight. Sushil (now old) landed, bang on his back. Curious onlookers had a hearty laugh at his predicament.

Sushil (as an old man) sprang a surprise on his friends. They were aghast to see their chubby friend looking like an old haggard. They recoiled in horror. Sushil who had hoped to play with his friends Gopal, Akshay, Nanda, and Harish with gay abandon, now found their presence annoying. Sushil detested their raucous games. He liked to be left alone.

Subal (now young) no longer wanted to sit still and study. The thought of school repelled him. To add to his misery, Sushil reminded him to go to school. Subal, was disoriented and confused. He feigned stomach ache and decided to give the school a miss.

Sushil (now old) roared in disapproval. He reprimanded Subal strongly, and said he would have none of these pretences. Subal stood defenseless and meek.

On Sushil’s orders, Subal went to school and returned in the usual time. He wanted to go out and play. Sushil wore his reading glasses and sat down to read the Ramayana. He found Subal’s noisy presence distracting. He made Subal to sit down in front of him and solve some very tough mathematics problems. Subal took nearly an hour to solve just one of them. At dusk, Sushil (now old) sat down with friends to play chess.

Sushil (now old) remembered his father Subal’s aversion to eat anything in any quantity his weakened appetite didn’t permit. So, in his ‘senior’ avatar, Sushil allowed his father Subal (now young) only frugal meals. To add to his misery, Subal’s appetite was as voracious as that of a youngster. He craved for more, but got what filled a corner of his stomach. The enforced starvation took a toll of the old man’s heath and energy. He grew pale and thin.
Sushil (now old) suffered in a different way. He lost the bounce and playfulness of his nature. No pastime of the past thrilled him anymore. His penchant for small mischief in the neighborhood appealed to him. He became insipid and docile – a pale shadow of his earlier self. A bath in the backyard pond exacerbated his rheumatism, and he had to take medication for six months. He bathed at home, in warm water on alternate days. His movement of hand became disoriented, making him to fumble while combing his hair.
At times, driven by his old habits, Subal (now young) walked into the gathering of old folks, and make ill-thought interjections, much to their annoyance. Subal had to dejectedly walk away after their reprimands accompanied by some wrenching of his ears. On occasions, he inadvertently asked for a puff of tobacco from his teacher. The teacher admonished him for such indecent manners and made him stand on the bench as punishment, besides spanking him thoroughly.
Quite amusingly, Subal (now young) caned Sushil (now old) for minor failings. Sushil would revolt saying, ‘Is it the manners they teach you in school?’
The things came to a head soon. The confusion took its toll. Both yearned to get back their old forms. The duo realized the mistake.
The wish-granting goddess made her appearance soon, and asked if the father and son had fulfilled their desires. Quite promptly, both beseeched the goddess to revert them to their old forms.
She granted their wish, and assured that the change-over would happen the next morning.
Both woke up the next morning as if they had seen a bad dream. They were back to their old ways. Subal asked Sushil why he was not doing his grammar lessons. Sushil, in his usual childish manner, replied that he had lost the book.  

 

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The Tiger at the End of the Tunnel by Ruskin Bond

The Tiger in the Tunnel by Ruskin Bond

 

Thembu’s father, Baldeo, was a small-time employee in the railways. His job demanded working at night. No matter how cold or wet the night was, he had to brave the elements to go out of his hut for duty. His humble dwelling was beside a jungle.

 

On one occasion, Thembu was awake in his bed when his father got ready to step out. It was a dark, quiet and forbidding night. The stillness was broken by the shrill cry of the cicadas. One could even hear the faint tik tak sounds of the woodpeckers, digging into barks of trees with their beaks. A mild breeze blew. The grunt of a wild boar digging out its delicious roots punctuated the pervasive silence of the jungle.

 

Baldeo worked as a watchman in the railways. He lay awake as he had to go out on his night duty. He removed the thick shawl from his body rather reluctantly. The cold was biting. The midnight’s cold was unforgiving. The station he was attached to was very rudimentary set-up where trains stopped only occasionally. There was a long tunnel ahead, and the trains needed to be flagged in due to safety considerations. This was the reason why the trains slowed down briefly as they went past the station to enter the tunnel.

 

On Baldeo’s shoulders lay the responsibility of inspecting the tunnel for any possible obstruction of the track. He would signal the trains in only if there was no hindrance to obstruct the train. Baldeo used to stand guard at the tunnel entrance and manually wave the train in by his hand-crafted signal. Despite, the basic nature of this arrangement, Baldeo’s contribution to the safe passage of the train was critical.

 

On that fateful night, the young boy Thembu wanted to accompany his father. His curiousity got the better of his comfort in the warm bed. But, Baldeo didn’t want his son to be exposed to that night’s cold. Thembu was asked not to venture out.

 

Thembu was a 12-year-old then. He had to extend a helping hand to his mother and young sister in household chores and in the work in the family farm. This robbed him of the opportunity to sleep in the station beside his father, Baldeo. From the station to their hut that stood bordering the tribal village, it was a three mile trek. Baldeo’s salary from the railways, although meager, came in handy to meet his family’s needs. The paltry income from their paddy farm fell well short of their needs. Baldeo, had thus managed to avoid grinding poverty. His love for the railways and the Khalasi job he did was, therefore, understandable.

 

Baldeo, with sleep weighing down his eye lids, struggled to rise. It took him some effort to find the match box he wanted to light the lamp. Undeterred by the darkness and the cold, he stepped out of his hut and set off for the station treading the same solitary jungle path which he used every night on his way to duty. Thembu had fallen asleep again in the meanwhile.

 

Baldeo was not sure if the lamp in the signal post was alight. Wrapping the shawl around his body, he trudged forward along the track in the chill. It was not a pleasant job, but he did it each night dutifully. But, he loved to return to the warmth of his hut.

 

The hills on either towered over the rail track. An uncanny feeling of fear seemed to grip the desolate area. The wild animals were there around the place. Baldeo had to be very alert to their presence. He had heard many stories about the man-eaters that stalked the tunnel, but he consciously brushed these tales as nothing but figments of imagination. Till that night, he had not encountered any wild animal.

 

Some panthers, obviously, were there. One such cat was killed by the villagers. Their spears pierced its body to death. Panthers had stayed clear of Baldeo’s hut so far.

 

Baldeo, undaunted by the looming danger of wild animals in the area, walked forward confidently. His tribal blood had trained him to defy the fears. He carried a small axe, which he could use to deadly effect when the need rose. He used it to chop off trees, and as a bulwark against the jungle animals’ possible attack.
On one occasion, he had killed a boar with the same axe. His family feasted on its meat for three days. The axe was a precious family possession. It had belonged to his father who had wrought its steel blade quite deftly over charcoal fire. The blade’s shine had remained intact over the years. In the hand of Baldeo, it was a formidable weapon against any attack. On occasions, railway officials had offered good money to buy the weapon, but Baldeo was too proud of it to part with it.

 

Baldeo, finally, reached the tunnel. It was a frightening sight as the dark interior seemed to awe any intruder.

 

Baldeo’s concern was the lamp. It had stopped burning. Had it run dry? He wanted to ascertain if there was enough oil left in it. If not, he would have to rush home to fetch some. The train was due soon. He lowered the lamp using its chain.

 

As he ran his hand over his body to get hold of the match box, he could hear the shriek of a deer from afar. He heard a big thud from nearby undergrowth. It made Baldeo’s hairs stand on their roots. Luckily for him, there was some oil left in the lamp. That saved him the trouble of going back to his hut. He lit the lamp, put it in position, and looked around apprehensively.

