THE WHITE FLOWER By R.K.Narayan
Indians take pride in the fact that India is a land of rich cultural traditions. We are also proud of our technological advancement. These two Indians, traditional and modern, exist side by side. In matters of religion, marriage practices, and family matters we are very traditional. Many of us still follow old rituals and customs blindly. Education has not changed our anti-human practices like dowry and child marriage, especially in remote villages in India. The author takes a satirical look at some of our traditional practices and humourously opens the way for critical rethinking. This story has a South Indian background and-so should be very familiar to you.
About the Author
R.K. Narayan (1907—2001) is one of India’s foremost writers of ﬁction. Many of his stories are based on his close observation of life in South India. He writes in a very simple style about the life of common man. Some of his best-known novels and short stories are Friends, Bachelor of arts, The Guide, The English Teacher, and The Dark Room.
How did you like the story? Did it set you thinking? There are many customs and practices in our own lines which we need to rethink. Now go through the meanings of difﬁcult expression to have a better understanding of the short story.
Meanings and Explanations
Krishna ﬁrst saw… Faith in horoscopes
The ﬁrst meeting between Krishna and the girl he decides to marry take place at the street tap. A common friend informs both families and the girl’s father approaches Krishna’s family. Both sides are happy to pursue the alliance and agree to exchange horoscopes though Krishna’s father did not believe in horoscopes.
Courting: wooing; attempt to win the love of a girl.
Eloquent glances: meaningful looks that expressed their interest in each other.
Initiative: the ﬁrst step.
Could be had for picking: readily available.
Put the wheels in motion: get something started.
Credentials: personal qualiﬁcations and achievements that can be quoted as evidence of one’s trustworthiness, competence, etc.
Critically: more analytically; to ‘assess clearly.
Optical communion: contact make through eyes alone.
Split second: a moment.
Hazy: vague; unclear.
Complexion: colour or appearance of the skin or the face.
Lay like a orrfume: Stayed or lingered like a sweet or pleasant smell (simile).
Auspicious day: favorable; promising future success.
Fussed over him: gave great importance and respect to him.
Excited: emotionally aroused; thrilled;
Blushed: turned red with shyness and embarrassment
Awkward: clumsy; not at ease.
Embarrassing: confusing; causing difﬁculty.
Dying to marry: wishing eagerly to marry.
Cordially: warmly; affectionately.
The Wardha Scheme: this was a scheme of educationally inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. According to this a student would attend classes in the morning and work in the ﬁelds or industries in the afternoon. Wardha is a district in Madhya Pradesh.
Tipped with saffron: coloured at the tips with saffron.
Saffron: a ﬂower whose dried stigmas’ are used to dye and ﬂavor and colour food. It has a bright orange-yellow colour.
Horoscope: a statement of a person’s fortunes and future.
The girl’s father. . . ….gratefully
The girl’s father believed that matrimonial alliances have to be carefully decided to make sure that the future turns out to be happy for the young couple. When he matches the two horoscopes he ﬁnds that the alliance would pose a risk to his daughter’s life. Krishna’s father consults a greater astrologer who counters the opinion of the girl’s father.
Finally, they decide to leave things to God.
Honoured: a pleasure or privilege.
matrimonial alliance: to be connected through marriage.
leap in the dark: a step taken blindly.
estimate: calculate, assess.
longevity: long life span; live to a great age.
serious flaw: major defect.
Mars in the seventh house: a position of the planet Mars, that according to Hindu astrology, is a great defect as it shows misfortunes like death.
risk his daughter’s life: put his daughter’s life in danger.
superstition: blind belief.
to ﬂoor him: to defeat him.
astrologer: one who studies the stars to see how they inﬂuenve people.
counter: to oppose.
wife-killing planet: here, it refers to Mars in Krishna’ s horoscope Which foretells the premature death of his wife (a humorous usage).
a spent force: something which does not have power anymore.
cowardice: the state of being easily frightened.
torn between: in a state of great uncertainty.
resort to: to use as a means to solve a problem
dilemma: a state of being in a confusion; problem.
clutched at: caught hold of (accepted) eagerly.
