R. K. Narayan: A Horse and Two Goats

The story:
‘Until quite recently’ a statue of a horse and warrior – figures from Hindu mythology – stood outside a tiny village in India. For a long time the statue was neglected and ignored, but one day it ‘changes hands’.
Muni, an old man who is minding his two goats near the statue, encounters an American tourist interested in all things Indian who wants to buy the statue and thinks Muni is in a position to sell it. Unfortunately, Muni understands no English whatsoever. First, he thinks the tourist might be a government official investigating a murder, but then he perceives his interest in the statue and launches into a lengthy narrative based on Hindu mythology. The American’s attempts to make Muni realize that he is only interested in buying the statue come to nothing, but when he strokes the old man’s goats in an attempt to be friendly, Muni becomes convinced that the man wants to buy his animals. Delighted, he takes the money the American offers him and wanders off. The tourist is left standing by the statue, assuming that Muni has gone to find someone to help him get the statue into the car.

What we learn about …
… Hindu mythology
In spite of the fact that Muni could be considered a social outcast with no education, he does have a good knowledge of the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. These epics have been passed on from generation to generation in the form of oral narratives, thus giving him a sense of identity within the framework of his native oral history.

… Misunderstandings and misconceptions
When reading ‘A Horse and Two Goats’, there may be the temptation to classify the story as a clash of cultures: East vs. West, materialism vs. spiritualism, poverty vs. wealth. The term ‘clash’, however denotes an action between two conflicting parties, the outcome of which is usually, at least for one of the parties, negative. In this case, the ‘clash’ is only in the consciousness of the reader, as neither of the two protagonists perceive the other as an opponent. As a consequence, no-one suffers, there is no loser and at the end of the story each party seems to have got what they wanted. One could even conclude that ‘A Horse and Two Goats’ is not about a clash of cultures. In that case the question arises how it is to be read. Perhaps it would be more in line with Narayan’s intention to read it as a simple ‘comedy of errors’. A reading of this kind would by no means disqualify the story from the anthology or make it irrelevant to a study of post-colonial literature. On the contrary, one could even go as far as to say that in a globalized world the narrative is perhaps even more relevant than ever, as it illustrates the difference in world views: on the one hand, the ancient world picture, on the other hand, the modern consumer mentality. Errors arising from ignorance and cultural superiority in a world of shrinking distances and easy connections may have more fatal consequences than the transformation of an object of religious veneration into a tourist souvenir.

About the author:
R. K. Narayan was born into a middle-class Brahmin family in 1906. He grew up in a suburb of Madras, and as a young man took up teaching, but without much success or joy. His decision to earn a living as a writer was met with discouragement as he could not find a publisher, let alone a readership, and his family did not take his efforts seriously. However, the renowned British writer Graham Greene recognised his talent and helped to get his work published in Britain. Narayan is a traditional teller of tales, preferring to be gentle and humorous rather than hard-hitting. His irony is rooted in a Hindu view of the world, in which the conflicts and contradictions of everyday life are no more than minor events in the face of an established cosmic order. This simplicity has led to his being regarded as an anecdote-teller or a small-town ironist who presents the human comedy without philosophical implications. On the other hand, Narayan has also been called India’s most accomplished author and one of the most admired writers in English.

For more look here!

amazon.de Caught between cultures
R. K. Narayan

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