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In Part Two R. K. Narayan's novel The Painter of Signs, Daisy, who works for the Indian government's Family Planning Program, and Raman, the painter of signs from the book's title, visit a remote village. The Family Planning Program aims to reduce the number of children per family to two. However, the population in the remote village they are visiting has grown from 600 to "seven-hundred odd" in twelve month's time, so Daisy immediately asks the village teacher to gather the families under the banyan tree in the centre of the village.

After speaking to the villagers for an hour,

the chiefman said, 'There is an old shrine in a cave over there where barren women can go and pray and bear children. How would you explain it?' Daisy simply answered, 'You should ask the priest of that temple,' and Raman admired the courage and subtlety of her reply.

In what way is Daisy's replay courageous and subtle? At this point of the story, Daisy and Raman have not yet visited the shrine or seen the priest.

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The implication is that the women aren't barren, their husbands are. And the children are the priest's.

This is not unheard of in India even now. See, for example, this South China Morning Post article:

“The problem does not pertain to rural India alone. In the National Capital Region [which encompasses Delhi and several districts around it], we have identified 2,000 self-styled godmen – they’re present in every city all over the country,” he says. “Each year, at least 45 to 50 women come out, stating they’ve been sexually exploited by these gurus, who claim to have conception cures. And that number is only the tip of the iceberg.”

Considering what she's alleging and how she implies it, that was indeed pretty courageous and subtle.

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  • Did you also take the priest's age into account? – Tsundoku Apr 27 at 17:41
  • I don't need to. Daisy, as you say, hasn't been to see him yet and so she couldn't have either. Unless the priest hasn't undergone puberty yet, it doesn't really matter. – muru Apr 27 at 17:45

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