The Vendor of Sweets

by R. K. Narayan

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Vendor Of Sweets Chapter 1 Summary

What is a summary of chapter 1 of "The Vendor of Sweets?"

In the first chapter of R.K. Narayan's tragicomic novel, we meet the main character Jagan. He is a contradictory person. He follows Gandhi and is demonstrably disciplined. He doesn't eat salt, rice, or sugar. However, Jagan earns his living by selling sweets. While he portrays himself as a strict man of principle, by the chapter's end, Jagan is manipulating the store's profits for the day so that he can keep more money for himself.

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The chapter opens with the 55-year-old Jagan telling his cousin, initially referred to as the listener, that "Conquer taste, and you have conquered self." He is telling his cousin how he has given up salt. As a follower of Gandi, he believes one must follow a disciplined and modest life. He tells his cousin that at one point he wouldn't even buy shoes because he couldn't live with the idea that an animal had been killed for his feet. Instead, and much to his family's dismay, he would make trips to remote villages to buy their dead animals and then use the animal's hide to make his own footwear. In addition, he tells his cousin that he has replaced sugar with honey and rice with wheat. His cousin quickly points out that despite his sacrifices, he still expects people to buy the sweets at his shop.

As this point, the author gives the reader a brief description of Jagan's day at his store. Typically he will sit on an old wooden chair in his shop, like a and read, like a "monarch," while his staff, including the chef in the kitchen, work. Any time he hears someone stop working, he asks what's happened. At the end of the day, around 6, he adds up the day's takings and closes the store.

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In the first chapter of R.K. Narayan's novel The Vendor of Sweets, we meet the main character Jagan. "Conquer taste, and you will have conquered the self," says Jagan in the chapter's, and the novel's, very first sentence.

The opening quote tells a great deal about Jagan's character, which we learn about in the first chapter. He is a follower of Gandhi and leads a highly disciplined life. He doesn't eat salt, he doesn't eat rice, and, perhaps most shockingly, he doesn't yield to the temptation of sugar at all even though he owns a sweets shop. "I find 20 drops of honey in hot water quite adequate," Jagan tells his cousin.

Of course, Jagan's strict diet is contrasted with the fact that Jagan operates a sweets shop and "expects others to eat sweets and keep him flourishing." This is one of several contrasts and hypocricies set up in the opening chapter. Though a follower of Gandhi, Jagan is described as a "monarch." He also distorts how much money his shop makes every day so that he can keep more of the day’s profits for himself.

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In chapter 1 of The Vendor of Sweets, we are introduced to Jagan. Jagan is a strictly religious man who closely follows the teachings of asceticism. Jagan boasts to his cousin that he has completely eschewed sugar and salt from his diet, preferring to sustain himself with honey. Jagan's cousin is amused by his hypocrisy, as Jagan maintains a livelihood by selling sugary sweets.

The counting hour seems to be a very important ritual to Jagan, and he closely and meticulously counts the days earnings. Jagan seems to hold his kitchen staff to the same rigorous standard that he holds himself. We learn at the end of the chapter that Jagan often embezzles a portion of his profits for himself, suggesting a flexible morality.

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In Chapter One, we learn that Jagan is a very religious man who offers prayers to Lakshmi every morning. He lives by the adage "Conquer taste, and you will have conquered the self.' When Jagan's cousin questions his faith in the maxim, Jagan merely states that he is only following the advice of sages.

Jagan proudly announces to his cousin that he has just given up salt that very morning. In fact, he proclaims that one 'must eat only natural salt.' Balding, bespectacled and aging, Jagan is fifty-five years old and an enthusiastic follower of Gandhi. He fancies himself living closely by all the precepts taught by the great teacher and Indian philosopher.

Jagan's ascetic lifestyle extends even to the realm of footwear; he will only wear leather sandals made from dying cows, asserting that no living animal should 'have its throat cut for the comfort' of his feet. However, Jagan maintains that his leather tanning activities often created turmoil in his household when his wife was alive; she had never become accustomed to the dreadful smell of the tanning leather.

Even as his cousin goads him, Jagan proudly boasts that he has also discarded sugar from his diet, preferring to ingest honey instead. As for meals, he has given up rice and relies on a little stone-ground wheat, honey, and greens to sustain him. It is obvious at this point that Jagan's cousin enjoys mocking his hypocrisy; after all, Jagan is a vendor of sweets. While he eschews every indulgence in his diet, Jagan is financially sustained by the sugar-loving habits of his customers.

Soon, Jagan's cousin leaves at the counting hour. During this all-important time, Jagan presides like a monarch over the day's earnings and counts up his profits. As the leftover trays are brought in from the front stall, Jagan's kitchen staff approach him to account for the day's business and to discuss what should be done with leftover sweets.

Jagan runs his business as strictly as he lives his austere life; he never permits his cooks to be idle for long. Business is an all-consuming passion for Jagan, and he will make his profits as long as the day lasts. As the chapter ends, we find that Jagan often appropriates a small portion of the day's proceeds for his own. To him, this small sum represents 'an immaculate conception, self-generated, arising out of itself and entitled to survive without reference to any tax.' The day ends when Jagan has finished counting his cash and dismissed the watchman, an ex-Army captain.

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