Swami and Friends


R. K. Narayan

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Swami and Friends: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

On Saturday, Swami prepares excitedly to host Rajam, who has promised to come to his house that afternoon. Swami wonders where to host Rajam and realizes that, because his father will be out at court, he can host Rajam in his father’s room, pretending that the room is Swami’s own. Swami’s grandmother is also excited about the visit and asks Swami to bring Rajam to see her, but he refuses, telling her not to interact with Rajam because she is “too old.”
Swami’s decision to use his father’s room to host Rajam and pretend it is his own demonstrates that, although he wishes to appear independent, his ability to do what he wants still depends on his father’s resources.
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Swami continues to prepare for Rajam’s visit, demanding that his mother make good coffee and something “fine and sweet” for the afternoon snack. He also tells the cook to change into clean clothes and asks him to bring the food directly to him and Rajam. Finally, Swami asks his father if he can use his room to host Rajam, and his father agrees when he hears that Rajam’s father is the Police Superintendent.
Again, Swami’s preparations for Rajam’s visit keenly illustrate how Swami is stuck between childish reliance on his family and a desire to impress Rajam with his maturity. He does everything he can to make a good impression, but he requires help from everyone in his family to do so. Swami’s father’s submission to the importance of the Police Superintendent is also a reminder that imperial power structures remain influential even within Swami’s home.
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To Swami’s surprise, Rajam’s visit goes well, with all of Swami’s demands met except for the fact that the cook does not change his clothes. Rajam and Swami talk happily for hours, until Rajam notices Swami’s father’s large books and asks Swami if he reads them. Embarrassed that Rajam has discovered the room is not his own, Swami admits that the table belongs to his father and, in order to distract Rajam from asking about his own possessions, he mentions his grandmother. Rajam says that he would love to meet her and Swami runs to see Granny, hoping that she is asleep. Swami is disappointed to find her awake, but she is delighted to meet Rajam and impressed with the luxurious details of his life.
Swami’s embarrassment at Rajam’s finding out that the room and books do not belong to him underscores his desire to be impressive in and of himself, rather than relying on his family. However, Rajam’s enthusiasm for meeting Swami’s grandmother repairs the situation, though Swami is surprised to find Granny acting as a social asset when he expected her to be an embarrassment. This moment again develops the idea of quickly changing identities and continues Swami’s journey toward valuing his grandmother as a person rather than a simple comfort in his life.
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On a subsequent school day, Swami enters class to find that “TAIL” is written on the blackboard. Swami’s whole class giggles at him and Swami slaps the Pea and Sankar in anger. The three begin to fight in earnest and they only stop when Somu and Mani enter the classroom and separate them. Swami, Mani, Somu, Sankar, and the Pea all go outside the school, where Mani accuses Swami’s former friends of writing the word on the board. They all deny it and Swami, crying, explains to Mani that “tail” refers to him being Rajam’s tail. Mani angrily defends Rajam and Somu tells Mani that he thinks too much of himself. The two begin to punch and kick each other, at which point Swami, Sankar, and the Pea run in panic to get the Mission School Headmaster, who breaks up the fight.
The fight between Swami and his friends acts as the culmination of their increasingly antagonistic relationships. Though they wish to resolve the tension through violence, they are ultimately unable to, requiring the intervention of an authority figure. This scene hints at the futility of attempting to gain power within an oppressive setting, even in interpersonal relationships.
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