Postponed once for the Dassehra and
Bakr-Id holidays, this novel was long awaited. Its simple narrative style and
endearing local colour make it an easy read.
KumKum, Zakia, Gopa, Matthew, Sunil
Tragedy is in keeping with the quiet
tenor of the novel, for Alan Paton was writing about a tragic country and its tragic
people. A deep vein of humanity runs through the novel. The Umfundisi is a
character who grows on the reader; when you are done, you wish to imitate his speech
The parallels with Lincoln’s Second
Inaugural Address are brought out. How can a country survive with freedom only
for one-fifth of its people?
Absent: Priya (busy with
daughter’s visit), Sivaram (other work), Kavita (other work), Bobby (reason unknown).
two reading dates were finalised as Nov
14 (Wednesday) for Poetry, and Dec 7
(Friday) for The Blind Assassin.
exercise is provided down below, just before the Readings.
KumKum gave a long introduction to her piece. Stephen Kumalo, pastor
of the small church in the village of Ndotsheni, was all set to leave for
Johannesburg. It would be a long arduous journey by a narrow gauge toy train.
He was going alone, leaving his wife at home.
agenda for the trip was as follows:
-To find Gertrude, his
ailing sister, and her son
-To find his son Absalom
Kumalo, who left home for Joburg to seek his fortune. Of late he did not write
home to keep in touch with his old parents.
-To meet his estranged
brother John Kumalo who came to Johannesburg years back pursuing his
-To get news of his
neighbour Sibeko's daughter who worked for a white man uSmith in Ixopo, a
nearby town of Joburg. Sibeko has not heard from his daughter for a while.
attending to the first three items on his list, Stephen Kumalo embarked on the
last item.He comes to a place
called Spring in search of a Barbara Smith, who, Stephen Kumalo learnt, was
the employer of Sibeko's. He could not get
news of Sibeko's daughter from Barbara, but at her residence, Kumalo
accidentally met Sr. Jarvis, the father of the slain lawyer Jarvis. It was a
profound encounter. Two fathers grieving their loss; yet, one is the father of
the victim and the other the father of the assassin. Chapter 8 had the essence
of this simple yet beautifully told story, Cry,
The Beloved Country.
then read a few passages, and remarked on the friendship that continues between
the two men. Not friendship, said Gopa, but a kind of empathy, a mutual commiseration.
The senior Jarvis did not understand his son’s radical departure and rethinking
of the white man’s position in S Africa. Sunil said it was a change from the
old to the new. The traditional society was broken. The amazing thing is that
the victim’s father was instrumental in getting a lawyer hired to save Stephen
Kumalo’s son, Absalom.
mentioned that this novel was prescribed for the Indian School Certificate for
Kumalo & Jarvis on top of the mountain
Richard Harris, James Earl Jones 1995 movie
The passage is from the lament for S Africa in Chapter
12. The ominous opening of the chapter
reads: “Have no doubt it is fear in the land. For what can men do when so many
have grown lawless?” The whole book is about an underlying fear. The Boer wars
were over by the turn of the century between the British, and the Boers who
declared free states of their own. In that war many crimes were committed by
Britain including the first use of concentration camps, to corral the families
of the Boers and feed them half-rations.
Matthew cited the white man’s justification of his
rule, namely that S Africa had vast mineral resources, but they were of no use
to the black man who led a pastoral life; those minerals were of use to the
white man who had a technically advanced society that could exploit the minerals.
That was a nice try at a rationalisation: gold, platinum, diamonds – was there
any technological need for vast quantities of gold and diamonds; normal
avarice and covetousness, perhaps?
Matters have not changed today. The resources of the
nation are still in the hands of the few who are wealthy, and they share little
with those who do not have the wealth. It’s the same in India. Look at the
Reddy brothers from Andhra who run a borderless illegal iron ore mining
operation between Andhra and Karnataka, exporting millions of tons of ore via
Mangalore port, abetted by politicians and administrators who are all paid off.
YSR’s son has got involved too, said Matthew. Gopa referred to the exploitation
and said colonial rulers often are replaced by local rulers who are little
better, though they come to power with great promises. When they take on
high-sounding titles like ‘social entrepreneur’ (Mr Gadkari of BJP), or mock
the plebs by calling them ‘mango men’ (Mr Vadra), their hypocrisy is exposed.
