The Serang of Ranaganji (Short Story)
About The Serang of Ranaganji
A.J. Cronin was a Scottish novelist who lived from 1896 to 1981. By profession, he was a physician. He is the author of several internationally acclaimed novels. His talents include his acute observation, his ability to visualise, and his narrative ability. The excerpt is from his autobiographical novel, ‘Adventures in Two Worlds.’ It is an account of his time as a Royal Navy surgeon.
Dr A J Cronin is the author of The Serang of Ranaganji. The storey takes place in India during the British Raj. The author is escorted on a voyage from Liverpool to Calcutta by a serang Hasan, a social promoter named Ms Jope Smith, and the captain of the ship Ranaganji. He is an authoritarian disciplinarian.
When the author and Hassan reach the middle of the sea, they find a possible crisis and a smallpox pandemic. The storey follows the duo as they bravely and discreetly deal with the disaster. Additionally, Cronin discovers along the tour that Hasan is not a money-minded individual. This is demonstrated by Hasan’s refusal to accept the money offered in exchange for his unselfish gesture. He asserts that a person who has everything he requires does not need money.
The Serang of Ranaganji Summary
A well-dressed woman in first-class passenger on the Ranaganji inquired of her companion, pointing to a man, whether he had seen such an absurdly hilarious creature. They stood just in front of me. The Ranaganji was a ship en route from Liverpool to Calcutta. I was on the ship’s top deck with the lady and her companion. I noticed a squat, very ugly indigenous seaman with short legs and a huge, disproportionate head as a result of their stare. He served as the ship’s Indian serang, or quarter-master (a petty naval officer responsible for navigational problems). He was quietly monitoring a crew of lascars (petty naval personnel) who were wrapping up the luggage loading process. According to the woman’s companion, the serang appeared to be almost human in appearance. He continued by stating that viewing the serang would lead one to believe Darwin was correct.
The journey began under calm, clear skies. We made our way across the Bay of Biscay somewhat unscathed by the choppy waters. Soon after, we crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, entering the tranquil Mediterranean Sea beneath the blue sky. The Ranaganji was a large ship with white officers at the helm. The team was entirely comprised of indigenous individuals. I served as the ship’s physician.
The ship was suffocatingly full with visitors and pleasure seekers. The Anglo-Indian army had a sizable number of officers. They were frequently accompanied by their spouses and families. There was levity on board from the outset. Miss Jope-Smith was the leader of the social promoters. She was beyond thirty, yet she wore a dashing style that gave her the appearance of being younger. She was an obnoxious snob. Port Said was reached. Everyone excitedly made their way ashore. They purchased silks and shawls, as well as cigarettes, perfume, and jewellery. We sailed via the Red Sea and the desolate Aden rock. We had entered the Arabian Sea at this point.
The serang, Hasan, arrived the following morning, bringing two of his lascars with him (deck hands). He greeted me and then informed me of the two men’s illnesses. Seamen appeared to be in poor health. They reported feeling unwell in general, having a bad headache, and experiencing significant bone pain. As I began to examine them, they appeared fearful. They were both feverish. Their tongues were thickly sputum-coated. They had chapped skin, which is nature’s most serious warning sign. I then observed little, hard nodules beneath each man’s wrist skin. It was an undeniably smallpox symptom.
I was a newcomer to my profession and lacked experience. I had not mastered the art of emotional self-control. My face must have changed significantly. Despite his silence, the serang’s countenance took a serious expression. I dashed to the control room of the ship.
There was no sign of Captain Hamble present. He was located below in the chatroom. As I burst in, he looked up. I informed him of two deckhands who were infected with smallpox. I noticed his lips tense up. He was a stocky 55-year-old man who adhered to rigid discipline. However, he was a just and impartial officer as well.
He approached me and informed me that I was responsible for the ship’s health. I had complete discretion. He was unable to provide me with any of his officers due to a workload and staffing shortage. However, he would bestow upon me the serang, the finest man he possessed. He desired that I play a role in controlling the spread of the sickness. Additionally, he desired that others remain unaware of the condition, as this would cause panic among travellers.
