Detailed Summary with Critical Comments of “The Bachelor of Arts”

The subject is that in the opinion of this house historians should be slaughtered first. Chandran tried his best to evade the offer saying that he could not face his history professor after moving such a topic against historians. Chandran begged him to make him the Prime Opposer at least but Natesan commended his abilities as a brilliant mover and clinched the issue by saying that he should be ready at five to-morrow evening.

Chandran went home and all night he had horrible dreams of attacking his history professor, Ragavachar with a chopper:

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Chandran went home and all night he had horrible dreams of attacking his history professor, Ragavachar with a chopper. He sat down next morning to prepare his speech on piece of paper. He thought about who are to be killed and what order of importance after killing the historians.

He also thought about introducing one or two humorous stories to spice up his speech. He thought about a historian who dug out two ancient coins from his garden which supplied the missing link of some period or other; but on closer examination, he found that they were not ancient coins but only two old metal buttons. He was not happy with this idiotic story.

He was at a loss where he could get a full book of jokes of a historical nature. He even thought of the possibility of giving a query in a leading newspaper seeking the help of the readers to solve his problem. Chandran thought that his mind wandered when he had his pen and paper. It would work only when he walked about with bent head.

So he put on his coat and went out. After a couple of hours of walking he thought of only one argument for killing historians first. In that case they might not be there to misrepresent facts when scientists, poets, and statesmen were killed in their turn. It appeared to him a very brilliant argument. He could fancy a house rocking with laughter on presenting his speech.

On the day of the debate, Chandran’s mind was on his topic:

On the day of the debate, Chandran’s mind was on his topic. He could not concentrate on the lectures as usual. He was thinking about the hang of the topic for the evening debate before Professor Brown, the principal of the college came for his lecture on Greek Drama. He was cross with Ramu who asked him if they could go out for some time and return before Brown came in. At the end of the hour, Chandran went to the library to find suitable material for his topic.

He found several volumes in support of history on the shelves but not anything on the execution of historians. He went home at three. He told his mother ceremoniously that he was speaking on a debate that evening so he did not want anyone to disturb him in his room. He came out of his room at four-thirty. He was restive banging on the bathroom door, splashing cold water on his head, and running back to his room. He combed and brushed his hair, put on his chocolate-coloured tweed coat and hurried out of the room.

Chandran moved the topic that the historians should be slaughtered first and as he was a student of history he ought to know what he meant:

At the college, the secretary who was waiting for him took him into the hall and seated him in one of the four cushioned chairs below the dais. In the big auditorium capable of accommodating about a thousand members of the union, the audience consisted of about fifty from the junior classes and a score from the Final Year Classes. Natesan whispered that it was quite a big gathering for a Union debate. Soon Professor Brown arrived in his car and the secretary conducted him to the high-backed chair on the dais.

He requested him to open the proceedings. At this, Professor Brown called upon Chandran to move the proposition and sat down. The audience gave a loud clap. Chandran rose, looked steadily at the paperweight on the table, and addressing the Speaker he said that he was certain that this house, so well known for its sanity and common sense, was sure to support him firmly when he said that the historians should be slaughtered first. He was a student of history and he ought to know what he meant.

Chandran spoke in this trend for about twenty minutes spurred by the applause received from the audience for his cynicisms:

Chandran spoke in this trend for about twenty minutes spurred by the applause received from the audience for his cynicisms. After that the Prime Opposer engaged the attention of the audience for about twenty minutes. Chandran was unhappy that the audience received his speech with equal warmth. And then the seconders of the prime speakers went on monotonously for about ten minutes, each supporting the statement of their principals.

There was uproar when the speakers in the gallery rose, and Professor Brown had to call for order by ringing the bell. Now that Chandran had delivered his speech, he felt that the speeches of others in the hall were both unnecessary and inferior. Chandran gazed on Professor Brown’s pink face and felt that his mind would now be at the tennis-court and the card table in the English Club.

He was there in the meeting not out of love for the students, but simply to keep up appearances. He is a hypocrite like the other Europeans who would take their thousand or more but would do nothing worthwhile for the Indians. Chandran was angry that they would not allow the Indians to their Club.

When the division was taken the House with a thumping majority voted for the annihilation of historians:

Soon Chandran was drawn back to the debate of the day. He went to the dais and summed up his views effectively by quoting the anecdote of the historian who dug up brass buttons in the garden. When the division was taken the House with a thumping majority voted for the annihilation of historians. Professor Brown then spoke admirably for five minutes why the historians should be slaughtered and for another five minutes why should they be glorified.

He complimented both the movers and the opposes of the proposition for ably maintaining their stand. The secretary then wound up the debate with his vote of thanks. After the meeting was over he saw to it that the paperweights and table-cloth were removed to the store-room.

