About the Story
“Under the Banyan Tree” is a very interesting story that deals with life in a small Indian village. The writer brings out sharply before us the poverty and drabness of rural life but also puts before us the human qualities of simplicity, trust and affection which this life fosters. The central character in the story is Nambi, an unusual story teller who fascinated the village folks with his fabulous and interesting stories. He was illiterate but had an active imagination that helped to invent fascinating stories that could keep the villagers spellbound when they assembled to hear them. They would listen to the enchanter patiently and attentively deeply absorbed in the imaginary world created before them by the magical voice of Nambi. The villagers, as if by a mutual understanding, would cater to his needs for food and clothes in return for the entertaining stories he told them. All was going well when, one day, Nambi, because of his old age failed to narrate a story and felt dumbstruck. Unfortunately, he could not narrate the story next day as well. He would try to recall the story but in vain. His mind was no longer under control and his imagination flagged. He felt that the Goddess whom he worshipped had stopped favouring him. In the meanwhile the villagers felt disappointed when Nambi failed in his attempts to narrate a story and would slide away silently for their homes. Nambi, after realizing that he had lost his art of storytelling, felt desolate and hopeless and decided to remain silent forever. The rest of Nambi’s life was a complete silence. Nevertheless, the villagers kept on providing him food and clothes as a gesture of their great reverence for the extraordinary storyteller.
Somal, the village with a population of less than three hundred, was very filthy. It was so much caught up in dirt and was so ill-planned that even social reformer could feel depressed on looking at its hopeless condition. Its tank, no doubt, would provide water for drinking, bathing and washing the cattle but at the same time it was the mother of numerous serious diseases like malaria and typhoid. The Village had crooked and winding lanes and the backyard of every house had puddles of stagnating water. People were insensitive to their surroundings, perhaps because of Nambi, the perpetual enchanter who made them forget about their sordid reality by transporting them to a colourful world of adventures and wealth through the stories he told them. He was an extraordinary storyteller whose age was very difficult to estimate. If anyone asked him about his age, he would refer to some old famine or an attack from outsider or the building of a bridge. Although he was illiterate, he had the gift of creating fabulous and entertaining stories that could fascinate anybody.
The front part of a little temple was the humble abode of this storyteller. Nobody knew how he came to make that temple his home and his place of worship. He did not have many belongings. He had a couple of dhoties and upper clothes and a broom to sweep the temple. There was a banyan tree in front of the temple where Nambi used to spend most of his time. People would come in large numbers to this banyan tree in the evenings and got entertained by Nambi’s observations and anecdotes. Sometimes he would say that he had to meditate and contemplate so that the Goddess could bless him with a new story to tell. He assured the people that his stories were a gift from the Goddess and did not float in air.
The villagers used to worship at the temple on Friday evenings. Nambi would lit several mud lamps and arrange them around the inner part of the temple where the idol of the Goddess was placed. He would decorate the idol of the Goddess Shakti. On these occasions he would act as the priest and offer fruits and flowers to the Goddess. When Nambi had a story to tell, he would lit a lamp and place it in a hollow space in the trunk of the banyan tree. The villagers would notice the lamp and know that their enchanter had another story to entertain them with. They would hurry up with their meals and gather under the banyan tree. The storyteller would come after his contemplation, forehead smeared with ash and vermillion and sit on a stone platform in front of the temple.
Nambi used to start his story in an interesting way by pointing towards a vague and distant spot. He would begin his story by asking a Question. He would talk about the great kings and their palaces, capitals, etc. He would describe in detail the pictures and trophies hung on the walls of the palace and sing the songs sung by the musicians of the kings. He used to build the story on an extended scale which required many days to tell it fully. The first day was usually taken up in describing the setting of the story. In the next sessions Nambi’s voice would rise and fall while narrating the rest of the story where common and aristocratic people, heroes, villains and supernatural powers jostled with one another in the fantastic world created under the banyan tree. The simple villagers would get swayed emotionally with the incidents of the story. After the storysession, the whole audience used to go inside the temple and prostrate themselves before the Goddess.