 

Not losing any more time, he went on his inspection tour of the tunnel’s passageway. The lamp on his hand swung as he walked briskly. The shadows danced to and fro on the wall. The tunnel was clear. Baldeo paced back to the entrance and waited for the train’s approach.
The train was late. Baldeo wrapped himself up tightly to kkeep warm and sat down. Soon, he dozed off, forgetting the unusual sounds he had heard some time earlier.

 

In the hut, the rumbling sound of the train set the environment alive. Thembu woke up from his sleep, and thinking that he was beside his father, blurted out, ‘Father, it is time to light the lamp.’ Soon, he discovered that his father had left much earlier leaving him on the warm bed of the hut. He lay wide awake hoping to see his father back from duty after the train departed.

 

Baldeo was woken up hearing the frightening grunt of a jungle cat very close to him. Bracing up for the danger, Baldeo grabbed his axe firmly, and wanted to figure out the location from which the sound came. An ominous silence lasted for a while. Was it the lull before a storm?
A few pebbles came cascading down the slope preceded by a thump. The tiger had arrived at Ground Zero!

 

Baldeo knew for certain it was a tiger, but he did not know the direction in which it was moving. ‘Was the tiger heading towards his hut, where his son Thembu was asleep?’ wondered Baldeo.

 

Just about a minute after, the majestic animal unveiled itself within yards of where Baldeo stood. I t was coming straight at him. The tiger’s shone brightly with their piercing gaze. Baldeo’s sense told him the futility of fleeing. Outpacing a tiger on the prowl is humanly impossible, he reasoned. With the signal post at his back, Baldeo stood still frozen fear as the tiger approached.
The tiger was a man-eater. He knew how feeble humans were against its might. Expecting no great fight-back from his prey, the tiger assumed a frightening aggressive posture with its right paw forward.

 

Baldeo moved swiftly to evade the paw and swung back at his attacker with his axe. The axe landed on the tiger’s shoulder. The enraged tiger charged against Baldeo with full fury. Baldeo again hit back at it with his axe. The axe inflicted a deep cut on the tiger’s leg, almost chopping it off. Unfortunately, the axe remained stuck in the tiger’s body leaving Baldeo without his only weapon of defence. Baldeo became utterly vulnerable now.

 

The tiger, seething in pain, pounced upon Baldeo with savage vengeance, and tore his body apart in no time. For Baldeo, the end came swiftly. He felt an excruciating pain on his back before falling silent for good. He had perished.
The tiger retreated to a distance and licked its limb. The pain of the cut made him to grunt intermittently. The tiger was also shaken by the encounter. It could not hear the sound of the approaching train. The Overland Mail came in majestically with its furnace aglow and smoke and sparks shrouding the engine as it struggled to climb up the incline.
Just before entering the tunnel, the driver blew the steam whistle, as was customary. The intent was to ward off obstructions from the track. The train kicked up a big noise inside the narrow tunnel. After a while, it emerged triumphantly at the other end. The din in the forest died down fast. Everything fell silent as if nothing had happened.

 

As a routine practice, the driver halted the train to re-charge water into the engine. He got down for unwinding a bit, and inspecting the headlamp. But, what he saw sent a shiver down his spine. He had never see anything like this before.

 

The tiger’s mangled body was stuck just above the cowcatcher of the engine. Obviously, the tiger had been mauled by the steel giant.
People soon gathered around the place. They gaped at the carcass, and made their own judgments in shock and wonder.

 

Thembu had arrived on the spot where the deadly encounter with the tiger had ended his father’s life. The poor boy sobbed as he looked on with his tear-filled eyes at what remained of his dead father. He sat there, undeterred by the approaching darkness. He wanted to guard his father’s dead body from the jungle animals who relished human flesh. The relief watchman came in due course.

 

For two complete days a pall of gloom hung over Thembu, his sister and the mother. The grief almost numbed them into silence.

 

But, life had to go on, regardless of the misfortune. On Thembu’s shoulder fell the responsibility of earning a living. Just three nights after the ghastly incident involving his father, Thembu was there at the tunnel doing exactly what his dead father did. It was a legacy he was proud of.

 

To cut the boredom, Thembu sang silently to himself as he waited for the incoming train. His father had fought valiantly winning everyone’s acclaim. The tiger’s death was sweet revenge for Thembu’s family. Besides, he had inherited the legendary axe that had inflicted such a fatal cut on the tiger. He felt proud.
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The Merchant of Venice .. Main characters

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare … Character analysis of Shylock, Portia and Bassanio

Shylock ..
For the first time reader, Shylock appears to be the central pivot of the gripping story, The Merchant of Venice. He was, no doubt, a greedy, cruel and cunning money-lender with a heart filled with vitriol and extreme animosity towards the Christians he lived with. He was a Jew who charged usurious interest on the loans he gave. He had no mercy on the defaulters and pounced on them with vengeance, no matter how much pain it caused to the loanee.
He was, perhaps, the target of relentless harassment by the Christian majority government of those times. He was an embittered man, hounded by fellow Christian citizens. Some critics tend to take a lenient view of the hideous nature of Shylock considering the hostile environment he had to contend with all his lifetime.
Shylock derived a sadistic satisfaction in inflicting humiliation on Christian businessmen of his city. He had no soft corner in his heart for his daughter who was in love with a Christian young man. Religious bigotry prevented him from reconciling to their marriage.
His meanness comes to sharp focus when he invokes the clause in the loan document signed by Antonio, and demands his pound of flesh from the heart of his beleaguered borrower. The scene in the court is as riveting as it is sad. The readers breathlessly await the climax with Shylock ready with his sharp knife and the upright Antonio stepping forward to offer himself for the butchery. Shylock is pitiless and unforgiving. Luckily for the readers, the story takes a complete U-turn with Shylock trying to wriggle out of a very inconvenient situation.
Shakespeare’s portrayal of Shylock’s evil side is vivid and powerful. It adds a touch of highly drama and poignancy to the story. The story leaves an indelible mark in the reader’s mind and leaves us to ponder if Shylock deserves a softer assessment. Nonetheless, The Merchant of Venice owes its greatness as a novel to Shylock. We must concede this to him.
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Portia ..
Portia is the damsel who is cherished by many blue-eyed young men. She is beautiful, intelligent, urbane, sophisticated and principled. She is a paragon of beauty, and with her grace, she becomes the woman of dream for so many eligible suitors.
Bassanio is very enchanted with Portia and is desperate to win her hands. Portia has dropped enough hints that he could woo her, with some luck, of course. It was during an earlier sojourn to Belmont that Bassanio read it in her eyes. Nerissa, the maid of Portia, knows Portia’s inclination towards Bassanio. When she mentions it to Portia, the latter struggles to conceal the excitement. Portia is too dignified to let a maid be privy to her inner feelings. But, the torment of love sweeps her inhibition aside.
Portia is a young woman with no dearth of romantic feelings. She is agog with joy to learn through Nerissa that Bassanio has already arrived at her mansion to take part in the contest. She, by then, has fallen for Bassanio’s masculine charm and personality. She pleads with him saying, “Pause a day or two, for in choosing wrong, I lose your company.” This is ample indication for the young man that his battle is already half won.
Bassanio’s makes the correct choice of the casket. Portia is in Cloud 9. She surrenders to his irresistible chivalry and charm. She offers herself and every other material possession she has to the young man who is soon going to be her husband. The earlier Portia – reticent, stately and carrying an air of superiority – is now a meek, obedient, caring and submissive woman, bewitched by her suitor’s persona. With impeccable presence of mind and sense of judgment, she dispatches Bassanio to rescue Antonio from the clutches of Shylock. Her magnanimity and maturity come to the fore when she decides to wait to be Bassanio’s wife, formally.
Portia is portrayed as a lady of substance – a woman who does not fall to the temptations of flesh forsaking her graciousness and sense of sympathy. She emerges as a woman of formidable virtue and great forbearance. The novel The Merchant of Venice would have been poorer without Portia.
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Bassanio …
Bassanio is Antonio’s best very close friend. He adores Portia, the paragon of beauty and grace, and is desperate to woo her and make her his wife.
Bassanio is a happy-go-lucky young man who loves all the good things of life. He is poor in his money management, and tends to live beyond his means. He has mismanaged his shipping business, and makes no effort to hide his failings. He is down in debt, and vainly wishes that good luck will soon arrive to help him pay off the loans. Antonio is one of his creditors. He brazenly wants to borrow more to pay for his romantic pursuit of Portia. One can safely conclude that Bassanio is callous and insensitive.
Although in great debt, he has no qualms about taking more loan to chase a woman he adores. Such attitude deserves little appreciation. Behind his fascination for the youthful Portia, it is difficult to ignore Bassanio’s lust for her wealth. No doubt, he is a cunning player. He knows his friend Antanio’s large-heartedness, and magnanimity. Quite shamefully, he asks Antanio to stake his honour and life to borrow money from Shylock, the notoriously cruel money-lender. A ‘Pound of Flesh’ for the pleasures of flesh – surely reprehensible!!
While prodding his friend Antonio to arrange the loan, Bassanio makes little effort to hide his fascination both for her mind, mansion, and for her money. It was sheer lust compounded with greed and cunningness.
It would be unfair to assume that Bassanio ‘used’ Antonio to get the money. He truly was loyal to Antonio and cared for his safety and well being. This is why, he did not wish to stay back to enjoy conjugal pleasure with his beautiful wife, and rushed to save his dearest friend from the jaws of a very cruel death engineered by Shylock.
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The Bet by Anton Chekhov … Explanation

