The Price of Flowers By Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay

Introduction

“The price of Flowers” is an emotionally touching short story written by Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay. It was written in Bengali, and it was translated into English by Lila Ray. The storey was set up in London during the pre-independence period. In this storey, Mukhopadhyay depicted the life of a poor English family. Mr Gupta is the narrator of this short storey that was educated by an Indian civil servant in London.

The story is about a young but poor British teenage girl, Maggie, who sacrifices her hard-earned shilling for offering a floral tribute to her dead brother, Frank. Her sacrifice and the contentment derived out of it are invaluable and priceless.

Summary

The story is about a young teenage British girl, Maggie, her widowed mother, Mrs Clifford and her soldier Brother, Frank. Frank was posted as a soldier in the British Army on the frontier in India. Maggie and her mother were too much worried and apprehensive about Frank as they had no information about him for the past many months. Mrs Clifford wanted to meet some Indian who could remove her misconception about India and apprehensions about the safety of her son. Fortunately, Maggie met an Indian, Mr Gupta in a London Restaurant. She pleaded to him and he agreed to accompany her poor household in Lambeth.

After a detailed discussion with Mr Gupta, Mrs Clifford was greatly relieved. However, she took him for a yogi and wanted him to concentrate on the crystal of the ring sent by Frank as a gift from India. The ring was supposed to have magical powers and could be used to predict about any person while focusing on it. Mr Gupta did not believe in these superstitions but at the insistence of Maggie was compelled to have a look at the ring, though he failed miserably.

About three months later Mrs Clifford‘s health condition worsened seriously. Maggie wrote a letter to Mr Gupta and wanted him to provide a helping hand. When Mr Gupta arrived, Maggie requested him to concentrate on the ring again and hinted to him to lie about Frank‘s safety, for the sake of her mother. Mr Gupta did exactly the same and Mrs Clifford recovered instantly.

However, Frank had already been killed at that time on the frontier in India. When it was time for Mr Gupta to return to India, he did not dare to go to Maggie’s home for offering condolences and to inform them about his departure, for he felt ashamed of what he had told them about Frank. So he informed them through a letter. A day before his departure, Maggie visited him to say goodbye and at the same time handed him a shilling for offering flowers on the grave of her brother. At first, Mr Gupta felt reluctant to take the money but then he realized that he should not deprive Maggie of the satisfaction of that sacrifice, which was so invaluable and priceless.

Theme/Message

Empathy
The story has a powerful theme that we should feel empathy for the poor and downtrodden, especially when they feel pride in working hard with dignity. Besides, we should honour the feelings and emotions of our fellow human beings. Even the smallest gesture shown and expressed sincerely carries a lot of importance and no wealth in the world can be compared to it.

Sacrifice

The most touching part of the story is the girl’s sacrifice- though most would see it as something very small. She gives the narrator a few shillings to buy flowers for her brother’s grave in India. Do note that this is a girl who can afford a decent meal only on her pay-days, who had dire need of every shilling that life threw her way. Her brother had been a soldier who died in a war but she was a soldier
in her everyday life- sacrificing just as unconditionally.

Spirituality

It is rather satirical but the characters in the story think that most Indians are ‘Sadhus’ but on a good note across the world people still associate India spirituality. After all, India is the cradle of so many religions. The “event” that defines the story is the narrator (a Hindu and Indian) lying to a very sick woman that he divines her son to be alive and well by looking into a crystal ring that a supposedly-holy man from India had given, proves something very profound- Faith is the greatest healer.

Optimism

Though left unsaid- the girl walks away never giving up. She still holds on to dreams of making her family’s life better even though she has an additional burden thrust on her after her brother died.

And to all those soldiers in plain clothes, braving the cruel world, fighting everyday battles with a smile, dreaming of a better future even with major disadvantages- I salute you!

Characterization

Maggie, Mrs Clifford and Mr Gupta are important characters in the story. Maggie is a young, teenage British girl whose perception of beauty, decency, refinement and truthfulness coupled with her innocence and sincerity, are overwhelming and praiseworthy. Her sense of decency and self-dignity beat Mr Gupta when she accompanies him to her home in Lambeth. She is sensitive to her situation and responsibilities and singlehandedly takes care of her mother by working hard and overtime. She is a loving sister who is much concerned about her brother and at the end sets an example through her willingness to sacrifice her hard-earned money for the sake of her brother.

Mrs Clifford is also a loving and self-sacrificing woman. Though she is a widow, she takes care of her family with a courageous heart. She is always concerned about the safety of her children.

Mr Gupta is a learned and educated Indian gentleman. He is sincere and compassionate. He goes the extra mile to help Maggie and her mother in distress.

