Narayan employs two competing conceptions of time in the story—linear and cyclical—roughly corresponding to the characters Muni and the foreigner. Whereas Muni has a shaky grasp of linear time, being unable to recall even his own age, the foreigner seems fixated on marking and saving time, which he views as a scant and valuable resource. Muni, with his more cyclical conception of time, does not seem perturbed when he spends time doing something that has no economic value, such as speaking to the foreigner. He enjoys narrating history and his own past in more emotional terms, whereas the foreigner remains concerned with marking and quantifying time through the use of money. These two conceptions of time undoubtedly clash and are emblematic of a larger incompatibility between the two men, thereby foretelling their inability to communicate meaningfully with one another, regardless of their language barrier. Ultimately, Narayan suggests that Muni’s cyclical conception of time is conducive to a richer emotional and spiritual life, as he does not seem overly preoccupied with marking and saving time or the financial concerns related to this. The foreigner, on the other hand, is always in a hurry and converses only about his material possessions, traits that make the foreigner seem flat and rather emotionless. The suggestion is that the foreigner’s linear conception of time has shaped his personality to such an extent that he is trapped in its restrictive grasp.
As stated previously, Muni is not aware of his own age. But, when pressed, he attempts to calculate it from the “time of the great famine when he stood as high as the parapet around the village well.” His inability to calculate his own age, even with this method, demonstrates his shaky grasp of linear time. Muni has a much better understanding of cyclical time, as it makes up the framework of Hindu mythology. In narrating the legend of Kalki, the messiah, Muni relies on cyclical time to explain how Kalki, after destroying the Kali Yuga and its unrepentant sinners, will restart the cycle of time at the purest age, or Satya Yuga. In this way, Muni serves as the embodiment of cyclical time in the story. And, through Muni’s evident enjoyment while narrating these mythological tales and his own past to the foreigner, Narayan seems to suggest that Muni’s cyclical conception of time has enabled this joy and has thus enriched his life. Interestingly, Muni’s favorite spot near the highway presents him with a vision and worldview that is diametrically opposed to his conception of cyclical time. The highway, a symbol of relentless development and globalization, is representative of linear time as it privileges progress and forward motion above all else.
Amid Muni’s seemingly endless reminiscences, the foreigner begins to feel restless, reasoning that “he had spent too much time already,” and he then blurts out, “we have come to the point when we should be ready to talk business.” In displaying this attitude toward time, the foreigner reveals that he views time as a scant resource which holds a monetary value that is wasted unless some financial transaction comes to fruition. The foreigner’s conception of time makes him seem somewhat robotic and lacking in emotion, unlike Muni, who often gives his feelings full expression in his reminiscences and narrations of Hindu mythology. Narayan seems to argue here that Muni’s cyclical conception of time and the foreigner’s diametrically opposed, linear conception of time are representative of the men’s inability to understand and appreciate each other’s worldviews. Given the foreigner’s negative portrayal in the story as a superficial businessman obsessed with material possessions and making the most of his time, Narayan suggests that the foreigner’s linear conception of time has contributed to making him a dull and robotic character.
With these opposing conceptions of time—linear and cyclical—Narayan fleshes out another aspect of the two men’s dissimilarities and their inability to understand one another. Muni’s cyclical conception of time is beyond the grasp of the foreigner, just as the foreigner’s mastery over linear time and monetization of time is beyond Muni’s ken. With Muni’s rich description of Hindu mythology, the narrator seems to suggest that the cyclical conception of time is more rewarding, as the foreigner values time as a commodity to be bought and sold like the coffee that he trades for a living. Like his unflattering nickname, his limiting conception of time places him into a box from which his movement is constricted: he is not able to unwind in a discussion of spirituality as Muni is, but remains hyper-aware of the time he is “wasting” in idle chit chat. Thus, Narayan suggests that a less ego-driven view of time as “cyclical” and not finite in nature is more spiritually and emotionally enriching because it enables one to focus on other aspects of life apart from the monetary value of things. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Narayan portrays a linear conception of time as constricting in that it encourages one to view time spent engaging in activities without monetary value (such as conversation and storytelling) as time “wasted.”
Linear vs. Cyclical Time ThemeTracker
Linear vs. Cyclical Time Quotes in A Horse and Two Goats
“I don’t want to seem to have stopped here for nothing. I will offer you a good price for this," he said, indicating the horse. He had concluded without the least doubt that Muni owned this mud horse. Perhaps he guessed by the way he sat at its pedestal, like other souvenir-sellers in this country presiding over their wares.
"This is our guardian, it means death to our adversaries. At the end of Kali Yuga, this world and all other worlds will be destroyed, and the Redeemer will come in the shape of a horse called 'Kalki'; this horse will come to life and gallop and trample down all bad men… [T]he oceans are going to close over the earth in a huge wave and swallow us—this horse will grow bigger than the biggest wave and carry on its back only the good people and kick into the floods the evil ones.”