Another Community

by R. K. Narayan

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 756

R. K. Narayan’s short story “Another Community” is typical of the author’s simple style and understated political themes. In generic terms, the story describes the disastrous results of prejudice. The critic Chhote Lal Khatri has compared Narayan’s writing to that of Anton Chekhov. According to Khatri, Narayan’s stories are infused with political undertones and yet are presented with “artistic detachment,” which is what makes them so appealing.

The narrator of “Another Community” explains that he has recently read the term another community in a newspaper article and found this vague identification very liberating. Rather than specifying the community to which the article is referring, the newspaper article preferred to leave this task to the readers. The unspecified implication is that by being unclear about details, one might avoid corrupting the story with prejudice. In this way, the narrator of Narayan’s short story decides not only to avoid naming his protagonist but also to steer clear of identifying the racial, political, or economic statuses of his characters.

The protagonist is simply a man who works a rather boring job at an insurance company. The man has a wife and a child. He lives in a decent but small home in a section of town that is convenient to shops and schools. In general, the man’s life is simple, peaceful, and happy. Things change, though, after October of 1947. The historical information of this event is not mentioned in the story, but in 1947 the British partitioned India into Pakistan, which was mostly Muslim, and India, which was mostly Hindu. Several months later, in October, a war broke out between Pakistan and India over the land of Kashmir. Although the narrator of Narayan’s short story does not identify the religious, social, or political backgrounds of the people in this story, the mention of October of 1947 sets the tone. Readers might be aware of the tension between Muslims and Hindus, but they do not know if the protagonist is a Muslim or a Hindu. All they know is that the protagonist’s life changed after that date.

After October of 1947, people around the narrator begin to speak and act savagely. Events a thousand miles away (the war over Kashmir) are affecting the protagonist’s neighbors. They seem determined to repeat the evil things others are doing in a faraway place in an attempt to seek revenge in their own town. This confuses the man. He has many friends who belong to what the newspaper called “another community.” His children go to school with these people. The man does business with them. He does not look on these people as aliens or enemies. He sees them as friends and acquaintances. However, the more he listens to people of his own community talk about people from the other community, he begins to worry. He wonders if it could possibly be true that people from another community might attack his family, as rumors have declared might happen. He becomes so frightened that he cannot sleep. When he hears a strange noise one night, he rises from bed and decides he needs to defend himself and his family. So he keeps an ax at his beside, just in case.

Everyone appears suspicious to him. He can no longer trust anyone to tell him the truth. Then he begins hearing about “zero hour”: a great confrontation is supposed to happen on the twenty-ninth of the month. As the day approaches, tensions rise. Schools are closed. People refuse to leave their houses. The man, however, does not want to give into the mass hysteria, so he goes to work. He buries himself in details, numbing his mind so he will not have to think about the conflict. He works so hard that he does not notice how late it has become. To make it home as quickly as he can, he takes a shortcut through an alleyway.

The alley is narrow and dark. Halfway through, he sees a man on a bicycle approaching, and he tries to step out of the way. Without wanting to, the man moves the wrong way, and the bike runs into him. The bicyclist becomes angry. There is a fight. A crowd gathers around, and everyone starts fighting. Knives are drawn. People are hurt. In the end, the protagonist lies dead on the ground. As news of this conflict spreads, the whole town becomes involved. The man, who had tried so hard to avoid the conflict, becomes the trigger point of the whole tragic affair.

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