The Question R. K. Nary, the writer, the author, the narrator (third person narration): Writes, describes, says, conveys, invokes, depicts, connotes, tells us, and communicates. We/us/ the reader: Senses, feels, understands, knows, invites feelings of… Themes of clashing cultures and tradition.
From Mini, the protagonist’s perspective, the American is a ‘red-faced man’, a ‘foreigner and ‘the stranger. Nary depicts a tourist/business man who is culturally misplaced. Humor through misunderstanding used by the writer in the dialogue entertains the reader. From the comfortable perspective of the ‘red-faced American’ the statue is a trophy he must have. Arrogance, expecting Mini to know English. Why did he not speak Tamil? From Minim’s humble world of struggle and poverty, this would never make sense. Language techniques used in the dialogue to enhance humor: incaution, hyperbole or technical language of business?
The ‘red-faced American’ ‘foreigner’, ‘red-faced’ ‘American’ ‘stranger’ ‘particularly memorable’ What do I remember first when recall this story? Cultural misunderstanding and the language barrier. Economic situation: Rich country/poor country Business, profit, comfort verses an existence of eking out a daily living for survival. Humor: the ‘value’ of the statue. The ‘American’ views the statue as a commodity to be bought, and taken away, to bring him status at home. Mini sees a fixed structure that reflects stories, traditions and religion. He assumes the ‘foreigner’ wants to buy the goats.
The red-faced man’s appearance in ‘A Horse and Two Goats’ is made memorable through R. K. Marina’s use of the themes of culture and tradition. Writing from the perspective of the protagonist, Mini, Nary introduces the reader to a ‘foreigner who arrives in Minim’s tiny Indian Village of ‘Guitar’ in a yellow vehicle that ‘sputtered and stopped in front of him’ – a sight which would have been a novelty to Mini before the advent of the nearby work project. Nary uses first person narration to introduce the reader to Minim’s mall village with its ‘grandiose’ name of Guitar which means ‘coronet’ or ‘crown’ in the Tamil language.
We get a further sense of this grandeur with descriptions of ‘gorgeous carvings of gods and gargoyles’ on one ‘Big House’ among thirty smaller ones. The status of Minim’s wife is clear. She remains unnamed throughout the story and her role is to keep them both alive by daily seeking food so that they might merely eat. Her task is a caring one and is particularly important to Mini, who the writer describes as ‘older and needing attention simply to be ‘kept alive’. The red-faced foreigner comes into Minim’s life when his sole possessions are two ‘gawky goats’. He had once proudly owned ‘fleecy sheep’.
Minim’s drop in social status is conveyed succinctly as the narrator tells us that Mini longs for someone to ‘rid him’ of these ‘scraggy creatures’. With this thought Nary is foreshadowing events that follow. Importantly, at the same moment, Mini stands at the foot of the town’s ornate statue of a horse named ‘Kali’ depicted with a man beneath its front hoof. This statue holds religious significance – about good and bad behavior in the face of disaster – to Mini and the people of Guitar. At this moment, the ‘red-faced foreigner’ jovially greets our protagonist.
It is in the dialogue that follows that Nary is able to memorably convey a sense of cultural misunderstanding to cleverly entertain the reader. From the start the red-faced American’s greeting to Mini ‘Marvelous! ‘ is actually directed towards the town’s statue, his ‘value’ of which is totally at odds with Kitbag’s. Speaking English, the American assumes the Statue is a commodity to be bought while Mini relates to him, its traditional importance in the Tamil engage. Not only does the red-faced man assume that Mini is a ‘souvenir seller’ ready to sell the statue, he arrogantly expects him to speak English for his own purposes. Is there no-one, absolutely no-one who can translate for me? ‘ The words ‘absolutely no-one’ suggest an inadequacy in Mini. The indignant tone created by the writer with these words invites a sense of injustice in the reader, as it never occurs to the American that he himself is also unable speak Tamil. Furthermore, Nary creates humor in the misguided logic of the foreigner as he patronizes Mini, ‘I will speak slowly, lease try and understand me. ‘ The red-faced man is blind to the silliness of his own statement. Slowing his speech will no more make Mini understand English than it will help him speak Tamil!
Nary uses question marks and explanation marks to great effect to raise the spirit of the speakers and engage the reader in the dialogue: ‘Marvelous! Isn’t this statue yours? Why don’t you sell it to me? ‘ the stranger inquires of Mini. In the same way, Mini begins his story about the avatar of Vishnu with the question ‘Do you know the Inhabitant? ‘ Not only does the narrator create a sense of absurdity in he misunderstandings, the reader is able to follow the exchange effectively because in the course of answering their own questions, each character is able to engage with their own view of reality.
Nary uses language cleverly to create a sense of two very different worlds. As Mini speaks of Kali the horse, the warrior and the statue’s importance to his forefathers, Nary writes of the ‘reminiscence of the antiquity. In contrast, the technical language of business sums up the American as he announces he is a ‘coffee trader and, imagining himself the owner of the statue, that he can engage in sales talk’ along with the rest of them.
What makes the red-faced American particularly memorable in ‘A Horse and Two Goats’ is a clear clash of two very different cultures. R. K. Nary places him in a cultural context so foreign to his own, that the red-faced man is unable to see the poverty and struggle that lies before him. From his relative position of comfort and privilege in America, it appears impossible that he will ever really know Minim’s life in a small Indian town, where he and his wife eke out a daily living simply to stay alive.