Analyse with examples from the novel the relationship between Jagan and Cousin in The Vendor of Sweets.
The Vendor of Sweets was written by R K Narayan and published in 1967. The story depicts the life of Jagan, an Indian sweet maker, in postcolonial India. Failure of communication, generational gap and the conflict of culture are some of the main themes that appear in the story. The cousin plays an important role in the life of Jagan, and I this essay I will attempt to explore their relationship.
The cousin enjoys benefits provided by Jagan such as free sweets. Their relationship is a transaction for the cousin. He plays the role of listener most of the time, and pays attention to what Jagan mumbles, with a certain interest. For Jagan, who seems to have no meaningful human connection which consists of true conversation, the presence of the cousin as an acquaintance means a lot. Even though he is not actually related to Jagan, he has become closer to him than his family member who seem to have disowned him because of his irresponsible parenting and sheer negligence in family matters.
‘The listener lost interest in the conversation; his aim was only to stimulate conversation, while he occupied a low wooden stool next to Jagan’s chair. ‘
Right at the beginning of the novel, we are introduced to the cousin as someone who is astute and shrewd. He knows how to manipulate people by his conversation. He manipulates Jagan’s responses and emotions through his dialogue. This is done to appease Jagan’s ego.
The cousin, satisfied with the effect he had produced, tried to restore his mood with a pleasing remark.
He keeps Jagan satisfied and does not criticize him. By encouraging whatever he says and he aligning with him, the cousin ensures that his relationship with Jagan is sustained.
‘Flattery was his accredited business in life.’
Consequentially, he would continue to receive the benefits from Jagan. But as the above quotation suggests, the cousin is not particularly interested in everything Jagan says. In their relationship, the author portrays how Jagan rambles on to the cousin about certain far stretched philosophies which he does not actually practice. The narrator lets us know that the cousin is rather critical of many of his radical and impractical theories, but he is very careful not to offend Jagan. What we can deduct from this is that their relationship lacks a transparency because the cousin’s resolve is to keep Jagan satisfied without any criticism.
Jagan uses the cousin as a mediator between him and Mali. Jagan’s communication skills are hopeless. He does not even speak to his son regularly. At one point, the only communication between the two is the money that he keeps for him. Rather than speaking to his son himself and confronting him about certain things, he looks to the cousin to engage in conversation with the son. It is the cousin who brings him some of the most important information about the son. Typically, these conversations should happen directly between father and son because they impact each other’s lives directly. However, Jagan, because of his cowardice (I have never upset him in all my life!) fails to speak to his directly about the things that matter.
‘New things are coming your way; your son wants to go to America. Didn’t I hint to you long ago that it was coming?’
It is the cousin who informs Jagan that Mali aspires to become a writer. As evident in the above quotation, it is the cousin who informs him about Mali planning to go to America. The fact that the cousin has more intuition about Mali shows us that Jagan’s relationship with the cousin has become something which comes in the way of the father-son relationship. This is Jagan’s doing because he does not speak to him directly. For Jagan, the cousin is a tool – or a method – that he uses to converse with Mali. This is another benefit he receives from the cousin, who proves to be quite adept at doing this job of providing him information about his son. It is towards the middle of the story that he puts an end to this; after that the conversation shifts to Grace and how to convert her. The cousin is the one who continues to offer him solutions and an audience.
As the story comes to an end we realize that Jagan actually did not have any friends.
Will write up the rest ASAP.