A Horse and Two Goats
"A Horse and Two Goats" is the story of a comical and fateful meeting between two men, neither of who speak each other's language. Muni and his wife live in poverty in a remote village in India called Kritam. In his prosperous days, before pestilence took most of his cattle, Muni had 40 sheep and goats. Now, in his old age, Muni has just two goats. His usual daily routine is to take the goats to graze two miles from his home, alongside the highway, at the foot of a life-sized clay statue of a horse. Muni never thinks about the statue. It has been there since before he was born and is just part of the landscape, as far as he is concerned. On this particular morning, Muni goes outside and shakes six bean-like fruits, called drumsticks, from the branches of the drumstick tree in his yard. Usually, his wife would boil some drumstick leaves, with a bit of salt, in a mud pot over their domestic fire. On other mornings, she would cook some millet for him, but today, Muni craves drumsticks in sauce. Their store of food is empty; however, so his wife sends him to the shop to get the items she needs to make the sauce. Muni can sometimes charm the shopkeeper into giving him a few items on credit. This time, however, Muni's charm fails him, and all he gains for his trouble is public humiliation. The shopkeeper pulls out a ledger and reads the list of all the unpaid items already charged to Muni's account. To pay off his debt to the shop, Muni would have to come up with five rupees and a quarter. When Muni returns home empty-handed, his frightened wife sends him out with the goats, warning him not to come home before dark. He knows from experience that if he will just do as she says, she will calm down and find some way to scrape together a dinner for him. Muni is sitting on the pedestal of the statue, letting his goats graze, and watching the highway, when a van runs out of gas right in front of him. The driver of the van is an American man on holiday in India. As soon as he sees the clay horse, he develops a craving to own it. He assumes that Muni is there to sell the horse and begins to negotiate. The American speaks only English, and Muni speaks only Tamil. The two men have a comical conversation, in which neither understands the other. Muni is in the middle of telling the American about his religion, when the American finally says, "I really wonder what you are saying because your answer is crucial. We have come to the point when we should be ready to talk business." When the American starts waving money around and petting Muni's goats, Muni's dream has come true. Finally, he thinks, someone will buy the last of his goats. He takes the 100 rupees from the stranger and returns home alone. While the American waits for Muni to come back to help load the statue into the van, some other men from the highway stop, help him load the horse, and give him some gas. The American drives away. Meanwhile, Muni returns home to his worried wife, who is praying for a miracle, and surprises her with the 100 rupees. No sooner does he explain that he has sold the goats, when they stand bleating at the door. Instead of being relieved and joyful at the money that has come into his hands, Muni is left confused, and his wife is left terrified that her husband will be punished as a thief.
R. K. Narayan 1960
First published in the Madras, India, newspaper The Hindu in 1960, “A Horse and Two Goats” did not achieve a wide international audience until 1970 when it became the title story of R. K. Narayan’s seventh collection of short stories, A Horse and Two Goats and Other Stories. It reached an even wider audience in 1985 when it was included in Under the Banyan Tree, Narayan’s tenth and best-selling collection. By this time Narayan was well established as one of the most prominent Indian authors writing in English in the twentieth century. The story presents a comic dialogue between Muni, a poor Tamil-speaking...
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