I walked out of the chartroom, fully aware of my deadly obligation. We were 1500 passengers deep in the Arabian Sea. They were immunised in vain. The most lethal infection was smallpox.
I returned to my operation and discovered that one lascar was suffering from extreme rigour (body rigidity) and his body was trembling. I communicated to the serang that these folks needed to be isolated. On board, there was no sickbay and not a single inch of cabin space was accessible. Worried.
I glanced at the serang. He was unconcerned and suggested that a shelter could be constructed on the rear deck. There was lots of fresh air and a pleasant breeze.
He began working in the ship’s aft compartment. He set up a big canvas shelter in less than an hour. Following that, mattresses and bedding were carried up and the two patients were pleasantly situated.
Our next move was to arrange for a medical examination of the personnel. One of the stokers (folks who tend the furnace) complained of a fever and headache and displayed signs of the rash. He was assigned to a case alongside the others. I then approached Hasan and begged for assistance in attending to these men. Hasan expressed his willingness to assist me. I then advised him to exercise caution due to the disease’s high level of contagiousness. Hassan assured me that he was unfazed.
Hasan and I sponged and medicated the patients. Around the shelter, we draped blankets soaked with disinfectant. We constructed a cooking stove to facilitate the heating of liquids and the preparation of simple meals.
The following day, a new source of concern emerged. Among the deckhands, three additional instances were discovered. Men who were segregated fared worse. Four additional crew members became ill that afternoon. In our small, secluded sanctuary, we now had eight cases. It was the type of situation that would put even the most steely nerves to the ultimate test. However, the serang remained serene and unfazed. He seemed unflinching in his care of the patients. I was forced to plead with him to use caution. I requested that he refrain from approaching the patients nearby. He asked me, smiling if I was being prudent with myself. I informed him that I was and that the work was mine.
I was so overburdened with the duty that I was concerned about my own well-being. The spacecraft was travelling at the top of its capabilities. The closest port was Colombo, which was still eight days away. 4 additional stokers were ill throughout the next two days. There were fourteen at this point. A previous victim had lapsed into a coma. He appeared to be approaching death. I was unable to sleep due to increased worry.
Serang was constantly around to assist me. Even I felt comforted as he stood in meditation, his long arms folded across his bare chest, immobile as a statue. He would approach a sick man with assistance whenever he made any sound of discomfort. He would return and fold his arms in prayer once more. The ship made a breakneck pace forward.
Hasan despised verbal communication. Nonetheless, I gleaned some details about his past. He was Punjabi by birth. His parents, on the other hand, had relocated to the south of India. He had taken to the seafaring life there, as did many others in the coastal region. He has travelled over 40 years throughout the world’s oceans. He would spend 15 years in the Ranaganji. He was without a home on the mainland; he lacked friends and family. He was a bachelor.
He was a devout follower of the Islamic faith. He had accumulated neither money nor property throughout the course of his life. What he possessed was only worth a few rupees and was stored aboard the ship. This was an agonising thought. In a moment of compassion, I suggested that the corporation should provide him with more compensation during that time of need. He remained silent for a few periods and then inquired as to the utility of money for someone who possesses everything he requires. He was perfectly content with his current state.
He was genuine, and he did not require additional compensation for his services. He had little regard for and dislike for money. He possessed bravery, restraint, and trust. His subjects were impoverished and died impoverished. He would develop the habit of not worrying about the future.
I felt an odd pain as I stood next to him in the moonlight. In comparison to his brevity, the world’s values were meaningless. In the saloon, a tremendous party had begun. I had a burning desire for achievement and fortune, and I felt humiliated when compared to this serang.