The main character in this story to most would be the narrator but to me, it is the girl, a very young girl (whom the narrator calls a “child”), reasonably smart, stuck in a challenging underpaid job to support her poverty-stricken family and nursing a lot of hope- that she would become a secretary someday and move out of the slums, that her brother who has gone as a solider to India would come back alive, her sick mother would become well. Everything about her is bitter-sweet!

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Character Sketch of Alice Margaret Clifford Or Maggie

Alice Margaret Clifford is one of the most vibrant characters in the story ‘The Price of Flowers’ by Bengali author Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay. Maggie is a little girl who falls on the thorns of life at an early age.

She’s thirteen or fourteen years old. Her eyes are big and wide. The hardness of her life can be seen in her eyes and in her clothes. They had a really sad expression. She’s got a widowed mother and a brother who served as a soldier in British India. Maggie works as a typist in the civil service store. She works very hard to keep the pot boiling. Her mother is helping her to make the ends meet. This isn’t a novel. Yet he celebrates passion, care, devotion, sacrifice, optimism, boldness, and so on. One day, Maggie met an Indian named Gupta. She’s asked him a lot about India. She was eager to learn about her brother. She showed Gupta a crystal ring sent by Frank as a token of love on her birthday. When her mother was confined to bed, she was helped by a crystal ring to carry her back to life. When she learned that Frank had left forever, she kept her composure at all times. She went to Gupta and gave a shilling to buy some flowers. And she asked him to put it on the tomb. That shilling isn’t just a lot, but it’s Maggie’s true love for her brother. I’m sure this story and little Maggie don’t fade away from our memories. The writer has succeeded in arousing deep emotions in our minds through Maggie.

Character Sketch of Mrs Clifford

Mrs Clifford is the mother of Maggie and. Frank. She’s a well-mannered lady. They made their living by selling cakes on Saturdays. She’s superstitious, and she thinks that Mr Gupta will see the past and the future through the ring. She was also very surprised to learn that Mr Gupta could not locate Frank. Her concern for Frank clearly indicates her affection for him. She was very disturbed because there was no news from him. She asked Mr Gupta to go to the Indian house to inquire about Frank. All this demonstrates her eternal love as a mother.

Questions and Answers

Long Type Questions
Q. Justify the title of the story.

Ans. The title of the story “The Price of Flowers” is very appropriate. Flowers express our emotions of varied sorts. In our happy moments, they bring us joy and on sad occasions, they bring us consolation. Flowers have no price tag. They express our emotional attachment.

Maggie is the central characters of the story. Her brother Frank is a soldier posted in Punjab in India. Unfortunately, Frank is killed while fighting on the North-west Frontier. He is buried at Fort Monroe near Dera-Ghazi-Khan in Punjab. Margie wishes to place some flowers on the grave of her dead brother. Therefore, she gives Mr Gupta a shilling of her hard-earned money to buy flowers. Mr Gupta knows that Margie is a poor girl. She can not afford a shilling to spend on flowers. So he makes the mind to return the money. But he realises that flowers have emotional value. He also realises that the girl will experience a great relief if flowers bought by her own money are put on her brother’ grave. He, therefore, accepts the shilling. He lets the girl have the consolation of placing flowers at her brother’s grave as a token of a sister’s love for her brother.

The price she paid for flowers symbolises love, affection, sacrifice and this beyond measure. Hence, the title is just and apt.
Q. ‘It is neither the same everywhere nor the same all the year round in India.’ Why?
Ans. The Price of Flowers is one of his most sensitive and soul-shaking stories. In this story, the writer takes us to a foreign land where he meets a thirteen-year-old girl and her mother. The girl works as a typist and her mother works in a bakery. Because she belongs to India, they think she can predict the future by looking at a crystal ball. They ask the author about Frank, who is Maggie’s brother and is in the army.

They want to ask him whether he can predict about Frank whether he’s fine or not, but he says that Frank is fine, but later everyone gets to know that Frank was dead. The author feels ashamed and is about to leave for India when Maggie gives him a shilling that she’s won by working and asks the author to buy flowers for Frank’s grave.

The moments in the story give you the perfect goosebumps and thrills. You feel for the poor girl and her mother. This shows the strength of the writing and well-written characters.

As it is said that things change in India, we can say that the writer might be saying this as he gets to know about Frank’s death, and he’d think that Maggie and her mother won’t be the same with him now. Their relationship has been broken because of one lie. Like the weather in India, which is very volatile and changes every six months.

2. Why did the narrator decide to take the shilling given by Maggie?
Ans.When Maggie gives Mr Gupta a shilling of her hard-earned money to buy flowers. Mr Gupta thought that he should not take the shilling thinking that Maggie must have done a lot of hard work to earn the money. So he makes the mind to return the money. But he realises that flowers have emotional value. He also realises that the girl will experience a great relief if flowers bought by her own money are put on her brother’ grave. He, therefore, accepts the shilling.