The secretary shared with Chandran the secret of winning the Union elections by purchasing every vote with coffee and tiffin:

Chandran walked along with the secretary hoping that the other would complement on his speech. But the secretary was talking about the bother he had to face to conduct debates leaving him no time for his studies. They were already in the midst of August and he did not know anything about his major subject, Political Philosophy. Chandran curtly told him that it was his own making, and he became secretary by begging, borrowing and stealing votes at the Union elections.

The secretary agreed with Chandran but he found nothing could be done about that now. Chandran suggested snappily that he had better resign his post as secretary. But the secretary without taking offence with Chandran shared the secret of winning the Union elections by purchasing every vote with coffee and tiffin. He had shelled out seventy rupees for that. It was very difficult to get the money from his father in the village.

Chandran admitted to the secretary that Brown had fine flashes of humour but they were making much of him:

Chandran felt sympathy for him, but he was still disappointed that he made no reference to his speech. As Chandran knew that the secretary was a born grumbler, he did not give him chance for further grumbling about his debts and other problems. He asked the secretary what he thought about the speech of the Boss (Professor Brown, the principal). The other remarked that it was as humorous as ever. Chandran took exception to this remark by saying that they foolishly admire the Boss by falling into laughter the moment he opened his lips.

The secretary asked Chandran why he was so cynical about the Boss. Chandran admitted to the secretary that Brown had fine flashes of humour but they were making much of him. The secretary then told Chandran that he could not deny that Brown was a fine principal and he had never turned out any request to preside at meetings. But Chandran felt that Brown was a humbug and his pleasantness was only a pose for the thousand he got a month.

The secretary gripped Chandran’s hand and complimented him saying that his speech was wonderful:

Discussing things about college like this, Chandran and the secretary had covered half the length of the Market Road and passed the fountain in the Square. Chandran felt that they had been wasting time and energy in a futile discussion. A few paces more, they would be at the mouth of Kabir Street. Soon the secretary would go home. So Chandran straightaway asked him what he had thought about his speech that day.

The secretary gripped Chandran’s hand and complimented him saying that his speech was wonderful. He also told Chandran that Brown also had enjoyed his speech and especially his story about the professor and his buttons. He admired Chandran personally for his fine speech and admired him for being gifted with real eloquence. Soon they reached Kabir Street and the secretary told him that he was living in a small room there alone by paying a rent of about three rupees. He invited Chandran to come to his room some day and the other said that he would be pleased to do so.

Chandran called the Secretary back and told him that his remarks about him and Brown were meant for fun and not to be taken seriously:

The secretary had gone a few yards down Kabir Street, when Chandran called him and told him that he should not take his remark about his resignation seriously. He mentioned that just for fun. He further clarified to the secretary not to mistake his remarks about Brown. He knew that Brown had a high sense of humour and was a great scholar.

It was a treat to be taught Drama by him. He was only trying to suggest that people saw humour even where Brown was serious. So he would request the secretary not to mistake him. The secretary assured him that he had not mistaken him at all, and then melted in the darkness of Kabir Street.

Chandran met Ramu and told him how he stole the day with his speech at the Union Debate:

Then Chandran mechanically entered Lawley extension and stopped in front of Ramu’s house, the one adjacent to his. He summoned Ramu and asked him if he attended the Union Debate. Ramu told him that he could not do so as his mother wanted him to escort her to the market. Chandran told Ramu that the proposition was carried amidst great excitement.

There was fairly good crowd and his speech was not bad and he was told that Brown who presided told that he liked it immensely. He told Ramu that Brown made a splendid speech in the end which was full of the most uproarious humour. Ramu shook the hands of Chandran. Chandran was sorry that Ramu missed attending the debate. Then Chandran asked Ramu to be ready to go the second show cinema and he would pay for both of them. He would go home, take his dinner and pick him up.

Chandran decided to celebrate his success in the Union Debate by going to cinema with Ramu for the second show:

On reaching his house Chandran he told his father that he was late because he spoke in a debate and it closed. His father asked him how he fared in the debate. Chandran gave him an account of him all the time bothered about the night show. His father never permitted any one to attend the night show. So Chandran told him that he was going to the night show with Ramu as they were in a festive mood after the debate.

He summoned his mother to serve him rice and curd. His mother was sitting in the verandah and praying by turning the beads in her hand. Though her hands were busy turning the beads chanting the name of Sri Rama, part of her mind was busy thinking about her husband, home, children and relatives, and her eyes looking at the delicate beauty of the coconut trees at the far end of the compound.

By the time his mother reached the dining-room, Chandran had finished his dinner. She asked Chandran why he was in a hurry. He told her that he was going to the cinema. She was sorry that Chandran skipped the potato sauce prepared specially for him. Chandran asked her to give him a rupee. She gave him the keys of the drawer and asked him to take it from it, and return the keys to her.

Attending a night show was not an ordinary affair to Chandran but was an aesthetic experience to be approached with due preparation:

Then Chandran walked to the cinema with Ramu. On the way he stopped by a shop to buy some betel leaves and a packet of cigarettes. Attending a night show was not an ordinary affair to Chandran. It was an aesthetic experience to be approached with due preparation. There was a method in chewing the betel leaves and nut gently until the heart was stimulated causing a fine tingling sensation behind the ears.