Two patients succumbed the next day. Their shrouds were sewn by Hassan. He recited a brief portion from the Ramayana in front of their bodies, in his gruff and low voice. At midnight, they were wrapped in sailcloth and tossed overboard with a weight at their feet. There have been no new instances. We arrived in Colombo after a week. The ill males were quickly transported to the hospital. The overwhelming majority of patients have recovered from the catastrophe. However, three were in poor physical condition, suffering from running sores. Hassan was carrying them in his arms. His black cheeks were dripping with tears.
Our transit of the Bay of Bengal was swift and uneventful. Calcutta was quickly reached. I abruptly heard Miss Jope-voice. Smith’s She was indicating Hasan and alerting her companion Ronnie to the return of the ‘absurd creature.’ Hasan was occupied with the unloading process. Then she turned to me and inquired as to where I had stored the ridiculous thing throughout the cruise. Was he housed in a separate cage? I explained to her that he was, in a sense, confined. However, the whole animal population was outside.
The Serang of Ranaganji Textual Questions and Answers
What was notable about the appearance of the Indian sprang?
He was squat and had an unattractive appearance. He had small legs and a disproportionately huge head.
Who were the passengers were on the Ranaganji?
Answer:The people who were on the Ranaganji were tourists and pleasure seekers.
Who was Miss Jope-Smith? Write a short character sketch.
Miss Jope-Smith was a Ranaganji passenger. She was an assertive individual. She was beyond thirty but dressed elegantly and dashingly to appear younger. She boarded the Ranaganji in first class. She was constantly accompanied by her male companion Ronnie. She was a snob and a pain in the neck. Her assessment of the serang was that it was an ‘absurdly comedic creature.’ When she asks the narrator at the conclusion of the storey whether he kept the serang in a cage, the narrator responds appropriately. He stated that he kept the serang in a cage, but the rest of the animals were free to roam. With her nasty statement about humanity and her display of nature, he implied that she was an animal.
What was the condition of the seamen who were brought by the serang to Dr Cronin?
The seamen did not appear to be in good health. They reported feeling unwell in general, suffering from severe headaches, and experiencing severe bone pains. They appeared scared while the doctor examined them. Both were feverish. Their tongues were heavy with mucus. They had parched skin, which is nature’s most severe warning sign. The doctor next detected hard tiny nodules beneath each man’s wrist flesh. It was an unmistakable indication of smallpox.
How did AJ Cronin conclude that the seamen were infected with smallpox?
According to AJ Cronin, the seamen were infected with smallpox after he noticed hard tiny nodules beneath their wrist skin. It was an undeniably smallpox symptom.
Describe Captain Hamble. What was his reaction when he heard about the breakout of smallpox on the ship?
Captain Hamble was a plump, fifty-five-year-old man. He was well-known for his harsh disciplinarian tendencies. When the doctor informed Captain Hamble that two of the deckhands had smallpox, his lips pressed tightly together, indicating his anxiety. Additionally, he was a kind and fair-minded cop. When he learned of the outbreak of smallpox on the ship, he requested that the doctor do all possible to prevent the disease from spreading. He also desired that people remain unaware of the condition, as this would cause fear among passengers.
Where and how was the shelter for the infected patients made?
The shelter for the infected patients was made in the back part of the ship where it wouldn’t be so visible to others. Hasan was the main person who made the shelter. In an hour he erected a large canvas shelter. Mattresses and sheets were then brought up and the two patients were placed there.
How did the serang take care of the diseased patients?
The serang was very sincere and compassionate in caring for the diseased patients. It was a situation to test the strongest nerves. But the serang was calm and undisturbed. In attending the patients, he seemed untiring. The doctor had to beg him to be careful and asked him not to go too close to the patients. But the serang was not afraid and he continued taking care of the patients in all possible ways.
What information did Dr Cronin collect about the serang?
Cronin, Dr I got some background information about the serang’s history. Hasan was his given name. He was Punjabi. However, his parents had relocated to south India. He had taken to seafaring life there, as did many others in the coastal region. He had spent over 40 years travelling the world’s oceans. He had spent 15 years in the Ranaganji. He was without a home on shore; he lacked friends and family. He would never be married. He was a devout Muslim. He had accumulated nothing throughout his life, neither money nor property. What he possessed was worth a few rupees and was stored aboard the ship.
