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ICSE Class 10 Poems and Short Stories The Blue Bead (Norah Burke)

The Blue Bead Synopsis and Important Questions


This story is written by Norah Burke. Her father was a forest officer who served in India, so she spent her childhood in India. She started writing from an early age. Her observations and stories were related to her travel and sporting experiences. She was an enthusiastic traveller.

‘The Blue Bead’ is a story about a brave young girl, Sibia, who has saved a woman’s life. In the process of doing so, she acquires a blue bead, something she had been desiring for quite earnestly. She is merely twelve years old, so she is very happy to get the blue bead and is very humble even after the glory of saving someone’s life. Such a young girl is not expected to do heroic deeds. This is very unusual and brave of her.

This story revolves around the moral that good things come through difficult situations and the proverb ‘where there is a will, there is a way’.
The story begins with an elaborate description of the mugger crocodile who is well grown and twice as large as a tall man. He has fully grown up and his skin has developed into a solid wall of armoured hide which cannot be penetrated even with a bullet shot. He has plenty available for his meals, and he ate almost everything. He fed on fish, ducks, deer, monkeys and other animals which came to the river to drink water. He also fed on a pi-dog full of parasites or a skeleton cow. If need be, he sometimes went down the burning ghats and found the half-burnt bodies of Indians cast into the stream. He passes his days lying on warm rocks and the sand bank where the sun dries the clay. Beside the crocodile, as he lays waiting for his food or relaxing, there was a blue bead shining brightly.

Sibia is a village girl dressed in an earth-coloured rag. She is 12 years old and was eating her last chapatti. She had been living in a mud house located in the village near the river where the great crocodile resided. Her life was hit by extreme poverty, yet she has visited the local market with her parents and brothers. Witnessing everything which came under her gaze, there seemed no rest in her life as she has been performing all the household tasks from husking corn to cutting grass for fodder. In all her life, she had never owned anything but a rag. She wished to make a bead necklace for herself that would rattle around her neck. Due to poverty, Sibia was deprived of everything. Making the necklace of beads was not an easy task as one needs a red hot needle to drill across the beads, but she had to wait as the needle they had was broken. She was accustomed to the toils of daily life. She is a happy child who finds happiness in all situations of adversity.
It was Sibia’s regular routine to go to get paper grass from the cliff above the river with her mother and other women of the community. They sell the grass to an agent who arranges its dispatch to the paper mills. One day on their way back, they came across camps of grass huts in which resided the Gujars. Sibia glanced at the Gujar women as she went towards the cliff. The Gujars were a nomadic community who made a place their home until their animals finish the grass within their reach or there is no market for their milk or butter to be sold. While the men and boys went to the market to sell their products, the Gujar women tried to get resources from the forest in order to generate revenue. Just like Sibia, they were born and bred in the forests and lived on forest resources.
Sibia was observing the attire of the women who brought water for animals in clay-made pitchers termed ‘gurrahs’.
Sibia had been cutting grass with her mother who kept a watch on her so that she may not ignore working. Yet, she was thinking about the moulded balls which she kept in the cave. She was dying to have a look at them. So, as soon as the time of toiling was over, she went to see them while her mother moved away with the loaded grass.
After Sibia’s mother had gone along with the other women, Sibia came down to the stepping stones with a load of grass on her back. The load was heavy for her, and so, it forced her to rest on a big boulder. This was the time when she noticed a Gujar woman with two earthen pitchers going down to the river for filling them with fresh water. This Gujar woman was ignorant of the fact that the crocodile was a yard away from her. The crocodile, however, attacked her splashing at her legs with his mighty jaws. He was trying to drive her into the river.
Any other person might not have tried to reach such a predator as the crocodile and might have ran away to call for help, but Sibia, a girl of only twelve, did not know such things as fear. She reached the spot at once and attacked the eyes of the crocodile with a hayfork. The animal being hurt in his eyes lost his grip on the legs of the woman and swam away into the water.
The only parts of the crocodile which could be easily attacked were his eyes and soft armpits. Sibia took a prompt and successful decision which saved the Gujar woman's life.
Sibia dragged the panting woman out of the water and helped her reach the encampment safely.
She came back for her grass sickle and fork. On reaching the site where Sibia saved the woman, she picked up her instruments and pots, but she also saw a blue bead just like the one that she desired. It was perfect and evenly pierced which was ready to use. While returning home, she met her worried mother who asked her if anything had happened to her. She replied in a very positive manner and showed her mother the blue bead that she had found in the river. Finding the blue bead seemed more important to her than saving a life. This highlights that such a deed of saving a life was part of life for her. She was fascinated by colourful beads, and hence, she was extremely happy on finding one.