The Bet by Anton Chekhov 

                                                 — with questions and answers

 

It was a dark autumn night. The old banker was walking up and down his study and remembering how, fifteen years before, he had given a party one autumn evening. There had been many clever men there, and there had been interesting conversations.
Explanation .. Lost in his reminiscence in a dark autumn night, the old banker sauntered around his study. He recounted how fifteen years ago, just around this time of the year, some very intelligent people had congregated in his hall. A lively conversation had followed.
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Among other things they had talked of capital punishment. The majority of the guests, among whom were many journalists and intellectual men, disapproved of the death penalty. They considered that form of punishment out of date, immoral, and unsuitable for Christian States. In the opinion of some of them the death penalty ought to be replaced everywhere by imprisonment for life. “I don’t agree with you,” said their host the banker. “I have not tried either the death penalty or imprisonment for life, but if one may judge a priori, the death penalty is more moral and more humane than imprisonment for life. Capital punishment kills a man at once, but lifelong imprisonment kills him slowly. Which executioner is the more humane, he who kills you in a few minutes or he who drags the life out of you in the course of many years?”
Explanation … They were discussing the desirability and morality of sending a sinner to the gallows. Some of the bright minds in the party supported the idea behind this punishment, although it is possibly the harshest that an accused could get. Some other guests opposed capital punishment as primitive, cruel, and immoral. It was against the tenets of Christianity, they said. So, states swearing by Christian values must take a fellow human being’s life, notwithstanding the fact that the convict could have committed the gravest and vilest of crimes. Instead of executing an accused, he should be put behind bars for his life.
The host, a shrewd and rich banker, proffered his own views. He said putting a sinner to quick death was far more desirable than incarcerating him till his death. It was like inflicting a thousand cuts to his body when he has no way to resist. ‘Robbing a person of his freedom for lifelong was possibly the cruelest act, unbecoming of a conscientious judge who awards the sentence,’ said the banker after some reflection. To bolster his stand, he argued that death in the hands of the executioner comes rather quickly, and much less painfully.
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“Both are equally immoral,” observed one of the guests, “for they both have the same object – to take away life. The State is not God. It has not the right to take away what it cannot restore when it wants to.”
Among the guests was a young lawyer, a young man of five-and-twenty. When he was asked his opinion, he said:
“The death sentence and the life sentence are equally immoral, but if I had to choose between the death penalty and imprisonment for life, I would certainly choose the second. To live anyhow is better than not at all.”
A lively discussion arose. The banker, who was younger and more nervous in those days, was suddenly carried away by excitement; he struck the table with his fist and shouted at the young man:
“It’s not true! I’ll bet you two million you wouldn’t stay in solitary confinement for five years.”
“If you mean that in earnest,” said the young man, “I’ll take the bet, but I would stay not five but fifteen years.”
Explanation …… Another guest had a radically different view. He disapproved of both capital punishment and life imprisonment. He observed that both types of punishments lead to death – one quickly, the other death excruciatingly slowly. He felt, the State did not have the power to create life, so can’t destroy anyone’s life.
A lawyer in his mid twenties came forward with his own counsel. He felt both life imprisonment and capital punishment to be equally abhorrent. However, if he ever committed a vicious crime of the most serious nature warranting the severest punishment, he would opt for life imprisonment rather than being dragged to the gallows. In his view, staying alive is a far better option than meeting death prematurely.
The pugnacious lawyer had triggered a flurry of arguments with everyone trying to jump into the fray. The banker, a little younger than most and less sagacious, couldn’t resist the temptation to throw in his hat.
In a feat of apparent indiscretion, the lawyer said he would pay anyone two million if he remained in solitary confinement for just five years.
A young man from among the guests threw a counter challenge. He said he would stay as a total recluse not for five, but for fifteen years for the two million reward.

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“Fifteen? Done!” cried the banker. “Gentlemen, I stake two million!”

“Agreed! You stake your millions and I stake my freedom!” said the young man.

And this wild, senseless bet was carried out! The banker, spoilt and frivolous, with millions beyond his reckoning, was delighted at the bet. At supper he made fun of the young man, and said:

“Think better of it, young man, while there is still time. To me two million is a trifle, but you are losing three or four of the best years of your life. I say three or four, because you won’t stay longer. Don’t forget either, you unhappy man, that voluntary confinement is a great deal harder to bear than compulsory. The thought that you have the right to step out in liberty at any moment will poison your whole existence in prison. I am sorry for you.”

And now the banker, walking to and fro, remembered all this, and asked himself: “What was the object of that bet? What is the good of that man’s losing fifteen years of his life and my throwing away two million? Can it prove that the death penalty is better or worse than imprisonment for life? No, no. It was all nonsensical and meaningless. On my part it was the caprice of a pampered man, and on his part simple greed for money …”

Then he remembered what followed that evening. It was decided that the young man should spend the years of his captivity under the strictest supervision in one of the lodges in the banker’s garden. It was agreed that for fifteen years he should not be free to cross the threshold of the lodge, to see human beings, to hear the human voice, or to receive letters and newspapers. He was allowed to have a musical instrument and books, and was allowed to write letters, to drink wine, and to smoke. By the terms of the agreement, the only relations he could have with the outer world were by a little window made purposely for that object. He might have anything he wanted – books, music, wine, and so on – in any quantity he desired by writing an order, but could only receive them through the window. The agreement provided for every detail and every trifle that would make his imprisonment strictly solitary, and bound the young man to stay there exactly fifteen years, beginning from twelve o’clock of November 14, 1870, and ending at twelve o’clock of November 14, 1885. The slightest attempt on his part to break the conditions, if only two minutes before the end, released the banker from the obligation to pay him the two million.

Explanation … When the young man said he was ready to be cut off from the outside world for fifteen long years, the garrulous banker sieged the offer and declared that he was staking two million for the bet.

The young man was not a bit ruffled. He accepted the challenge sportingly.

