Memories of Childhood
by Zitkala-Sa & Bama
Complete summaries and answers of the two short stories included in CBSE/NCERT Class 12 textbook Vistas
The cutting of my long hair – by Zitkala-Sa
These two accounts of hideous prejudice and discrimination, written by two women from two very distant lands, point to a very unpleasant and universal truth. Humans have never been fair and accommodative towards fellow human beings belonging to different races, castes, and cultures. The inter-racial and inter-caste disharmony has led to insufferable humiliation and pain to the downtrodden. When things cross a certain threshold, the simmering anger against injustice erupts leading to leading to rebellions, movements, and even bloodbath.
The Cutting of My Long Hair by Zatkila-Sa…
In the present case, a young girl belonging to the Native American community has been forced to study in a school manned by English-speaking white settlers who dominate the social and political landscape. The girl is at odds with the school’s environment that she perceives to be oppressive, torturous, and suffocating. The discipline enforced in the residential school is too rigid to endure for a young playful child.
Zitkala-Sa (pen-name of the author) reminisces about her horrific times in one American school. Being a Native-American girl, she wore long lustrous hair. This was a cultural practice that was religiously practiced in her community. Cutting the hair short was abhorrent to her clan and was considered a degrading act. Male members of the Native Americans wore long hairs too. When they fail to please their white masters, the latter would have the long hair cropped as punishment intended to humiliate him among his fellowmen.
When Zitkala-Sa was called upon to subject herself to such an haircut by the school staff, she was devastated. She could not bear such indignity in the garb of school discipline. She fled from the spot, ran upstairs and hid herself under a bed. But, it didn’t take too long for the school staff to find her out and drag her for the forced haircut. Zitkala-Sa suffered horiific trauma, but could not resist the hair-cut. It was an affront to her cultural pride which scarred her mind for long years after the incident.
We Too Are Humans – by Bama
The young girl studying in Class 3 of her village school was too innocent and immature that her society treats her as ‘untouchable’ –an indignity she inherited from her birth.
She saunters home after the school hours covering the 10-minute walk distance in more than half an hour. She paced her walk very leisurely so that she could feast her eyes with the myriad interesting scenes of a rural market. There were the vegetable vendors, the tiny eateries, the small shops selling their low-cost wares, and the occasional circus-type entertainment shows.
It was a very pleasing stroll for her as she discovered something new every day to keep her imaginative mind busy.
A landlord belonging to the upper land-owning class has engaged a few hands from the little girl’s untouchable class to work with a pair of bullocks to separate the paddy from the dry stalks. The landlord sits on a stone piece cushioned by a jute cloth. He orders one of the labourers to go and fetch some fried vaddas from a nearby shop. The little girl sees the man carrying the snacks in a bag that he keeps lifted at shoulder height, as if to give the stuff additional protection.
The little girl is intrigued to understand why the bag containing the vaddas securely packed in banana leaves, and paper has to be lifted shoulder high. Later, she finds out that the precaution is taken to preempt touching the bag by an ‘untouchable’ person and contaminating it. She is appalled by this practice and can’t understand how a packet of eatables can be rendered unfit for eating simply if another human being touches the bag. She becomes restive as she can’t fathom the logic of such a practice.
She grows up in a family where the eldest son goes to an university for higher studies. While returning home on one occasion, he is approached by a stranger who wants to know his name and the area he lived in. The intention was to see if the student belonged to the lower caste.
Back in the home, the brother narrates his experience to her sister. Both bristle with indignation and anger at the prejudice against their class. The brother suggests a way to reclaim equal status with other supposedly higher classes. He implores his sister to plunge heart and soul into her studies, top her class and win recognition. Such a feat, he claims through his own example, breaks down the walls of discrimination and makes all others to befriend him.
The author is inspired by her brother’s advice and slogs to excel in her studies. Later, she becomes an accomplished writer.
Reading with insight
1. The two accounts that you read above are based in two distant cultures. What is the commonality of theme found in both of them?
Answer – The two stories set worlds apart in time and geography have one common thread running through them – the blistering anger against racial and caste insult, and the urge to undo the injustice.
2. It may take a long time for oppression to be resisted, but the seeds of rebellion are sowed early in life. Do you agree that injustice in any form cannot escape being noticed even by children?
Answer – Yes, the children despite their innocence and limited exposure to the harshness of life are not immune to the ubiquitous instances of social injustice and the sense of indignity that the downtrodden suffer all their lives.
3. Bama’s experience is that of a victim of the caste system. What kind of discrimination does Zitkala-Sa’s experience depict? What are their responses to their respective situations?
Answer – Zatkila-Sa suffered racial discrimination where the white settlers were the perpetrators and the native Americans were at the receiving end. In case of Bam, the injustice stemmed from a system where a section of the society were privileged, wealthy, and claimed innate superiority. Bama’s caste lived in the fringes of the society who were condemned to lifelong indignity, poverty, and extreme manifestation of hatred through the practice of untouchability.