Review

A Horse and Two Goats by R.K. Narayan

God made Man and Man made languages!

But, little did man know that the medium invented for convenience would alienate him from his own kind. Though, birds, animals and even insects can understand each other (at least of their own species) without any specific language, with just a few sounds of roaring, bleating and mewing doing the job.

The most intelligent animal on earth became a slave to his own creations. Creativity and originality were sacrificed to maintain strict codes of syntax and grammar. With the result, that man has become the only animal who has forgotten to communicate with his own type, sans language. And, as there are as many languages as perhaps there are creatures in the sea, more often than not, language acts as a barrier rather than a facilitator.

So, what would happen when an English speaking American meets an illiterate South Indian villager, who knows only Tamil and has not taken a single step outside his village. The foreigner with his English is as incomprehensible and bizarre to Muni as are the Tamilian villager’s queer antics to him. Narayan took charge of this humourous situation and has crafted an amusing story, rich in situational comedy.

In ‘A Horse and Two Goats’ written by R.K. Narayan, Muni is a poor resident of Kritam, one of the thousands of inconspicuous villages situated in the Holy land of India. Muni was once a proud owner of a large flock of sheep and goats, but lost most of his riches, and is now the desolate owner of just two goats. He and his wife are in the last stage of their lives, and without a single offspring to count upon, they are forced to live with poverty and embarrassment, bearing crass jokes and insensitive remarks by fellow villagers.

Despite his poor life, Muni is a dreamer and an avid food lover. He is really fond of good food and bidis, but in the present situation, finds himself lucky to grab a few drumsticks! Away from the prying eyes of villagers, he spends most of his time idling near the rocky highway, where his usual seat is the pedestal of a large clay horse.

One day, as he was sitting in his favourite place, an American comes to him to inquire about gas. As Muni knows just two words of English, Yes and No, he finds it difficult to satisfy the queer red man. He tries hard to convince the khaki wearing big man that he is a very innocent old villager and has nothing to do with any crime or dishonest deeds, which may have been committed in the village.

The American is smitten with the chaste Tamil, Muni rattles on so fluently, though he is not able to understand a single word, out of the long explanation Muni furnished with utmost sincerity. At the same time, American notices the beautiful clay horse, is impressed with the unparalleled art, and makes an offer to Muni to buy the horse at an exorbitant price. As Muni sits on the platform nonchalantly, he has mistakenly identified him as the owner of the horse.

However, as both the protagonists cannot understand each others’ language, a huge misunderstanding is created. Muni believes that he is being falsely implicated in a murder, and to prove his honesty, he makes a show of being an accomplished religious orator, giving a lecture on Dashavtars of Vishnu. On the other hand, the American is planning on taking the magnificent horse to his country, and proudly showing it off to his relatives and friends, to garner their admiration and envy.

There is hardly any similarity between the thoughts, action or words of the two protagonists, and yet both of them keep talking incessantly, sharing their dreams and aspirations, giving the reader a glimpse of their individual lives. At last, though money wins, as the American is able to buy the horse, by giving a hundred rupee note to Muni, while Muni thinks that the stupid foreigner has paid him too much for two paltry goats!

In this story of paradoxes and conflicts, Narayan touched many issues, be it the curse of childlessness, the crude apathy of mankind to the lesser mortals, or the irrepressible instinct of a man to show off his intelligence. The story is quite rich in mythological stories as well. Muni is an old man seeped in religion and is able to rattle off the avatars of Vishnu in his rustic easy manner, impressing the American unknowingly. As two protagonists indulge in a directionless dialogue, it is only the reader who knows both sides of the story and is able to laugh at the idiosyncrasies of life.

A very different story indeed, written in the affable style of Narayan. A situational comedy where each misunderstanding brings a fresh peal of laughter. A perfect amalgamation of religious philosophy and modern thought!

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