The banker had a huge pile of cash. Two million was a trifle for him during those days. He pitied the young man for his apparent foolhardiness in agreeing to forsake his freedom for fifteen years for two million. He asked the young man to weigh the suffering and pain of self-imposed isolation. He would waste away during the confinement and his life would end in three to four years, warned the banker. Killing the urge to step out of the isolation cell would be too hard to resist. It could wreck him physically and mentally. With these warnings, the banker tried to dissuade the young man from taking such a great risk.

In a short while, the banker himself was lost in thoughts. He began to wonder if he had fallen prey to his own indiscretion and whim. Was losing two million to induce another young man to lose fifteen years of his precious life in an isolated prison not injudicious, he began to worry.

The discussion was to determine whether capital punishment or life sentence was a more preferred option. Now, the outcome of the argumentation was totally different. An innocent man was going to lose fifteen years of his life, and he stood to lose two million. The flurry of verbal exchanges had resulted in totally unintended consequences. The thought rattled the banker.

Memories of the evening party rushed through the banker’s mind. The young man had glibly agreed to the severest terms of his incarceration. Other than access to books, and pen and paper, the man could have zero contact with the outside world. He would get just one meal a day, to be delivered to him through a window. In short, it was going to be torturous to the extreme. He would be holed up in a lodge in the banker’s garden with round-the-clock vigil by the banker’s guards. He would be allowed to write letters, drink wine and smoke, though. The comprehensive agreement was drawn up. The solitary confinement was to begin from twelve o’clock of November 14, 1870, and end at twelve o’clock of November 14, 1885.

Even the slightest violation of the agreed terms would instantly absolve the banker of the obligation to pay the two million bet to the young man.

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For the first year of his confinement, as far as one could judge from his brief notes, the prisoner suffered severely from loneliness and depression. The sounds of the piano could be heard continually day and night from his lodge. He refused wine and tobacco. Wine, he wrote, excites the desires, and desires are the worst foes of the prisoner; and besides, nothing could be more dreary than drinking good wine and seeing no one. And tobacco spoilt the air of his room. In the first year the books he sent for were principally of a light character; novels with a complicated love plot, sensational and fantastic stories, and so on.

Explanation … Solitary confinement took a heavy toll of the young man’s health and vigour in the first five years. It drove him to the edge of depression. He played the piano to keep him to stave off the misery of his reclusive existence. He denied himself the luxury of wine and tobacco. For him, wine triggered yearning for companionship, so he abstained from it. Tobacco smoke hung in the air of his sealed room. It choked his breathing. In the first year, he relished reading books with light and entertaining content.

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In the second year the piano was silent in the lodge, and the prisoner asked only for the classics. In the fifth year music was audible again, and the prisoner asked for wine. Those who watched him through the window said that all that year he spent doing nothing but eating and drinking and lying on his bed, frequently yawning and angrily talking to himself. He did not read books. Sometimes at night he would sit down to write; he would spend hours writing, and in the morning tear up all that he had written. More than once he could be heard crying.

Explanation …. As he stepped into the second year of his voluntary captivity, he stopped playing the piano. He began reading classics – books of deep literary value. In the fifth year, he took to music again. He demanded and got his wine. The guards peeped through the window and found him doing nothing except eating, drinking wine and lying on bed. He would erupt into angry monologues at times. He stopped reading books. At times during the night, he would sit down on his bed to write something. But, in the morning, he would tear up all that he wrote at night. He would cry.

In the second half of the sixth year the prisoner began zealously studying languages, philosophy, and history. He threw himself eagerly into these studies – so much so that the banker had enough to do to get him the books he ordered. In the course of four years some six hundred volumes were procured at his request. It was during this period that the banker received the following letter from his prisoner:
     “My dear Jailer, I write you these lines in six languages. Show them to people who know the languages. Let them read them. If they find not one mistake I implore you to fire a shot in the garden. That shot will show me that my efforts have not been thrown away. The geniuses of all ages and of all lands speak different languages, but the same flame burns in them all. Oh, if you only knew what unearthly happiness my soul feels now from being able to understand them!” The prisoner’s desire was fulfilled. The banker ordered two shots to be fired in the garden.
Explanation .. The lone prisoner plunged himself in the study of languages, philosophy and history.  He ordered many books on these subjects as he voraciously read the books at his disposal. The banker, bound by his pledge, was never found wanting in his job of fetching the treatises. In four years, some six hundred volumes were procured for the scholar-prisoner.
A letter from the prisoner really took the banker by surprise. The missive was penned in six different languages. The writer had thrown a challenge at the banker. If a single mistake was spotted in any of the six letters, the banker was asked to fire a shot from his gun from inside the garden. The prisoner said he was experiencing immense sense of satisfaction from mastering so many languages – a feat that has been the hallmark of eminent intellectuals in all ages.
The banker had the letters scrutinized, and could spot just two mistakes. As required by the prisoner, he had two shots fired from his garden.

 

     Then after the tenth year, the prisoner sat immovably at the table and read nothing but the Gospel. It seemed strange to the banker that a man who in four years had mastered six hundred learned volumes should waste nearly a year over one thin book easy of comprehension. Theology and histories of religion followed the Gospels.
     In the last two years of his confinement the prisoner read an immense quantity of books quite indiscriminately. At one time he was busy with the natural sciences, then he would ask for Byron or Shakespeare. There were notes in which he demanded at the same time books on chemistry, and a manual of medicine, and a novel, and some treatise on philosophy or theology. His reading suggested a man swimming in the sea among the wreckage of his ship, and trying to save his life by greedily clutching first at one spar and then at another.
The old banker remembered all this, and thought:
     “To-morrow at twelve o’clock he will regain his freedom. By our agreement I ought to pay him two million. If I do pay him, it is all over with me: I shall be utterly ruined.”
Explanation …. Years of the voluntary captivity went by. Ashe entered the eleventh year, the prisoner’s interest in all branches of human knowledge dwindled to near zero. He took to spiritualism, and began to read the Gospel. Much to the surprise of the banker the voracious reader delved in to the thin volume of the Gospel. All his enthusiasm to read and read had deserted him.
After finishing the Gospel, the prisoner began his intellectual quest to Theology and History of religions.
Ashe stepped into the last two years of self-imposed incarceration, he began to read randomly. From Natural Sciences to the study of Byron and Shakespeare he busied himself in picking up nuggets of reading pleasure from whatever books came his way.
The last day of the captivity was tantalizingly near. The banker, bent by age and greatly diminished in wealth by then, began to ponder the matter. The prisoner would walk out at 12 noon the next day. He would walk out free richer by two million and the banker’s kitty would take a hit of the like amount. He was already in hard times, and this pay-out would almost cripple him. The banker was lost in thoughts.
     Fifteen years before, his millions had been beyond his reckoning; now he was afraid to ask himself which were greater, his debts or his assets. Desperate gambling on the Stock Exchange, wild speculation and the excitability which he could not get over even in advancing years, had by degrees led to the decline of his fortune and the proud, fearless, self-confident millionaire had become a banker of middling rank, trembling at every rise and fall in his investments. “Cursed bet!” muttered the old man, clutching his head in despair “Why didn’t the man die? He is only forty now. He will take my last penny from me, he will marry, will enjoy life, will gamble on the Exchange; while I shall look at him with envy like a beggar, and hear from him every day the same sentence: ‘I am indebted to you for the happiness of my life, let me help you!’ No, it is too much! The one means of being saved from bankruptcy and disgrace is the death of that man!”
Explanation … The banker had squandered a major part of his wealth in reckless gambling, betting wildly on the bourses, and similar misadventures. His swagger, clout, and arrogance had ceded place to despondency, remorse, worries, and lack of self-confidence.
He began to think mean, wondering why the man survived the ordeal to claim the two million.     He was just about 40, an age in which he could marry and look forward to a happy life. The old banker, would lose two million, an amount that appeared so trifling some years back, but meant a lot to him, in the hard times he had fallen in. He concluded that redeeming his pledge to give two million would almost spell his ruin. An unknown fear gripped him. He mulled over ways to preempt this calamity.

