Q & A: Society can make or break a person. Discuss with reference to Ratnamuni by K S Maniam
For Malaysian Form 6 students.
We as human beings are greatly affected by others’ opinions of us. The people around us can shape the way that we are through their actions and words. In Ratnamuni by K S Maniam we can see how society can make or break a person through the stories of the protagonist, Muniandy, his son Ratnam and Muthiah.
Society can make a person by giving him means to make a living. In Muni’s case, the villagers’ beliefs in spirits and the uduku enable Muni to make a living out of clairvoyancy. When Muni’s sayings come true his name spreads far and wide which brings him more business. People ask him to cure ailments, predict gambling numbers, or to rid their homes of spirits. With his uduku and the people’s faith in him, Muni is able to raise his family, besides gaining respect from villagers. Govindan who used to belittle him as “stealer of white man’s wife” changed his stand, calling Muni and Malini “the rishi and his goddess wife”. If it wasn’t for the villagers’ firm beliefs in these things Muni would not have earned the respect from villagers like Govindan.
On the other hand, society can also break a person because there is hypocrisy in a society. In the story, Muthiah is respected by others because of his position as a clerk. He is also as educated man, to quote Muni, “he reads for reading and now he has come to success for success”. Due to this, Muthiah enjoys a higher status in this society and can instruct others and pay them at the end of each month. Yet, Muthiah has a side which should be disrespected. Muthiah brought pain to Muni’s family through his actions. He impregnated Malini which led to Ratnam’s birth. This in turn causes Malini to commit suicide, thus rendering Muni into a broken, depressed state. This affects Ratnam’s upbringing and makes him an uneducated person. Despite setting off this chain reaction and causing Muni’s family to be broken, Muthiah does not suffer the consequences and is still respected by the society, while Muni, the victim is disrespected by the society due to this. This cause Muni to break this respect of Muthiah and ultimately results in murdering Muthiah.
Besides Muthiah, there are other characters who show hypocrisy in breaking people. In the story, the highlight is placed on Muni’s family when there are other families going through the same predicament of infidelity in marriage. Chevudon’s daughter turns out to be Kali’s child from another man, which Muni exposes through his uduku. However, they do not seem to be under the same pressure that Muni receives from the society. Even they themselves lash out at Muni by questioning him about Ratnam’s parentage despite their similar circumstances. For example, Kali asks Muni why Ratnam has fair skin, asking whether his family comes from the northern caste. Another hypocrite is Govindan, whom Muni describes as snake tongued. He goes back and forth between respecting and disrespecting Muni depending on the situation. When Muni first arrives as a nobody, he calls him a “stealer of white man’s wife”; when he becomes famous due to his clairvoyancy skills, Govindan calls him a rishi and Muniar. He turns against Muni again after Malini’s death, this time attempting to convince Ratnam that Muni is not his father. This breaks Muni, and in time, breaks Ratnam as well.
However, society can make a person by bolstering one’s ego through their words. This is true in Muthiah’s case. Although Muthiah is self-made by being a learned person which earns a clerical post, his status largely comes from the society’s respect and fear of him. As a clerk, Muthiah gives out the others’ pay every month. When he gives out pay to Muni he would jeer at him. Despite the society’s respect towards Muni they laugh along with Muthiah because while Muni gives them peace of mind through religion, Muthiah has more influence in their lives as the one who provides them money to survive. They also put down Muni and praise Muthiah because he is educated. Apart from that, despite society’s speculations that Ratnam is Muthiah’s son, they do not put any blame on Muthiah and instead blame Muni for not being a good father. Govindan tells Muni: “He (Ratnam) could have been a respectable scholar-man. You were making him into an animal.” Thus Muthiah is able to maintain his status as a respectable person.
In conclusion, society can make or break and person because of its immense influence on one’s livelihood, social status and mentality. Different types of people bring different perspectives to the table, and one must be strong to face them, no matter for better or for worse.