Rangi: Character Analysis in - The Man-Eater of Malgudi

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      Rangi and protagonist Nataraj's wife are two major female characters in the novel, The Man-Eater of Malgudi. Padma and the adjournment lawyer's wife are minor ones who appear for a short time in the narrative.

      Rangi belongs to a family of temple dancing women who are accorded a low and disreputable position in the traditional, caste-regimented social hierarchical order in the Indian society. She lives in Abu Lane. Her mother, Padma, is attached to the temple of Krishna as a dancer who dances before the idols of the gods. She has lived as a kept woman for many years in her youth in the house of a wholesale grain-merchant named Damodar. The other portion of the same house is occupied by Sastri who works as a machine-man in the printing press owned by Nataraj. Padma is described as an exemplary, traditional and dedicated dancer of the temple. But her daughter, Rangi, lacks all these good qualities of her mother.

Rangi and protagonist Nataraj's wife are two major female characters in the novel, The Man-Eater of Malgudi. Padma and the adjournment lawyer's wife are minor ones who appear for a short time in the narrative.

      Rangi's murky, inferior and immoral social background is borne out by the way of her mother's life and her own early life. She, after receiving a little bit of education in a local school, joins a drama troupe and moves from one village to the other staging dance-performances. During her itinerary through these villages, she has seduced a number of menfolk. Hence, she is looked down upon as an immoral woman. Her mother grows too old to perform dance any more in the temple. She, therefore, retires from her service in the temple. Rangi succeeds her mother as a temple dancer and gives up her engagement with the drama troupe. Padma, being old and unattractive now, is no more a cynosure of Damodar's eye. He feels fed up with, her. She senses her erstwhile paramour's disenchantment with her. She, therefore, leaves his house exacting from him a hefty sum of money on the threat that she will expose to the inhabitants of the place that Rangi is his daughter in case he does not part with the desired amount of money. Damodar has to accede to her demand for fear of risking his reputation among his own people. Sastri reports all these details about Rangi and her family background to Nataraj when he notices her, unexpectedly, one day early in the morning coming down the stairs of the attic of Nataraj's printing press. The attic is presently occupied by Vasu with a promise of making monthly payment of rent which he actually never fulfils.

      The ostensible certainty of Rangi's having established illegitimate sexual relations with Vasu uncontrollably infuriates Sastri - a diehard orthodox believer in the Hindu mythology and ethical code. He gives vent to his feeling of repugnant disapproval of Rangi's devious ways in these words:

      She was the worst woman who had ever come to Malgudi. She was a subject of constant reference in Abu Lane, and was responsible for a great deal of the politics there.! The use of the word 'politics' in the context of Rangi implies the vicious, immoral manipulation exerted by her upon the inhabitants of Abu Lane. She is also a source of frequent controversies and quarrels plaguing the residents of the locality.

      Rangi possesses average but provocative physical features. She is dark and seductive and remains overloaded with jewellery. She has big round arms, fat legs and wears a pink saree. She walks in the street non-chalantly with her clothes and flowers in her hair looking rumpled and dishevelled while returning from Vasu's attic early in the morning after her night escapade. This indifferent and shame-proof routine conduct on her part amply casts an unsavoury reflection upon her hardened disregard of normal public probity. The lecherous temptation exuding from her personality proves too strong even for Nataraj's equanimity to resist. His imagination soars high with a burning desire to see her one morning coming down the staircase of the attic. He is curious to know how she looks like when she comes to Vasu in the evenings. Rangi's compulsively enchanting physical make-up is given an imaginative configuration in the over-exercised mind of Nataraj like this:

"I felt curious to know what she would look like in the evenings - perhaps she would powder her face, the talcum floating uneasily over her ebonite skin."

      He ends up the imagined depiction of her physical form saying that every inch of her proclaims what she is, let it be any hour, " - a perfect female animal."

