The Blue Bead, Norah Burke

This story is about a young girl named Sibia who one day goes to the cliffs with her mother and other women to collect paper grass. On her return journey she gets left behind. In order to get home Sibia has to cross a river. She was too tired so she stopped to take rest. She sees a Gujar woman getting attacked by a crocodile. Sibia rushes to help the woman and she stabs the crocodile in the eye with a hayfork. Sibia takes the wounded woman back into the village. When she returns to the river to get her hayfork she finds a blue bead lying in water. In the end Sibia doesn’t tell her mother about helping the lady because she is excited about finding the blue bead for her necklace.

Extract I

“Timber was being floated down … breathing the clean sunny air.”

Question (i): What are sleepers? What made the timber float down the river?

Answer (i): Sleepers are rectangular pieces of timber which are specifically cut for construction of building and railway tracks.

Trees in the forest further up the great Indian river were being harvested by industries and the river was used to transport the timber.

Question (ii): What is meant by dislodge? How can the sleepers be dislodged?

Answer (ii): Dislodge is an act of forcefully removing something from its position.

Sleepers that are lying stuck in the stones can be dislodged by delivering sufficient force, manually or mechanically, to the sleepers using a lever like contrivance. Also, floods can lift them and jostle them along.

Question (iii): From where did the crocodile come? Why did he come? What was he doing in the shallow waters?

Answer (iii): The crocodile had come from deep black water of the river where the flowing streams produced whirlpools.

He had come to glassy shallows of the river to rest.

He balanced his body on tiptoe on the rippled sand so that only his eyes and nostrils were visible above the water. He lay in the water motionless breathing clean sunny air.

Question (iv): Why did the crocodile raise his eyes and nostrils out of water?

Answer (iv): The crocodile raised his eyes to get a clear sight of the area around the stepping stones and raised his nostrils to breath easily, this enabled him to lay motionless and concealed, in ambush, for prolonged duration.

Question (v): The author says, “Now nothing could pierce the inch-thick armoured hide”. What does she mean by the sentence given above? Why does she say so?

Answer (v): Over the years, the crocodile had grown, from a baby crocodile vulnerable to birds of prey and carnivorous fishes, into a juggernaut so ferocious and formidable that nothing could pierce his inch-thick armoured hide. The author is suggesting that the crocodile is invincible as he is covered with thick armour-like hide which weapons cannot pierce.

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The author is describing the strength of the crocodile in detail as foreshadow of violent conflict which was going to take place between crocodile and Sibia later in the day. And, how brave Sibia uses her presence of mind to overpower the crocodile and save the Gujar woman’s life.

Extract II

“The mugger crocodile … a throb in his throat.”

Question (i): What is a mugger crocodile?

Answer (i): A mugger crocodile is a species of freshwater crocodile with a short snout found throughout the Indian subcontinent.

Question (ii): Give the meaning of:

(a) An antediluvian saurian:

Answer (a): It means a large reptile which is very old as if it belonged to the times before the biblical flood.

(b) Prehistoric juggernaut:

Answer (b): Something which has been in existence from very old times and is huge and powerful and moving with overwhelming force that cannot be stopped.

Question (iii): Describe the appearance of the crocodile. What made him move?

Answer (iii): The crocodile with a huge tail was twice the length of a tall man. His colour was blackish brown on above and yellowy white on underside. A throb in his throat, his mouth was closed and fixed in evil bony smile, ran almost the whole length of his head and was tinged with green where the yellow underside came up to it. His hide was one inch thick and nothing could pierce it.

The crocodile used unimaginable and irresistible power of his huge tail to move in water.

Question (iv): How can you conclude from the extract that the crocodile was a strong and dangerous animal?

Answer (iv): The crocodile is described as “an antediluvian saurian, a prehistoric juggernaut, ferocious and formidable, a vast force in water, propelled by unimaginable and irresistible power of the huge tail”, suggests that he was a strong and dangerous animal.

Question (v): How did the crocodile rest in the shallows?

Answer (v): The crocodile balanced on tiptoe on the rippled sand of the shallows with only his eyes and nostrils raised out of water so that he could see and breathe easily.

Extract III

“From the day, perhaps a hundred … his brainless craft and ferocity.”