On Friday ….. flowers in the world.
The two families assemble at the temple of Hanuman with a common friend. After certain rituals and prayers, the priest picks two ﬂowers, a red and a white one, from a garland on the deity and places them on the doorstep of the met sanctuary A girl of five was asked to pick one of the flowers. Amidst fervent prayers on the part of the two parties, the girl chooses the red ﬂower. The red ﬂower was for “no” and the white ﬂower for “yes”.
assemble: to group together.
giggling thing: here, the cheerful little girl.
curiosity: the desire to know.
inner sanctuary: the place where the deity (god) is situated.
camphor: white crystalline tablets which have a strong aromatic smell and which are burnt as part of the ritual of god worship.
image: the deity.
ﬂickered: the movement of the ﬂames.
ﬂower—decked image: the garlanded deity.
fervently: with great intensity and hope; earnestly.
in his favour: as he wanted.
wick: twisted string running through a lamp which is lighted.
nudged: pushed gently with elbow.
splendid omen: good sign.
contemplating: looking at thoughtfully.
little realizing: not understanding.
immensity— play: the importance of the part she was to play.
a medium: here, a messenger between god and man.
mouthpiece: someone who speaks for another.
strain: anxiety and worry.
bleach: to turn into white colour.
Aren’t such situations familiar to you? Many of us seek godly intervention in a difficult situation, don’t we? Let’s now try to answer the comprehension questions.
Comprehension — Short Answer Questions of The White Flower
1. Where did Krishna meet the girl?
Ans. Krishna met the girl at the street tap
2. Why was direct courting not possible?
Ans. Traditional culture does not allow a boy and a girl to spend time together before marriage. So direct courting was not possible
3. How did Krishna and the girl communicate?
Ans. Krishna and the girl communicated through meaningful glances. The author calls it “optical communion”.
4. Why couldn’t Krishna and the girl progress beyond eloquent glances?
Ans. Custom does not allow the boy’s parents to take the initiative in proposing marriage. Moreover, the girl’s father did not know about Krishna and the girl’s interest in each other.
5. Who took the initiative for the alliance?
Ans. A common friend of both families initiated the process.
6. Why was the girl’s father ready to marry her off?
Ans. The girl’s father was ready to marry her off because she would be fourteen the coming month which was marriageable age for a girl.
7. What were Krishna’s credentials?
Ans. Krishna came from a good family, was rich and was studying in the B.A. Class.
8. What were the girl’s credentials?
The girl was from a good family, was good-looking, sang well and was educated up to the fourth form.
9. Why couldn’t Krishna have a clear idea about the girl’s complexion and nose?
Ans. Their optimal communion was a matter of a split second. So it was not possible for Krishna to know more about the girl’s looks.
10. What effect did the girl have on Krishna?
Ans. The thought of the girl lay like a perfume about Krishna.
11. How did Krishna behave when the girl’s father came to his house?
Ans. Krishna was very excited and fussed over the girl’s father. He was awkward and blushed in embarrassment.
12. What did the girl’s father give Krishna’s father?
Ans. The girl’s father gave Krishna’s father his daughter’s horoscope.
13. What was Krishna’s father’s attitude to horoscopes?
Ans. He had no faith in horoscopes.
14. What reason did the girl’s father give for insisting on matching horoscopes?
Ans. According to the girl’s father, marriage was a step taken blindly. So, it was necessary to estimate the happiness, longevity, and health of the couple through horoscopes.
15. What was the result of matching the horoscopes?
Ans. It was found that there was a serious ﬂaw in Krishna’s horoscope. It indicated a short life for the wife due to the influence of Mars.
16. What did Krishna’s father do to counter the problem of the ﬂawed horoscope?
Ans. Krishna’s father consulted a greater astrologer and came out with a counter-attack. The wife-killing planet did not have the power to inﬂuence Krishna’s life anymore.
17. What was the conﬂict in the mind of the girl’s father?
Ans. The girl’s father has pulled apart between the desire for the alliance and superstitious fear of the power of Mars.