The passage she chose was from Chapter 4, Book Two in
which senior Jarvis reads his slain son’s private diary. The reference in that
diary to Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address in March 1865 (nearing the end of
the Civil War which was about preserving the Union against the secessionist
South) caused Gopa to go and read it on the Internet. It is clear there that
Lincoln did not enter the war to eradicate slavery in the South, for as he says:
constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was
somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this
interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by
war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the
territorial enlargement of it.”
Lincoln, preservation of the Union was the uppermost concern. As he remarked in
a well-known speech seven years earlier: “I believe this government cannot
endure, permanently, half slave and half free.”
whites in S Africa, especially the white supremacist Boers (Winston Churchill
too caught the supremacy virus while serving there), believed that God had
given them the lands in S Africa and the right to rule over the inferior
blacks, who were meant to toil for them at low wages. Talitha said this was the
back-story of the novel, though we don’t come across any of these virulent
white attitudes which constituted the reality for blacks. Why is that reality wholly
noted from the short Second Inaugural Address the main themes: Divine
Providence; the offence of slavery that existed right to the border of
Washington DC on the farms of Washington and Jefferson in northern Virginia.
“He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by
whom the offense came.”
offered a different view, whose tenor was lost in the discussion. Perhaps, she
can add a comment to the blog to explain. Sunil took a view of this from the
vantage of the laws of Evolution. What in the world is ‘equal’ he asked? Don’t
we live in a world where only the fit survive? Isn’t the lion the king of the
jungle? This contrarian view can only be met by arguing that the essence of
fascism is ‘might is right’. The progress we have made in history is to replace
biological fitness to rule over others, by the proposition that nations and
peoples have a right to govern themselves according to their lights, while themselves
respecting every person’s innate desire for a certain freedom of action and
expression within the realm.Admittedly
the progress is halting, considering that the new century began with an illegal
war by the only super-power on a puny state that in no way menaced it!
Economist cover, Oct 20, 2012; 34 miners were shot and killed at Marikana platinum mines on August 16, 2012
Here's a story told by Archbishop
Desmond Tutu: “When the missionaries came to South Africa, we had the land,
they had the Bible. Then they told us, 'Let's close our eyes and pray.' When we
opened our eyes we saw that we have the Bible, they have the land.”
The language of the novel could be
described as what you may find in a children’s Bible; it is simple, all strong
language and violent reactions by people have been expurgated. Paton’s art is
to spin a children’s fable with morality at the core, and filled with proper
deference to authority and punctuated by polite speech: “Yes, umnumzana” and
“Good-bye, inkosana.” Though it situates the story in pre-war S Africa the
apartheid society it depicts is mainly a benevolent caring of the black man by
the white; in that sense it is a fully fictional tale which dared not take on
the brutal treatment of blacks that led to a world-wide boycott of S Africa in
the sixties. Even for a liberal and just man as Alan Paton, the full impact of
white rule in brutalising the black man’s soul and killing the proud Zulu
spirit, was not apparent.
In a strange inversion of roles, the
only bad characters depicted in the novel are black: a prostitute as the sister
of the parson (who is called by the lovely word ‘Umfundisi’), a homicide as his
son, a manipulative rabble rouser as his brother, and Joburg, a town dangerous not
because of the murderous rule of the police state that presided over S Africa’s
mineral wealth, but because the blacks living in poverty in shanty-towns had no
One gets tired of the blessed
Umfundisi’s pious responses, and his uncle-Tom bowing and scraping. Perhaps,
Paton was successful after all in depicting the conditioning that forces the
subjects of a colony to defer to the very imperial rulers who take away their
lands, loot the national resources, practice every form of discrimination, and
then sanitise their rapacity by calling it apartheid, i.e. ‘separate
The passage is from John Kumalo’s oration to the miners,
exhorting them to stop work at the mines, if the wages paid left them in
poverty while the profits enriched the mine-owners.
the John Kumalo’s speech is a recitation of the classic Marxist labour theory
of value, which seeks to derive the value of the product from the labour
component of it. It is not only in accord with theories of Adam Smith and
Ricardo, but is also consistent with Christian teachings about paying workers a
In response to
Joe’s citing of the famous quotation from Desmond Tutu, Thommo recalled the
song of Miriam Makeba, the iconic South African singer who was hounded out of S
Africa, and later met hostility from the US government too (fleeing to Guinea).
