Desai's fictional style is known for its elaborate and detailed descriptive language, which effectively evokes the internal mood and landscape of a first-person narrator. In "Studies in the Park," Suno is a young man whose family has put severe and incessant pressure on him to ‘‘study, study, study’’ for a major exam which will determine his future educational and career track. Although his parents have attempted to maximize his study time by sending his uncle away temporarily and giving his room to Suno, and although his mother attempts to nourish his mind with tall glasses of sugared milk, Suno is incessantly disturbed and distracted by the sounds made by the activities of various members of his family in the course of their daily activities. "Studies in the Park" is written from the perspective of Suno's first-person narrative point of view. The narration, then, is itself a portrait of the landscape of Suno's mind; the richly descriptive language throughout the story is a reflection of Suno's internal state of mind. Because Suno's primary goal, at least in the beginning, is to find a quiet place to study, his descriptions of sounds—the sounds of human voices, as well as the various sounds they make in the course of their activities—take on extremely negative connotations. The descriptive language used throughout the story to describe a wide spectrum of human-generated noises is indicative of Suno's mood of extreme anxiety and agitation in the face of familial pressure to succeed on the exam. This essay covers a close analysis of descriptions of noises throughout ‘‘Studies in the Park’’ in order to highlight the ways in which Suno's perceptions of the world around him are a reflection of his internal state of mind.
The story begins with extensive descriptions of the noises Suno hears in his household. The setting of the story in a multilingual modern India allows for Suno's father to listen to the radio news in six different languages. Suno's description of these sounds takes on a tone of hysteria which he only keeps himself from acting upon by way of his own internal voice keeping him in check:
Turn it off, turn it off, turn it off! First he listens to the news in Hindi. Directly after, English. Broom— brroom—brrroom—the voice of doom roars. Next, in Tamil. Then in Punjabi. In Gujarti. What next, my god, what next? Turn it off before I smash it onto his head, fling it out of the window, do nothing of the sort of course, nothing of the sort. Here Desai depicts Suno's perception of the noises around him using descriptive words such as "roar," as well as nonsensical made-up sounds such as '' B room—brroom—brrroom—.''
In next describing the sounds made by his mother in the kitchen, Suno focuses on the ‘‘hissing’’ sounds of deep fried foods being prepared. In describing the sounds of water flowing from the tap, Suno's description builds a rhythm of repetition meant to reproduce the monotonous and seemingly endless sounds of water flowing: ‘‘Ah, now she's turned on the tap. It's roaring and pouring, pouring and roaring. . .’’ Suno continues the effect of this description through the use of exaggeration: ‘‘.. .into a bucket without a bottom.’’ Later he combines these sound descriptions into one sentence which, along with the repetition of such a description, further conveys his irritation: ‘‘When my mother fills buckets, sloshes the kitchen floor, fries and sizzles things in the pan, she thinks she is being Quiet.’’
Suno's description of the household sounds continues, in an incessant manner meant to represent Suno's amplified perceptions of each...
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and every sound throughout the household: ‘‘The bell rings. Voices clash, clatter and break.’’ Again, Suno uses exaggeration in his descriptions of these sounds in order to indicate his heightened state of anxiety: "All of them, all of them, ten or twenty or a hundred of them, marching up the stairs, hammering at the door, breaking in and climbing over me—ten, twenty or a hundred of them.’’ Descriptive language such as "marching" and "hammering" evokes images of violence and aggression. When his mother brings him an unwelcome glass of milk to help him study, and the glass tips over, it ‘‘clangs on the floor.’’
Suno's descriptions of human voices, particularly those of his family members, are especially evocative in their negative connotations. He states that his mother's voice ‘‘wheedles its way into my ear like a worm.’’ The metaphor of his mother's voice compared to a worm evokes images of dirt, sliminess, and disgust, especially when one imagines it crawling directly into one's ear. When he pulls the ears of his younger brothers and sisters to punish them for disturbing him, they "screech," only to be quieted by another annoying sound when his mother "whacks" them. Suno's descriptions of the sounds made by his father are equally harsh and unpleasant. His father speaks "in a voice that came out of his nose like the whistle of a punctual train.'' The image of the train returns later in the story, and implies Suno's sense of being run down, as if by a train; the comment that it is a "punctual" train suggests Suno's negative attitude about the rigidity, structure, and discipline imposed on him by the impending exam. His father's shirt can be heard "crackling," and his father walks down the stairs ‘‘crushing each underfoot in turn.’’