It was the right moment for lighting a cigarette and go to the cinema, smoke more cigarettes there, see the picture, and from there go to an hotel nearby for hot coffee at midnight, take some betel leaves and Cigarettes, and go home and sleep. Chandran derived great aesthetic delight out of the experience, and Ramu’s company was most important to him.

It was his presence that gave him a sense of completion to things. Ramu too smoked, chewed, drank coffee, laughed—for he was the greatest laugher in the world—admired Chandran, ragged him, quarreled with him, and breathed delicious scandal over the names of his professors and friends and unknown people.

Chandran and Ramu pushed their way across the knees of the people in the dark hall as the show had already started:

By the time Chandran and Ramu reached the Select Picture House, the show had already started. The ticket man at the counter told them in the stock words that it had just begun. They entered through the four-anna entrance gate. The hall was dark and they had to look for the vacant seats through the glare of the picture on the screen.

They pushed their way across the knees of the people already seated with someone from the back seat shouting at them to have their “Heads Down!” Ramu and Chandran finally stooped into their seats. On the screen it was the last five minutes of a comic in which Jas Jim was featured. Chandran was sorry that he did not know there was Jas two-reeler with the picture. He felt that they ought to have come earlier. Then Ramu and Chandran exchanged their comments on the excellence of Jas Jim, the comic genius.

Ramu noticed Brown with a lady seated in the first class and commented about it to Chandran:

After the comic reel, there was a break. A central light was switched on. Chandran and Ramu surveyed the hall. The light went out again and the regular film, Light guns of Lauro with Vivian Troilet and Georgie Lomb playing the lead roles began. It supplied love, valour, villainy, intrigue, and battle in enormous qualities for a whole hour. Then the notice “Interval” flashed on the screen, and the lights went up bringing Chandran and Ramu to the ordinary plane.

The air was thick with tobacco smoke. Ramu stood up gazing at the people occupying the more expensive seats behind them. He noticed Brown with some girl seated in the first class. Chandran said that she might be his wife. Ramu said that it was not his wife. Chandran felt that it must be some other girl. He commented that the white fellows were born to enjoy life. Only the Indians did not know how to live.

If a person was seen with a girl, people stared at him and make abusive commented about him. On the other hand, no European ever went out without taking a girl with him. Ramu agreed with Chandran saying that theirs was a wretched country. Chandran had a fit of politeness and pulled down Ramu saying that it was bad manners to stand up and stare at the people in back seats.

Chandran and Ramu had light-hearted comments about the slides flitting past and advising people to buy this and that and making a lot of money without letting people read the contents of the slide properly:

Lights were on again and there were some slide advertisements, each lasting a second. Chandran and Ramu had light-hearted comments about the slides flitting past and advising people to buy this and that and making a lot of money without letting people read the contents of the slide properly. Soon the advertisements ended and the main film started.

The hero, Lomb always came out triumphant and finally, he was united with his lady love, Vivian. The film ended happily with the enlarged figures of the lovers with their lips welded in a kiss. Then Chandran and Ramu walked home envying those who left by car. Ramu bade good-bye to Chandran at his house. Chandran walked on alone, opened the gate silently. He woke up his younger brother Seenu sleeping in the hall, had the hall door opened, and fumbled his way to his room. He removed his coat and kicked a roll of bedding on the floor, and dropped down on it and slept at once.

Autobiographical elements:

Narayan became a B.A. student of Maharaja’s College, Mysore in 1926. Ten years earlier, the institution had been incorporated into the new University of Mysore. Life at college was structured around a faculty that comprised several British as well as Indian professors. At the top stood Professor J.C. Rollo, the college Principal and an outstanding teacher of English.

In the opening chapters of The Bachelor of Arts, the gentle world of Maharaja’s College is evoked through the eyes of Chandran, a final year student of history. In his fictionalized portrait of college life, Narayan introduces, behind new names, several figures from his own experience. Professor Rollo becomes Professor Brown, a distinguished scholar whose drama classes are acclaimed and who is endowed with ‘with a first-rate sense of humour’. Elements of Narayan’s history professors, Krishna and Venkateswara Iyer, combine to surface in Professor Ragavachar— formidable in his glasses, turban and long black cloak.

Chandran has an inseparable friend called, Ramu, whose company and humour-rich running commentary bring vitality to any excursion, be it a night- show visit to the cinema or a stroll along the river. This Ramu is a fictionalized portrait of Narayan’s constant friend at college by name Ramachandra Rao who was called “Ramu”.

He was a short young man with thick lenses and a ‘gift of laughter’ with whom he would attend classes, smoke, drink afternoon coffee, and take long walks. Chandran’s younger brother Seenu in the novel is a fictionalized portrait of Narayan’s young brother Seenu who assisted Narayan and Ramu during their ‘joint study’ experiment for preparing together for their approaching final examination.

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