Although many people view Swami’s hometown of Malgudi as intolerably hot in the summer, Swami, Mani, and Rajam enjoy going out together in the summer afternoons and barely notice the heat. They sit together just outside town and discuss the ways that their plan with the coachman’s son went wrong, with Mani admitting that he was wrong to give the boy the top so quickly. Swami complains that his neck still hurts where Mani attacked him, but Mani says that he only pretended to attack Swami.
This scene again underscores the way that even a good friend like Mani can behave in ways that are clearly harmful to Swami. Learning to accept this kind of complexity is key to Swami’s development over the course of the story. At the same time, the boys’ tolerance of the heat despite the adults’ hatred of it reveals their continued separation from the fully adult world.
A young boy driving a cart pulled by a bull comes down the road toward the boys, and Rajam yells at him to stop the cart. The boy pleads that he has to leave, but Swami and his friends make him stay, saying that they are the Government Police and threatening to arrest him. The continue to harass the boy, whose name is Karuppan, before finally writing him a fake pass and allowing him to pass.
Perhaps more than any other, this scene illustrates the ways in which Swami and his friends recreate the brutality imposed on them by English colonial rule. Without even discussing it with each other, the boys effortlessly take on the role of police and inflict their own fear and oppression onto Karuppan, a smaller, weaker boy than they. This incident passes without comment or consequence, showing that the boys’ internalized sense of the workings of power is both casual and pervasive.
As the summer continues, Swami’s father stays home on vacation from his job at the courts. On his third day at home, Swami’s father tells Swami that he cannot go out to meet Mani and Rajam but instead must stay at home and study. Swami protests that he should not have to read when school is out, but his father disagrees and makes him sit down with his books. Asked to find a cloth to clean off his dusty books, Swami grabs a cloth from under his baby brother, causing his mother to scold him. His father sits with him while he attempts to solve a math problem involving two men selling mangos. Swami is unable to understand the problem and gets distracted thinking about the characters of the two men in the problem, frustrating his father, who calls him an “extraordinary idiot.” Swami’s father walks him through the problem step by step, and Swami bursts into tears when he finally gets the correct answer half an hour later.
Swami’s father’s unexpected insistence that Swami continue studying shows how Swami’s old ties to his family come into increasing conflict with his newer ties to his friends. Swami’s interpretation of the math problem also shows his sensitive, imaginative nature and how poorly suited that kind of thinking is for conventional academic work. Again, Narayan suggests that the school environment does not educate Swami so much as suppress his naturally positive attributes.
Later that evening, Swami’s father feels sorry for making Swami study all afternoon and invites Swami to join him at his club. Swami changes his clothes and gets in the car with his father. Swami is “elated” to go to the club and wishes his friends could see him traveling in the car. When they arrive at the club, Swami happily watches his father play tennis, but his mood changes when he discovers that the coachman’s son works at the club as a ball boy. The boy sees Swami and turns to smile at him, holding up a pen knife. Swami is terrified and sticks close to his father as they leave the tennis courts.
Again, an object of childish happiness—visiting the club with his father—becomes a cause for fear and danger as Swami discovers the coachman’s armed son at the club. This surprise shows that Swami’s powerful friends were truly unable to help him solve the problem of the coachman’s son.
Swami feels safe again when he is inside with his father in the card room, but it is dark outside by the time they leave the club and Swami becomes afraid again. He begins to imagine that the coachman’s son has a gang waiting to attack him and almost tells his father about his fears, before changing his mind and staying silent. Swami sits in the back of the car, feeling very far from his father and his father’s friend in the front seat, and he cannot relax until they pass through the gates of the club.
This episode marks a crucial shift in the relationship between Swami and his father. Whereas before his father could keep him safe from anything, now Swami feels that his father can do nothing to protect him from the coachman’s son. This scene completes the thematic development begun in the previous chapter, as Swami’s childish pursuit of the hoop transforms fully into a more adult situation that feels genuinely dangerous to Swami.