 

     It struck three o’clock, the banker listened; everyone was asleep in the house and nothing could be heard outside but the rustling of the chilled trees. Trying to make no noise, he took from a fireproof safe the key of the door which had not been opened for fifteen years, put on his overcoat, and went out of the house.
     It was dark and cold in the garden. Rain was falling. A damp cutting wind was racing about the garden, howling and giving the trees no rest. The banker strained his eyes, but could see neither the earth nor the white statues, nor the lodge, nor the trees. Going to the spot where the lodge stood, he twice called the watchman. No answer followed. Evidently the watchman had sought shelter from the weather, and was now asleep somewhere either in the kitchen or in the greenhouse.
     “If I had the pluck to carry out my intention,” thought the old man, “Suspicion would fall first upon the watchman.”
     He felt in the darkness for the steps and the door, and went into the entry of the lodge. Then he groped his way into a little passage and lighted a match. There was not a soul there. There was a bedstead with no bedding on it, and in the corner there was a dark cast-iron stove. The seals on the door leading to the prisoner’s rooms were intact.
Explanation .. It was 3O’clock – just nine hours away from the door would be flung open to let the prisoner walk out free with two million in the wallet. The banker got up, wore his overcoat, retrieved the key from the chest and stealthily tiptoed his way out of his room. The cold night’s chill and the howling winds swayed the garden trees wildly. Trains fell incessantly adding to the infernal environment.
The banker looked around, but found nothing of the usual objects like the statue, the trees and the lodge. Somewhat bewildered, he called out loudly for the watchman. He received no reply from the watchman who, apparently slept off somewhere.
Awful thoughts crossed the banker’s mind. He could not muster the courage to smother the prisoner to evade the two million pay-out. It was too risky a thought, he concluded. The needle of suspicion would point to the watchman, he felt glibly.
He proceeded towards the lodge in the darkness. He crossed the passage and lighted a match. He was flummoxed to discover that the cell was empty with no one inside. There lay a bare bedstead and a cast iron stove. Curiously, the seal of the cell was intact..  
When the match went out the old man, trembling with emotion, peeped through the little window. A candle was burning dimly in the prisoner’s room. He was sitting at the table. Nothing could be seen but his back, the hair on his head, and his hands. Open books were lying on the table, on the two easy-chairs, and on the carpet near the table.
     Five minutes passed and the prisoner did not once stir. Fifteen years’ imprisonment had taught him to sit still. The banker tapped at the window with his finger, and the prisoner made no movement whatever in response. Then the banker cautiously broke the seals off the door and put the key in the keyhole. The rusty lock gave a grating sound and the door creaked. The banker expected to hear at once footsteps and a cry of astonishment, but three minutes passed and it was as quiet as ever in the room. He made up his mind to go in.
     At the table a man unlike ordinary people was sitting motionless. He was a skeleton with the skin drawn tight over his bones, with long curls like a woman’s and a shaggy beard. His face was yellow with an earthy tint in it, his cheeks were hollow, his back long and narrow, and the hand on which his shaggy head was propped was so thin and delicate that it was dreadful to look at it. His hair was already streaked with silver, and seeing his emaciated, aged-looking face, no one would have believed that he was only forty. He was asleep … In front of his bowed head there lay on the table a sheet of paper on which there was something written in fine handwriting.
     “Poor creature!” thought the banker, “he is asleep and most likely dreaming of the millions. And I have only to take this half-dead man, throw him on the bed, stifle him a little with the pillow, and the most conscientious expert would find no sign of a violent death. But let us first read what he has written here … “
     The banker took the page from the table and read as follows:
     “To-morrow at twelve o’clock I regain my freedom and the right to associate with other men, but before I leave this room and see the sunshine, I think it necessary to say a few words to you. With a clear conscience I tell you, as before God, who beholds me, that I despise freedom and life and health, and all that in your books is called the good things of the world.
     “For fifteen years I have been intently studying earthly life. It is true I have not seen the earth nor men, but in your books I have drunk fragrant wine, I have sung songs, I have hunted stags and wild boars in the forests, have loved women … Beauties as ethereal as clouds, created by the magic of your poets and geniuses, have visited me at night, and have whispered in my ears wonderful tales that have set my brain in a whirl. In your books I have climbed to the peaks of Elburz and Mont Blanc, and from there I have seen the sun rise and have watched it at evening flood the sky, the ocean, and the mountain-tops with gold and crimson. I have watched from there the lightning flashing over my head and cleaving the storm-clouds. I have seen green forests, fields, rivers, lakes, towns. I have heard the singing of the sirens, and the strains of the shepherds’ pipes; I have touched the wings of comely devils who flew down to converse with me of God … In your books I have flung myself into the bottomless pit, performed miracles, slain, burned towns, preached new religions, conquered whole kingdoms …
Explanation … The match went out. Overwhelmed by a torrent of emotions, the banker peeped through the little window. He saw the back of lone man, He had a hairy body.  Books lay scattered on his table. The books were strewn everywhere – on the easy chair and on the carpet.
The prisoner sat motionless.  Perhaps the long confinement had taught him to sit still. He even seemed not to hear the sound which banker made by tapping the window. The banker broke the seal on the door and opened it with the key that had not been used in the last fifteen years. The banker paused for a few minutes, but saw no reaction from the prisoner. The banker decided to go in.
At the table was seated a man reduced to his bare bones. He looked gaunt and spent. His hair had turned white and his emaciated look evoked both horror and sympathy.  The man seemed to be asleep. There were a few pieces of paper before him.
The banker assumed that the man was half dead. It wouldn’t take much effort to lift him to the bed and then strangle him with his pillow. Death would come instantaneously, and others would have little clue that the man met a violent death. Thinking these, he thought he should read whatever was scribbled on the papers.
What the prisoner had written shook the banker. He had told that he was on the verge of deliverance from the fifteen years of isolation, but was not the least thrilled by it.  He had little yearning for the worldly pleasures like wealth, health and pleasures that ordinary mortals covet so much. Then the prisoner had explained how being engrossed in serious studies had nurtured his soul, enriched his understanding of the ways of the world. Through his studies he had experienced the excitement people feel on climbing mountain peaks, hunting in the jungles and loving women. He had sailed through the clouds, feasted his eyes with the beauty of the earth, the mountains, the woods, towns, villages and cities. He had derived profound pleasure from his journey through the books and he was a complete and contented man. It had been a bewildering experience to try and understand the mysteries of creation and the intrigues of existence. He had never let his mind waver from God, the Creator and Destroyer of everything.

