Anthology title: MEMORIES WE LOST
Reviewed story: THE UMBRELLA MAN
Author: Siddhartha Gigoo
(2018 to 2022 Optional set book for F3s and F4s, Kenya Secondary Schools students).
Reviewer: Dr George Areba (Right)
Siddhartha Gigoo is an Indian author and film-maker. He studied English Literature at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, in New Delhi India. His short story ‘The Umbrella Man’ is the Asia winner of the Commonwealth Short Story prize of 2015.
The story happens in a haven for mentally challenged persons. This is a hospital for the confinement of people who have mental challenges who have to be kept in seclusion and solitary so that they are treated to improve their health condition.
“The Umbrella Man” is about an inmate, Number 7, living in a mental haven. All he possesses is an umbrella with yellow-and-red stripes. Number 7 suffers from unknown neurosis. He yearns for rain. During evenings, he strolls in the haven compound, carrying along the Yellow-and Red striped umbrella hoping to experience rainfall.
In incarceration with little freedom, he is the only one allowed to walk and stroll out of the gates but still in the confinements of the haven. He is allowed this limited freedom because of his obedience and calm nature.
Number 7 speaks to a ghostly, imagined child in his cell every night. While strolling around, he picks an imaginary conversation with his only friend The Puny little fellow. They have a discussion about rainfall and how they have waited for it.
The puny little fellow points out how rain can be destructive. He does this till one day when he is set free, he spreads out his umbrella and sets off beyond the gates of the haven, towards a world he has never seen before. The only thing he leaves behind is the wet footprints.
The mentally challenged inmates, together with Number 7 are locked up in a haven where their freedom and movement is restricted. It is only in the evening that the inmates are allowed to go out of their wards and stroll about in the asylum’s compound. The freedom ended at the wall.
Number 7 adores his Yellow-and-Red striped Umbrella, which is his only buddy and playmate. He does not go out without the umbrella, no one knows how he came to own the umbrella but they have become indivisible. He takes relaxed walks with it in the evenings.
The umbrella was the most beautiful thing in the entire haven. It brought smiles on his lips. Through the windows of wards fellow inmates look at Number 7 in trepidation and wonder as they wanted to hold the umbrella in their hands, they wanted to be in its shade.
Due to emotional instability and mental disturbance, Number 7 with others are put in a mental hospital haven for treatment and care. Mentally challenged fellows are put in seclusion to necessitate their care and treatment.
Due to his psychological state, Number 7 has a conversation with strange aunt, and also chats at night with an imaginary, non-existent child. He feels it is his responsibility to ensure the well being of that imaginary child. He soothes the baby, lulls it and even prays for the child. More so Number 7 walks in the evenings with an umbrella yet it doesn’t rain.
Number 7 is full of hope every time. When evening comes he ventures out with the yellow-and-red striped umbrella, with the hope of it raining. He is mesmerized by the thought of rain; he in fact gets excited when clouds gather.
When asked by the barber if it will rain, Number 7 answers with full of hope that it will soon. At night he prays for the child and hopes that some powers would heed his prayers and grant grace on the child.
CHARACTER AND CHARACTERIZATION
Friendly: In his imaginary world he becomes friends with the puny fellow with whom they have a hearty talk about rain and how nature is bountiful and full of miracles.
Prayerful: He prays in silence for the child being convinced that some powers should heed to his prayers and bestow grace upon the child.
Incongruous: On the last night in the haven facility, Number 7 is not concerned about the following morning that he is to be free. He is the same as other days as he talks to the imaginary child.
Caring: He takes care and soothes the child to sleep. He always worries and frets over the child ‘…all he wanted was a peaceful sleep for the child.’
Curious: He questions the little puny fellow on what makes him to delay to come to their meeting point. He wants to know about his where about.
Submissive: His obedience and calm nature has made the doctors to write a positive report about the assessment of Number 7’s condition. This enables the committee to agree to his release.
Accommodative: He does not show displeasure with the coming of Number 7 despite the fact that he is a distracter. Number 7 talks about rain, nature and hope with him “… he did not betray displeasure, knowing that the man had come for a friendly chat.”
Conscientious: He beseeches Number 7 to let him to carry on with his work for his fellows may think he is more interested in gossiping with a stranger than attending to his work.
Wary: He notes that though they long for rains to come, the rains can be quite destructive towards hapless fellows like them.
Sharp-eyed: notices that Number 7 never ventures out without the umbrella.
Point of view
The story is told from a third person point of view, where the narrator gives us the story from what he observes.
The area in the haven that is allowed for movement is described as “…the wall around the one hundred and twenty-square-meter compound ninety something yards in the narrow avenue outside the gates that ended at another wall. Beyond that brick-and —stone wall was a vast darkness “this brings out the picture of the confinement of the inmates in the asylum, the place with limited freedom. The umbrella possessed by Number 7 is described as a yellow and red striped, beautiful Umbrella. It was the most beautiful thing in the entire haven. More beautiful than the bed of wild flowers along the wall.
Number 7 converses with the barber about rain which shows Number 7’s fascination with rain. Dialogue between doctors and Number 7 reveals change in the state of Number 7’s health such that he is free to go. The dialogue between Number 7 and his friend, the Puny little fellow, reveals Number 7’s anticipation for freedom and the little Puny fellow’s fear of destruction that can be brought about by rain.
The little puny fellow talks with Number 7 how nature is bountiful and full of miracles. Number 7 is greeted by a small puddle when he steps out of his confinement .The dance of raindrops on the nylon of the umbrella seemed distant dream; it seemed impossible for it to rain. It shows the significance of the umbrella can only be truly seen when it rains.
Number 7 is always moving out with the Yellow-and-Red striped umbrella with the hope of it raining yet still he wonders of what use is hope. He yearns for rain and yet when it rains he walks slowly in the compound busy avoiding splashes from rainfall.
The rain is symbolically used by the writer to indicate the getting well by the inmates. For Number 7, more so it is the freedom that he has been yearning for. The wild bush represents the uncertainty of life. The Yellow-and-Red striped umbrella symbolizes the change in behavior of Number 7 such that the doctors are able to write a favorable report to facilitate the freedom.
Dr Areba is a lecturer at Kisii University. His contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.