Sunday, 24 April 2011

Irony and humour to reflect on Indian deep social problems

‘The Grass-Eaters’ is a short story written by Krishnan Varma and published in 1985. It is a quite vivid story which takes place in Calcutta, one of the largest cities in India, with a population of over nine million. The characters in the story are Hindus. As it is well-known, Hinduism is a religion and philosophy characterized by a belief in reincarnation, that is, the transfer of the soul into another body after death. By reading this story, readers will not be able to help laughing, but the real feeling about it becomes really tragic.
Events in the story are original and gripping and, at the same time, are told with a high degree of humour and irony. The main character is a homeless teacher who goes from one place to another with his wife looking for a location to live in. They have stayed in an overcrowded footpath of an Avenue; in an “abandoned-looking” freight wagon which finally takes them far away; and in a cement concrete pipe. After all, they come to live on the roof of an old building. They manage to build their home over there with a number of old empty coal tar drums and a tarpaulin for a roof. They eat grass as their staple food but, anyway, they feel the life they are living is something like paradise.
The theme of this story is homelessness and poverty in the context of an over-populated city. This is, of course, a no cheerful matter to deal with. However, the author tells us about it in such a good way –by means of humour and ridiculous circumstances– that we can know about this serious social problem but with no sadness and horror. In fact, I think this feature of the narration is, clearly, the major merit of the text: the ability of giving account of dreadful facts through an enjoyable and funny narrative.
Regarding to this question of style, it must be remarked that Varma achieves the description of events and main characters giving them the shape of a caricature. Whence, the recourse to the exaggeration provides the reader the possibility to picture himself the dramatic background of the story while enjoying joyfully of the text. Naturally, a skilful use of language by the author –lexical items and syntactic choices, for instance– contribute significantly to the goal of the short story.
In conlusion, I consider that ‘The Grass-Eaters’ is a really amusing and extraordinarily well-written story which, while providing a joyful reading, allows us at the same time to be aware of some critical problems of every-day life.

Blue worm


  1. It is surprising how the characters in the most pessimistic scenario undergo the tough fate of being homeless and starving with hope and resignation. Spoon

  2. I read Varma´s story, too and I really like your appreciation. However, I think that the female character, that is the protagonist's wife, was not as optimistic as her husband was because she wanted a change in their lives. But, in the end, they seem a happy couple and an example of endurance and perseverance. Victoria.

  3. I think the author’s choice of a first person narrator is also very significant in the story. By making readers step into the main character’s shoes, the writer helps us get into the world of the narrator and gain some insight into the difficulties the underprivileged face in India’s rigid caste system.

  4. I read this short story around two years ago and I must say that I agree with you.
    The Grass-Eaters is a well-written story, which makes us think that our way of life or thinking is not the only one; there are many countries where individuals are experiencing starvation and are deprived of certain rights by the government. I really consider that this story could be adapted to work with students about some essential topics for life, such as “Multicultural awareness”.