Suno attempts to express his irritation and assert his own will in a voice designed to match those of the rest of his family for unpleasantness. In exasperation, Suno "raced out of my room, with my fingers in my ears, to scream till the roof fell down about their ears.'' But he is checked in this show of anger by the presence of his father. However, when Suno finally does assert his decision to leave the house and study elsewhere, he expresses it in a voice described as "croaking," "screaming," and "screeching." As a reminder of the family noises he is trying to escape, his family members break out in "howls" of protest.
Upon leaving his house, Suno first attempts to study at a cafe, as have many a famous writer. However, both the proprietor, Lala-ji, and the young waiter approach Suno and speak to him in tones described variously as "whining," "sighing," "murmuring,’’ and "babbling," as well as ‘‘with an oath.’’ Leaving the cafe and walking dejectedly along, Suno notes that even his posture makes his father "scream." However, Suno encounters the first pleasant sound of the story when he comes upon the gram vendor, whose voice is described variously as "friendly," "not insinuating, but low, pleasant,’’ and "sympathetic." Even when the vendor begins to whistle—a sound which surely would have driven Suno over the edge coming from a member of his own family—Suno describes the sounds in pleasant, positive terms. Suno states that the man "began to whistle, not impertinently, but so cheerfully that I stopped and stared at him.''
However, when he enters the park in a continued attempt to find a quiet place to study, Suno is assaulted with more sounds which are offensive to him. He notes the old men who sit in the park "mumbling through their dentures or cackling with that mad, ripping laughter that makes children think of old men as wizards and bogey-men.'' The women in the park "screamed, just as grey and fawn and black birds do,’’ at their children. However, Suno, upon his first visit to the park, compares his discomfort there to ‘‘a visitor to a public library trying to control a sneeze.'' Whereas he has come to the park to escape noise, he describes his feeling there in terms of an effort to control his own impulse to disrupt an imposed silence (as in a library). Suno notes other students, such as himself, sitting in the park, ‘‘reading aloud in turns.’’ Suno himself soon opens a book as he strolls along, "reading to myself in a low murmur.’’ The latter two descriptions, of himself and the other students, are at least neutral, if not pleasant and soothing in their connotations. At first, Suno continues to be distracted by the sounds in the park, such as another student"reciting poetry in a kind of thundering whisper.’’ Suno's irritation throughout the story with the sounds of other human beings is extended to include the very presence of other human beings in the park, for he states that"I resented everyone else who came to the park.’’ The sounds of the old men who have ventured out to get milk are described in terms of their milk bottles "clinking," and their conversation described as taking place in ‘‘argumentative, hacking tones.’’ Suno most hates the athletes, who, almost naked, are given massages in the park. Suno's description of the sounds they make concentrate on his feeling of disgust for their bodily presence. The masseuses ‘‘huffed and puffed and cursed,’’ with the athletes "groaning and panting in a way I found obscene and disgusting.’’ Suno's disgust with the physical bodies of these men expresses his general feelings of disgust with life—both his own and that of other human beings. And, while Suno notes that afternoons in the park were "quiet," he goes on to describe the irritating noises of the evening visitors. Families sit together, "listening to a transistor radio,’’ the mothers sit together ' like flocks of screeching birds,’’ while the young men sit around "moaning’’ and ‘‘the children's cries would grow more piercing with the dark. ..’’ As the date of the exam grows nearer, the students in the park "talked less’’ and "mumbled'' to themselves. As his anxiety level is raised with the stepped-up pace of his study schedule, Suno notes that he "yelled at my mother,’’ while his family members ‘‘made clicking sounds with their tongues.’’
However, after the "vision" which alters Suno's perception of himself and his life, changing his course from that of a "race" to that of a "search," Suno's perception of the sounds of other human beings in the park is also altered. Whereas before he could find no end of irritating noises emanating from everyone in the park except himself, Suno now finds himself engaging in pleasant verbal interactions with other people in the park.
Sometimes I stopped to rest on a bench and conversed with one of the old men, telling him who my father was and what examination I was preparing for, and allowing him to tell me about his youth, his politics, his philosophy, his youth and again his youth.
