"The Missing Mail"

Malgudi Days by R.K. Narayan, pages 14-20

by Stephanie and Felicity

Indian Culture

Weddings: Traditionally, the male's family would seek a spouse for the young man. However, in this story, the female's family sought a good match for their daughter. This is probably because of their need to marry the young woman off quickly. However, the male's family in this story did pay a bride price for the young woman. During the wedding in Missing Mail, “A fragrance of sandal, and flowers, and holy smoke hung about the air" (18). The scent of sandal in the story comes from a Hindu wedding ritual of rubbing the bodies of the bride and groom with a sandalwood paste that cleans and softens the skin. Garlands of sandalwood chips are also placed around the necks of the bride and groom, which signifies the start of the wedding. Later, crushed sandalwood is thrown into the fire. Flowers are also a key part of a Hindu marriage. During a wedding, flowers and bright colors are used the decorate the venue. They cover the mandapa (canopy), and the groom’s parents later offer the bride a flower to welcome her into the family. At the end of the wedding, the bride and groom are showered with flower petals, and the groom places a flower garland around the bride’s neck, which symbolizes love. Lastly, the “holy smoke” comes from the sacrificial fire, a central part of a Hindu wedding. The fire represents the divine witness and the sanctifier of the sacrament, and is worshipped during the ceremony. The bride and groom take the satapadi, or seven steps around the nuptial fire. This is the most important rite of the wedding.


Importance of family: Showing respect to elders is an essential part of Hinduism. Sons are expected to take care of their parents in their old age. Young people frequently touch older people's feet to show respect and take their blessings. After the death of a family member, the family mourns for a while. The funeral rituals begin immediately, which meant that Ramanujam was absent for the funeral ceremonies for his uncle, and he was instead celebrating at his daughter's wedding.


Moral obligations: Because of the Law of Karma, a man's moral code comes from inside him, and he is solely responsible for his decisions and actions. Karma punishes him for his bad actions in his next incarnation. Because Thanappa believes that his decision to withhold from Ramanujam the fact that his uncle had died, he is responsible for his decision. If Ramanujam had prosecuted the mail carrier for not delivering him the telegram, then karma would punish Thanappa in his next life, in addition to any punishments he would receive in his current life, such as losing his job.

Summary

Malgudi’s mailman, Thanappa, knows a lot about other people’s lives through the mail he delivers. One of his most trusted friends, Ramanujam, has a daughter, Kamakshi. Thanappa has known Kamakshi since before she was born, and now she has recently become of marrying age. Her family is very worried that she won’t be able to find a suitable husband soon. Thanappa offers a solution: he has been reading the letters of a family of the samesocial class as Ramanujam’s family, and they have been communicating with a wealthy young man from Delhi. They send a picture of Kamakshi to the young man, and he “approves” of her. Ramanujam decides to travel to Delhi to discuss a marriage for his daughter. He decides that Kamakshi and the young man are a good match, so they plan their wedding for May 20th. If the wedding doesn’t take place on that date, they would have to wait another three years because the young man will be traveling, and by then it would be too late. The wedding is lavish and worth all of Thanappa’s and Ramanujam’s hard work. Soon after the wedding, Ramanujam tells Thanappa that he has to go to Salem to care for his sick uncle. However, Thanappa tells him that on May 19th, he had intercepted a telegram that was sent to Ramanujam, saying that his uncle had died. Thanappa explains that he didn’t want the news to ruin the festivities of the wedding, so he instead risked his job and honor to hide the telegram.

Characters and Places

Thanappa- the mailman of Malgudi; he knows a lot about the town by reading the mail he delivers


Ramanujam- Thanappa’s best friend, father of Kamakshi; works for the Revenue Divisions Office; lives at 10 Vinayak Mudali Street


Kamakshi- Ramanujam’s 17-year-old daughter; at first, she believes she’ll never find a husband, but she ends up getting married


Malgudi- the Indian town where Thanappa and Ramanujam and his family live


Delhi- the town where Kamakshi’s suitor lives


Salem-
the town where Ramanujam’s uncle lived

Meaning

The meaning of the work is that a truly virtuous person is willing to take risks and suffer the consequences for the people he cares about.


Quotes:

Ramanujam is an important enough friend that Thanappa is willing to risk his job to tell Ramanujam some important news. “Thanappa, as was his custom, glanced through [the card] at the sorting table itself; and, the moment they were ready to start out, went straight to Vinayak Mudali Street, though in the ordinary course over 150 addresses preceded it. He went straight to Ramanujam’s house . . . he said, ‘Give me a handful of sugar before I give you this card. Happy father! After all these years of prayers! Don’t complain that it is a daughter. Daughters are God’s gift, you know . . . Kamakshi- lovely name!’” (15). In this instance, Thanappa decides to disregard the mail route that he is supposed to follow in order to tell Ramanujam that he is now a father. Thanappa is willing to risk the irritation of the other people on the mail route and being penalized by the other mail carriers because he wants to tell his friend this important news.


After Thanappa admits that he withheld the telegram that said that Ramaujam' uncle had died, “the postman stood with bowed head and mumbled, ‘You can complain if you like, sir. They will dismiss me. It is a serious offense.’ . . . Ramanujam cried, ‘Don’t think that I intend to complain. I am only sorry you have done this'" (19-20). Deciding not to deliver the telegram to Ramanujam was a punishable offense. However, Thanappa was willing to accept the punishment for his action because he felt justified, since Kamakshi's wedding would have been called off if Ramanujam had found out the news, and Kamakshi would have missed her chance to ever be married.