      Interestirngly, Rangi stirs mutually divergent reactions in Sastri's and Nataraj's mind. Even a casual look at her, according to Sastri's impenetrable conservative outlook, is a sin. He feels suffocated while working at the printing machine because the precincts of the place all around have been defiled by her undesirable movements up and down the attic. On the other hand, the protagonist Nataraj does not consider her personal presence as horrible and contemptible. Her sudden appearance at midnight near the grille, which separates the printing press from the passage leading upstairs to Vasu's attic, evokes irresistible sensual thoughts in the printer. He admits to himself the sweeping, unnerving and indomitable effect that Rangi's seductive charms can work upon a person. Her "billowy breasts" like those one sees in temple sculptures and her "hips also classical", despite her complexion being as black as cinders, perturb Nataray's emotional equi-poise with such ferocity that he grows self-circumspect and is apprehensive of his weakress lest he should "succumb to her charms." She has come there, of course, with an innocent intention on a mission of charity. This occurrence takes place when the job of printing the monosyllabic poet's book on Krishna in its complete size has to be finished the same night. That is why, Nataraj is working indefatigably on the formes at the printing press. The part of the book that deals with Krishna's marriage with Radha, an occasion of religious cum spiritual significance in the Hindu thought, is to be celebrated the next day in Krishna's temple with a dazzling bandobast of fanfare, pipes and drums, lights and wide publicity.

      Rangi is endowed with a charitable disposition of mind. She is humanitarian and accords equal sanctity to all forms of life i.e. human or animal. This human aspect of her personality is an ample evidence in her serious and unsparing effort to avoid the gory scene that will ensue if Vasu's plan of shooting down the temple elephant is successfully carried out by him. Hence, she appears at an odd hour of midnight near the grille from Vasu's attic for urgently conveying to Nataraj the dangerous and impious intentions of Vasu to kill the temple elephant, Kumar, with his gun-shot aimed at it through the window of his attic when the procession of thousands of men, women and children with the elephant at its head reaches its terminal point, the Market fountain, at night. She demonstrates boldness and steadfastness to the point of endangering her own security for a cause. She imparts this bit of information in whispers to the protagonist leaving Vasu profoundly asleep and at a grave risk to her own life in case the monstrous fellow, somehow, comes to know about the leakage of his wilful plan as Vasu has disclosed his mind to her only in confidence.

      Nataraj stands exposed in poor light when confronted with Rangi face-to-tace. Instead of sharing the sense of concern with her about the impending catastrophic situation, sensuality overtakes him. He gets provoked by her physical form to the extent of wishful-thinking that the grille, standing as a barrier between the two, may somehow vanish as a marvel. He has a sigh of relief after a round in the parlour of the printing press when he finds Sastri and the monosyllabic poet lying in sound slumber. He thinks of unlocking the gate but fears to take out the keys from the drawer of the table near which the poet is lying asleep in the Queen Anne chair. He does not want to undergo the risk of the poet's getting awakened by any sort of audible action at such a crucial juncture. The blinding desire of going close to Rangi at this hour of midnight - alluringly impregnated with a rare eerie silence - gets total sway over him. He is overwhelmed with an immediate, ardent and devilish force of passion for Rangi. She exists, at the present moment, for him merely as an embodiment of a seductress woman endowed with God-given tempting physical features of fleshy legs, bellowy breasts and classically-shaped hips. The overpowering physical temptation tickled in Nataraj at her sight is given graphic depiction in these words:

"My blood tingled with an unholy thrill. I let my mind slide into a wild fantasy of seduction and passion. I was no longer a married man with a child and home, I was an adolescent lost in dreams over nude photograph. I knew that, I was completely sealed against any seductive invitation she might hold out for me, but, I hoped I would not weaken..."