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3. What is the role of faith in the story?
Ans. Faith plays a significant role in the story. The “event” that defines the story is the narrator (a Hindu and Indian) lying to a very sick woman that he divines her son to be alive and well by looking into a crystal ring that a supposedly-holy man from India had given, proves something very profound- Faith is the greatest healer.

3. What is the role of the ‘crystal ring’ in the story?
Or
Why was the crystal ring so special to Mrs Clifford in “The Price of Flowers” by Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay?

Ans. In myth, fable, and fiction, rings are often endowed with divine or supernatural significance. In Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay’s ” The Price of Flowers” tale, the crystal ring was significant because it was a gift from Frank, who sent it from India.
The ring came with a tale that it was magic; apparently, it was offered to Frank by a yogi. The person looking into it will see a distant person and what he’s doing. So far, though, the Cliffords had never seen anybody. Maggie, who met Mr Gupta at a restaurant, took him home to Clifford because he was from India. She and her mother are hoping to help them see the ring. Gupta knows that the ring is just glass, but it doesn’t have the heart to say them. He sees little in it, too. When Mrs Clifford falls ill at Maggie’s appeal, she pretends to see Frank in the ring, alive and well. Later, however, he discovers that Frank had already been killed by that date.

Short Answer Questions

Q. What is the role of faith in the story the price of flowers?

A. Faith plays a significant role in the story. Mrs Clifford believes that Indians can see things in a crystal. When the narrator tells her that he can see her son alive and well in the crystal ring that a supposedly-holy man from India had given, proves something very deep- Faith is the greatest healer.

Q. Who is the narrator of the price of flowers?

A. The Price of Flowers is a touching story by Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay. The story is set in London in the pre-independence era. It is narrated through the point of view of Mr Gupta, an Indian civil servant undergoing training in London. Mr Gupta meets a teenaged girl in a restaurant.

Q. Why was the narrator’s attention drawn to the English girl?
A. The narrator’s attention was drawn to the English girl because she had been watching him with interested surprise. But she turned her eyes away as soon as he looked at her. … When she saw the narrator, some ideas came to her mind and that is why she watches him so closely.

Q. What is your impression of the girl in The price of Flowers?
A. The girl is a teenager from a poor family. She had large eyes with a sorrowful expression. She is hardworking.

Q. How do you know that the girl was interested in knowing the identity of the narrator?
A. The girl was interested in knowing the identity of the narrator is alluded by the fact that she watched him with interested surprise.

Q. What do you understand about the probable financial condition of the girl?
A. The girl belongs to a poor family and that is reflected from the dress she is wearing. She’s got wide eyes that have a sad look. The waitress also says she’s just coming to the restaurant on Saturdays to have lunch because Saturday is a payday. She doesn’t have lunch on the other days because she doesn’t have the money. She works in a nearby store, maybe for a very small fee. Since she’s a teenager, no one will recruit her for a large salary.

Q. Why was the narrator curious about the girl What did he do to meet her?
A. The narrator was curious about the girl because he noticed that she was curious about him. She asked the cashier if he was an Indian, and if he had come to the restaurant every day. He had come to know from the waitress that the girl is working in a shop nearby. So he looked into the shops on the streets around St. Martin’s Lane and the shops on the Strand to meet her. But he was unable to locate her. Then he saw her at the restaurant again at lunchtime on the next Saturday.

Q. Why did the narrator go to the restaurant again?
A. The narrator went to the restaurant again in the hope of meeting the young English girl. He had been told by the waitress that the girl came to the restaurant on Saturdays for lunch.

Q. What impression did the girl have about India?
A. The girl was thinking that India was a dangerous country full of tigers, snake and fevers. This is the impression she got from people.

Q. Was Maggie satisfied with her job? If not why?
A. No, Maggie was not satisfied with her job because it was a mechanical job. She wished to have a job to make use of her brain. She would like to be a secretary.

Q. What do you understand by ‘brain work’ in The Price of Flowers?
A. By ‘brain work’ I understand those types of work which involves brain, that needs some thinking. We in India often call ‘brain work’ as white-collar jobs.

Q. Why did Maggie ask the narrator whether he was a vegetarian?
A. Maggie asked the narrator whether the narrator was a vegetarian to find out if he was a yogi. She had heard that yogis do not eat meat and they have occult (magical) powers.

Q.Why did Mr Gupta go to Maggie’s house?
A. Mr Gupta went to Maggie’s house because she invited him. She wanted to introduce him to her mother, who wanted to meet an Indian to find out the truth about the stories she had heard about India.