It’s called A Piece of Ground. The
last stanza goes:
don't sleep long and don't sleep too deep
life and your possessions how long will you keep?
heard a rumour that's running around
black man's demanding his own piece of ground His own piece of ground
In the passage Matthew chose, the agricultural demonstrator,
Napoleon Letsitsi, is exchanging views with Stephen Kumalo about his work.
Although it’s paid for by Mr Jarvis, Napoleon is really doing it for the people
and when the valley blossoms there will be no need to depend on the white man’s
A discussion arose about the idea of individual freedom, and when
and where did it arise in human civilisation. Talitha propounded the
traditional view of Western thinkers that the idea of individual freedom,
freedom of thought and expression and so on arose in Greece, which for Western
thinkers is the fount and source of all ideas about freedom and democracy. A
murmur arose from others (Gopa, Joe, etc) that this was the view of those who
drew inspiration from one fount of ancient thinking and scanted others they
were not familiar with. Wasn’t it Thomas Babington Macaulay whose liberality was so grand as to concede that all of Indian thought on every subject of intellectual
inquiry could be accommodated on half a bookshelf?
Talitha noted that societies in the East were focused on the
well-being of the community; individual thinking, iconoclastic thinking, and
deviation from community norms were put down or sacrificed, for the sake of
community cohesion. Gopa argued that
there was evidence in books such as The
Wonder That Was India by Basham (a gift from Joe to KumKum before they were
married!), and other sources, to indicate that a fair degree of intellectual
freedom of thought was not only tolerated in ancient India, but the very
coexistence and flowering of Jainism, Buddhism and other schools of thought
(including atheism, read The
Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen) alongside Vedic thought, testifies to
diversity, and an atmosphere in which people could live by different beliefs
Since this is a fertile subject for further inquiry, I propose an
exercise for the diligent reader: Trace the ancient sources of ideas about
individual freedom of thought, expression and belief (200 words or less).
Contributions will be posted on the blog.
The passage takes up the writings of Jarvis junior. The ideas of a
thinking and liberal man are embodied there, but it smacks of the white man’s
burden, and is a bit condescending in outlook, for it makes out that the white
man, overcome by his Christian conscience, will arrange a better order to
replace the tribal system that has been broken. As matters turned out,
Christianity had little to do with the outcome, for freedom in the end was
grasped by black S Africans who demanded it, and suffered long and hard for it
at the hands of the thugs who ruled the police state of S Africa. Immense
international pressure and the state of pariah-dom foisted on S Africa (when a
reluctant US joined) finally compelled de Klerk to release Neslon Mandela after
27 years of imprisonment.
Vanellus melanopterus, the titihoya
There is no more charming passage in this novel than the opening
lines: “There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. …” A faint
suspicion arises upon the choice of Chapter 1 by anybody for a reading that
perhaps the novel has not been read beyond that; but not so this time. Talitha
was reduced to this choice by others pre-empting passages she had chosen. Dotted
with depictions of the flora in the Umzimkulu valley, the reader’s mind is delighted.
A bird that is symbolic of the countryside is mentioned, the titihoya, an
onomatopoeic name given a plover. Bird lovers can hear its cry immediately.
Thommo put up his hands to confess that he had been so busy
writing (his travelogue of the Tata Nano tour of India) that he had scarce time
to read a passage sent on by KumKum via Joe. It is again a scenic passage
describing the countryside, through which the toy train passes as the Umfundisi
sets out to find his son, his sister, and other people who had emigrated to
make a living in Johannesburg.Thommo
found himself recollecting the toy train from Mettupalayam to Ooty; you can indeed
get off the train and walk along and get on again, so slow it is on the steep
gradient, climbing by the cog in the middle of the track.
Thommo said his book when published will be released at a function
in David Hall, Fort Kochi. We shall all be there.
