Anita Desai's "Village by the Sea": Chapter 1, part 1.

Essay by salokHigh School, 10th gradeA-, October 2005

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The first chapter of Village by the sea uses a technique called the 'Adverb of time'; this is when the whole scene follows a certain order from first to next. The effect of this is to give the reader a picture of the whole day in the village. The whole of the first chapter focuses on depicting the life of Hari's family; this is a stereotype of the village. They are similar to the 'voice of the village', as most of the other villagers are either at poverty level or slightly better in their economic standings.

The chapter commences with the scene of Lila; Hari's sister, going to the beach. There are lot of images of birds and flowers. The emptiness and isolation of the beach is brought out in, "no one had walked on it except the birds". "Scarlet hibiscus blooms, sweet-smelling spider lilies and bright butter-yellow allamanda flowers", Desai uses the detailed description of the flowers and the bright colors to set optimism in the beginning of the story.

The customs of the village are brought out when she "waded out into the waves" and she "daubed" the rocks with "red and white powder". She and the other villagers thought it was "the sacred rock, a kind of temple in the sea". She scatters the flowers and prostrates to the rock. This is a special time for Lila before she is caught up with her daily routine. There is a contrast between the "cold, whispering waves" and the sun rays "warmth" showing the diverse effects of nature. The village being a fishing hamlet, had its fleet of fishing vessels in the horizon of the ocean, that would not return to till sundown. The other women in the village would pray for the "safety of the fishermen at sea", while others would say a "greeting to God". They all felt that it was a "good way to start the day". They also had no specific reason for praying to this rock over others, except for its convenience. The real reveal of the poverty came when they did not want to give money for "puja" to a priest. The women are also very independent and in regard to the puja, they "preferred to do it themselves".

The family poverty is further explained through a flashback when Lila's "father still owned a boat and went to sea to fish" and "her mother used to bring flowers to this rock in the sea". The reality is that Lila's father "sold his boat to pay his debts" and "her mother was too ill and weak to get out of her bed" and "it was Lila who came to begin the morning with an offering of flowers to the sea". The grief that Lila faces causes her to believe that this time of the day was "the only perfectly happy and peaceful one", this could be due to the trauma that a young adult goes through when the both parents are either too ill or worthless in general. The moment she returns home, she faces the facts of reality and the only consoling time is with the beauty and the calmness of the sea, and believing in god for those few moments with the rock. When she emptied "the last petals from her basket" and "walked up back up the beach to the line of coconut palms now gilded by the sun", Desai uses the image of the rising sun to show the amount of time that Lila spend by the rock and ocean, collecting her thoughts. "It was time to start work", shows the determination and responsibility ingrained into such a young girl to support her deprived family.

On the return from the beach to her hut, there is once again flower imagery, "mauve flowers of seaside ipomea". The "White Bungalow" is a contrast to the village atmosphere the color white also symbolizes purity and cleanliness. The house belongs to "rich people in Bombay", before any other character is introduced, there is a type of strong internal feeling that Lila faces telling her that Bombay is the land of dreams. They use the house as a holiday resort. This shows the great economic divide that the poor villagers and the rich city dwellers face in the small village. The poor people have to sell their possessions to pay back debts, while the rich ones buy homes for holiday getaways. Lila does not seem to have any motivation to learn new things, as when she passed the house daily, the name "Mon Repos" puzzled her daily though she never had the initiative to find out what it meant.

Desai continues to use different colors and sounds of plants, animals and insects to give the reader a panoramic view of the village as Lila walks through it. The light of the morning rays, "filtered through the web of palm leaves", showing the closeness of the plants and the type of climate in the village. The "large zebra-striped ones with a faint tinge of blue to their wings", "showy black ones with scarlet-tipped wings" and "little sulphur-yellow ones" shows the diverse range of butterfly species living in the village. The birds called out and made the most amount of noise at this time in the village as compared to any other time. The personification of the "Flute-voiced drongoes", evicts the beautiful sound of the flute and lets the reader imagine the sound that is coming from the bird. Throughout this part, the bird's colors and voices is re-enacted to give the reader a real picture of the happenings in the village. This is like the "voice of the village" along with the "roar of the waves and the wind in the palms". There seems to be a harmony in nature that "seemed to tell Lila to be calm and happy and all would be well and all would be just as it was before", this has a direct meaning that something is wrong in the present and the alternate meaning is a foreshadowing of the story, that everything will be alright.

On the return from the beach, Lila crosses a "swampy creek" over a log that bridges both sides of the bank. The description starts to become more pessimistic, with the "swampy creek" showing disregard towards the small stream. When she views her hut, she realizes that "nothing was as it had been before, and nothing was well either", showing the very fact that they were in a better position in the past, but at present they are in dire poverty and Lila faces the truth. The poverty is brought out in the low quality materials such as, "the old palm leaves were dry and tattered and slipping", "the earthen walls" and "windows gaped, without any shutters". Lila's sisters, "brushing their teeth with twigs they had broken off the neem tree" show the poverty as they did not use toothbrushes, but used neem twigs. This also shows that they believe in traditional knowledge; that neem has medicinal properties. The sisters' arrogance is brought out when Lila asks them "Why don't you dress? You'll be late for school", they comment on her delay of making their tea and say "you're late". After the rude comment by the sisters, Lila seems to be treated like a slave even by her family. When Lila justified to herself for not putting the water for boiling before going to the beach, she feels "she had to flee to the beach:", the word "flee" gives a very strong feeling that Lila had when she left the miserable life that she leads. Lila needed to escape, before she had to see the "dead ashes or the dirty cooking pots", the dead ashes is a personification of death and the cooking pots have a very poor appearance, the ashes also show another Indian tradition of cremating the dead. She wishes that "Bela and Kamal would understand" and show more compassion towards her. She makes the tea by "throwing a fistful of tea leaves and another of sugar", the "throwing" shows that she is agitated and is taking her anger out on the tea. The village practices of squatting is evicted in "sat on their heels". The family "had a buffalo but she, too, had been sold to pay debts." Their poverty is very dramatic, as they had to sell off the buffalo as well to pay their debtors. They now buy milk "from a cowherd in the village", showing that they are not self-sufficient. Eventually Hari returned "with a small brass pot of milk", this brings out their poverty as they have to live with a small quantity of milk. The contrast between Hari and his younger sisters is very significant, though he does not go to school. He dresses well, with "clean khaki shorts and a shirt". When the tea was made, they all went to the "string bed under the frangipani tree". Hari first statement in the whole story was concerned about his parents, "What about father and mother?" Lila says "I'll take mother's glass to her", Bela and Kamal jointly commented on the father's sleeping, and "Hari's head sank low". This shows the great disappointment that Hari faces, as he has taken over the role of the father in the house. Hari was going to the field "to do some digging and watering", the fact that they have a field is still surprising, as through their large debts, they still own fields.

Lila "went in with a tumbler of tea" and she "stopped to add a little extra milk to it." This shows that she is very caring of her mother as she adds some more of the 'precious' milk for her mother. The mother "lay on the string bed on some old grey sheets", shows that they cannot afford mattresses, and the adjective "old" gives a very negative feeling towards their possessions. Her mother "looked like a crumpled grey rag lying there", this simile brings out the terrible state that her mother is in. The pathetic condition of the mother and the grief is commented on through, "She had no pains and no fever but simply grew weaker and weaker all the time"