18. What was the solution agreed upon by the to fathers?
Ans. They decided to let the matter be settled through Godly intervention.
19. Which deity was chosen to settle the issue of the horoscope?
Ans. Hanuman, the God of power.
20. Why was the little girl brought to the temple?
Ans. The little girl was brought to the temple to act as the mouthpiece of God to decide whether Krishna could marry the girl or not.
21. What did Krishna pray for at the temple?
Ans. Krishna prayed for a decision in his favour from God.
22. What was considered as a splendid omen at the temple?
Ans. The sparks that ﬂew from the wick of the lamp, the good omen.
23. How would God express His decision?
Ans. A red ﬂower and a white ﬂower picked from the deity’s garland were kept on the doorstep of the inner sanctuary. A little girl of ﬁve was selected as the messenger of God and she would select one ﬂower and settle the problem.
24. What did the white ﬂower and red ﬂower stand for?
Ans. The white ﬂower meant that it was God’s will that the marriage should take place. Red ﬂower meant that it was God’s will that Krishna and the girl should not marry.
25. What ﬂower did the little girl pick up?
Ans. The red ﬂower.
26. Why did Krishna close his eyes just before the little girl made her choice?
Ans. Krishna was unable to bear the strain of the moments before the choice of the ﬂower that would decide his future.
27. Why did Krishna wish for the power to bleach all the ﬂowers in the world?
Ans. The little girl, by choosing the red ﬂower, expressed God’s decision that Krishna was not to marry the girl. Stunned by this tragedy, Krishna wished that he had the power to bleach all ﬂowers so that there would not be a red ﬂower to prevent his marriage.
28. What does the author try to communicate to us?
Ans. The author shows how man-made customs and practices enslave man so blindly that it makes life miserable and tragic for him.
29. What was the usual method of dealing with dilemmas?
Ans. The usual method was to leave the decision to God.
30. Who is the author of The White Flower?
Ans. R. K. Narayan.
Paragraph Questions and Answers
1. Describe the events that led to the two families matching horoscopes?
Krishna and the girl met at the street tap. They could not progress beyond eloquent glances as direct courting was not possible. Luckily a common friend stepped in to take the initiative and inform the families about the matter. Both Krishna’s and the girl’s credentials satisfied the two families. Krishna was from a good family, was good-looking, rich and studying for BA. The girl was of marriageable age, from a good family, good-looking, sang well and was educated up to the fourth form. On an auspicious day, the girl’s father came to Krishna’s house to pursue the matrimonial alliance.
2. What do you understand about the practice of marriage in the story?
Answer: The initiative for marriage could not be taken by the boy and the girl. It was not possible for them to go beyond exchanging meaningful glances. Once the families got to know about the possibility of an alliance, the girl’s father had to take the first step and approach the boy’s family. It was not the custom for the boy’s family to propose marriage. The horoscopes had to match before the marriage was fixed.
3 Contrast the attitudes of the two fathers.
Answer: Krishna’s father was more modern and progressive-minded than the girl’s father. He did not have faith in horoscopes He wanted to fix the marriage without matching horoscopes. When the girl’s father informed him that his astrologer had said that the two horoscopes could not be matched, he consulted a greater astrologer and came out with a counter-attack The girl’s father, on the other hand, believed in traditional customs and was superstitious. He refused to go ahead with the marriage as there was a defect in Krishna’s horoscope. He was of the opinion that horoscopes were important documents with which one could estimate the happiness, longevity, and health of the couple. Hence it was important to match them.
4. How was the problem of the mismatched horoscopes settled?
Answer: The problem was settled by leaving the decision to God. On an auspicious day, the two families assembled at the temple of Hanuman, God of Power. A little girl of five was brought. After the ritual of worshiping God, two ﬂowers were picked from the garland on the deity. One was white and the other was red. God would speak through the ﬂowers. The choice of‘ the red ﬂower would mean that the marriage could not take place. The white flower would mean that the marriage could take place. The girl, as the mouth-piece of God, was asked to choose one ﬂower. The innocent girl chose the red ﬂower. God’s decision was clear. The marriage could not take place.