      It is typical of Narayan that he delineates no character as all good or all bad, excepting, of course, Vasu who is portrayed as evil incarnate, a monster in human shape, a transgressor of all cultural, ethical and spiritual values of life, a callous ravisher of all forms of sanctity of civilized human society and a boastful, intrinsically aggressive and arrogant rationalist to whom his higher education comes handy in inventing arguments for the justification of his own acts of omission and commission. Everyone, according to the author's sensibility, is an average human being with his or her own share of good and bad points. Rangi fits in very well in this frame-work of Narayan's art of characterisation. She suffers from her own faults and short-comings on the moral front. But she has her own good points too which add lustre to her character. She is humanitarian, philanthropic and possesses a woman's heart - under her "bellowy breasts" - which is pulsating with proverbial noble feelings of mercy, charity, generosity and kindness towards both human and animal life. She considers it her moral duty as a temple dancer to save the sacred life of the temple elephant, Kumar, irrespective of all the dangers and intricacies involved in the completion of this mission. Indubitably, she is inextricably entangled into the sexual snares of Vasu but her moral levity has not debased her to the level of insensitivity and unsusceptibility to suffering of man or animal. In this respect, she stands in complete contrast with her sexual partner, Vasu. Countless of men, women and children will get trampled over in the melee following successful execution of Vasu's evil plan. She is anxiety-ridden as soon as she comes to know of it from Vasu's own mouth. She feels more convinced about his intention since he suggests to her to keep away from the procession so that she may not jeopardize her own life. Vasu divulges to her his further plan that he will take her with him to Bombay where they will live together as he wants to take home-cooked pulav. The hotel stuff has sickened him.

      Rangi is frank, bold, shrewd and straight-forward in revealing to Nataraj, at the very first available opportunity, the sacrilegious scheme in Vasu's mind. She pleads with him insistently that the innocent life of the elephant should be saved under any circumstances. She performs her ritual dance before the images of Krishna and Radha in the temple in the evening. Just after that, she thinks of nothing but of going to Nataraj's house in order to explore and to know what he has done thus-far for averting the imminent doom. Her earnestness and devotedness to this mission of mercy are abundantly illustrated by her courageous initiative in making a plan by herself for the purpose of steering clear of the threatened situation unscathed. She keeps the details of the plan safely close to her heart. She tells Nataraj that Vasu has visited her house in her absence. Vasu is in unprecedentedly furious mood against her as he has come to know of the leakage of his game-plan. He has left a message for her that she should come to him immediately otherwise he will set her house on fire. She is terrified, especially, because of the prospect of her blind mother getting burnt in the house on fire in case Rangi is not present there on such an eventuality.

      Rangi's candour and boldness becomes more conspicuous vis-a-vis Nataraj's nervousness and ambivalence. He conceals the truth from her and to keep up a false, bold posture before her, he assures her not to worry as he will tackle Vasu successfully in his own way. But in his heart of hearts, he is aware of the fact that the situation has gone out of control despite the concerted efforts put in by Muthu, the Veterinary doctor, the poet, the journalist Sen and the Police Inspector who have been to Vasu in order to persuade or intimidate him with a view to dissuading him from shooting down the elephant. They have returned without success leaving Vasu still sticking to his idea as before. Nataraj's nervy disposition of mind holds him back from divulging this fact to Rangi.

      Rangi is astute and shrewd as she thoroughly understands Vasu's mind. She candidly expresses her understanding of Vasu's mind to Nataraj in her meeting with him at his house, She tells him that Vasu is indomitable and immovable from executing an action when once he has decided for it. No power on earth can force him to alter his mind. However, before departing for Vasu's place, she suggestively tells the protagonist that she will do her best in tackling Vasu in her own way. She adds that she will apply the cunning methods as "A woman in my position has her ways." But, she far sightedly avoids mentioning to Nataraj the details of her scheme at a premature stage.

      Rangi plays a key role towards the end of the novel. The unexpected death of Vasu at that fateful night under mysterious circumstances gives a sudden turn to the events that follow in the novel. An atmosphere of great suspense and suspicion is felt on all sides. Doubts are aroused against one another. The D.S.P. and the Committee of five wise men constituted for the sake of carrying out intensive investigations into the case fail to reach any clinching conclusion. They are not able to establish unequivocally the motive or circumstances of Vasu's death or the identity of the murderer if it is considered a murder at all. The fall-out of the incident of Vasu's death turns out the worst for Nataraj. His friends like the poet, the journalist Sen and the adjournment lawyer start deliberately avoiding him. The needle of suspicion in their mind is obliquely pointed towards Nataraj as the murderer of Vasu. Nataraj feels terribly isolated and starts being haunted by self-suspicions. He recapitulates the circumstances on the night of Vasu's death. He had gone stealthily to Vasu's attic. Finding him lying motionless in sleep in the easy chair, he groped for his gun. He succeeded in catching hold of his gun and aimed it at him to shoot him down in case he happened to wake up when the procession was passing by. Suddenly, the gun fell down from his hands on Vasu as he was startled by the sudden clicking sound of the alarm clock placed on the table. According to the post mortem report, Vasu's death was caused by a heavy impact of some blunt thing on his right temple which had caused no outward injury but had crushed his skull inward pressing a vital vein leading to his instant death. Nataraj suspects that the gun might have fallen on Vasu's right temple from his hands. He is, therefore, assailed by a feeling of self-accusation and self-guilt.

