Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Toss of a Lemon 2

He finds knowledge more interesting than ignorance.

I posted this as my Facebook status while reading The Toss of a Lemon, by Padma Viswanathan, because I could identify with this, too (as with the moment of identification I already commented on).

The context: the Brahmin Hanumarathnam, a man who is both a healer and an aristocrat with lands to manage, has read in his horoscope (and that of his wife) that he will die soon. He has found a boy in his village, Muchami, to train as an overseer of his lands after his death.

Knowledge is more interesting than ignorance: the immediate point of the statement is that both Hanumarathnam and Muchami enjoy the work of keeping track of the goings on on Hanumarathnam's lands—all the information about their tenants, who they are, how they work, what they are growing, which plots should be fallow, and so on.

But a further nuance of this for Hanumarathnam is that he prefers to know that he is going to die, because then he can prepare things for his wife and children. This nuance is ironized for the contemporary reader, however, by the fact that Hanumarathnam's knowledge of his forthcoming death comes from astrology; that is, his knowledge is based on superstition, which we now consider ignorance.

That irony is further ironized by the fact that he does die at the predicted time! So his knowledge may have been based on ignorance, but because he knew he was going to die, he was able to prepare the administration of his wealth for his family.

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