What is the summary of "Hundred Questions" by R. K. Narayan?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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A summary is a brief retelling of a story by enumerating only the main topics of it. Following is the summary of "Hundred Questions" consisting of a retelling of the main topics.

The five brothers of Pandava are introduced as austere ascetics who are used to travail because the practice feats of "self-denial and self-discipline." The theme of duty and the conflict are introduced with the Bhramin's plea for help. His troubles are a foreshadowing of the spiritual nature of upcoming events, which is revealed in the description of the deer. The eldest brother Yudistira is a kshatriya, a person of the warrior class, so knows that his duty is to help the religious Brahmin priest.

The brothers chase the deer deeper and deeper into the forest entering territory no man has traveled before, going on and on until the deer vanishes. The deer appeared to be willfully ensnaring them and leading them on. Even these brothers, conditioned as they were to physical self denial, were suffering from burning thirst and hunger after the hunt.

Yudhistira, the eldest and warrior, sends the youngest, one of the twins, up a tree to spy out a water source. Sighting one, the eldest sends him to fetch water and, after drinking himself, to bring water back to the other brothers.

When he, Nakula, arrives at the lake in the midst of virgin, untraveled forest, a voice warns him not to drink the water without first answering the questions to be asked by the voice. This brother drinks and falls down dead. The next twin comes, and the same thing happens. Now the two youngest are dead.

The next brother, Arjuna, comes and shoots arrows at the voice rather than hearken to it: "When you are silenced by my arrows, you will cease to question." He drinks and dies. The second eldest, Bhima, comes, is enraged at the sight of all his dead brothers, and tries to attack with his mace, but first drinks, falls dead, and the mace rolls from his hand.

"O evil power, whoever you may be, I will put an end to you presently, but let me first get rid of this deadly thirst."

The eldest brother comes. He sees all the bodies of his dead brothers. He realizes something supernatural is occurring and chooses to proceed cautiously. After examining his brothers, he sees no show signs of mortal death though all appear as dead. He concludes a god has killed them: "[He] concluded that there must be some higher power responsible."

He steps into the lake water to perform the ceremony for the dead. He now hears the voice give him the same caution it gave his brothers. He responds humbly and obediently asking only that the voice show itself and explain why these things were done to his brothers.

A god of nature shows himself as a huge presence beside the lake but standing far off from Yudhistira: "I am a yaksha" [yaksha: forest divinity]. The series of one hundred questions begins with Yudhistira having to answer several questions in one breath, they came so close together. At the end, after having answered every question quickly and correctly, the god tells Yudhistira to choose one brother to be brought back to life.

Yudhistira felt faint from thirst, grief and suspense, and could only whisper his replies.

Yudhistira chooses the youngest brother because Nakala and the eldest brother have different mothers, and it would be fitting if each mother had one son alive. Yudhistira's wisdom and justice in answering is rewarded with the restoration of life to all his brothers. The yaksha spirit turns out to be the Hindu God of Justice, who is Yama, and Yudhistira's actual father, who had come to test Yudhistira's worthiness and justice. Yudhistira has passed the test and is rewarded with the gift of anonymity, which will be a boon during the upcoming years of exile awaiting him.

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