      In the context of this dramatic event of Vasu's death, Rangi assumes a crucial role as she is the only one who knows the exact circumstances of his death. The suspenseful mystery of the taxidermist's sudden death is ultimately resolved through Rangi's passing on the vital information to Sastri in the loneliness of his house. She relates to him that when she reached Vasu's attic at that fateful night, she found him in the most horrible mood of rage and vengeance. He was so highly upset that he refused to take the chicken pulav, his favourite dish. She had brought the dish in a brass vessel mixing with it a sedative drug so that after taking it he might fall into sleep and the procession would pass away undisturbed. She adds that Vasu lay in his wooden easy armchair, kept his feet on the stool and placed his gun on the floor within his easy reach. The delay for the procession to start made him resolve that he would sleep for sometime and hence set the alarm clock at a probable hour when, he thought, the procession would reach the Market fountain. He would then make a target at the elephant with his gun and shoot it down. He instructed Rangi to sit by him in the chair and to fan away the mosquitoes hated by him the most. After sometime, he fell into deep sleep and she also felt drowsy. In the meantime, the mosquitoes started hovering and whizzing round his face. He felt highly irritated and in a half-awakened and half-asleep condition, he struck a powerful blow on his forehead with the flat of his palm. She noticed two mosquitoes lying plastered on his eye-brow. He lay in the chair motionless. She was shaken to discover that he was no more alive. Thereafter, she left the attic unnoticed by anyone. Thus, as the mythological story of Bhasmasura goes, Vasu is killed by his own invincible might of fist-power. The circumstances of Vasu's death, as recalled by Rangi to Sastri, read like this:

"She saw him flourish his arms, like a mad man, fighting them oft as they buzzed about ears to suck his blood. Next minute she heard a sharp noise like a thunder-clap. The man had evidently trapped a couple of mosquitoes on his forehead by bringing the flat of his palm with all his might on top of them. The woman switched on the light and saw two mosquitoes plastered on his brow."

      Rangi's disclosure achieves very significant objectives in the closing part of the novel. First, the mystery surrounding the death of Vasu is resolved in a way that no one else is to blame for the calamitous end of his life. Hence the protagonist, Nataraj, is redeemed from his self-inflicted sense of self-guilt. This spiritual redemption reinvigorates his urges for resuming his solid, real occupation of running the printing press. His sojourn into the illusory world of the poet, the journalist and Vasu comes to an amicable end. He goes back to his world of solid reality and feels at ease with himself. With the restoration of normalcy and resolution of the conflict, Nataraj alongwith his dependable man, Sastri, resumes his normal business and starts printing K.J.'s red labels to be stuck on his bottles of cold drink. The orthodox belief of Sastri in the legendary myths of Ravana, Daksha and Bhasmasura - all rakshas - gets vindicated in the mishap of Vasu's death.

      Thus, Rangi combines in herself the moral depravity thrust upon her more likely owing to her origin in an inferior, low class of the tradition-bound Indian society with her sterling qualities of being large-hearted, philanthropic, conscientiously dutiful, bold, frank and susceptible to the sanctity of all life whether human or animal. Her sense of sacrifice to the extent of risking her own life for the achievement of a philanthropic objective (saving the life of the temple elephant and of hundreds of men, women and children in the procession) is exemplary and heightens her stature as a human being.

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