In addition, Suno begins to "joke" with the other students, and even ‘‘exchanges a few words’ with the yoga teacher. Through this change in Suno's description of the sounds of other human beings, he expresses a change in his internal state of mind—from one of alienation from those around him to one of joy and harmony in the company of his fellow man.
Source: Liz Brent, in an essay for Literature of Developing Nations for Students, Gale, 2000. Brent has a Ph.D. in American culture, with a specialization in film studies, from the University of Michigan. She is a freelance writer and teaches courses in the history of American cinema.
One of the most prominent Indian authors writing in English, Anita Desai is known primarily for her novels. Her short fiction, however, displays many of the same techniques, such as her distinctive and evocative use of imagery. ‘‘Studies in the Park’’ is marked by Desai's masterful use of sensory images to create atmosphere and herald change. The result is a story with a strong sense of place, and one that shows how the main character's external environment profoundly impacts his internal struggle. Desai's detailed descriptions of the sounds of Suno's home and of the park show the reader what those places are like, and point up their negative and positive impacts on Suno. In addition, much of Desai's fiction centers on the personal struggles of Indian men and women trying to cope with the contemporary demands of family and society, and this short story is a variation on that recurring theme.
In ‘‘Studies in the Park,’’ Desai relies heavily on sounds—from family members' voices to kitchen noises—to describe Suno's surroundings and how he feels in those surroundings. At the beginning of the story, as he studies at home for the exam that will determine his options in the workforce, he feels like the world is closing in on him. He is under tremendous pressure from his family to study hard and do well. His father constantly reminds him, "Remember Suno, I expect good results from you. Study hard, Suno.'' The pressure increases when his father says, ‘‘You must get a first [the highest grade], Suno .. . must get a first, or else you won't get a job. Must get a job, Suno.’’ In addition to his father's words, the chaotic sounds of Suno's home life include his mother's constant chopping and frying in the kitchen, and his siblings' running and screaming. Desai describes discordant sounds on every page to reflect how Suno experiences this environment. Her words and phrases include "voice of doom," "hissing," "clash, clutter and break,’’ "screech," "bawl," "whine," "howls," and "croaked.'' Such words make clear that the sounds of the household are an assault on Suno's ears and psyche. In fact, the story begins with Suno's urgent desire for his father to turn off the radio news he listens to in various languages—"Turn it off, turn it off, turn it off!'' The noise around him is a manifestation of the insensitivity, confusion, and pressure of his demanding situation. Suno thinks to himself, "What about the uproar around me? These people don't know the meaning of the word Quiet.''
When he leaves the house and find somewhere else to study, Suno stops in a cafe to have tea and review his textbooks. Because it is the middle of the day, he expects it to be quiet and virtually empty. He is forced to leave, however, when the waiter will not stop talking to him.
The first pleasant sound in the story is heard when Suno approaches the gate to the park, where a food vendor greets him and explains that many students go to the park to study. As Suno enters the park, he notices that the vendor begins "to whistle, not impertinently but so cheerfully that I stopped and stared at him.’’ The melodious sound and cheerful attitude are strange to Suno.
Once inside the park, Suno continues to notice unpleasant noises, but eventually falls into the rhythm of the park's sounds. He says,"I fell into its routine, its rhythm, and my time moved in accordance with its time.’’ Desai's use of the word "rhythm" reinforces the important role of sound in determining the atmosphere of the park. Here, Suno is able to become absorbed in his studies and his own thoughts, even amidst bustling activity. Up to this point, sounds have represented annoyance and distraction. But the rhythmic sounds of the park, in contrast to the chaotic ones at home, enable him to disconnect from the external world while sitting squarely in the middle of it.