Matthew, Talitha, Zakia, Thommo, Gopa, KumKum, Joe
Jarvis was reading there was a knock at the kitchen door, and he went out to
find a native parson standing on the paved stone at the foot of the three stone
steps that led up to the kitchen. The parson was old, and his black clothes
were green with age, and his collar was brown with age or dirt. He took off his
hat, showing the whiteness of his head, and he looked startled and afraid and
he was trembling.
-- good morning, umfundisi, said Jarvis in Zulu, of which he was a
parson answered in a trembling voice, Umnumzana, which means sir, and to
Jarvis's surprise, he sat down on the lowest step, as though he were ill or
starving. Jarvis knew this was not rudeness, for the old man was humble and
well-mannered, so he came down the steps, saying, Are you ill, umfundisi ? But
the old man did not answer. He continued to tremble, and he looked down on the
ground, so that Jarvis could not see his face, and could not have seen it
unless he had lifted the chin with his hand, which he did not do, for such a
thing is not lightly done.
-- Are you ill, umfundisi ?
--I shall recover, umnumzana.
-- Do you wish water? or is it food ? Are you hungry?
-- No, umnumzana, I shall recover.
Then he lifted his face also and looked at Jarvis, and Jarvis saw
that his face was full of suffering that was of neither illness nor hunger. And
Jarvis stooped, and picked up the hat and stick, and he held the hat carefully
for it was old and dirty, and he restored them to the parson.
-- I thank you, umnumzana.
-- Are you sure you are not ill, umfundisi?
-- I am recovered, umnumzana.
The suffering in the old man's face smote him, so that he said,
Sit down, umfundisi. Then the old man would be able to look at the ground, and
he would not need to look at Jarvis, and Jarvis would not need to look at him,
for it was uncomfortable to look at him. There is something between you and me,
but I do not know what it is.
-- You are in fear of me, but I do not know what it is. You need
not be in fear of me.
-- It is true, umnumzana. You do not know what it is.
-- I do not know but I desire to know.
--I doubt if I could tell it, umnumzana.
--You must tell it, umfundisi. Is it heavy?
-- It is very heavy, umnuzana. It is the heaviest thing of all my
He lifted his face, and there was in it suffering that Jarvis had
not seen before. Tell me, he said, it will lighten you.
-- I am afraid, umnumzana.
-- I see you are afraid, umfundisi. It is that which I do not
understand. But I tell you, you need not be afraid. I shall not be angry. There
will be no anger in me against you.
--Then, said the old man, this thing that is the heaviest thing of
all my years, is the heaviest thing of all your years also.
Jarvis looked at him, at first bewildered, but then something came
to him. You can mean only one thing, he said, you can mean only one thing. But I
still do not understand.
-- It was my son that killed your son, said the old man.
So they were silent. Jarvis left him and walked out into the trees
of the garden. He stood at the wall and looked out over the veld, out to the
great white dumps of the mines, like hills under the sun. When he turned to come
back, he saw that the old man had risen, his hat in one hand, his stick in the
other, his head bowed, his eyes on the ground. He went back to him.
-- I have heard you, he said. I understand what I did not
understand. There is no anger in me.
Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn
child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply.
Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand
too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be
too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his
heart to a mountain or a valley. Or fear will rob him of all if he gives too
Chapter 4, Book Two in which senior
Jarvis reads his slain son’s private diary:
After breakfast Jarvis returned to his host’s
study, and began to read his son’s manuscript. … He picked up the page again,
but for his son, not for the words or the ideas. He looked at the words.”
The passage is taken from Chapeter 9 of
“Is it wrong to ask for more money …
more and more faintly.”
“All we ask is justice …it is better to
cease to work than to work for such wages.”
“I shall not keep you any longer … But
let us not sell our labour cheap to keep any industry alive.”
Book Three Chapter 6: “There was another
Napoleon, said Kumalo, … But it is not the way it should be done, that is all.”
Book Two Chapter 3:
The other papers were in his son’s handwriting. They were
obviously part of some larger whole … the last line was a sentence unfinished….