Usually, with every new moon Nambi was ready with a new story. He never repeated the same type of story. This process went on smoothly for years. But one day an unusual thing happened. He lit the lamp and his fans gathered to listen to him. He started telling the story of king Vikramaditya and one of his ministers when all of a sudden he paused, repeated the same sentence but found his words turning into unclear sounds. He thought for a while and prayed to the Goddess that he should not fumble and waver in his art. He could not understand why all of a sudden he forgot the story. It was an experience which was humiliating and painful for Nambi. The villagers who were eagerly waiting for his next words were also greatly puzzled. As the time passed they started chattering and after some time silently slipped away. Nambi was dumbstruck. He realized that he had grown old. He found that Mari, his old friend, was still sitting there while others had left. Nambi told him in a disappointed strain that his head had refused to be his servant and had become disobedient and disloyal.
Next day he lit the lamp again and the villagers assembled faithfully. Nambi had prayed the whole day to the Goddess not to leave him in lurch again. He started the story and went on for an hour. He thanked the Goddess for not deserting him and continued his story. But after a few minutes, he paused, and groped for words but failed to start again. The audience got up silently and went home. Nambi did neither curse nor blame the villagers as they could not wait for hours for the story. After two days he started another story which lasted only for a few minutes and the gathering again withdrew. People started ignoring the lamp and Nambi wished that he would have died earlier. However, he shut himself into the inner part of the temple, ate little food and meditated in a motionless manner.
When the next moon appeared, Nambi lit the lamp again. Only a handful of the villagers turned up. They waited for others and finally the storyteller refused to narrate the story till the whole village gathered. On the next day Nambi personally went around the village to tell the people that he had a wonderful story to tell and everyone should hear it. The villagers felt happy to know that the enchanter had regained his powers and a large crowd assembled under the banyan tree. But instead of telling a story, Nambi announced that he had become a dull and foolish old man who had lost his gift of storytelling. He added that the Goddess was the giver and taker of this gift. He told them that the jasmine was useless without its smell and there was no use of the lamp when all of its oil was gone. He told that these were his last words and that was his greatest story. After that the storyteller got up and went inside the sanctum.
The surprised villagers could not understand it and when some of them entered the temple and asked him if he had nothing more to say, Nambi remained silent and indicated through gestures that he had spoken his last words. After this, he would walk into any cottage he liked and sit silently for food and walk away as soon as he had finished his food. He did not demand anything more from them. There was an utter silence in the rest of the life of the storyteller. The writer, thus, shows how the artist loses his powers one day and his art becomes stale and lifeless. A wise artist should stop when such a point is reached in his career.
Question.1. What do you understand by ‘enchanter’? Why does the author call Nambi an ‘enchanter’?
Answer. An enchanter is a person who delights someone greatly and captures his mind and heart completely with his art. The person’s art seems to work like magic and exerts such a powerful influence on the minds of his audience that they are entirely under his control. Nambi has been called an ‘enchanter’ in “Under the Banyan Tree” because he possessed a wonderful talent for story telling on account of which he captures the attention of all the villagers. On account of this talent people consider him a miracle performer. Nambi could keep the villagers under perpetual enchantment. He made their dull and drab life look interesting and enjoyable.
Question.2. Why does Nambi stop telling stories at the end?
Answer. As Nambi grew in years, his powers grew weak. He could no longer keep his mind and imagination perfectly under his command. He started to fail in remembering the incidents he had imagined and arranging his ideas. The enchanter lost the magic of his art of story telling which made him sad and depressed. He felt that the Goddess had withdrawn the gift she had bestowed upon him earlier. He stopped telling stories all at once. There was total silence in his life after this.
Question.3. How has Narayan portrayed village life?
