In an essay on R. K. Narayan's short fiction, K. Parija writes that "'Another Community' is a moving story of a martyr at the blood altar of communal blood-bath" and calls it "one of the rare stories of Narayan with a topical theme." What does this mean?
In an essay on R. K. Narayan's short fiction, K. Parija writes that "'Another Community' is a moving story of a martyr at the blood altar of communal blood-bath" and calls it "one of the rare stories of Narayan with a topical theme."
Parija’s statements can be discussed as follows:
- “Another Community” is indeed a “moving story.” In manages to take us inside the life of an appealing “Everyman” figure – a good worker, a loving husband, and a good and devoted father – who suddenly finds himself caught up and killed in a whirlwind of violence between two unidentified communities. Part of the power of the story results from the fact that the main character is never individualized, at least not by name, by ethnicity, or by any particular caste or religious group. We learn many details about the routines of his life and his relations with other persons, but we never learn precisely who he is as an individual person. The narrator makes it very easy for us to identify with this unnamed main character.
- To call the character a “martyr” is a bit of a misnomer. Martyrs are usually people who deliberately sacrifice themselves on behalf of some large and even noble cause. The main character of this story, however, does not at all choose to sacrifice himself. In fact, such sacrifice is the last thing he intends. Instead, he dies because he chances to collide with another person, from another group, in the wrong place and at the wrong time. His death therefore lacks the meaning that we normally attribute to the deaths of martyrs. His death is senseless, random, and wasteful – but that, of course, is part of Narayan’s point
- The story does indeed describe a “communal blood-bath” in which two unidentified communities clash and in which they inflict horrible violence on each other. The phrase “blood altar” is especially resonant, since the two communities Narayan probably has in mind are the Hindus and Muslims, who clashed so violently when India was granted independence from Britain that Pakistan broke off and became its own separate (Muslim) nation. Narayan alludes to this conflict when he comments that the main character’s existence
was on the whole a peaceful, happy life – till the [sic] October of 1947, when he found that the people around had begun to speak and act life savages.
By calling this work "one of the rare stories of Narayan with a topical theme," Parija suggests that Narayan does not usually write about contemporary economic, social, religious, or political topics. The implication is that Narayan is more often concerned with more general issues – issues not peculiar to any particular time, place, people, or predicament. Even in this “topical” story, however, Narayan goes out of his way to strip the tale of as many specific references as possible, trying to make even this “topical” work far less topical than it might have been.