Question 1: The two accounts that you read above are based in two distant cultures. What is the commonality of theme found in both of them?
Answer: The autobiographical accounts included in the Memories of Childhood are by two women from socially marginalized sections in two distant cultures of the world. One highlights the evil practice of racial prejudice while the other talks about the hierarchical Indian caste system and untouchability. The first part traces how the author, a Native American, was victimized at the hands of the European staff of her boarding school. The second account gives a picture of the hardships and humiliations faced by the Indian Dalits from the eyes of a third standard student.
Although they are set in different cultures, both the stories share a similar theme. They show the sufferings and oppression faced by their respective communities. The practice of social stratification is rebuked by both the authors. Zitkala-Saâ€™s hair was â€œshingledâ€ at the behest of Europeans who considered themselves superior to the Native American. On the other hand, Bama witnessed untouchability being practiced openly where people from â€˜lower castesâ€™ were considered impious and were not even allowed to touch the people from the upper castes. From a very young age, both Zitkala-Sa and Bama start protesting and resisting in their own ways.
Question 2: It may take a long time for oppression to be resisted, but the seeds of rebellion are sowed early in life. Do you agree that injustice in any form cannot escape being noticed even by children?
Answer: The world has been gripped in the web of stratification, oppression and discrimination at many levels. While the adults have grown used to this, the innocence of childhood does not understand hatred and prejudice. However, their keen observant eye is capable enough to notice any form of injustice and discrimination. When subjected to such evil practices, their sensitive minds and hearts are deeply affected. Perplexed, they often resist in their own simple ways.
In the lesson, the two girls describe their encounters with inequality. Zitkala-Sa, in the very first line reports that her first day in school was bitter-cold. For her, it not only describes the weather, but also represents the atmosphere of the boarding school. The overly disciplined students of the school and the European staff were unfriendly or cold towards her, and the vain struggle against her hair being shingled was a bitter experience for her. On the other hand, Bama walked on her brother’s footsteps to protest against the practice of untouchability through education. She studied wholeheartedly to reach a position where people would forget her caste and feel proud to befriend her.
Question 3: Bama’s experience is that of a victim of the caste system. What kind of discrimination does Zitkala-Sa’s experience depict? What are their responses to their respective situations?
Answer: While Bama was subjected to caste discrimination and untouchability, Zitkala-Sa was a victim of racial prejudice. Zitkala-Sa was packed off to a European missionary school where, being a local tribal, she was looked down upon. Her precious, long and heavy hair, which was her pride, was shingled. She tried to resist with all her might but, ultimately, she was forced to give up her struggle. On the contrary, Bama, who witnessed the malpractice of untouchability, decided to blur the difference of castes with the light of education. Under the guidance and supervision of her elder brother, she judiciously utilized her anger and sense of rebellion to study hard and outwit any form of prejudice. She understood that a social change would be possible only if these so-called lower castes make an effort to study and, thus, make progress.
It can easily be noticed that though both the protagonists tried to protest against the injustice they faced, the paths they chose are remarkably different. Through this journey of rebellion, Zitkala-Sa is forced to give in; on the contrary, Bama successfully implemented her brother’s advice to finally top in her class. While Zitkala-Sa continued to rebel by criticizing the evils of racial prejudice through her works, Bama opted for a more subtle way to carry forth her silent yet effective remonstration.
SHORT ANSWER TYPE QUESTIONS
Q1. What does Zitkala-Sa remember about her ‘first day in the land of apples’?
Ans. It was a bitter-cold day. The snow still covered the ground. The trees were bare. A large bell rang for breakfast. Its loud metallic sound crashed through the belfry overhead and penetrated into their sensitive ears.
Q2. How did Zitkala-Sa react to the various sounds that came when the large bell rang for breakfast?
Ans. The annoying clatter of shoes on bare floors disturbed the peace. There was a constant clash of harsh noises and an undercurrent of many voices murmuring an unknown tongue. All these sounds made a bedlam within which she was securely tied. Her spirit tore itself in struggling for its lost freedom.
Q3. Where were the girls taken and how ?
