Saki: The Open Window

April 23, 2009

Any day before writing an entry here, I would take out a book from my library and re-read the SS. That way I would have spent a few agreeable minutes and also refreshed my memories of the favourite SS.

Today it is ‘The Open Window’ by Saki (H. H. Munro).

The first time that I read this SS must have been sometime in the mid-1950s when we were living in Hyderabad.  It was included in a school textbook and my father read it to me and my older siblings. Of course, I was a young boy then and I don’t remember what impact it made on me. But my subsequent encounters with the SS were agreeable. This formed part also of a book of short stories prescribed for study when I was in college: by then I was experienced and educated enough to realise its beauties; the appreciation that I wrote on this story in an exam-like atmosphere in the redoubtable Bertram Hall in Loyola College, Madras,  fetched me very high marks.

We have come across the term REST-CURE in The Hindu Crossword occasionally. Well, this SS is about an edgy young man who seeks exactly that. Armed with a letter of introduction from someone, he comes to the house of a lady in a placid village with the hope of getting some much-needed relaxation. He is met by a young girl who informs him that her aunt will come down presently. Then she narrates a story which just doesn’t improve the nerves of the patient. After some moments when the lady’s husband and others return home from a hunting trip, the visitor jumps up and runs away without a word of goodbye or word of apology. Why? Indeed, the lady of the house, now downstairs, wonders what could have compelled the man to run away in such a post-haste manner.  

For which the girl, as precocious as many other young boys and girls in Saki’s stories, has another story.

The last sentence is remarkable and it has got stuck in my memory – not from my college days but from the first time when my father read it to me.

If you have read it, do say what your impression is – without any spoilers, of course. If you have not read it, here you go:

http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/OpeWin.shtml

Quote

Framton grabbed wildly at his stick and hat; the hall door, the gravel drive, and the front gate were dimly noted stages in his headlong retreat.

Note: Any excerpt that I give won’t act as a spoiler.

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What it is about

April 22, 2009

I have always been a lover of short stories.

There was a time when I used to gobble up novels. I particularly recall a vacation when I was a student of the Vivekananda College in Madras. During those ten or fifteen days I used to get books from the college library and finish off one novel a day. The library did not have open access system but each of the  students had been given two bulky volumes of the “acquisition”‘; we had to select a book, fill up a requisition slip and hand it to the library assistant through a small window. Behind him were stacks and stacks of books in solitary confinement.  Minutes later he emerged with the book we had asked for and gave it to us after duly stamping it.

This process I went through every day during that vacation sometime in the early Sixties (the author whose titles I devoured was Pearl S. Buck): the college was close-by for me to be able to do so without any personal vehicle that scores of students boast of nowadays even while at school (nor did I have any girl friends: most boys and girls moved in phalanxes even in the so-called coed colleges such as the Madras Christian College where too I studied or earlier  in the coed school in Coimbatore) .

I even recall the ambience in which I read at that time. In those days students didn’t have a room of their own nor did parents shower so much attention on their wards (I envy the LKG children of the present times: I find that each day the mother picks up the child at the school gate and then before getting on to the Scooty goes across the road to the shop with the child on tow and buys for him or her a packet of Lays or a bar of Cadbury’s and says: Vaa, kanna, veetukku polaam: naa unakku mammu tharen, paavam unakku pasikkiradhu illaya?)

Sorry for these constant digressions. I was recalling where I read during those hols. Yes, it was in the hall: we Indians don’t use the term ‘drawing room’: it’s always the hall. After all, we have had centuries of foreign rule and we would like to think that to every man the home is his castle and so we imagine we are living in one of those Scottish castles with their capacious rooms.  Thus it was that I was comfortably settled (rather stretched) in the three-seater rattan sofa with the fan whirring above. I would be engrossed in my book, not knowing even when a storm was raging outside or when a mouse scurried across the floor.

The Loyola College too had a well-stocked library but students were not allowed to go in and browse: nowadays even bookshops let you do it. Well, in our days even bookshops didn’t encourage shoppers to touch their wares – yes, that’s the term. I remember a shop, a famous shop, on Mount Road, where the shop owner expected us to get in, ask for a book, pay and leave with the thing in hand. Very much like you bought  half a seer of vellam at the corner maligai kadai or a matchbox at the potti kadai.

Even during the most part of my career I continued reading novels but there came a time when the weariness, the fever and the fret of everyday life did not allow me to spend much time with the bulky books. Yet love of reading cannot be squelched: so I kept up reading short stories – I still do.

In the postings on this blog, launched just this morning on a sudden impulse, I hope to mention a short story, give a laconic synopsis (without disclosing the end so your curiosity may be piqued) and a very brief commentary.

The first SS will be in my next posting.