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Rasipuram Krishnaswami lyer Narayanswami (1906- 2001) is one of the most widely read Indian writers in English. His famous works include Swami and Friends (1935), The English Teacher (1945), The Guide (1958). Apart from novels, Narayan displayed versatility as an author in his essays, short stories, memoirs and travel books.
Leela’s Friend is taken from R.K. Narayan’s popular short story collection The Malgudi Days. The story explores the issues of the interaction between different social classes, friendship and trust, prejudice and exploitation.
Leela– Mr Sivasanker’s little daughter
Mr Sivasanker– Sidda’s master and Leela’s father
Sidda– a servant at Mr Sivasanker’s house
Leela’s Mother– Leela’s mother
Sidda Becomes Leela’s Friend
Sidda was hanging about the gate at the moment when Mr Sivasanker was standing in the front veranda of his house, thinking about the servant problem. Sidda asked him if he wanted a servant. Mr Sivasanker told him to come in. He thought to himself that Sidda didn’t seem to be a bad sort and looked tidy.
He asked Sidda where he had worked before. He said that he had been at a doctor’s house near the market but the doctor had left town. Mr Sivasanker called his wife. She said Sidda didn’t seem to be worse than the other servants they had had. Leela, their five-year-old daughter said she liked him and asked her father not to send him away. They decided to keep him.
Sidda was given two meals a day and four rupees a month. He washed clothes, tended the garden, ran errands, chopped wood and looked after Leela. Leela would cry for him to come and play with her, and Sidda had to drop any work he might be doing and run to her. His company made her very happy. They would play with a red ball in the front garden.
At dusk he carried her in and she held a class for him. She played teacher to Sidda. She made him squat on the floor with a pencil between his fingers and copy whatever she wrote in the pages of her catalog. He was really bad at it and was relieved when Leela’s mother called her to dinner. After dinner Leela ran to her bed. Sidda had to tell her a bedtime story.
The Missing Chain
Day by day Leela became closer to Sidda and was always at his side. One evening Sidda went out to buy sugar and Leela went with him. When they came home, Leela’s mother noticed that a gold chain Leela had been wearing was missing.
Leela’s mother looked at Sidda suspiciously. She asked him about the chain. His throat went dry and he answered that he did not know. She mentioned the police and shouted at him. She had to go back into the kitchen for a moment. When she came back Sidda had vanished into the night. Mr. Sivasanker came home an hour later, went to the police station and lodged a complaint.
After her meal Leela refused to go to bed unless Sidda came and told her a story. She accused her mother of always abusing Sidda. Her mother was so disturbed by the thought of Sidda coming in to loot the house at night that she could not tell Leela a story to put her to sleep. Leela said that Sidda was gone because he wasn’t allowed to sleep inside the house. She thought he was angry with them.
By the time Sivasanker returned, Leela had fallen asleep. He said that Sidda was an old criminal who had been in jail half a dozen times for stealing jewellery from children. The inspector was able to identify him in a moment. The police knew his haunts and would pick him up very soon. The inspector was furious that Sivasanker had not consulted him before employing him.
Four days later, just as Sivasanker was coming home from the office, a police inspector and a constable brought in Sidda. Leela was overjoyed to see him but the police officers would not allow her to go near him. When asked about the chain, he said that he had not taken it. Leela asked them to leave him alone but they refused, calling him a thief who had stolen from an innocent child.
The police then decided to take Sidda to the station for interrogation. Leela ran after them crying and clung to Sidda’s hand. He looked at her mutely, like an animal. Mr Sivasanker carried a crying Leela back into the house.
Every day when Mr Sivasanker came home his wife asked him for news about the jewel and Leela asked him where Sidda was. Sivasanker replied that the police still had him in lockup and he would not say anything about the jewel.
A few days later, putting her hand into the tamarind pot in the kitchen, Leela’s mother picked up Leela’s chain. Leela said she had somehow put it in there long ago. When Leela’s father came home and was told of this, he said that Leela should not have any chain again because they had had to go through so much trouble because of her.
Leela’s mother asked what would happen to Sidda. Mr Sivasanker said he would tell the inspector the next day that they had found the chain. He added that they could not have kept a criminal like Sidda in the house anyway.
Prejudices because of people’s social class can result in tragedies such as what happens to Sidda. He is accused without any proof because he is a poor servant, and consequently arrested because of it, although it turns out the lost chain was in a tamarind pot all along. This story shows us how deep prejudices run in our society and how they can destroy people’s lives.