Ans. The girls were marching into the dining room in a line. The Indian girls were in stiff shoes and tightly sticking dresses. The small girls wore sleeved aprons and shingled hair. They did not seem to care that they were indecently dressed.
Q4. “I felt like sinking to the floor”, says Zitkala-Sa. When did she feel so and why ?
Ans. It was her first day at school. She was marching into the dining room with other girls in a line. She walked noiselessly in her soft moccasins. But she felt that she was immodestly dressed, as her blanket had been removed from her shoulders. So, she felt like sinking to the floor.
Q5. “But this eating by formula was not the hardest trial in that first day”, says Zitkala-Sa. What does she mean by ‘eating by formula’ ?
Ans. The ringing of a large bell summoned the students to the dining room. Then a small bell tapped. Each pupil drew a chair from under the table. Then a second bell was sounded. All were seated. A man’s voice was heard at one end of the hall. They hung their heads over the plates. The man ended his mutterings. Then a third bell tapped. Everyone picked up his/her knife and fork and began eating.
Q6. How did Zitkala-Sa find the ‘eating by formula’ a hard trial?
Ans. She did not know what to do when the various bells were tapped and behaved unlike others. When the first bell rang, she pulled out her chair and sat in it. As she saw others standing, she began to rise. She looked shyly around to see how chairs were used. When the second bell was sounded, she had to crawl back into her chair. She looked around when a man was speaking at the end of the hall. She dropped her eyes when she found the paleface woman looking at her. After the third bell, others started eating, but she began to cry.
Q7. What did Judewin tell Zitkala-Sa? How did she react to it?
Ans. Judewin knew a few words of English. She had overheard the paleface woman. She was talking about cutting their long, heavy hair. Judewin said, “We have to submit, because they are strong.” Zitkala-Sa rebelled. She declared that she would not submit. She would struggle first.
Q8. ‘Why, do you think, was Zitkala-Sa so opposed to cutting of her hair?
Ans. Zitkala-Sa had heard from her mother that only unskilled warriors, who were captured, had their hair shingled by the enemy. Among their people, short hair was worn by mourners, and shingled hair by cowards. Since she was neither, she was dead against cutting of her long hair.
Q9. How did Zitkala-Sa try to avoid the inevitable loss of her long hair ?
Ans. She crept up the stairs and passed along the hall. She did not know where she was going. She turned aside to an open door. She found a large room with three white beds in it. The windows were covered with dark green curtains. She went to the comer farthest from the door and crawled under the bed in the darkest corner.
Q10. How was the search made for Zitkala-Sa?
Ans. First, they called out her name in the hall in loud voices. Then the steps were quickened. The voices became excited. The sounds came nearer. Women and girls entered the room. They opened closet doors. They peeped behind large trunks. Someone threw up the curtains. The room was filled with sudden light. Someone stooped, looked under the bed and found her there.
Q11. How was Zitkala-Sa treated on being traced from her hiding place ?
Ans. Zitkala-Sa was dragged out. She tried to resist by kicking and scratching wildly. But she was overpowered. She was carried downstairs and tied fast in a chair. She cried aloud and kept shaking her head.
Q12. What did Zitkala-Sa feel when her long hair was cut? ‘
Ans. When she heard them remove one of her thick braids, she lost her spirit. She had suffered utmost indignities there. People had stared at her. She had been tossed about in the air like a wooden puppet and now her long hair was shingled like a coward’s. In her anguish, she moaned for her mother. She felt herself as one of the many little animals driven by a herder.
Q13. Which words of her brother made a deep impression on Bama? [Delhi 2014]
Ans. While returning home, Bama’s elder brother told her that although people do not get to decide the family they are bom into, they can outwit the indignities inflicted upon them. It left a deep impression on her.
Q14. Name some of the novelties and oddities in the streets that attracted Bama?
Ans. These included the performing monkey, the snakecharmer’s snake, the cyclist who had kept on biking for three days, the spinning wheels, the Maariyaata temple and the huge bell hanging there. She also noticed the pongal offerings being cooked in front of the temple.