It was permissible to allow the destruction of a tribal system. … But it was
not permissible to watch its destruction and replace it by nothing. … We set
aside one-tenth of the land for four-fifths of the people. … We are caught in
the toils of our own selfishness. … we shall never, because we are a Christian
people, be able to evade the moral issues. It is time …
Book One Chapter 1:
There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into
the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely
beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, to
Carisbrooke; and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the
fairest valleys of Africa. About you there is grass and bracken and you may
hear the forlorn crying of the titihoya, one of the birds of the veld. Below
you is the valley of the Umzimkulu, on its journey from the Drakensberg to the
sea; and beyond and behind the river, great hill after great hill; and beyond and
behind them, the mountains of Ingeli and East Griqualand.
The grass is rich and matted, you cannot see the
soil. It holds the rain and the mist, and they seep into the ground, feeding
the streams in every kloof. It is well-tended, and not too many cattle feed
upon it; not too many fires burn it, laying bare the soil. Stand unshod upon
it, for the ground is holy, being even as it came from the Creator. Keep it,
guard it, care for it, for it keeps men, guards men, cares for men. Destroy it
and man is destroyed.
Where you stand the grass is rich and matted, you
cannot see the soil. But the rich green hills break down. They fall to the
valley below, and falling, change their nature. For they grow red and bare;
they cannot hold the rain and mist, and the streams are dry in the kloofs. Too
many cattle feed upon the grass, and too many fires have burned it. Stand shod
upon it, for it is coarse and sharp, and the stones cut under the feet. It is
not kept, or guarded, or cared for, it no longer keeps men, guards men, cares
for men. The titihoya does not cry here any more.
The great red hills stand desolate, and the earth
has torn away like flesh. The lightning flashes over them, the clouds pour down
upon them, the dead streams come to life, full of the red blood of the earth.
Down in the valleys women scratch the soil that is left, and the maize hardly
reaches the height of a man. They are valleys of old men and old women, of
mothers and children. The men are away, the young men and the girls are away.
The soil cannot keep them any more.
Book One Chapter 3 The parson goes to
The small toy train climbs up on its narrow gauge from the
Umzimkulu valley into the hills. It climbs up to Carisbrooke and when it stops
there, you may get out for a moment and look down on the great valley from
which you have come. It is not likely the train will leave you, for there are
few people here and everyone knows who you are. And even if it did leave you it
would not much matter; for unless you are a cripple or very old you could run
after it and catch it for yourself.
If there is a mist here you will see nothing of the great valley.
The mist will swirl about below you, and the train and the people make a small
world of their own, Some people do not like it, and find it cold and gloomy.
But others like it and find in it mystery and fascination, and prelude to
adventure, and intimation of the unknown. The train passes through a world of
fancy, and you can look through the misty panes at green shadowy banks of grass
and bracken. Here in the season grows the blue agapanthus, and the wild
watsonia, and the red-hot poker, and now and then it happens one may glimpse
arum in a dell. And always behind them the dim wall of wattles, like ghosts in
It is interesting to wait for the train at Carisbrooke, while it
climbs up out of the great valley. Those who know can tell you with each
whistle where it is, at what road, what farm, what river. But though Stephen
Kumalo has been there a full hour before he need, he does not listen to these
things. This is a long way to go and a lot of money to pay. And who knows how
sick his sister may be, and what money that may cost? And if he has to bring
her back what will that cost too? And Johannesburg is a great city, with so
many streets that a man may spend his days going up one and down another, and
never the same one twice. One must catch buses too, but not as here, where the
only bus that comes is the right bus. For there is a multitude of buses and
only one bus in ten, one bus in twenty maybe, is the right bus. If you take the
wrong bus you may travel to quite some other place. And they say it is a danger
to cross the street., yet one must needs cross it. For there the wife of Mpanza
of Ndostheni, who had gone there when Mpanza was dying, saw her son Michael
killed in the street. Twelve years and moved by excitement he stepped out into
danger, but she was hesitant stayed at the kerb. And under her eyes the great
lorry crushed the life out of her son.
And the great fear too – the greatest fear since it was so seldom
spoken. Where was their son? Why did he not write any more?
Management - Learning from Experiences by Reflection