When Suno happens upon a bench where two people are sitting together, he sees something of himself in them, yet at the same time he sees exactly what his life is missing. From their conversation, Suno gathers that the woman is dying. Whether or not this is accurate is of little consequence. What matters is that Suno sees two people who are, like him, completely absorbed in themselves. They even seem to be unaware of the two children playing right beside the bench. The difference is that these two people have found something meaningful—each other—in which to absorb themselves. While Suno feels that he has shut out the world for the sake of doing well on an exam and securing a good job (which is what his family and society expect of him), the people on the bench have shut out the world for the sake of each other. There is clearly a great deal of love between them, be it romantic or familial, and this is an experience unknown to Suno. The relationship between them seems devoid of selfishness, greed, or competition, and strikes Suno as almost divine. He witnesses a profound human connection, something Suno has resisted throughout the story up to this point. With his family, the yoga instructor, the elderly men in the park, and the athletes, Suno has responded with disdain and superiority to everyone around him. The yoga instructor invites Suno to join his group and Suno thinks, ‘‘You won't catch me making an ass of myself in public. And I despise all that body-beautiful worship anyway. What's the body compared to the soul, the mind?'' When the elderly men look at Suno with a commiserating look, Suno thinks, ‘‘As if he's been through exams, too, long ago, and knew all about them. So what?’’ As for the athletes and wrestlers who sunbathe and have massages in the park, Suno regards them as men who ‘‘live in a meaty, sweating world of their own—massages, oils, the body, a match to be fought and won—I kicked up dust in their direction but never went too close.’’ Suno's own thoughts have been as discordant as the sounds of his home.
The two people on the bench make Suno realize how misguided he has been in refusing to connect with the people around him. He comes to feel that because of isolating himself for the sake of the exam, he is himself dying, and that the vision of the man and woman on the bench has brought him to his senses—to health. Before he sees the people on the bench, he questions the meaning of studying for his exam: "Why were we creeping around here, hiding from the city, from teachers and parents, pretending to study and prepare? Prepare for what? . . . Ready for a dead world. A world in which ghosts went about, squeaking or whining, rattling or rustling. Slowly, slowly we were killing ourselves in order to join them.’’ His vision of the couple, then, is a blessing, and he believes that this turning point actually saves his life. Suno's trance-like state of observation is broken by the faint sound of the woman's laugh. To Suno, the sounds of the business world are ‘‘squeaking or whining, rattling or rustling,’’ but the faint laugh of the woman on the bench is the sound of life. Considering that he believes she is dying, this is somewhat ironic. But her laugh shows him that as long as there is still life, there is still the opportunity to embrace it. Suno thinks, ‘‘I felt I could never open my books and study or take degrees after that. They belonged to the dead, and now I had seen what being alive meant.’’ Until the small laugh, the scene is completely silent, a technique that demonstrates the uniqueness of the episode in relation to the rest of the story. The silence also creates an atmosphere of importance and sacredness.
Suno's seeing the two people is coincidental, yet his reaction to them changes the course of his life. He comes to view life as a search rather than a race; he understands that he has been fundamentally changed and is now wholly unlike the diligent students still immersed in their textbooks in the park. After Suno's metamorphosis, Desai continues to describe Suno and his surroundings with sound, but the nature of the sounds changes from harsh and imposing to soft and engaging. The park is filled with giggling, joking, conversation, and exchanges. Suno himself converses pleasantly with the yoga instructor, interacts with the elderly men in a meaningful way, and chats casually with students. While the reader is not shown Suno's new home life, we can infer that his parents' worries will not now affect Suno in the least. Ramachandra Rao of Journal of Literature and Aesthetics observed that Suno is like many of Desai's protagonists in that he ‘‘acquires a new awareness and a new technique which enable him to protect his integrity as a human being.'' Suno has essentially exchanged one routine for another; instead of going to the park to escape humanity and its noise, he goes to immerse himself in it. The new routine is one that he believes will lead him to fulfillment and happiness as he connects with, rather than withdraws from, the people around him.
Source: Jennifer Bussey, in an essay for Literature of Developing Nations for Students, Gale, 2000. Bussey holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and a master's degree in interdisciplinary studies. She is an independent writer specializing in literature.
"Studies in the Park" by Anita Desai is a richly symbolic coming-of-age story. In it Suno, a young man preparing for exams at the academy, leaves behind his awkward adolescence and enters adulthood in the span of three months. Unlike those in many coming-of-age stories, Suno's transition into adulthood is not marked by a religious ceremony, a civil promotion, or a secret ritual. Neither is Suno's rite of passage defined, as many are, by a single or a series of tragic events. Instead, his metamorphosis is initiated by his finding in the park a place to study, furthered by his accidental discovery, and completed by his finding within himself a balance of mind, body, and soul.
