Vendor of Sweets Summary – Chapter 5

Chapter 5

He is proud of hs son being in America and cant stop telling it to random people in the streets – after days and days he gets a letter from Mali arrives confirming that he has arrived in New York.’ He tries telling people about the letter from his son but gets disappointed as they don’t humour him but keep asking questions like why he did not send a telegram, and how much it would cost to send a letter – then he thinks about the cousin and how good of a listener he is. Finally he meets the cousin who agrees to his assertions, humouring him.

Mali is unusually communicative from America, though sometimes brusque, disconnected or impersonal. The letters grow into a pile and they replace his reading of the Baghavd Gita. He continues to bother the people in the town with details about his son in America, showing how proud and how it boosts his ego – he feels like he has to bottle up everything till he meets the cousin because everyone else is restless when he begins to speak about his son. But there’s one letter which he doesn’t share with anyone. The one where Mali mentions beef eating.

He writes, ‘I’ve taken to eating beef; and I don’t think I’m any the worse for it. Steak is something quite tasty and juicy.’ He even goes on to suggest that Indians should try it. Jagan is outraged because the killing of cows headed the list of five deadly sins in the Shastras.

A cable arrives one morning saying: ‘Arriving home: another person with me.’ Jagan is puzzled. Mali arrives at the train station with suitcases and cordoned cartons, filling Jagan with a feeling of inferiority. Jagan slips to the background pushing the cousin to do much of the talking and receiving. He is overwhelmed by the spectacle of his son, who is taller, broader, and fairer. He is wearing a dark suit, an overcoat, a camera and umbrella. Jagan feels like his own son is a stranger. When Mali tries to shake his hand, Jagan tries to hide behind the cousin. When speaking to Mali, he restrains himself from calling him ‘Sir’.

Suddenly, Mali indicates to the girl next to her and says, ‘This is Grace. We are married. Grace, my dad.’ Jagan is obviously in utter confusion. But he does not want to upset the gentleman. The girl looks Chinese. He pretends to help with the baggage.  

Jagan begins to avoid people. He fears that people will ask him about the casteless girl. And his habit of reading the Gita has returned – the narrator states that this was a sign of him becoming mentally disturbed once again. Grace gives Jagan the present Mali had bought for Jagan – a picnic Hamper.

Grace begins to tidy up the house. Jagan protests but she says, ‘Father you think I mind it? I don’t. I must not forget that I am an Indian daughter in law. Grace humours Jagan and shows interest in his strange notions as well as his book.

Grace tells Jagan that the letters from America were written by her and signed by both of them. They talk about how Grace and Mali met, and Grace expresses the fears she had about India’s attitude towards caste. Jagan says that ‘we don’t believe in caste nowadays. Gandhi fought for its abolition.’

‘Is it gone now?’ she asked innocently.

‘It is going,’ Jagan said, sounding like a politician.

Grace finds everything thrilling – here, the writer shows the exoticization of the east by Americans (Orientalism). Mali wants to speak to Jagan and Jagan sits at Mali’s room, and Mali starts speaking. But Jagan is contemplating on the socks Mali is wearing, arguing mentally that this may be one reason for the heart attacks in Europe. He is only dimly aware that Mali is talking in the background, about the business proposition.

‘He had anticipated this meeting for a long time, and he realized now with a shudder that he had probably missed the opportunity of a lifetime. He does not ask Mali to repeat or clarify anything, but just lets him believe that he understood what he said. Mali says think it over and leaves to check on his unaccompanied luggage which is due.

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