Answer. R.K.Narayan has presented the villagers as insensitive to their surroundings. They did not care for the water tank that was used both for drinking water and bathing the cattle. On account of the dirt and filth, the tank became a source of different serious diseases. In the backyard of every house drain water would stagnate in green puddles. The villagers lived in perpetual enchantment because of the extraordinary stories of Nambi and did not care about the filthy conditions in which they lived. Narayan shows that the villagers were simple and kind-hearted people. They looked after Nambi even after he was no longer able to entertain them with his stories. They shared their joys and sorrows and were not isolated from one another. They worshiped the Goddess in the temple and loved miracles.
Question.4. How old is Nambi? What is his method of telling his age?
Answer. Nambi was very old but nobody could tell about his exact age. Whenever anybody asked Nambi about his age, he referred to an ancient famine or an invasion or the building of a bridge. In this way he related his birth to some memorable public event to create a halo of mystery round it.
Question.5. What is the frequency with which Nambi can create a story and how long does his narration last?
Answer. Nambi was an excellent and remarkable storyteller. Although he was an illiterate person, he could invent a story at the rate of one in a month. This extraordinary ability of Nambi made him popular among the villagers and they loved to listen to him. Each fabulous story invented by Nambi would be quite long and took almost ten days to get narrated.
Question.6. Where does Nambi live? Describe his daily routine and the ritual performed on Friday evenings?
Answer. Nambi lived in the small temple which was at the end of the village, Somal. Usually he spent most of his time in the shade of the banyan tree which was in front of the temple. On Friday evenings Nambi would lit a lot of mud lamps and arrange them around the entrance of the inner part of the temple where the idol of the Goddess was placed. He would decorate the stone image of Goddess Shakti with flowers. He also acted as the priest and offered fruits and flowers to the Goddess. Besides, every day of the week he would sweep the floor of the temple with a broom and keep it clean.
Question.7. How do the villagers look upon Nambi? What is their opinion of the man?
Answer. Nambi was an unusually fantastic storyteller for whom the village folk had great regard. They respected him and would fulfill his needs of food and clothing. They regarded him as a great enchanter who enjoyed the favour of Goddess Shakti. They looked upon Nambi as a store house of knowledge. They would feel awe and wonder when they listened to his wonderful stories. They tolerated his eccentricities as signs of his special genius.
Question.8. Why does Nambi say, “…Age, age. What is my age? It has come on suddenly?”
Answer. Nambi said these words to his friend Mari, the blacksmith who stayed there even after the other villagers had left the venue where Nambi told his stories. Now Nambi could not perform that miracle anymore because of the weakening of his powers due to old age. Nambi could not complete the story he had started telling even though he tried hard to recollect it. When he failed, he felt dejected and said that his age had started showing its symptoms. He said that he was becoming a dull and foolish fellow. His mind failed to obey him. He considered it a serious instance of disobedience and treachery.
Question.9. Describe the second day of Nambi’s failure to tell the story.
Answer. On the second day, the villagers faithfully assembled under the banyan tree to listen to Nambi’s story. He started the story and went on for an hour continuously. He felt relieved and thanked the Goddess Shakti. But when he recommenced the story, he failed to tell it after a few minutes. He stammered and paused. The crowd rose silently and went home.
Question.10. Describe Nambi’s life after he stops telling stories? Do the villagers reject him?
Answer. After Nambi stopped telling stories, he fell totally silent and would not exchange even light remarks with the people around him. The village folk did not reject him but treated him with the same reverence which they had shown to him earlier. Whenever he felt hungry, he would walk into any cottage, sat down silently and after satisfying his hunger would get up and walk away. The rest of Nambi’s life was thus passed in complete silence. His speech was meaningful only so long as he could use it to tell wonderful stories.
Question.1. Nambi, the storyteller, seems to have divine power. Why do the villagers like to listen to his stories?
