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A Study Guide To A Silent Song and Other Stories- NINEMA

Story 3: NINEMA -Vrenika Pather- South Africa

Read A MAN OF AWESOME POWERS (Naguib Mahfouz-Egypt)

About the Author Vrenika Pather

Vrenika Pather is mainly known for her acting prowess since she started her career as an actress at the age of eighteen. The Indian lady of South African origin has also written a few short stories, one of them being Ninema. Her stories mainly tell the life that many Indian ladies live and their every day’s encounters.

Points to guide interpretation

  1. Tough life of a market vendor:
    1. Rising early
    1. Poor meals
    1. Poor/lack of proper grooming  Dealing with different customers

Caste and relationships

  1. Sexual harassment/immorality.
  2. Need to remain principled and focused.


a. Ninema

She is one of the market gardeners who serves as the main character in the story.

She is focused, ambitious, organized and strong-willed. Her admirable trait is seen in how fond the other ladies are of her

A comprehensive and detailed guide to a silent song and other stories and how many of her customers remain loyal.

b. Mr. Chinran

He is a white man who is a loyal customer of Ninema.

He admires Ninema, but both know that their relationship is prohibited since they are from different castes. While Mr. Chinran is a wealthy lawyer from a Brahmin caste, Ninema is a poor girl from a low caste.

He supports Ninema’s business by buying more than enough herbs from her.

c. Mrs. Singh

She is a wealthy older woman who is a loyal customer.

She is known for haggling over prices, thus being difficult and troublesome. She spends time negotiating with Ninema as a way of passing the time. d. The strange man

He is the man who accosts Ninema on her way from the market.

He is immoral, vulgar and lascivious.


Vrenika Pather’s story Ninema’, is about the harsh life of market gardeners as represented by Ninema and the other ladies. The story explores the hustles that Ninema goes through on a typical market day, starting from rising at the wee hours of the morning to closure time which is late in the evening. Her home life is simple, suggesting the poor living conditions of such vendors. She has to prepare before going to the Indian market where she makes her sales. She only washes her face and feet with cold water from an outside tap since she cannot afford running hot water. This affects her grooming as she takes a bath once a week. She puts on her Chumpal, symbolising the poor condition and the only source of protection for her feet while on the way to and from the market.

Ninema remains focused and does not let her beauty and attention from both men and women control her. Once in the market, Ninema organises her herbs appetisingly to attract customers.

The market condition is challenging as the weather is not favourable. It is hot, and Ninema sweats until her Sari clings to her firm skin.

She handles different customers who buy her herbs with wisdom and respect. Her focus in business enables her not to get carried away by Mr. Chinran’s attraction towards her. She does not encourage his infatuation with her but treats him like any other customer. With respect and appreciation.

She firmly handles the troublesome and difficult Mrs. Singh. Many customers who visit her stall are served well and are satisfied as she takes a personal interest in them. Her doctor, Dr. Seedat, visits too, and she takes time talking to him about her mother’s ailment.

Having served her last customer, Ninema closes her stall after taking stock of the unsold herbs and her profit for the day. The rot in society is seen when a strange man sexually assaults Ninema on her way home. He pinches her erect nipple and laughs loudly before extending some invitation for Ninema to follow him. Ninema does not take this abuse lying down. She utilises the only weapon she has — her

Chumpal, that protect the soles of her feet and her whole self. She hits the man repeatedly with her sandals as the other women cheer her on. The man is too shocked to react and thus ends up being beaten by Ninema until he whimpers.

Feeling satisfied, Ninema continues with her journey home. She goes back to the poor condition she left in the morning. She safely keeps her sandals under the kitchen table before washing her face and feet with cold water, just like she had done in the morning. She takes a rest that leads her to a dream of a better tomorrow.

The story ends with hopeful/optimistic Ninema, who dreams of having a home for herself, hot water and a kitchen inside the house.


  1. Compare and contrast Ninema and other lady marketers
  2. What is ironic about Mrs. Singh’s behaviour?
  3. Ninema is a likeable and admirable character. Do you agree? Give evidence from the story.
  4. How effectively has Vrenika Pather used description in the story?


I. Living conditions of Ninema – Pg13 and 16

Il. Ninema’s skill of trade – Pg 14-15

Ill. Journey home – Pg 16

Several issues are addressed in these episodes:

The harsh life of a market gardener

  • As a market gardener, Ninema faces a tough life that calls for her principled, hardened (iron-willed), focused, firm, hardworking and determined.
  • She has to wake up very early to reap the herbs from her garden – ‘Four o’clock on Monday morning’. Page 13
  • Sighs of acceptance always accompany her work — she faces many challenges and is winning. Page 13

Ninema lives a poor life – she cannot afford running hot water. She only washes her face and feet with cold water from an outside tap Page 13.

