Swami's Mother: Character in the Novel - Swami and Friends

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      There are two (2) female characters in the novel, Swami and Friends. They do not bear specific names and are identified by their family relationships only such as Swami's mother and his grandmother. The focal point of the plot of the novel lies in the depiction of child-protagonist Swaminathan's school life. Hence, the description of his family life assumes a secondary place. The female members of his family i.e. his mother and his granny are limited to the traditional subservient role in their respective positions in a patriarchical Hindu middle-class urban family. They do not directly influence, make or mar, the course of the protagonist's development in regard to his education and conduct as they are not ordained to do so by the age-old traditions and customs of the orthodox society of Malgudi in which they live. In such a social milieu, it is the male members i.e. the father, the husband, and the son etc. who are empowered to call the shots in family affairs according to their own likes and dislikes.

The mother joins the dialogue already going on between Swaminathan and his father and puts her own complaint just in order to add to father's anger:  'That is right', mother added, just appearing from somewhere, there is no limit to his loafing in the sun. He will die of sun-stroke if he keeps on like this.
Swami's Mother

      Swami's mother appears only for a few times in the novel. She is delineated as a homely, unlettered housewife, whose sole purpose in life is to bear and breed children and to subserve piously the interests of all the family members. She has no say nor has she an aspiration for a role to play in planning the career of her children or in the governance of the family. She appears in the flimsy role of a complaining, whining mother who has nothing meaningful to worry about except butting in complaints to her husband against the child, that too, when the father is already scolding the son on that account. Father asks Swami:

Where were you yesterday at this time?
You are lying. You were not here yesterday
You are not going out now.

      The mother joins the dialogue already going on between Swaminathan and his father and puts her own complaint just in order to add to father's anger:

'That is right', mother added, just appearing from somewhere, there is no limit to his loafing in the sun. He will die of sun-stroke if he keeps on like this.

      Her remarks also reveal her motherly tender care for the physical well-being of the child. But at the same time, it reflects upon her subordinate position in the family because she has to express her complaint against the child to father who acts like a mentor in the family. She does not have the courage to express her grievance independently to the child The mother's position of subordination to father in the family is amply clear in Swami's mind. The commands of thee father are, carried out unchallengingly by him whereas he expresses his unpleasantness fearlessly to his mother against her act of having lodged a complaint against him to his father. When asked by his father to bring a piece of cloth to dust his book lying on the table, he goes to mother for the piece of cloth and says to her:

You are a fine lady, mother, he said in an undertone,
Why don't you leave us, poor folk, along?

      Mother forgets that she has just complained against him to father and therefore questions him what he means by saying so. He replies : "You needn't have gone and carried tales against me. I don't know what I have done to you?" But on the other hand, he dares not do so against his father when thee latter asks him to dust his books when he is in a mood to go out for play. Earlier father has assured him that he can play freely after the examinations are over. But, Swami does not have the courage to remind his father of it. Rather he meekly obeys him. The child is aware of the fact that father, being the male in the family, is in a dominant position and hence beyond challenge.

      When mother refuses to give Swami a piece of cloth, he snatches away the one lying under the baby and comes running to his father. Mother comes following him and again complains to father instead of saying anything directly to the child. She says:

"Look at that boy, he has taken the baby's cloth. Is there nobody to control him, in this house? I wonder how long his school is going to be kept closed."

      But even her complaint is ignored by father, as he merely pinched the sleeping baby's cheeks and the mother leaves the room in annoyance. Mother's affection, care, consideration and sensitiveness towards the security and well-being of Swami are revealed in the episode of his sudden truancy from home. She is over worried and anxiety-ridden as Swami has not come back home from school till late in the evening, In her anxiousness, she questions her husband saying:

Tell me - tell me - where could the boy have gone?
Were you severe with him for anything in this morning?

      Father goes to different places in search of the boy. He fails to get any clue about him. He comes back home and consoles his wife. In his heart of hearts, he too is worried and has probable fears that the child may have been kidnapped or may have met some accident. But he puts up a brave face, perhaps because he is conscious of his male hood and therefore he is expected not to show any sign of weakness before his child or female partner. While going out in search of the boy, he tells her "in a certain loud cheerfulness" (which is consciously assumed boldness):

I am going out to look for him. If he comes before I return, for Heaven's sake don't let him know what I am out for. I don't care to appear a fool in his eyes

      Father's ego in not getting his worry exposed before the child is typically representative of male-ego in an Indian middle-class family. This comes in glaring contrast with mother's open, unreservedly expressed anxiety about her child. Moreover, it is reported that she has given birth to a second baby son.

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