 

     “Your books have given me wisdom. All that the unresting thought of man has created in the ages is compressed into a small compass in my brain. I know that I am wiser than all of you.
     “And I despise your books, I despise wisdom and the blessings of this world. It is all worthless, fleeting, illusory, and deceptive, like a mirage. You may be proud, wise, and fine, but death will wipe you off the face of the earth as though you were no more than mice burrowing under the floor, and your posterity, your history, your immortal geniuses will burn or freeze together with the earthly globe.
     “You have lost your reason and taken the wrong path. You have taken lies for truth, and hideousness for beauty. You would marvel if, owing to strange events of some sorts, frogs and lizards suddenly grew on apple and orange trees instead of fruit, or if roses began to smell like a sweating horse; so I marvel at you who exchange heaven for earth. I don’t want to understand you.
     “To prove to you in action how I despise all that you live by, I renounce the two million of which I once dreamed as of paradise and which now I despise. To deprive myself of the right to the money I shall go out from here five hours before the time fixed, and so break the compact …”
     When the banker had read this he laid the page on the table, kissed the strange man on the head, and went out of the lodge, weeping. At no other time, even when he had lost heavily on the Stock Exchange, had he felt so great a contempt for himself. When he got home he lay on his bed, but his tears and emotion kept him for hours from sleeping.
     Next morning the watchmen ran in with pale faces, and told him they had seen the man who lived in the lodge climb out of the window into the garden, go to the gate, and disappear. The banker went at once with the servants to the lodge and made sure of the flight of his prisoner. To avoid arousing unnecessary talk, he took from the table the writing in which the millions were renounced, and when he got home locked it up in the fireproof safe.
Explanation …. The prisoner declared how he has found the books deeply educative and entertaining. They had provided wisdom and knowledge, and had helped him to fend off frustration, despair and boredom through the fifteen years of isolation. As a result, he had emerged wiser than most mortals on earth.
In the next breath, the prisoner pours scorn over the same books he had lauded so much. He said he was not the least enthused by what the world calls wisdom, and the pleasures the world so generously distributes among the humans. All these were like a mirage, so unreal, so deceptive and so transitory.
A man might have risen to the zenith of fame, wealth and valour, but death comes so disdainfully, ruthlessly, and reduces the mightiest human to a mass of rotten flesh. Time devours everything from the face of earth. The biggest of the man-made wonders get reduced to dust with the passage of time. Nothing is eternal, nothing survives the jaws of destruction.
Then he proceeded to chide the banker as a gullible person who had lost his way in this illusory world. A false sense of vanity, happiness, and fulfillment had reduced him to the state of a lunatic, unable to discern what is real and what is not. His life was vain and a colossal failure.
With these words of admonishment, the prisoner proceeded to deal his fatal blow! To vindicate his stand, he offered to relinquish his claim for the two million. To show that the banker had not reneged on his promise, the prisoner volunteered to escape the confinement just five hours before the end, so as to make it appear that he flouted the clause of the contract – not the old banker.
The banker became speechless on reading the note and made a quiet exit. Emotions, sense of shame, guilt and remorse overtook him as he stepped out of the lodge. Sleep eluded him for the rest of the night.
Next morning, the news of the prisoner’s premature escape was conveyed to the banker by his host of housekeepers and gardeners. The watermen said that they had seen with their own eyes how the prisoner climbed out of the window into the garden before exiting the place. The banker hurried to see for himself that the prisoner had indeed escaped. To ensure that the prisoner had triumphantly walked away from the two million, the baker quickly grabbed the note and hid it. He wanted the mystery to remain a mystery forever. By doing this, he saved himself of a lot of ignominy and shame.
———————–END————————-
Questions and answers will be posted soon.
 

 

 

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God lives in the Panch by Munshi Premchand

God lives in the Panch
by Munshi Premchand
The story ………………
Jumman Shaikh and Algu Chowdhury were very good friends living in the same village. Even, minute discord nor rancour ever blemished their friendship. When one went out of the village, the other looked after the family of the absent friend. The villagers admired the friendship between the two, and loved them for it.
Jumman had an old lonely aunt with no one in her family. Fortunately, she was lucky to have some property in her name. For her upkeep in her dotage, she suggested to her nephew Jumman that she would bequeath her property to him in exchange of shelter and food in his household till her death. Jumman agreed, and the deal was struck. The old aunt moved to Jumman’s house, where she was accepted with warmth and welcome. She had hoped that she would see through her dotage with dignity and love in the foster home. The responsibility of looking after the old lady fell on Jammun’s wife.
As days went by, the wife’s love for the old lady began to wane. She felt the old lady to be an unnecessary burden on her means and energy. Predictably, her dislike for the Aunt reflected in her behaviour towards her. The Aunt found the cold and frosty behaviour of Jummman’s wife quite discomforting and hurtful. She protested at times, but could do little to make the young lady mend her manners. Even the frugal meals she ate were hard to come. The old lady resented such neglect and bitterly argued her case with the wife of Jumman resulting in angry exchanges. Taunts flew back and forth. The frequent tiffs led to a full-blown crisis as the Aunt couldn’t take the indignity and neglect any longer.

The Aunt spoke to Jumman about the unbearable behaviour meted out to her by his wife. Jumman could offer no remedy and remained silent. Aggrieved further by her nephew’s indifference, she asked for a small monthly dole so that she could cook her own meals. This plea, too was turned down by the husband-wife duo. The hapless old lady’s misery continued.

The Aunt decided to approach the Panch for seeking redress to the injustice she was battling in Jumman’s household. She approached the villagers to narrate her owes and seek intervention of the Panch. Some gave her a patient and sympathetic hearing, a few mocked her, while some advised her to make it up with NJjumman’s wife, her real tormentor. She drew little solace from such advice.

Finally, the Panch, the adjudicating authority of the village, was convened. On the appointed day, the villagers congregated under a tree to conduct the proceedings. Jumman, the defendant, was given the option to propose one among the villagers as the Panch (the headman for the session). He proposed the name of Algu, his dear friend. Algu occupied the august chair that called for strict neutrality, and fair-play. Algu heard out the two versions, one of the complainant, and the other of his dear friend Jumman.

Caught in a difficult situation, Algu (as the Panch) had to contend with two conflicting positions — the call of duty as the Panch, and the urge to side with his dearest friend. He chose to heed the call of his conscience. After much soul-searching, Algu gave his verdict –Either Jumman gave his old Aunt a monthly allowance or he returned her property.

Jumman was very angry at his dear friend’s stance, not realizing that Algu had only done his duty as a fair, and just Panch.

The fall-out of the Panch verdict made their relationship bitter. Their relationship was frayed beyond repair. Jumman’s heart burned with a desire to avenge Algu’s ‘indiscretion’ of siding with his Aunt. Jumman’s resentful mind blinded his inner vision.

Some days later, misfortune befell Algu. One of his bullocks died. He was forced to sell off the other bullock to a cart owner. The buyer had one month time to pay the cost of the bullock. Sadly, the bullock died before the one-month period ended. Quite understandably, he refused to pay the cost of the bullock to Algu. Much acrimonious exchange followed between the buyer and the seller. As a concession, the buyer offered to loan his bullock to Algu for a few days as a bargain. This was no consolation for Algu. Finally, he decided to take the matter to the Panch.

A meeting of the Panch was arranged at Algu’s behest. Much to the dismay of Algu, Jumman was nominated to act as the Panch on the occasion. He felt, he could not get a favourable verdict from his erstwhile friend Jumman, who had become a foe by then. With fear and nervousness he awaited the Panch’s verdict.

For Algu, it was a big call of conscience. He surely couldn’t undermine the reputation of the Panch by letting his vengeful mind cloud his sense of fair-play. The chair of the Panch was too sacrosanct to be a prey to one’s petty-mindedness.

Jumman solemnly ruled that the cart-owner (the buyer) must pay the full cost of the bullock to Algu despite the fact that animal had died before the one-month credit period. After all, the bullock was fit and healthy on the day of sale. Its subsequent death could not be a ground for non-payment of the agreed money to Algu.
The verdict came as a huge relief to Algu. He could hardly fathom the fact that his arch enemy Junmman had set his acrimony aside, and decided to give a fair and just verdict.
Overwhelmed with joy, he proceeded to hug Jammun. The duo buried their past, and became friends again. Thus, the Panch’s time-honoured reputation of dispensing fair verdict was kept. The moral question – Should friendship override call of conscience, when both are at odds with each other – was settled once and for all.
——————END————-

Characters of Jumman and Algu …..