In another important aspect, Suno's allegorical journey, complete with its startling epiphany, diverges slightly from other stories in this genre. In many coming-of-age stories the protagonist faces a crisis—the death of a loved one or a challenge that requires maturity or courage—that pulls the protagonist from the security of youthful innocence into the difficulties of adulthood. In these stories the crisis constitutes the climax, and the resolution lies in surviving the crisis. Readers invest neither time nor thought in predicting what adulthood holds for these characters. In this aspect Desai's tale transcends the standard coming-of-age story, for in her allegory readers are allowed to see, even encouraged to consider, the hopeful future that awaits Suno.
As the story begins, Suno lives a crowded life in a crowded home with his family. Readers are first introduced to Suno's mother, a woman who tends her family almost fanatically. She is constantly cutting and frying, monitoring her youngest children, checking in on Suno, and offering milk. She is probably uneducated given the setting of the story, and she is a disciplined woman who adheres to a strict schedule of preparing meals, sending her husband to work, and sending her younger children to school.
Suno's father enters into the story from the bedroom where he has just listened to the news in six different languages. In this way he serves as a foil to Suno's mother because he represents the educated individual whom Suno is destined to become. Yet, like his wife, he also represents discipline. He checks his watch as he enters the kitchen and asks for his meal, and readers have the impression that he is as regular as the cuckoo that comes out to announce the hour and no more effectual. He goes off to work, but we do not know where or to what job. When he exhorts Suno to pass his exams so that he can get a job, the father mentions nothing of what type of job this should be. The younger children are, in Suno's words, "wild." They are noisy and messy, throwing their school satchels into his room and leaving their greasy fingerprints on his books. Figuratively, Suno stands atop the fulcrum between the extreme discipline of his educated father and laboring mother on one end and his unruly younger siblings on the other. Though he is studying for his exams when he is first introduced, he is not an adult—he hasn't passed his test. Unlike his disciplined parents, he is compliant only to the extent that he is participating in the program that has been chosen for him without open rebellion. He is also unlike his siblings in that he is not a wholly undisciplined child who plays at school and everything else as they do.
In setting the scene for this story, Desai focused on the sights, sounds, and even smells that fill Suno's apartment. The effect of her attention to sensory detail is that readers easily understand why Suno, whose hypersensitivity approaches illness, flees his apartment for a calmer place to study. In his search for such a place, he first stops at a tea shop where he witnesses a scenario that could become his future if he does not pass his exams. Confronted by the tea shop's bored proprietor who speaks of the cost of sugar as if it is more important than the war that has caused the rationing of sugar, and a young waiter who failed school at the sixth level and yet is proud that he has a job and can figure a bill, Suno realizes that he cannot study there. On a figurative level, readers understand that neither the shop proprietor' s misdirected societal concern nor the waiter's ignorance represent Suno's lot in life.
Suno leaves the tea house and finds himself confronting the iron gates of a city park. The iron bars at the park entrance symbolize that something of value, or something not easily accessible to everyone, lies within the park. As he stands before the gate, Suno is addressed by the gram seller. "I'm glad I was never sent to school,’’ the vendor says, and then continues whistling a song about living in paradise. All Suno sees of the gram seller is his crippled arm and his scarred face, and Suno's preoccupation with the man's injuries hints that this encounter is meant for symbolic consideration. Perhaps he is a maimed veteran of the war, and his scars serve notice that an education may be valuable if only to save one from the military.