What was Hasan’s attitude to life, as explained to Cronin?
Hasan thought money was of no use for someone who had all that he needed. He was quite happy with the way he was. He needed no extra money for his service. He had no respect for money and he despised it. He was never worried about tomorrow.
The Serang of Ranaganji Textual Activities Questions and Answers
Activity -1 (Think and Respond)
Do you agree with A.J. Cronin’s remark that ‘the animals were all outside?’ Why?
I partially agree with A.J. Cronin’s observation that ‘all the animals were outside.’ Individuals such as Miss Jope-Smith and her companion Ronnie were unquestionably animals. They were incapable of seeing a man as a man, but just as an animal. I am not convinced that all 1500 passengers and employees outside were as terrible as these two individuals. That is why I stated that I agree in part but not entirely.
Do you think that A.J. Cronin should have reported the selfless efforts of Hasan to the authorities and recommended him for rewards and promotion?
In normal circumstances, I would say ‘yes’. But in the case of Hasan, he is already happy with his life and his position. I don’t think any rewards and promotions would make him happier. He is a contented man and contentment can’t be got through rewards and promotion.
How is the world view of the passengers in general different from that of Hasan?
The .passengers are mostly tourists and pleasure seekers. They find joy in partying and such things. They strive all their life for success and earning more wealth, as the doctor himself testifies. But for Hasan, happiness is service and he is contented. He is neither interested in parties nor wealth or success.
“Why, naturally it is me.” These words show that Hasan is very ready to shoulder any responsibility happily. Comment on Hasan’s ability to volunteer at the time of an emergency.
Smallpox is a highly contagious and fatal disease. Nobody wants to come into contact with a person who has smallpox. Hasan is a serang, and he is under no obligation to care for the sick. He could simply have stated that he would not take care of the sick because it was not a part of his job responsibilities. However, when the doctor inquires as to who would assist him, Hasan immediately responds. He was taking a risk with his life by volunteering to nurse the sick men. It is not easy to find such good people who strive for success and wealth in today’s world. Individuals like Hasan are extremely rare, and they will always come forward in the event of an emergency.
Activity – II | Letter
You know that A.J. Cronin, the physician of the ship is extremely impressed by the service of Hasan. Imagine that after the voyage, Cronin writes a letter to the director of the company which owns the ship Ranaganji, detailing the selfless service Hasan rendered during the voyage. He also requests the director to reward Hasan with a promotion in return for his service. Draft the letter which Cronin would write.
Lord Curson Lane
12 June 1990
Eastern Import Export Company
I am writing this letter to acquaint you with the details of my selfless service rendered during the voyage
Our most recent journey to Calcutta proved to be extremely interesting. Ranaganji carried up to 1500 passengers, most of whom were tourists and pleasure seekers. The voyage to Calcutta began in pleasant weather, and we passed through Aden without incident. We had arrived in the Arabian Sea.
To our surprise and despair, two of our lascar deck men were infected with smallpox. When I informed the Captain, Mr Hamble, of the situation, he advised me to keep it a secret, as word of the incident might spread panic among the passengers. I was pretty concerned and unsure of what to do or how to deal with the situation. It was then that I recognised Hasan, our serang, for the excellent man he was. He assured me that I need not be concerned. He constructed a shelter at the ship’s stern for the afflicted patients. Without regard for his own safety, he volunteered to nurse them. Subsequently, additional workers were diagnosed with smallpox. We had a total of 14 situations, and Hassan handled them all without complaint. I was astounded by his selflessness and dedication.
