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The 5-page short story "Fellow-Feeling" in R. K. Narayan's short story collection Malgudi Days (which I've been reading online is about a few travellers on a train in India. Rajam Iyer, the protagonist, sees a meek passenger bullied by a newcomer, and decides to stand up to the newcomer. He pretends to have magic Brahmin powers and successfully bluffs the bully into backing down from a fight and leaving the train. After the bully leaves the train at Jalarpet, saying his ticket would take him no further, Rajam Iyer lies to the other passengers:

The train had left Jalarpet at least a mile behind. The meek passenger still sat shrunk in a corner of the seat. Rajam Iyer looked over his spectacles and said, ‘Lie down if you like.’

The meek passenger proceeded to roll himself into a ball. Rajam Iyer added, ‘Did you hear that bully say that his ticket was for Jalarpet?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well,’ he lied, ‘he is in the fourth compartment from here. I saw him get into it just as the train started.’

Though the meek passenger was too grateful to doubt this statement, one or two other passengers looked at Rajam Iyer sceptically.

Why does Rajam Iyer say this? It's clear the bully left the train in fear of him, and quite likely that the bully was lying about his ticket being for Jalarpet, but why would Rajam Iyer just make up having seen him get back onto the train? What difference does this make to the situation or to anyone's perception of it?

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There is a saying that "A bully is always a coward." Through his lie, Rajam Iyer is driving home this point: for all his bluster, the "newcomer" turned out to be a cheap coward who ran away in fear of Rajam Iyer.


‘Shall I keep a seat for you?’ asked Rajam Iyer.

‘No, my ticket is for Jalarpet,’ the newcomer answered and quickened his pace.

The "newcomer" is implying that he is only getting down at Jalarpet because his ticket was for that station, not because he was terrified of what Rajam Iyer might do to him in a brawl.

But, Rajam Iyer is not ready to let the "newcomer" off the hook that easily.

‘Did you hear that bully say that his ticket was for Jalarpet?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well,’ he lied, ‘he is in the fourth compartment from here. I saw him get into it just as the train started.’

Rajam Iyer is implying that the "newcomer" needed to be on the train, yet did not dare stay in the same compartment as him, which is why he jumped down in a hurry and boarded a compartment further away. Thus, he is establishing the "newcomer" to be a coward: the "newcomer" had no problem throwing his weight around on those weaker than him, but when push came to shove he showed his true colours and ran with his tail between his legs.


Why does Rajam Iyer say this? It's clear the bully left the train in fear of him, and quite likely that the bully was lying about his ticket being for Jalarpet, but why would Rajam Iyer just make up having seen him get back onto the train? What difference does this make to the situation or to anyone's perception of it?

It is clear to us as the reader that the bully left the compartment in fear of Rajam Iyer (regardless of his true destination), but I can imagine it not being so clear to a somewhat crowded compartment, and especially not to an apathetic crowd that looks at ongoing violence as entertainment:

Out of the corner of his eye he noted that the other passengers were waiting eagerly to see how the issue would be settled and were not in the least disposed to intervene.

Would such a crowd easily accept Rajam Iyer's psychological victory over the bully? Likely not, which is why Rajam Iyer wants to drive the point home with his little lie. The conclusion of the encounter has a lot more weight in favour of Rajam Iyer if it reads, "The newcomer got down in a hurry at Jalarpet because he was scared of sharing a compartment with Rajam Iyer," rather than "The bully got down in a hurry at Jalarpet because that was his stop to get down anyway."

Of course, not everyone buys it (perhaps some even saw the "newcomer" walk away on the platform), but at least he has the gratitude of the "meek passenger".

Though the meek passenger was too grateful to doubt this statement, one or two other passengers looked at Rajam Iyer sceptically.

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    "It is clear to us as the reader that the bully left the train in fear of Rajam Iyer, but I can imagine it not being so clear to a somewhat crowded compartment" - hmm, this is the point I missed. I suppose that makes sense. There are two possible interpretations - either the bully really was getting off there anyway, or he was lying to save face. It seems clear to us which one is true, but he wanted to make it even more clear to the others. It still seems strange to me that he'd make up a lie in order to support a point which is true, but that's human psychology I suppose :-) – Rand al'Thor Apr 23 at 14:36
  • @Randal'Thor I agree, it wasn't truly necessary for Rajam Iyer to lie about the bully getting back on the train. But though it's not rational, it is well within human nature, as you said. :) – Brahadeesh Apr 24 at 5:29

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