Question (i): What is said about the birth of the crocodile? How can you say that the crocodile was very active even before he was fully hatched?

Answer (i): The crocodile hatched from an egg, probably a hundred years ago, in a sandbank.

The crocodile was very active because as soon as he managed to get his head out of his shell he was looking around ready to snap at anything even before he was fully hatched.

Question (ii): What is meant by brainless craft and ferocity?

Answer (ii): It means making use of one’s craft and ferocity guided purely by natural instinct. The young crocodile could escape from predators by instinctively using his skills and fierceness.

Question (iii): What were the dangers facing the young crocodile?

Answer (iii): The young crocodile faced the dangers of getting eaten by birds of prey and great carnivorous fishes who fed on baby crocodiles.

Question (iv): How did the young crocodile get the food and stored it? What did the big crocodile feed on?

Answer (iv): The young crocodile caught the food and stored it in holes in the river bank.

The big crocodile fed mostly on fish but had also caught deer, monkeys, and ducks. He had also sometimes fed on pi-dog full of parasites and a skeleton cow. Sometimes he went down to the burning ghats and fed on half-burned bodies of Indians cast into the stream.

Question (v): How is the body of the crocodile strong enough to protect him? How was he vulnerable to an attack?

Answer (v): The body of crocodile is protected with one inch thick layer of armoured hide on the above. Nothing can pierce it, even rifle bullets would bounce off.

His eyes and the soft underarms made him vulnerable to an attack.

Extract IV

“It was not a gem; though … dressed in an earth-coloured rag.”

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The Little Match Girl, Hans Christian Andersen

The story is about a little girl’s dream and hope. On a cold New Year’s Eve, a poor, young girl tries to sell matches in the street. She is already shivering from cold and starvation, and she is walking barefoot having lost her two large slippers. She is too afraid to go home, because her father will beat her for not selling any matches, and also as the many cracks in their shack can’t keep out the cold wind. The girl takes shelter in an alley. The girl lights the matches to warm herself. In their glow she sees several lovely visions, starting with a warm stove, then a luxurious holiday feast where the goose almost jumps out at her, and then a magnificent Christmas tree and thereafter she happened to see her deceased grandmother.

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Extract I

“It was bitterly cold, snow was … but what good were they?”

Question (i): What was special about the particular evening in the story? What kind of weather was there in the evening?

Answer (i): It was New Year’s Eve, the last evening of the year.

The weather in the evening was bitterly cold and snow was falling.

Question (ii): The girl had the slippers on, but they were of no use. Why?

Answer (ii): The girl was wearing her mother’s slippers when she stepped out of her home. The slippers were of no use to her as they were too big for her tiny feet.

Question (iii): How can you conclude from the story that the girl was poor and dejected?

Answer (iii): The girl belonged to poor family and is evident from the fact that she was walking in snowy winter weather bareheaded and she had been wearing her mother’s slippers which was too big for her feet. Her scanty clothes were not enough to keep her warm. Her house is described to be cold and having nothing but a roof with cracks on the walls allowing cold wind to whistle through them. The girl’s longings for love and affection from her family got reflected in the imaginary visions she experienced, whereas in real life she was afraid of her father who treated her badly. Because of that she felt dejected and in the final vision she pleaded with her late grandmother to take her to heaven.

Question (iv): Why was the girl out in the cold? What prevented her from going back home?

Answer (iv): The girl was sent out in the cold by her father to earn money from selling matches.

All day had passed but she was unable to sell any matches. She was afraid to go home as her father was very strict and had warned her that if she returned home without money he would give her a beating.

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Question (v): How appropriate is the title of the story?

Answer (v): The title of the story “The Little Match Girl” is appropriate as it revolves around a little girl who sells matches. The little girl in the story was sent out by her father in cold and snowy weather to sell matches. She did not have proper clothes to wear; she had to walk bareheaded and barefoot and was trembling with cold and hunger. She was afraid to go home because she could not sell any matches, and therefore, would get a beating from her father. She huddled herself in a corner formed between walls and tried to keep herself warm by lighting the matches, but it was of no avail and she died in the freezing cold.

Extract II

“So the little girl walked … packet of them in her hand as well”.

Question (i): Who is referred to as little girl in the extract above? How did she lose her shoes?

Answer (i): In the above extract a poor match seller is referred to as little girl.