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Q. What do you understand about the living conditions of Maggie and her mother?
A. The living conditions were extremely bad for Maggie and her mother. They lived in a small house in the area of Lambeth, where there were poor people. The streets are above ground level here. There are also kitchens below street level. They had very affordable furniture, and it was very thin, too. In many areas, the carpet was very old and ripped. Her mother, Maggie, baked cakes and sold them for a living.

Q. How did Mr Gupta describe India to Mrs Clifford?
A. Mr Gupta said that India was a lovely country. It’s not cold like England, but it’s hot. There are, of course, tigers and snakes in India, but they live in the jungles. If they have come to the places where people live, they’ll be killed. Fever is present in some places in India. But the locations and seasons vary.

Q.What is your opinion about superstitions? Do you believe in any?
A. Superstitions are a negative thing. Yet they’re rampant in societies. Superstitions are also related to religious values, and some unscrupulous people manipulate believers by feeding them with superstitions. Some people assume that if a black cat crosses your path, the job you’re going to do won’t be done. It’s stupid to believe in superstitions. I don’t believe in all of them. I believe in God, but I do not believe in the superstitions exchanged in his name.

Q. Describe the incident which touched the narrator deeply.
A. Maggie owned a violin, and through her own efforts, she learned to play several songs. She couldn’t go to any teacher to learn the violin because of a lack of money. Her mother knows that Maggie has the talent to play the violin. She informs the narrator that if their conditions ever changed, she will send Maggie to teach violin. This incident profoundly touched the heart of the narrator.

Q. Why was Maggie unable to go to work?
A. Maggie was unable to go to work because her mother was seriously sick.

Q. Why did Mr Gupta take some money with him when he went to see Mrs Clifford?
A. When he went to see Mrs Clifford, Mr Gupta took some money with him because his hostess told him that because Maggie hadn’t gone to work for a week and hadn’t earned any pay, it was likely that they were in financial trouble.

Q. Why did Mr Gupta and Maggie tiptoe into the sitting room?
A. Mr Gupta and Maggie tiptoed into the sitting room because Maggie wanted to talk to him in private. They did not want to disturb the sick woman with their talk.

Q. What request did Maggie make to Mr Gupta?
A. Maggie requested Mr Gupta to look into the crystal ring and tell her mother that Frank was alive and well even if he saw nothing in the crystal ring.

Q. Why was the crystal ring so special to Mrs Clifford?
A. The crystal ring was so special to Mrs Clifford because it was sent by her son Frank from India. .The yogi had told him that the crystal ring was a magical one. If somebody looked into the crystal thinking of a person who was even far away, he could see the person and what he was doing.

Q. What made Mrs Clifford recover?
A. Maggie requested Mr Gupta to look into the crystal ring and tell her mother that Frank was alive and well even if he saw nothing in the crystal ring. Gupta did accordingly and this made Mrs Clifford recover from her illness.

Q. Why was Mr Gupta ashamed to face
Mrs Clifford?
A. Gupta was ashamed to face Mrs Clifford because Frank had been dead some days when he told her that he was alive and well. Since he had told her a lie, he was ashamed to face her.

Q. What was the promise given to Maggie?
A. The promise given to Maggie was that the narrator (Mr Gupta) would visit the grave of her brother at Mort Monroe, near Dera-Ghazi-Khan when he goes to India.

Q. Why did Maggie give a shilling to Mr Gupta?
A. Maggie gave a shilling to Mr Gupta to buy flowers and place them on her brother’s grave at Mort Monroe, near Dera-Ghazi-Khan when he goes to India.

Q. Explain the reason why Mr Gupta accepted the shilling.
A.Mr Gupta accepted the shilling because he thought that She has worked a lot to give him the shilling to buy flowers for her brother’s grave. She will feel consoled when she has done something nice for her brother.

Q. Why was Mr Gupta ashamed to face Mrs Clifford?

A. Gupta was ashamed to face Mrs Clifford because Frank had been dead some days when he told her that he was alive and well. Since he had told her a lie, he was ashamed to face her.

Q. What was the role of Mr Gupta in his life?

A. Gupta was a compassionate and kind person. He was good to everyone and did not differentiate between the rich and the poor. He went to see Maggie’s mother when she was sick. When she asked him to look into the crystal ring and tell whether her son Frank was safe or not he told a lie because he wanted her to recover.

Additional questions to explore various aspects of literature

1. Literary works help us to study the
culture and values of people. What
are the values we understand from
the story? List them below:
– politeness

– hospitality

– faith
– empathy
– sacrifice

– 2. What impression does Mrs Clifford
get about India from her conversation
with Mr Gupta?

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