Rasipuram Krishnaswami Narayan (10 October, 1906 -- 13 May, 2001) is one of the best Indian novelists writing in English. His famous novels are Swami and Friends (1935), The Bachelor of Arts (1937), The Dark Room (1938), The English Teacher (1946), The Guide (1958), The Man-eater of Malgudi (1962), etc. He also wrote many short stories and published them in volumes as Malgudi Days (1941), Dodu and Other Stories (1943), Cyclone and Other Stories (1944), etc. He is noted for his simple way of writing. He won numerous awards and honours for his works. He received the Sahitya Academy Award in 1961 for his novel The Guide. He was awarded the Padma Bhusan in 1964. In 1980, he was awarded the A. C. Benson Award by the Royal Society of Literature.
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The present story Leela’s Friend is one of his best known short-stories and is taken from his Malgudi Days.
Mr. Sivasanker is deeply thinking about his servant-problem. Sidda, a homeless poor boy, comes to his gate just then in search of a job. Sivasanker looks at him and finds nothing objectionable. Yet he asks a few questions about his previous work. He calls then his wife who turns satisfied after meeting the boy. Leela, their five-year old daughter comes out and likes the boy. Sidda is selected on an agreement of two meals a day and four rupees a month. In return he is to wash clothes, tend the garden, run errands, chop wood and look after Leela.
Sidda is a likeable boy who gets on well with the family. He becomes a good friend with Leela. Sidda and Leela play together with a ball. Sidda throws the ball upward. When the ball comes down, he tells her that the ball has touched the moon. Even he has touched the moon many times from a coconut tree. The innocent girl believes every word of Sidda. She also expresses her desire to touch the moon. She is surprised to see that wherever they move, the moon is there. She claps in joy. Sidda informs her that he really knows the moon which follows up his command.
At day’s end Leela plays the teacher to Sidda. She tries to teach him with her little knowledge. She writes a letter or draws a kind of cat or crow, and asks him to copy it. But he is a very poor performer. Yet Leela does not give up her effort. She does not allow him to leave his task. The game of teaching goes on for a long time. Sidda gets relief only when he falsely tells her that her mother is calling her to dinner.
Every night Sidda tells a nice story to put Leela to sleep. Day by day he becomes her constant companion. A sweetening relationship is established between them.
One evening Sidda goes out to buy sugar and Leela accompanies him. When they come home, Leela’s mother noticed that the gold chain around Leela’s neck is missing. Being furious she slaps Leela and calls Sidda at once on suspicion. Sidda defends himself feebly but leaves the house stealthily.
At this Mr. Sivasanker and his wife are convinced that Sidda is the culprit. He lodges a complaint against him in the Police Station. But Leela is not ready to believe this. She longs for his company. She is deeply sorrowful. She thinks that her parents are responsible for her friend’s leaving their house. The loss of gold chain does not matter to her.
Mr. Sivasanker learns from the Police Inspector that Sidda has criminal records. He has been in jail for several times for stealing jewellery from children. He assures his wife that the police will arrest Sidda very soon. Four days later, the police Inspector and a constable brings in Sidda. Leela is very happy and runs to meet him. The Inspector stops her and presses Sidda to confess his guilt. Leela’s mother abuses him for his treachery. Sidda only replies that he has not taken the chain.
The Inspector tells his constable to take him back to the police station. Leela requests him to free Sidda. But nobody listens to her. She starts to shed tears.
A few days later, Leela’s mother discovers the lost gold chain from a tamarind pot. She comes to know that Leela has dropped it there and forgotten all about it. Mr. Sivasanker learns all and informs the police about the chain’s discovery, but does not allow Sidda to continue his job. Sidda’s position does not improve. He remains a confirmed criminal in his eyes.
It is clear from the title Leela’s Friend that the story is about Leela and her friend Sidda. The story brings forth the class-conflict between the high and the low of the society. Sidda becomes the victim of that conflict. Poverty leaves a permanent wound to Sidda’s life. Though he tries to overcome his dark past and is proved guiltless at the end of the story, he is not either allowed to continue his job neither provided with an apology. The so-called society remains indifferent to his sorrows and sufferings.Sidda’s punishment is unjust and also a blunder. But the protector of the law escapes counter punishment. This is not a case to Sidda only, but its roots lie in the every sphere of the society making it worse and gloomy. R. K. Narayan has raised his voice to protest against this through the present story. Herein lies his craftsmanship.
- Betrayal of trust
- True friendship
- Poverty and exploitation
- Cruelty of masters