Jumman .. He appears to be a man with a meek personality. His wife was petty-minded, selfish, and insensitive to the aunt who had given her land to Jumman for sustenance. Obviously his wife reneged on the solemn promise made to the aunt. She maltreated her relentlessly. Jumman turned a blind eye to the way his wife treated his hapless old aunt. Such attitude was immoral and condemnable. To add to his folly, he did not take the Panch’s decision in right spirit, and harboured a grudge against his dearest friend Algu, whom he began to see as his enemy.
However, while acting as the Panch in deciding Algu’s matter, he realized his solemn obligation to be impartial and just.  By doing this, he redeemed himself to a great extent. He made up with Algu later. On the whole, Jumman emerges as a normal human being with common failings.

 

Algu .. While hearing the case against his dear friend Jumman, Algu, as the Panch, did not waver from the path of morality. He delivered a wise decision although it went against Jumman. By doing this, Algu upheld the noble traditions of the Panch. He must have gone through painful dilemma before giving a judgment in favour of the aggrieved aunt. But, he did what the seat of the Panch called upon to do. Friendship with Jumman did not stand on his way. Thus, Algu emerges as a sagacious person with strong moral moorings.

 

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Princess September by Somerset Maugham.

Princess September

by W. Somerset Maugham
W. Somerset Maugham traveled widely in Southeast Asia and the Far East. Obviously, he was a keen observer of life, society, and culture of the people living in these lands. His mastely-written novels The Gentleman in the Parlor and On a Chinese Screen bear testimony to his keen personal involvement in the psyche and ethos of the people in whose midst he lived. This short absorbing story has the royalty of Siam (modern day Thailand) as the center stage. It is a story based on fantasy. This makes it so endearing for young minds.

 

Story .. The king of Siam had a fecund wife whom he adored greatly. She bore him a good number of children — nine daughters and four sons in all. The daughters were the first to be born. The king had quite an inventive mind in the matter of naming his offspring. The first two daughters were named ‘Night’ and ‘Day’ respectively.
Soon the queen gave birth to two more daughters. Giving a name to the third and fourth one put the king in a thoughtful mood, until he hit upon the idea of naming the four daughters by the names of the different seasons of the year. Accordingly, the first two daughters were renamed as Spring, and Autumn, and third and the fourth one got the name Winter and Summer respectively.
The queen became mother three times again, and three more daughters soon arrived one after another. The king had a task in hand: he had to name his children suitably so that their names were easy to remember and handle. So, he decided to name them according to the names of the different days of a week.
Again, the royal naming ceremony had to be held. All old names were abandoned, and the seven daughters were re- christened as Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday etc.
The king’s respite from finding new names was brief, but. The queen gave birth to one more daughter – the eighth one. The new arrival set off another round of name-searching process. The king really had a methodical mind. He hit upon the idea of naming his eight daughters according to the names of the year. The queen watched the naming and re-naming of her nine daughters resignedly as she knew no one could change her husband’s mind.
Then arrived the ninth daughter. The king hit upon another idea. The daughters were named according to the names of the months in a year. The eldest got the name ‘January’, then ‘February’ and so on and so forth. The youngest, ninth in the row, got the name ‘September’.
That only leaves October, November and December, chuckled the queen. She had no idea as to what nomenclature the king would follow for the thirteenth child.
After September’s birth, the children to follow were all sons, who were named by alphabets.
The frequent change of names had caused some confusion too. The children didn’t like to be addressed by different names every other day. The eldest two had the highest number of name changes. They resented the practice. Their personalities were distorted. They felt bitter. The youngest child – September – grew up normally to become a sweet little girl of great charm and grace.
The king had another habit that was quite unusual. On his birthday, he gave away gifts to all those who came to felicitate him. Contrary to normal practice, he declined any offering from his subjects. Such generosity, however, led to a gradual depletion of the sovereign repository. The king gave away the precious gifts that the eminent citizens and the Mayors had given in earlier times. Time came when the royal treasury lay empty.
On one of his birthdays, not having anything to give, the king gave each of his nine daughters a nice green parrot kept inside a golden cage. The name of the daughter who possessed the bird was permanently written on the golden cages.
 The parrots were pretty, no doubt, but could utter only two sets of words – ‘God save the King’ and ‘Pretty Polly’.
One day September, the most vivacious of the nine princesses, suffered a heartbreak when she found her lovely parrot lying dead inside her cage. She sobbed inconsolably, as the Maids of Honour tried their best to pacify her. After so many futile efforts to calm the princess, they informed the Queen of the plight of September. The Queen, however, brushed aside the Princess’s show of grief as mere nonsense. She ordered the maids to lay her to sleep without supper.
The Maids of Honour lost no time to put September to sleep, and rushed to a party. Sleep eluded the grieving September as she continued to pine for the dead parrot. At this juncture, she found a small bird intruding to her chamber through the window. The princess was taken aback to see the visitor. She sat up on the bed with a sense of bewilderment and joy. To add to her merry, the little bird began to sing melodiously. The sweet voice of the little bird lifted the sad princess’s spirits. The bird sang in praise of the palace garden, the nearby lake and the goldfish in the waters. September nearly forgot all her woes, and was back to her normal jovial mood. She was so delighted that she forgot about the supper she had missed the earlier night.
The visitor and the host developed a rapport in no time. The little bird was lovingly accommodated in the princess’s chamber. It sang its beautiful hostess to sleep with her charming songs. When she got up the next morning, the tiny bird was still there at her bed side. This added to Princess September’s joy.

 

The Maids of Honour brought in breakfast for the sweet little bird, now the adorable companion of the princess. She made the bird eat rice from her palms and let it bathe in her saucer. She virtually fawned over the little bird pardoning her lack of table manners.
After finishing its breakfast, the little bird started afresh round of singing. Its sweet voice enthralled the Maids of Honour. Princess September was clearly elated and proud of the new possession.
She proceeded to present the singing bird to all her eight elder sisters. Sitting on her hostess’s finger, it went around the palace seeing all her eight sisters. The eldest, January, was visited first because of the precedence: then February, March till August. To the great astonishment of all, she sang a different song for each of the eight sisters. Her singing talent was unparalleled. Finally, the duo went to the King and Queen. The royal couple were really impressed.
In hindsight, the Queen claimed credit for sending her to bed without supper as the reprimand had brought such unexpected reward. The King joined in saying that the bird sang so much better than the parrots.
The Queen was tired of hearing the parrots sing ‘God Save the King’ with the same monotony as the other citizens did. The King, however, said the words did not tire him, as they conveyed a sense of enduring loyalty. But he frowned to hear Pretty Polly over and over again. The princesses, always adoring towards their parrots, protested saying the birds sang Pretty Polly in seven different languages. The King was not convinced.
Such disparaging remarks from their father left the daughters annoyed and parrots sad. Buffeted by frequent change of their names, the daughters had grown up as irritable and humourless morons. Quite contrary to the doom that had descended on the eight sisters, Princess September was cheerful and excited. With the little bird whirling round her, she gamboled all over the palace singing with great glee.
The eight sisters came to September and sat in a circle around her. Their mood was downcast. They told her that they had saved some money to buy her a new parrot to replace the dead one. September turned down the offer rather impolitely. She asserted that her new bird had a golden voice, and its company more than made up for the dead parrot.