Answer. Nambi was an excellent storyteller with an extraordinary ability to make interesting stories. He was otherwise a very ordinary person and being illiterate had read no books. His gift of storytelling was so extraordinary that it appeared to be a supernatural gift. He also encouraged this belief that it was with the special kindness of the Goddess that he was able to tell those wonderful stories. Nobody could guess his age because he had made this also a mystery by linking it with ancient things and happenings. He had the ability to make up a new story every month and would take nearly ten days to narrate it. His way of narrating the story was quite interesting. He would point his finger towards a vague, distant place and say that a thousand years ago there was the capital of some king at that vacant spot which was now covered with weeds. And then he would describe in detail the palace, its people and sing the songs of old musicians. He would also elaborate upon the pictures and trophies that hung on the walls of the palace.
Nambi could emotionally involve the villagers in his stories and make them laugh and weep with him. This interesting way of presenting a story fascinated the village folks and they would pour in to listen to his far-fetched stories. He could keep them spellbound for hours. This was indeed an extraordinary power which closely resembled a divine descending on poor mortals from above.
Question.2. Describe the village Somal.
Answer. Somal was a small village that had a population of less than three hundred. It was situated in the heart of forest region of Mampi and the nearest bus stop was nearly ten miles away. The village did not have any planned settlement. Its street and lanes were bent or twisted and they ran into one another. In the middle of the village there was a tank. This small tank was full of dirty water which was used for drinking, bathing and washing the cattle. It was so dirty and polluted that diseases like malaria and typhoid were frequently spread by it in the village. The drain water would stagnate in green puddles in the backyard of every house. The people of the village were insensitive to their surroundings. Most of them were illiterate. Even Nambi who lived in the village temple and entertained the villagers by telling them wonderful stories was illiterate. Most of the villagers were religious minded and used to worship in the temple of Goddess Shakti. They were simple folk who led a dull but contented life. There were no serious quarrels or conflicts in the village but the over-all condition of the village was really so bad that even an enthusiastic social reformer would feel discouraged on seeing its hopeless condition.
Question.3. How does Nambi announce that he has a tale ready? Describe the congregation of villagers and the style of Nambi’s narration?
Answer. Nambi was a remarkable storyteller who had the ability to keep his audience spell-bound. He would narrate fabulous and far-fetched stories in a way that could leave the villagers fascinated and fill them with excitement. Nambi invented these stories all by himself. He would be ready with a new story with every new moon. He would take about ten days to narrate each story he made up in his mind.
Whenever Nambi had a story ready, he would lit a small lamp and put it in a hollow portion of the banyan tree. The villagers would notice it and after finishing their dinner hurriedly, they would assemble under the banyan tree. He would come from the interior of the temple after a deep meditation. He would come out with vermillion and ash on his forehead. After taking his seat on a stone platform in front of the temple, he would point towards a far-away spot and start telling his story by framing one or two questions addressed to the audience. He used to build the story on an epic scale and describe everything in a vivid manner. He would narrate the minute details of the king’s palace, its pictures and trophies and sing ancient songs. Nambi’s method of narrating and building up the story was superb. He could keep his audience thrilled by the rise and fall of his voice and the eloquence of his words.
Question.4. Describe Nambi’s life in the village during his heydays as a storyteller and afterwards.
Answer. Nambi was the perpetual enchanter who used to narrate fabulous and colourful stories to entertain the villagers. He could create a story every month which would last for nearly ten days. He was quite popular and respected. He was treated warmly and affectionately by the villagers. Whenever he felt hungry, he would walk into any house where he was fed nicely. People would pour in large numbers under the banyan tree to seek Nambi’s company and hear his stories whenever he gave them a signal by lighting a lamp and putting it in a hollow space in the trunk of the banyan tree. They were impressed by his acute observations and his interesting anecdotes. On Fridays he kept himself busy with the worship of the Goddess in the temple. He would light up a row of earthen lamps and place flowers and fruits near the stone idol of the Goddess as a mark of respect.
The villagers were fond of Nambi. When he grew too old, he could not successfully keep up the practice of telling wonderful stories to the villagers. He would forget the story and even with repeated attempts, words would not come out. This failure made him a very sad man. His whole life changed. He fell silent and would not utter a word. He kept himself hidden in the temple most of the time.