Q15. What were the articles in flit stalls and shops that fascinated Bama?
Ans. She saw the dried fish stall by the statue of Gandhiji; the sweet stall, and the stall selling fried snacks. There were many other shops next to each other. Then there was the narikkuravan huntergypsy. He had his wild lemur in cages. He sold needles, clay beads and instruments for cleaning out the ears.
Q16. What sort of shows or entertainments attracted the passers-by?
Ans. Sometimes various political parties put up a stage. They addressed people through their mikes. There might be a street play, a puppet show, or a “no magic, no miracle” stunt performance. There was some entertainment or the other happening there from time to time.
Q17. Which actions of the people would Bama watch keenly in the bazaar?
Ans. She watched how each waiter in the various coffee clubs would cool the coffee. He would lift a tumbler high up. Then he would pour its contents into another tumbler held in the other hand. She observed how the people, chopping up onion, would turn their eyes elsewhere to avoid irritation in their eyes.
Q18. Why was Zitkala-Sa in tears on the first day in the land of apples? [All India 2014]
Ans. On the first day in the land of apples, Zitkala-sa was in tears. The main reason of tears was that her hair was mercilessly cut. She had heard from her mother that only unskilled warriors, who were captured, had their hair shingled by the enemy. That is why she shook her head in resistance.
Q19. Which fruit or sweet delicacies did she observe in the bazaar?
Ans. There would be mango, cucumber, sugar-cane, sweet potato, palm-shoots, gram, palm- syrup, palm-fruit, guavas and jack-fruit, according to the season. She would see people selling sweet and savoury fried snacks, payasam, halva, boiled tamarind seeds and iced lollies each day.
Q20. How were the threshing proceedings going on in the corner of the street?
Ans. There was a threshing floor set up in the comer of the street. People were hard at work. They were driving cattle in pairs, round and round, to tread out the grain from the straw. The animals were muzzled so that they couldn’t eat the straw. Bama stood there watching for fun. The landlord was watching the proceedings. He was seated on a piece of sacking spread over a stone ledge.
Q21. What, do you think, made Bama want to double up and shriek with laughter?
Ans. Bama saw an elder of their street coming along from the direction of the bazaar. He was a big man. He was carrying a small packet, holding it out by its string. The manner in which he was walking along made Bama want to double up. She wanted to shriek with laughter at the funny sight.
Q22. How did the elder approach the landlord and offer him the packet?
Ans. The elder went straight up to the landlord. Then he bowed low and extended the packet towards him. He cupped the hand that held the string with his other hand. The landlord opened the parcel and began to eat the vadais.
Q23. What explanation did Bama’s elder brother Annan give her about the elder’s “funny” behaviour?
Ans. Annan told Bama that the man was not being funny when he carried the package by the string for his landlord. The upper caste people believed that others must not touch them. If they did, they would be polluted. That was the reason why he (the elder man) had to carry the package by its string.
Q24. How did Bama react on learning about untouchability?
Ans. Bama became sad on listening how the upper caste people behaved towards low caste persons like them. She felt provoked and angry. She wanted to touch those vadais herself. She wondered why their elders should run errants for the miserly rich upper caste landlords and hand them over things reverently, bowing and shrinking all the while.
Q25. How did the landlord’s man behave with Annan?
Ans. The man thought that Annan looked unfamiliar, and asked his name respectfully. However, his manner changed as soon as Annan told his name. The man immediately asked the name of the street he lived in. The purpose was to identify his caste from the name of the street.
Q26. How, according to Annan, was the caste system discriminatory? How can one overcome the indignities?
Ans. Annan said that the lower caste people were never given any honour or dignity or respect. They were deprived of all that. Thus, the caste system was discriminatory. But, if they studied and made progress, they could throw away those indignities.
Q27. What advice did Annan offer Bama? What was the result?
Ans. Annan advised Bama to study with care and learn all that she could. If she was always ahead in her lessons, people would come to her of their own accord and attach themselves to her. Bama followed her brother’s advice and studied hard. She stood first in her class, and because of that, many people became her friends.