  • She has to carry the basket containing the herbs on her head as she walks the long journey to the Indian market ‘It is a long walk’ Page 14
  • She only wears her sandals when going to the market. The kind of meals she takes points to the poor life she takes a few sips of tea she brought with her Page 14 (breakfast)
  • Some sandwiches that she packed from home are her only meal for lunch Page 15.

Time is limited for her — she only affords a weekly shower on Saturday after boiling water on the open fire Page

Dealing with different kinds of customers

Mr. Chinran admires her and can almost be said to be in love with her. ‘The ladies teased her, saying he was in love with her. The writer also tells us that Ninema made Mr. Chinran’s day. He is almost always the first customer. Ninema handles him wisely and does not let this attraction control her. She does not encourage his infatuation but treats him with respect and appreciation like she does all her loyal customers. (pg14)

She also has to handle demanding customers such as Mrs. Singh, who though rich, will always bargain to lower the prices. Ninema shows her masterful skills by firmly and respectively handling her. (pg14) She serves many affluent customers at lunch hour who steadily flow in to get herbs for their evening meals. She pays personal interest to each

as she has an ambition of living a better life just like most of these customers. (pg15)

  • Time limitation allows her to consult with her doctor – Dr Seedat, only when he comes to buy herbs from her. The two talk about Ninema’s mother’s illness showing that Ninema is equally concerned about her mother.
  • She can entice a new customer by offering an extra bunch of mint for free. (pg15) This generosity makes the customer happy, thus promising to always shop with her.

Class discrimination

The Indian society that Ninema hails from has a strong belief in the caste where those from the high caste — Brahmin Caste, are not allowed to inter-marry with those from the lower caste. This is seen in her association with Mr. Chinran. ‘As much as Ninema dismisses the teasing of the ladies that Mr. Chinran is in love with her, she is also aware that a rich lawyer from a Brahmin caste cannot be interested in someone like her — a poor girl from a low caste (pg14). Mr. Chinran himself knows it too, and thus their relation can never go beyond early morning herb buys. He further understands that his mother will soon arrange a marriage for him, most probably to a person from his caste.

Hard work/focus/determination

The writer emphasizes the importance of hard work, focus and determination in an individual’s life. Through the main character Ninema, the benefits of the three traits are depicted.

Ninema’s hard work is seen in how she rises early — four o’clock Monday morning, and goes to her garden to reap herbs. Her hard work in the garden has borne fruits since her crops are described as being healthy (pg13).

Her hardworking nature is also seen in how she ably

Attends to the many wealthy customers who flock to her stall, especially during lunchtime. Even though the stall is busy and Ninema is quite busy, she ably attends to all customers and takes a personal interest (pg15).

Ninema’s hard work does not go unrewarded. She has several loyal customers who visit her stall daily. She has a steady flow of customers and feels she will need to sow more seeds to keep up with the rising demand (pg15). She does not let anything distract her from her business. She remains focused, which essentially aids to success in her business. The writer points out Ninema’s beauty that makes heads turn when she walks through vivid description. ‘She is a beautiful woman… her hips sway from side to side as she moves her thin, chiffon sari drapes effortlessly around

her perfect body as if kept in place by her high, firm breasts. Long, toned arms and a cinched waist cause men to stop and stare’ (pg13).

Despite receiving this attention, Ninema keeps calm and focuses on her business. ‘Ninema does not take the attention she gets to the heart. Her concern is with earning a living’ (Pg14).

Her focus is further seen where while other lady hawkers chat amiably with each other as they work, Ninema rarely talks back since she has no time to waste (pg14).

Sexual assault/harassment

The writer points out the sexual harassment faced by many women in society. The encounter between Ninema and the stranger on her way home shows how women suffer sexual abuse even in public places. The man approaching Ninema grins lasciviously at her before extending his arm to pinch her erect nipple. As if this is not enough, he extends an invitation to Ninema — “If you liked that follow me.” (Pg16). episode satirizes men who assume women are sex objects to be mishandled. Ninema’s reaction to the abuse is unexpected. The man is shocked when Ninema follows him and hits him repeatedly with her Chumpal. She gives him ‘a few extra hits on behalf of all the women.’ (Pg 6) This shows that many women have been victims of sexual abuse but end up not fighting back. Ninema thus portrays a

courageous personality as she fights for herself and even for the helpless women who had been or would-be victims of such abuse.


The story “Ninema’ is a story of hope. Ninema has hope that her life will change at some point. As the story ends, Ninema dreams of the home that will be hers someday soon: The house will have hot water too, and the kitchen will be on the inside. She will also have her large garden to grow herbs and some fruits for herself (pg16).


  1. To succeed in business, one must have the necessary skills to handle customers. Using Ninema in Vrenikas Pather’s ‘Ninema’ support this.
  2. “Hard work and determination pays”, Using illustrations from Ninema show the validity of this statement.
  3. Women traders experience challenges in their lives. Show how Ninema deals with these challenges.
  4. Ninema is an admirable character. Support from the story Ninema.
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