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Please give a summary of the story 'By Any Other Name' by Santha Rama Rau.specific...

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stephanie0605 | Student | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 7, 2009 at 1:22 PM via web

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Please give a summary of the story 'By Any Other Name' by Santha Rama Rau.

specific summary will be nice

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kimfuji | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted November 7, 2009 at 1:51 PM (Answer #1)

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Two Indian sisters start at an anglo-indian day school where the headmistress gives them anglo names,Pamela and Cynthia. The little girl doesn't mind because she is only five and completley disassociates between her real "Indian" self and the Cynthia, "anglo-named" self. The school mostly consists of anglo children. The anglo children want nothing to do with the Indian children. The few Indian children in their class sit in the back of the room and are quiet. When the sisters go home at the end of the day, they are happy because they feel free to be Indian. When the day of testing comes the older girl comes into the younger one's room and tells her to come they are going home. (The younger girl doesn't understand why they are leaving early that day.) When they arrive home early the older girl tells her mother that the school teachers say that the Indian children cheat that is why they sit in the back of the room with an empty desk between them. She refuses to go back to that school. Her mother agrees and let's the girls stay home.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 3, 2015 at 11:59 PM (Answer #2)

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Santa Rama Rau's short story "By Any Other Name" refutes Juliet's contention that something retains its essence no matter what its name. In this colonial story of English imperialism, the teacher at the Anglo-Indian day school in Zorinabad gives the two sisters, Premila and Santha, the Anglo names of Pamela and Cynthia because the teacher says that their real names are "too difficult to pronounce"; nonetheless, despite this change to their names, the English children segregate themselves from the Indians, adding to the girls' discomfiture.

Besides this feeling, the narrator declares,

I remember having a certain detached and disbelieving concern in the actions of “Cynthia,” but certainly no responsibility. 

Thus, she does not concur with Shakespeare's Juliet. Instead, she is detached from her Anglicized identity. So, she feels nothing but estrangement from the other children as she notices how the building is brown rather than white, the children are made to play in the heat instead of napping, and at lunch time everyone has English food but she and her sister. When they do play, the customary manner of Indian children is to politely allow some to win, but the English children repudiate this behavior in their extreme competitiveness. 

Later, when they return home, 

I was so pleased to...have left that peculiar Cynthia behind that I had nothing whatever to say... except to ask what “apple” meant. But Premila told Mother about the classes, and added that in her class they had weekly tests to see if they had learned their lessons well.

This mention of tests presages what occurs next: The next week Santha sits in class in her usual languid manner; however, when the door to the test room opens, the teacher wishes to confirm that she is Pamela's sister. Premila does not look at this woman; instead, in a rigid pose she tells Santha,  “Get up.... We’re going home," adding that Santha should gather her pencils and paper. Then, as they go out the door, the teacher attempts to say something, but they do not bother to listen. 

On their long trek homeward, Santha tries to learn what has occurred, but her sister is taciturn. As the heat of the day is upon them, Premila tells her little sister to put her notebook on her head to protect it from the sun. Few pass them on their difficult return home; when they finally arrive, the ayah, who carries a tray of lunch for their mother, is somewhat alarmed and asks them what has happened.

Then, when her mother questions her,

Premila said, “We had our test today, and she made me and the other Indians sit at the back of the room, with a desk between each one.” Mother said, “Why was that, darling?” “She said it was because Indians cheat.” Premila added. "So I don't think that we should go back to that school."

After a pronounced pause, their Mother agrees with Premila. Then, in a concerned voice, she asks Premila if she thinks Santha comprehended the implications of this incident, but Premila says, "No." However, Santha as narrator interjects that she understood perfectly, adding,

But I put it happily away, because it had all happened to a girl called Cynthia, and I never was really particularly interested in her. 

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