The girl was wearing her mother’s slippers when she stepped out of her home. The slippers were of no use to her as they were too big for her tiny feet. She could not manage to keep them strapped on her feet when she ran across the street so as to escape from two carriages that were being driven terribly fast. While she was running they slipped off from her feet. She could not find one of the slippers and a boy ran off with the other saying he could use it as a cradle when he had children of his own.

Question (ii): Why was the girl carrying matches with her?

Answer (ii): The girl was sent out by her father in the cold and snowy weather to sell matches.

Question (iii): Why does the author describe the girl as “the picture of misery”?

Answer (iii): The poor little girl was moving bareheaded and barefoot in the snowy winter of New Year’s Eve. Her feet had turned red and blue due to extreme cold. Her old apron was stuffed with matches and she was holding a packet of matches in her hand as well. She was hungry and shivering in cold and was walking slowly. The description of the girl as “picture of misery” creates vivid impressions of the little girl, in the mind of the reader, who is suffering intense mental and physical agony.

Question (iv): What tells you that the girl was not only trembling with cold but also with hunger?

Answer (iv): The fact that the girl was walking about the streets on her naked feet which had turned red and blue with frostbite tells us that she was trembling with cold. Moreover, she was also trembling with hunger as she did not have money to buy food. This can be said from the fact that all day had passed but her apron and hand were still stuffed with matches suggesting that nobody had bought any of her matches. Also, nobody took pity on her and gave her a single penny to help her buy some food.

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Question (v): Explain how the story is interspersed with didactic elements.

Answer (v): The story attempts to teach people to show empathy towards people who are poor, especially innocent children. The poor looking girl was almost run over twice by recklessly driven carriages. It was New Year’s Eve and every household was feasting with delicious roasted geese but nobody was kind to offer the little girl food, warm clothes, shelter or buy her matches. The poor little girl was moving on the street trembling with cold and starvation all day but people seemed to have overlooked her. The miserable condition of the girl evokes feelings of compassion strong enough to motivate wealthy people to work towards alleviating the sufferings of the poor.

Extract III

“She tucked her little legs … with straw and rags”

Question (i): Where was the girl sitting? How did she try to warm her fingers?

Answer (i): She was sitting huddled down in a heap in a corner formed by two houses.

She burned a match by striking it on the wall to warm her fingers.

Question (ii): When did the girl feel as if she were sitting before a large iron stove? Why did she feel this way?

Answer (ii): When she burnt the first match by scratching it on the brick wall to warm her fingers, she felt as if she was sitting before a large iron stove which gave her lovely warmth.

The girl was trying to keep herself warm in the small fire produced by the matches. She hoped that the fire would help fight freezing cold by imagining that she was sitting before a large iron stove.

Question (iii): Explain what kind of relationship the girl shared with her father.

Answer (iii): In the terrible cold and snowy weather the girl was sent by her father to sell matches. The girl was unable to sell matches and was afraid of going home because of the fear of being beaten by her father. It shows that her father was not concerned about her welfare and used to ill-treat her.

Question (iv): With reference to the story, bring out the theme of class differentiation.

Answer (iv): The girl’s clothes and her house as having only the roof, through which wind whistled and large cracks were stuffed with straw and rags, indicate that she belonged to the poor class of the society. She was being used as child labour and was looked down upon by others. She imagined beautiful things in the glow of matches she longed for which only rich upper class people enjoyed. She walked in the street in snowy winter trembling with cold and hunger but nobody was kind to her and showed only pity when her frozen dead body was found the next morning. All the experience the girl had, both in reality and imagination, highlights class differentiation in the Victorian society.

Question (v): The children in Victorian society were not only orphaned but also deserted, neglected and abused. Give evidence from the story to prove this statement.

Answer (v): The girl’s father did not have affection for her and abused her. She was not given proper warm clothes and shoes to wear. The little girl was used as a child labour and was sent out in snowy winter to sell matches. She was trembling with cold and hunger but nobody in the street took notice of her. She was not yet home in the evening but it seems that her father was least concerned about her. The condition of the girl shows that children in Victorian society were not only orphaned but also deserted, neglected and abused.

Extract IV

“She struck another … she could see into the room”.

Question (i): What happened when the girl lit the first match?


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