Two sick guys died afterwards. Hasan tied their shrouds together and read aloud from the Ramayana. We should note that while he was a committed Muslim, he read the Ramayana in light of the deaths of Hindus. It demonstrated his religious toleration. He then threw the bodies overboard at 12 a.m. When we arrived in Colombo, we escorted the sick men to the hospital. Hasan was the first to assist them, even though several of them had running smallpox lesions. Normally, no one would attempt such deeds. However, Hasan committed the crime. He adored males.
It is rare to come across such selfless and self-sacrificing individuals as Hasan. I strongly propose that Hassan be promoted to recognise his outstanding contributions to the organisation. He should be appointed Ranaganji’s Chief Petty Officer.
When I return to London, I will tell you more about my trip to Calcutta.
Thanks & regards,
Chief Physician of Ranaganji
Activity – III | Speech
The Director of the Company receives a letter from A.J. Cronin. He is pleased with the service rendered by Hasan throughout the voyage. They arrange a special get-together of all the officials and crew of the ship. In that get-together, the Managing Director of the company announces that the company appreciates the service of Hasan and promotes him as the Chief Petty Officer of the ship. The Director invites Hasan to speak a few words on this occasion.
Imagine that you are Hasan. What would be your reaction and feelings at this moment? Draft a speech that you would deliver on the occasion. My reaction would be that of gratitude to God and the company. Of course, I will be happy on getting the promotion. When I am in a better position I will be able to give better service to people.
Respected Director, Dr Cronin, officers, and crew members, I am overjoyed to get this level of acknowledgement from the Company and the officers. I do not believe I did anything particularly noteworthy in serving the ship’s sick passengers.
Was not it my responsibility to aid the afflicted? Allah has endowed us with this life so that we may love and serve others. When given the opportunity, we should be able to assist others.
I am a devout Muslim. However, I think that we are all God’s offspring. That is why, while sewing the shroud for the dead and preparing to cast them overboard, I read a passage from the Ramayana. I was unconcerned about contracting the disease since I believed that life is a divine gift. He will dispose of it whenever he pleases. Whatever precautions you take, you cannot avoid death.
I have little regard for money or rank. However, I am grateful for the elevation because it will enable me to provide more service to my brethren. I would want to conclude my humble comments with a Bible quotation. It inquires, ‘What is the use of amassing such wealth in this world if one loses one’s soul? Thus, my counsel to my friends is to ‘assist others whenever feasible.’
Before I conclude, I want to express my gratitude to Dr Cronin and the Chairman for forgiving me of the promotion. I guarantee them that I will continue to give the Company my all. May Allah, the Almighty, bless you all and say a heartfelt thank you!
Activity – IV | Role-play
Miss Jope-Smith soon hears about the promotion given to Hasan and the reason for the promotion. She feels sorry for her prejudiced remarks about him. She decides to meet Hasan in person, and congratulate him for his efforts and the promotion he has received.
Form pairs. Imagine that one of you is Ms Jose- Smith and the other is Hasan. Role-play the whole conversation between Jope-Smith and Hasan.
Jope-Smith: Good evening, Hasan! I’m Jope-Smith, one of the travellers in the Ranaganji, going to Calcutta. Hasan: Good evening! Glad to you were on the ship.
JS: Congratulations on your promotion! You really deserve it.
Hasan: Thank you, Ms Jope-Smith. I thank Allah for all these wonderful things happening to me.
JS: I want to say one more thing to you. I want to say ‘sorry’.
Hasan: Say‘sorry’for what?
JS: For thinking ill of you and laughing at you. When I saw you first I talked ill of you for no reason. I guess I was very proud. I could never imagine that you were such a nice and brave person.
Hasan: I don’t think I am such a nice and brave person. I did what I ought to have done in the circumstances. When I knew some workers were having smallpox, had to take care of them. Does not Allah want us to help one another?
JS: You’re right, Hasan! We ought to help one another. I am ashamed of my prejudice. I’m sorry!
Hasan: It’s okay Madam! We all make mistakes. Forget it and be happy.
JS: Thank you, Hasan, I feel quite relieved now. Thank you very much.