Question.5. Draw a character sketch of Nambi.
Answer. Nambi was an unparalleled storyteller in the village Somal. He used to please the village folk with his entertaining stories. He had the gift of making people spellbound with his fantastic stories invented by himself in his moments of meditation. He created a mystery regarding his age and nobody was able to tell how old he really was. He lived in the little temple but nobody could tell how he established himself there. He used to live a humble life and had very few possessions – a broom to sweep the floor of the temple, two lungis and two upper cloths to match. He was illiterate but enjoyed the trust and confidence of the villagers on account of his wise sayings and his wonderful stories.
The villagers were always eager to be in his company and get entertained by his observations and anecdotes. Whenever he felt hungry, he would walk into any house he liked and ate the food given to him there. The villagers gave him new clothing whenever he needed them. He used to act as the priest in the temple and offered fruits and flowers to the Goddess. Even when he stopped telling his unusual stories, he was respected and looked after by the villagers.
Question.6. What is irony? How does Narayan use it in this story.
Answer. Irony is the effect produced by a certain way of using language when the real meaning is different from, even opposite to the apparent meaning. The author produces the effect of irony whenever he pretends to admire a person when he is actually trying to point out his weaknesses and faults. R.K. Narayan adopts this attitude towards Nambi and the other villagers in this story. Irony usually involves saying one thing and meaning another. The irony can be of situation or perspective. In the story “Under the Banyan Tree”, R.K. Narayan has employed both the types of irony. The irony of situation arises mainly from description of events or situations, as opposed to the irony produced by a critical attitude towards statements made by an individual character.
In the story, Nambi is an exceptional storyteller who can make a story every month. He entertains the villagers with his fictitious stories and leaves them spell-bound. While the writer admires Nambi to some extent, he also shows him in a critical light and makes us aware of his weaknesses and eccentricities. This produces the effect of irony. Nambi’s vanity and his habit of creating a mystery about his art of storytelling and about his age are presented before us in an ironical manner. His casual remarks aimed at winning respect from the villagers are presented with a tinge of irony. But the irony of situation is that Nambi is unable to narrate any story because of his excessive old age. Even his meditation and contemplation do no produce any result at this stage. This produces a pathos which carries a dash of irony within it.
Question.7. ‘It was story building on an epic scale’. What do you understand by this statement? Elaborate.
Answer. Nambi had a unique way of telling stories. He could successfully involve his audience emotionally in his stories and produce in them a state of amazement. The statement ‘it was story-building on an epic scale’ means that Nambi would build up very long stories which took many days to be told fully. This also means graphic and detailed descriptions of places and objects.
Nambi would name any capital of any king he fancied. He would narrate how the palace was raised, its dazzling darbar, musicians and their songs. He would also provide details of the pictures and trophies that hung on the walls of the palace. He could continue these details for hours. The first session of the story barely conveyed the settings of the tale. Thus the statement is quite appropriate as it was really storybuilding on an epic scale.
Question.8. Nambi’s behaviour appeared eccentric at times. Elaborate using at least two examples from his whimsical behaviour.
Answer. There are numerous instances which show Nambi’s eccentric behaviour. Nobody could forecast how he would conduct himself on a particular day. He would try to surround every act of his with mystery. He would not tell directly how old he was. If he was in a good mood, he would entertain the village folk with his anecdotes and observations, otherwise he would look at his visitors sourly. In a sarcastic tone, he would tell them that he had to meditate and contemplate a lot for a story.
When he failed to tell a story, he got angry with the villagers and asked them to shut up and not to look at him. Another instance of his eccentric behaviour is that when he talked of his old age. He said that his brain had started disobeying him and was indulging in treachery. His whimsical behaviour is evident when he declared that he would not tell his story before a handful of audience and wanted the whole village to turn up to listen to his story. When he told about his age by referring to the time of construction of an old bridge or some attack on the village by some outsiders, this also was an example of his eccentric behaviour.