 

The sisters took this as an affront. Possibly they had some sinister plans. All the sisters sniffed one by one (in order of age) to signal their disapproval of September’s love for the new singing bird. To tease her, the sisters said that the bird was not caged and had a free run of the palace. She could soon fly off leaving September high and dry.
They asked where the little bird was at that point of time. September replied that it had gone to its father-in-law’s house. The elder sisters were incredulous. They somehow wanted to drive a fear in September’s mind by making her believe that the bird could have fled away for good. Seeing September showing signs of worry, they advised her to encage the bird if and when he (the bird) returned. September thought otherwise. She loved to see the bird flying around inside the palace.
The eight sisters left with some disapproving gesture. September became worried too pondering the warning given by her sisters. To add to her worries, the bird didn’t return on time. Was he (the bird) trapped in snares or devoured by hawks? Or, did he forget her ? Had he gone over to another host deserting her for good? All these thoughts tormented her.
When she was immersed in these foreboding thoughts, she suddenly thought a ‘tweet-tweet’ sound. The sweet little bird had sneaked in quietly. September’s joy knew no bounds.
To the inquisitive princess the bird said how he had begged leave of his father-in-law’s party and rushed back to her. His concern for September was palpable in his face.
Ominous thoughts crossed September’s mind. What if the bird had stayed back, she pondered. She decided to pre-empt the bird’s abandoning her by putting her firmly inside the cage.
The encaged bird was as much surprised as he was shocked. He found it hard to accept his captivity. Sadly for him, his indiscretion in talking had brought about her incarceration at the hands of the princes he loved so much.
September took the excuse of the predator palace cats, and assured the bird that his safety was uppermost in her mind in encaging him.

 

The little bird was not reconciled to her loss of freedom. Naively, she blamed the palace cats. There was no way September could assuage the miffed bird. He begged to be freed in the morning.
He ate his supper, began to sing, but faltered in the middle. She stopped, retired to sleep. The princess went to sleep for the night. Early next morning, the bird called out loudly to the princess to wake up. He wanted to be out of the cage to savour the dew and the freshness of the morning air. But, September didn’t relent. She advised the bird to remain inside the cage. It was a beautifully crafted golden cage—a nice place to be in, the princess pleaded.
A lot of conversation followed between the two. The princess stood her ground, while the bird kept pleading for freedom relentlessly.
The bird was too dumbstruck to sing again. She remained silent as grief overtook her.
The princess finally ceded some ground. She took the little bird, still inside her cage, for a walk around the palace garden, always assuring him about her un-diminished love for him. But, the bird’s mood remained gloomy and pensive. It made the princess bewildered and sad too.
September turned to the other eight sisters for counsel. All of them advised her to be firm and not let the bird go out of the cage. They were quite terse in their warning.

 

September was in a quandary. Her eight elder sisters were arrayed against the tiny bird, but, for the hapless bird’s cry for freedom rang relentlessly in her ears. Finally, she vainly hoped that time would help the bird to get used to the cage. It was just wishful thinking.
The next morning was devastating for her. When she cried out ‘Good morning’ to greet the bird, a deafening silence met her. The precious little singing bird lay motionless and drained in the golden cage. When September coaxed him to cheer up and start singing, the bird replied that the confines of the cage had robbed him of all zeal to sing. Devoid of the freedom to fly unfettered, she could not sing, she maintained.
The bird’s lifeless voice moved the princess. She opened the cage door and brought the bird out to keep it on the window’s sill.
The bird reaffirmed her love for the princess promising to return to sing the most melodious songs for her. No matter how far he went, he would return to sing for the princess, swore the bird. Saying this, the bird vanished into the blue sky. The princess, beset with emotions, eyed her darling little bird till he went out of sight.
The parting was heart-rending for September, but she bore it with grace and fortitude. After all, her dear little one had got his deliverance from the cage where he was slowing rotting to death. In the bird’s happiness lay her happiness, she reasoned.
The sisters got to know of the bird’s departure. They came in force to taunt September.
The loyal bird, however, returned to prove the eight sisters wrong and redeem his loyalty to September. He lovingly sat on her shoulder, ate from her hand, and sang one of the most melodious songs. September’s heart overflew with love for the bird.
September kept her chamber’s window open to let the bird come and go unhindered, as it pleased.
With time, September grew up to be a paragon of beauty. Her youth was exuberant. At the right age, she was married to the King of Cambodia. On the contrary, the eight sisters became uglier and uglier with time. They had never slept with their windows open. They were given away to the councilors with a pound of tea and a Siamese cat. Their wicked minds drove them to such disgrace.

 

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Model questions and answers..
  1. Why the names of the king’s offspring were changed so often?

Ans .. The Queen gave birth to children with astounding periodicity. As a result, the number of royal offspring rose  quickly. Starting with ‘Night’ and ‘Day’, the names went to seasons to names of the week’s days to names of the months.

  1. What effect it had on the children?

Ans ..The children were puzzled, vexed, and quite unsettled at having to assume a different name every few months. They felt like losing their identity.

  1. What unusual practice the king followed on her birthday?

Ans .. On his birthdays, the king refused to accept any gift from those who came to felicitate him. Instead, he gave away gifts very generously to his loving subjects.

  1. What effect it had on his stock of royal possessions?

Ans .. Quite predictably, the royal treasury was depleted of resources, leading to a very embarrassing situation for the palace.

  1. What the daughters got as their birthday gifts?

The nine daughters could get nothing gorgeous as the treasury was empty. The king, however, gave each of them a nice parrot encaged in a golden cage.

  1. What effect the parrot’s death had on September?

Ans .. September’s parrot had endeared itself to her greatly. However, the parrot died leaving September devastated with grief. She wept inconsolably for hours and hours, unable to come to terms with the loss of her pet.

  1. What effect the singing bird had on September?

The singing bird arrived miraculously from nowhere. It befriended the princess in no time and entertained her with its golden voice. Its enchanting singing enthralled  everyone in the palace. September’s melancholy disappeared, and she became cheerful again.

8. What freedom the singing bird enjoyed initially?

Ans ..The singing bird had the whole palace to herself. She flew all over the inner chambers without let or hindrance.

9. How did the eight elder sisters feel about the singing bird?

 

Ans .. The eight sisters were not quite happy to see the adulation and affection the singing bird got from everyone including the king and the queen. The sisters were overtaken by jealousy.

10. What plan they hatched to punish the singing bird?

Ans .. The eight sisters wanted the end of the singing bird’s coveted status. They wanted the bird incarcerated in the cage, so that he (bird) couldn’t fly off. It was a wicked advice with ulterior motive. They hoped, the entrapment could break his (bird’s) spirit and rob him of her sweet voice. In due course, either it would die or driven out.
11. Why did the singing bird leave the palace temporarily?

Ans .. The singing bird left the palace and went on a sojourn to his father-in-law’s house.

12. How did September feel when the bird did not return in time?

Ans .. Angst, apprehension and grief engulfed September’s mind when the bird delayed his return. She wondered how she could cope with her absence.

13. How did the sisters react on seeing the bird not returning to the palace as scheduled?

Ans .. Wicked pleasure made the eight sisters happy at the absence of the singing bird. Instead of feeling sympathy for their grieving and heart-broken sister, they rejoiced.

14. How did September feel to see the singing bird again?

September became ecstatic to see the singing bird back in the palace. Angst ceded place to relief in her mind.

15. Why was the singing bird put inside the cage?

 

Ans .. The eight sisters prodded September to encage the bird lest he fly away again. The naïve September could not see through their advice. She put the bird back in the cage.
16. How did the bird react on being put inside the cage?

 

Ans .. The bird was perplexed and dismayed at the unexpected show of cruelty by September. He resented his captivity. Crest-fallen and angry, he stopped singing.

17. How did September feel to encage the bird?

 

Ans .. Putting the singing bird in the cage was not a very pleasant job for September, but her extreme love for him and the sinister advice given by her sisters made her encage him. She was both sorry and distraught to see the unhappy bird pining for freedom.

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