Eventually, Suno enters the park, and he enters as a child. He remembers the times he has been here after running away from school "to lie on a bench, eat peanuts, [throw] stones at the chipmunks that came for the shells, and drink from the fountain.’’ He acknowledges that he never liked the park as much as he liked the streets where boys played marbles or the vacant lot behind the movie house where he and his friends threw rocks at rats. Although his young boy's mind does not grasp the connection, what Suno dislikes about the park is its imposed order. It is like "an hotel, or an hospital, belonging to the city but with its own order and routine, enclosed by iron rails, laid out according to prescription in rows of palms, benches and paths.’’ The park symbolizes Suno's own life, a life seemingly owned by people other than himself and moving forward according to prescribed paths. Looking now at the park as one searching for a place to study rather than as one running from studies, Suno employs a critical eye. He disdains the old men sitting on green benches and ‘‘cackling with that mad, ripping laughter that makes children think of old men as wizards and bogey-men.’’ Likewise he rejects the women screaming at their disorderly children and the madmen dancing around and ‘‘scratching like monkeys.’’ He does not feel at home with the other students, either, thinking that they belong in the park while he is a "gatecrasher.’’ At this point in the story, Suno's transformation begins. He starts to notice the park's particular rhythms and becomes comfortable enough to ‘‘study there, or sleep, or daydream.’’ While acclimating himself thus to the park, however, Suno is not happy with all he encounters. He despises those participating in the "body-beautiful worship'' of yoga and describes their movements as ‘‘contortions that would embarrass an ape.’’ When asked to participate he declines, thinking to himself that the body does not compare to the soul, the mind. He likewise criticizes the old men going to gather Government dairy rations. Observing them carrying on philosophical conversations, he guesses that "Certainly it was the mind above the body for these old coots,'' but still he ridicules them and their passionate theological discourse. The most despicable of all the people in the park, he believes, are the wrestlers who are pampered and massaged and oiled. According to Suno,"They lived in a meaty, sweating world of their own—massages, oils, the body, a match to be fought and won.''
Suno's reflections on the yoga participants, the old men, and the wrestlers carry importance because they stress Suno's focus on his intellect, his studies, at the expense of his body and his soul. His disdain for the "contortions" of those practicing yoga and for the wrestlers symbolizes his rejection of the physical part of himself. His contempt for the old men and their philosophical and theological musings illustrates that he is likewise at odds with his spiritual self. In effect, as Suno pursues his studies and rejects his physical and emotional needs, he becomes more and more unbalanced and less and less a whole, healthy individual.
As Suno's exams approach and loom only a month away, his mental state begins to deteriorate. He fantasizes that his books are rooted to his palms as he studies and that they are feeding off of him. He insists that the books ‘‘were parasites and, like parasites, were sucking us dry.’’ He speaks to another young man studying for exams and discovers the young man to be little more than a walking specter. ‘‘Wait till you do your B.A.,’’ the specter announces, and this statement has the same effect on Suno as the Grim Reaper saying, ‘‘I'll come for you soon.’’
Suno slinks from the park, trying to escape the death that he sees ever-present there, and while trying to escape, stumbles upon the scene that saves him. He encounters a young woman, beautiful and dying, with her head resting in the lap of an old man. Readers do not know exactly why this vision so stirs Suno. Maybe it is the paradox—the irony—of a young, beautiful woman's untimely death that touches him profoundly. Perhaps the vision stuns him because he interprets the young woman as a representation of his own life and the old man, in whose arms she lies dying, as the academic pursuits that are leading him toward an early figurative and literal death. This interpretation makes sense in light of Suno's describing the old man's beard as being "like a goat's, or a scholar's.'' Most probably what moves Suno is the way the couple looks into each other's eyes, completely alive and absorbed in each other and the moment, a luxury Suno has never experienced and never will without making changes.
Whatever goes through Suno's mind, the scene shakes him. It provides the friction necessary to stop his momentum, and from his resting place he is finally able to look around and consider all the possible directions open to him. That night Suno finally allows himself to sleep after being first confronted by his father's anger and then soothed by his mother's nurture.
When he later returns to the park, he is no longer a boy but a man whose life now strikes a previously missing balance. Whereas before he had disdained both the body, as evidenced by his dislike for the yoga practitioners and the wrestlers, and the soul, as evidenced by his contempt for the old men and their philosophy and theology, he now values their experiences. He stops to talk with the old men, and more importantly to listen, and he flirts with the possibility of participating in yoga exercises. He states quite clearly that he will not take his exams and, therefore, will not fill the role mandated for him by his father and higher powers. He has learned his most important lesson: he can exercise his free will.
"Studies in the Park'' diverges pleasantly from the typical coming-of-age story. In most, the protagonist' s survival, especially if physical and mental health accompany the survival, provides both climax and resolution; readers are not encouraged to consider the protagonist's future. In Desai's story, however, while readers are aware of Suno's passage into adulthood, they are additionally intrigued by the possibilities now before him. They might wish to run into Suno in the park in five, ten, even twenty years and ask him how he's been.
Source: Karen D. Thompson, in an essay for Literature of Developing Nations for Students, Gale, 2000.