Swami and Friends

Swami and Friends Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Swami walks alone on a road branching off the familiar trunk road of Malgudi. He walks for a mile and finds the road quiet, deserted, and unfamiliar. He wishes to be back on the trunk road, and realizes that he has been walking for hours. Swami misses home, imagining all of the food the cook makes and thinking of eating with his mother. As the sun begins to set, Swami rests and then decides to go home. He thinks that his troubles at school don’t matter after all and he is surprised that he ever thought he needed to run away. Swami regrets not telling his father what happened and is especially sorry to miss cricket practice leading up to the match.
Even before realizing he is lost, Swami misses home intensely and regrets his decision to leave school, already finding his reasons for fleeing trivial. In this sense, the self that Swami was only a few hours before has already become a stranger to him, demonstrating the depth of the instability of his identity during this sequence. But as much as he wishes to be at home, he remains in unfamiliar geographic territory, again illustrating his half-independent, half-childish state.
Themes
The Fluidity of Identity Theme Icon
Innocence, Family, and Growing Up Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Swami walks toward home, thinking of the excuses he will give his parents. After some time, he feels that he should have reached the trunk road but still seems to be far away on an unfamiliar road. Night falls and Swami becomes nervous, realizing that he might still be far from home. He begins to walk faster and is unnerved by the “uncanny ghostly quality” of birds fluttering in the quiet trees. As Swami continues, he wishes to run but is afraid of making noise. He feels that his senses become more keen, hearing small noises that he cannot identify or understand. Eventually, Swami even hears his name whispered through the night and thinks that he sees a monster crouching in the shadows, though it turns out to be a group of trees.
Swami continues to think of excuses to tell his parents even as he finds himself far from their influence, demonstrating the difficulty of separating from his family’s sphere. This section also marks the beginning of Swami’s temporary dissolution of identity, as he feels the barriers between himself and the rest of the world grow thinner and perceives his own name coming from outside himself. Swami has frequently redefined his identity throughout the story, but at this point, he begins to reach a state of barely having an identity at all.
Themes
The Fluidity of Identity Theme Icon
Innocence, Family, and Growing Up Theme Icon
Swami looks forward to reaching the trunk road soon and feels “a momentary ecstasy” when he comes into a clearing that looks like the trunk road and he is able to see the stars overhead. He decides to go forward without resting but quickly realizes that the road he is on lacks some of the signs of the trunk road and is probably a different location. Beginning to walk anyway, he soon finds himself lost in tall grass and has to turn back the way he came.
This moment of false hope adds emphasis to the idea that Swami may not ultimately have control over his circumstances or sense of self. Though he goes forward confidently, he remains lost nonetheless, showing the extent to which his life is circumscribed by outside forces even at this moment of unprecedented autonomy.
Themes
The Fluidity of Identity Theme Icon
Innocence, Family, and Growing Up Theme Icon
Pausing, Swami is forced to accept that he is far from home late at night, and that he does not know how to get back. He becomes “faint with fear” and is barely able to continue walking, and he feels the dark world around him closing in with “a sense of inhumanity.” Swami falls to the ground and cries aloud, praying for someone to rescue him. With his imagination running wild, Swami thinks he sees a succession of deadly creatures—elephants, tigers, cobras, even demons—attacking him. Soon, he falls into a fantasy that he is playing cricket in the coming match, playing well and watching his team win, with the odd addition that the Board School Headmaster is playing for the opposing team. He collapses with exhaustion, imagining that he is still on the cricket field.
As the barrier between Swami’s inner life and the threats of the outside world breaks down at last, he loses all sense of himself as a coherent individual. In this moment of complete disorientation, Swami falls back on a fantasy that illustrates the essential scaffolding of his life. Associated with both the supportive power of Swami’s friends and the oppressive power of British rule, cricket’s appearance at this crucial moment symbolizes the paradoxical but nevertheless powerful forces that shape Swami’s existence.
Themes
The Political and the Personal Under British Colonial Rule Theme Icon
The Fluidity of Identity Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Ranga, a man who drives a cart, is out on an early morning journey when his bull stops unexpectedly. Ranga is surprised to find Swami sleeping in the road in front of his cart and at first thinks he is dead, but soon realizes that Swami is a living boy from the town. Unable to imagine how Swami got there, Ranga  decides to take Swami to the office of the nearby District Forest Officer, who will know what to do with him.
Ranga is one of the few named characters who could be said to be an Indian peasant, the group that Swami pledges to protect at the protest on the Sarayu. Ranga’s role here is crucial to Swami’s rescue, but later the more powerful Mr. Nair is the one who receives all the credit. Swami never seems to be aware of Ranga’s existence, and even Ranga views himself as too simple to be of help. Ranga’s unsung but pivotal role hints at the status of peasants throughout India under British rule.
Themes
The Political and the Personal Under British Colonial Rule Theme Icon
Swami regains consciousness and does not understand where he is. At first he thinks he is at home, but then begins to remember his recent ordeal and looks around him in confusion, unable to see clearly. He sees and hears a man talking to him and wonders why his father is there with him. The man says that his father will arrive soon, which makes Swami even more confused; he wonders whether the man is his father and, whether or not he is, what he is doing there.
When Swami awakens in an unfamiliar place, his sense of self remains diffuse, and he attempts to regain it by talking to the man he perceives to be his father. However, it quickly becomes clear that this source of comfort and stability is an empty one; Swami does not know whether the man is his father or what his purpose is. Regaining consciousness after his ordeal, Swami finds himself still without a clear identity and severed from his family connections in an unprecedented way.
Themes
The Fluidity of Identity Theme Icon
Innocence, Family, and Growing Up Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Blue quotation bubble icon linking to an important quote associated with this summary and analysis.
The man turns out to be Mr. Nair, the District Forest Officer. He recalls helping to revive Swami and notes that Swami was not at first able to explain who he is, where he is from, or what happened to him. Now, he finds Swami outside, practicing cricket bowling with a tree and some rocks. Swami thanks Mr. Nair for helping him and says how eager he is to get back in time for his match. He asks what day it is and Mr. Nair tells him it is Sunday. Swami is horrified at this news because the match is on Sunday, but Nair quickly amends what he said and tells Swami that it is Saturday. He promises to get Swami home by evening if he can explain who he is.
As in Swami’s fantasy, cricket is the first thing to ground him in reality as he regains his composure, again showing how crucial its dual meaning is in supporting Swami’s sense of self. In this case, the issues of the cricket match allow Swami to return to himself enough to explain who he is and get Mr. Nair to help him return home.
Themes
The Political and the Personal Under British Colonial Rule Theme Icon
The Fluidity of Identity Theme Icon