A Horse and Two Goats

by R. K. Narayan

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What is the purpose of the map in "A Horse and Two Goats"?

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In his short story "A Horse and Two Goats," R. K. Narayan uses the reference to a map in the very first paragraph to give an idea of how small, insignificant and obscure is the village where the protagonist Muni lives.

Of the seven hundred thousand villages dotting the map of India, in which the majority of India’s five hundred million live, flourish, and die, Kritam was probably the tiniest, indicated on the district survey map by a microscopic dot, the map being meant more for the revenue official out to collect tax than for the guidance of the motorist, who in any case could not hope to reach it since it sprawled far from the highway at the end of a rough track furrowed up by the iron-hooped wheels of bullock carts.

With this start he establishes that the only importance of the map is that it serves to indicate the territory from which government officials have to collect tax. As the story continues, we learn that not only does the map as a document mean little to a motorist who is trying to find the village as Narayan mentions above, but that it has little or no connection to the ground reality of the village and its inhabitants, either.

The obscurity of the village where Muni lives is underlined by its size being referred to as the “tiniest” and its approach road being referred to as a “rough track” on which the most visible tracks are only those made by the wheels of bullock-carts. Clearly, this is not a place where motor cars just drive up to, or even through, the village. Unlike the map referred to (which is the revenue official’s aid), the topography of the village is understood by the inhabitants of the village through other pointers and landmarks.

Chief among these is the Big House, the only brick and cement structure in the entire village, painted a brilliant blue and yellow, with figures of gods and gargoyles embellishing the decorative railing of its balcony and stairs leading up to the terrace. All the other houses in the village are made of thatch, mud, bamboo, wood, and such materials, showing that the inhabitants of the Big House are the strongest family in social and economic terms. The rest of the houses, adding up to less than thirty, are spread across four streets. Muni’s house, the last one in the fourth street, has only fields beyond it. This means that he is on the periphery of village life in terms of his importance for his fellow villagers.

Another feature of the changing topography of the village in real terms is how the figure of the horse and its accompanying warrior have gradually lost their importance. Narayan describes the finery of the horse and how it has faded with the sun, wind and rain. There is a corresponding decline in the fortunes of Muni, who, from being the owner of over forty goats at one time, is now down to just two gawky goats who are not worth even the money that would need to be paid to the Big House to pen them. The horse, which is usually seen at the edges of villages in this part of India to represent the guardian deity of the place, is now not even noticed by the vandals who deface walls and gash tree trunks. This is because the map of the village has changed in real terms over Muni’s lifetime. At an earlier time, both the horse and its warrior figure had been dear to the villagers, their figures proud and noticeable. The horse began by being painted a “dhobi-washed” white and having a sash of red and black-edged brocade painted on its back. The warrior had bulging eyes and a fierce moustache.

Several factors have led to the gradual distancing of the horse and the warrior from the village and its inhabitants. One of them is the laying of the highway that curves away from the village. The other is the drying up of wells, ponds and other water sources around the area where the horse statue stands. The highway is referred to in Narayan’s opening lines, too. The village, Kritam, has lost its importance after it lies “sprawled far from the highway” and its approach road is still a dusty cart track. These elements explain what a map means in real terms to the inhabitants of the village in the story "A Horse and Two Goats."

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