Swami wakes up on a Monday morning dreading the day of school ahead, which means more work and discipline. He mentally catalogues all of his homework for the day and completes it in the two hours before school. At school, he is taught arithmetic, history, and scripture at the end of the day, a class taught by Ebenezer, a Christian “fanatic” who expresses disdain of the Hindu gods as dirty, lifeless, wooden idols that pale in comparison to the Christian Jesus. Swami’s blood boils, and he gets into a fight with his teacher; when his father gets wind of the fight, he sends Swami back to school with an angry letter penned wherein he strongly objects to the “assault” and rough treatment that he suffered under Ebenezer. His father accuses the school of not wanting non-Christian boys to attend the missionary school and threatens to remove his son from the school.
The next day, Swami sheepishly hands his father’s letter to the headmaster, who then walks into the classroom in the middle of Ebenezer deconstructing and discrediting the Bhagavadgita. The teacher swiftly switches topics, switching to lecturing on the Bible, randomly landing at a page in the Bible and reading out loud the Nativity scene. The headmaster interrupts and asks the teacher why he is only at the Nativity at this late point in the semester, so close to the terminal examination. The headmaster tells Swami that he is “here to look after [him]” and that, if an incident should occur again, he should come directly to the headmaster instead of going to his father.
The narrator then moves on to describe the River Sarayu, which is the “pride of Malgudi” and a popular gathering spot for locals. Crowds gather on its sandbanks during the evenings in particular. Swami and his friend Mani are sitting on the riverbanks enjoying the evening when Swami announces that he wishes to take the new student in their class, Rajam, bundle him up, and throw him into the deep part of the river. Rajam, the new arrival in the school, is an immediate rival to Swami and his popular status at school. Rajam dresses very well, arrives at school in a car, and is a very good student.
The story, written from a third-person point of view, follows Swami, a rambunctious young boy who spends his time scraping by school and adventuring with his friends. The narrator’s tone is sympathetically close to Swami, disclosing his everyday fears and hopes, and takes on the innocence and naiveté of Swami’s boyhood self.
The structure is episodic, with each chapter devoted to a particular scene or aspect of Swami’s life. The episodes do not directly build on each other but rather work to establish a tableau of everyday life. The lack of a progressive structure slows down the narrative pacing and enables the story to move without reference to a linear, calendrical time, except for the occasional instance when time does burst in, such as later in the novel during the political protests on August 15, 1930 in the “Broken Panes” chapter.
These early chapters sow the seeds of the defining conflicts of his boyhood. In particular, these chapters highlight his antagonistic relationship to school, his group of friends and their personalities, and the arrival of a new boy who threatens Swami’s popular status at school, Rajam.
Swami’s conflict with Ebenezer and with his headmaster over their religious teaching demonstrates the story’s concern with the historical conditions of India, namely British colonial rule. The theme of school as a site of colonial even contemptuous to their very own culture.
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Who was Mr. Ebenezer?
Mr. Ebenezer was the fanatical christian scripture teacher at the Mission School. He used to defame Hindu Gods and Goddesses and always argue for the superiority of Christianity in his lectures.
What made swami angry on Mr. Ebenezer?
When Swami’s fanatical christian scripture teacher expressed disdain of the Hindu gods as dirty, lifeless, wooden idols that pale in comparison to the Christian Jesus, Swami’s blood boiled, and he also had a verbal fight with his teacher.
What was name of the river mentioned in Swami and Friends?
Sarayu River was mentioned in the novel, Swami and Friends by the author.
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