Of White Hairs and Cricket Rohinton Mistry The subject of mortality and acceptance of the pure reality is explored in this passage through the innocence of the narrator and his growing acceptance. The story drops the reader into a scene where the boy is plucking his ageing father’s grey hairs. The tone in the first few paragraphs indicates the boy’s reluctance to do the task, which is antithetical to the end of the story where his enthusiasm sparks up due to his epiphany. The plucking of the “white hairs” is symbolic of the Father’s reluctance to accept the reality of ageing.
Every week there were more “white hairs” and the process took “longer than the last time” and the boy was sure that “Daddy noticed it too, but joked bravely that laziness was slowing [the boy]down”. The Father relied on the boy to “uproot the signposts of mortality sprouting week after week”. The natural imagery in this line suggests how natural the process of ageing is, and its persistence is emphasised by the repetition in “week after week” instead of perhaps saying “every week”.
The Father’s reluctance to accept ageing is also seen in his constant search for jobs seeking “young” and “dynamic” applicants. Every so often he hopes to get such a job but is always disappointed, as it is pointed out by his wife, but his persistence shows his stubbornness and refusal to accept reality; “Every-single-white-hair-out”. The Father’s attitude, however, is always positive as he “joked bravely” and “recovered quickly” from his wife’s remarks about the job advertisement, and “made it into a joke”. This positive attitude emphasises his persistence and his refusal to come to terms with ageing.
If he always reacted negatively, violently and aggressively to when people attempted to tell him the truth, this would show that he actually understands the truth but simply does not want to be reminded of it. His positive reactions, however, show his blindness to the truth and inability to realise it. However, there are slight hints of his understanding, when he “summon[s] his bitterness to retaliate”, which show potentially aggressive thoughts, implying agreement. But his quick recovery shows his determination of denial. The Narrator’s mother plays only a small role in the story.
The way in which he refers to her as “Mummy”, and likewise refers to his father as “Daddy”, shows the boy’s innocence and lack of maturity yet. The mother only makes a few realistic remarks in annoyance; “nothing happens when you plan too much” in the entire passage. The loss of innocence is another theme in the story. The references to the loss of innocence as a theme are mainly found at the end of the story where the Narrator has his epiphany and understands realism. After the experience in the sickroom, the boy walked outside and suddenly the “compound was flooded with sunshine”.
Sunshine here represents exposing the truth and revealing the harness of life. The boy has understood all and has come to terms with everything after seeing his best friend’s father suffering from his old age in the “sickroom”. The word “flooded”, however, suggests a rapid gush of information filling his head, which he cannot process all at once. It represents the undesirable and sudden amount of knowledge he has just received. This is why I find this particular line effective. The boy passes a wall he remembers drawing on with his friends. He can see his childhood fading from him as “the lines were very faint, and could barely be seen”.
His childhood along with his innocence is now “lost amongst more recent scribbles”, which represent his more recent experiences. The “abandoned games of noughts and crosses” also represent leaving behind childhood. The relationship between the Narrator and his friend Viraf also shows conflict between youth and maturity. There is conflict between the Narrator’s innocence and Viraf’s earnestness. The way in which the boy calls Viraf a “cry-baby” shows the closeness between them and the transparency of the relationship, but it also shows the boys’ ignorance and immaturity.
Viraf “looks upset” but the boy does not understand the seriousness behind Viraf’s sadness. “Words to show concern were beyond [him]”. The boy also attempts to change the subject when Viraf is upset by asking what Viraf’s plans are for the day”. This may also be an attempt to show that the boy does perhaps understand the reason and the seriousness of the matter but wishes to avoid facing it or dealing with it. The reader is given slight hints that the boy does understand, but refuses to face it.
The boy understands other concepts, like keeping time and wasting time, as when he says to Viraf that “half the morning’s over” he is agitated and does not wish to waste any more time of the day. Understanding a concept like this must surely provide scope for the boy to be able to understand much more. Perhaps this refusal to accept the mercilessness of time reflect his own Father’s attitude. This attitude contrasts with his mother’s, and particularly Mamaiji’s. Mamaiji is portrayed as a strong woman of character, which reminds me of the portrayal of Da-duh in To Da-duh in Memoriam by Paule Marshall.
Mamiji is nothing but the acceptance of reality itself. She shows care for the boy’s innocence as she is always concerned with his eating habits and thinks that “a lack of proper nourishment has enfeebled [his] bowels”, but also does not fear giving him food which is too spicy or too harsh for him as she wants him to taste the bitter realities of life. As the story develops we see the Narrator’s maturity growing. His experience in the “sickroom” seeing his friend’s father in a position where he under the mercy of death itself is what allowed him to have the epiphany he did.
The long needle which was “stuck” into the man’s right arm “glinted cruelly in a thin shaft of sunlight”. The word “glinted” suggests a sudden spark of realization the boy may have had. It personifies the needle and makes it symbolic of age and time. The needle was “connected by a tube” to a “dark metal stand towering over the bed”. The word “dark” paints the gloomy image of the room. The word “towering” personifies the stand and implies dominance. The stand is holding the bottle which is keeping the old man alive, which means that the man is powerless should anything fail.
The man is dependent upon the mercy of time and age and is powerless against it. The boy takes this experience home with him and has a completely different attitude towards helping his father remove the “white hairs” which contrasts with the attitude he had in the beginning. We are reminded of the loss of innocence when the boy sees the “Murphy Baby” picture though the “gloom of the light”. The light here, again represents the revealing of the truth, and the fact that there is a gloom to the light suggests that the boy regrets ever being revealed to the reality.
The boy reminisces how he was told that his smile used to be “just as, if not more, innocent and joyous”. The writer refers to the past here to remind us how much has changed in 14 years, and how much has changed due to his experiences. The becomes emotionally devastated after coming home and is ready to carry on ridding of his “white hairs” in order to keep his father from being at the mercy of the ageing process The boy remembers that “glint” in the needle and sees this same glint in the tweezers.
The tweezers glinted just as “pitilessly” as the needle did “cruelly”. The personification of the tweezers here makes it clear that they are symbolic of ageing. Time, age and death are all pitiless and cruel. The boy was devastated by the raw truth of the cycle of life and death and by the power of nature. The many religious references imply that he was devastated by the power God had over everything, which links with when the mother told the Father to “leave it in the hands of God”. This is all symbolized by “all the white hairs that [he] was powerless to stop”.
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