Short answer questions

  1. Which words or phrases suggest that the crocodile was a dangerous animal?
    Ans. The crocodile is described as an antediluvian saurian, prehistoric juggernaut, ferocious and formidable, vast force in water and propelled by the unimaginable and irresistible power of a huge tail, all suggesting that he was a strong and dangerous animal.

  2. Describe Sibia’s meal.
    Ans. As described in the story, Sibia was eating the last of her meal which was chapatti wrapped round a smear of green chilli and rancid butter. She had divided this too to make it seem more.

  3. What work did Sibia do with her mother?
    Ans. Sibia went up to the cliffs above the river with her mother to fetch paper grass. The grass was to be sold to an agent who would sit on a silk cushion and smoke a hookah. This was a way for them to earn money.

  4. What thoughts did not trouble Sibia? Which were the instruments that Sibia carried with her?
    Ans. Sibia did not care much about the work done by her since most women of her community toiled in the same fashion. She also did not care much about the disproportionate work done by the agent and the women because she was a happy child. Although she desired fineries, she was content with the situation. She carried a sickle and homemade hayfork with her as she went to work.

  5. What type of ornaments did Sibia wish to wear?
    Ans. Sibia wished to wear ornaments which would make a rattling swish around her neck, as she rushed along with lots of necklaces. When she went to the bazaar, she fancied the anklets, bangles and nose rings sold at the bazaar. However, her heart was set on colourful glass beads. She wished to wear a new necklace made from those beads.

  6. Describe the Gujars.
    Ans. Gujars were people born and bred in the forests for countless centuries. They earn their living from animals, grass and trees as they scratched their food together. They stored their substance in large herds and possessed silver jewellery. Neither primitive like the Stone Age hunters nor modern like cultivators, they were wanderers of the pastoral age.

  7. How would the Gujar women cross the river? Why?
    Ans. Gujar women would make a lot of noise while crossing the river. They would laugh and bicker about something. They would gird their skirts so as to jump from stone to stone. Their sickles and forks clanked. They also quarrelled loudly and their noise frightened the crocodiles.

  8. What happened when Sibia was working? What was she dreaming about?
    Ans. Where Sibia was working, the wind coming across hundreds of miles of trees cooled her sweating body, and she could look down over the river as if she was a bird. Although she could not literally fly like a bird, her imagination took a swooping flight over the bright water and golden air to the banks where she played as a child. She had kept little bowls of moulded clay in cavelets above the watermark of the highest flood. Sibia was distracted from her work and drifted into the land of her imagination, but her mother was quick and alert enough to snap her back into the world of reality.

  9. How did Sibia react after she saw the Gujar woman being attacked by the crocodile?
    Ans. Sibia came into action and leaping like a rock goat, she jumped from boulder to boulder. It was sometimes difficult to cross these stones, especially the big gap in the middle. That is why she had to jump like a goat choosing her footing mid-air.

  10. What did Sibia find when she returned to collect her instruments near the river?
    Ans. When Sibia went to save the woman, she had left the grass, sickle and fork on the boulder. She returned to the river to get them. She found the blue bead wobbling in the movements of the stream. The blue bead was not looking blue as the sun had set. It was looking white blue as it was worn by sand.

  11. State the role of women in the village as described by Burke in this story.
    Ans. Village women are not restricted to look after the household. Sibia, her mother and the other women are seen going to the cliffs to get paper grass to be sold in the market. The Gujar nomadic graziers have also set up their encampment of grass huts near the river. They are seen carrying gurrahs to the river to fetch water, whereas the men and boys go out to graze their cattle and to the market to sell the produce.

Long answer questions

  1. Describe the crocodile.
    Ans. The huge crocodile lived in the deep black water. He was twice the length of a tall man. He did not have to hide. He came to rest in the glassy shallows, among logs with his eyes and nostrils raised above the water to breathe the clean sunny air. His tail had irresistible power to move with a vast force in the water. His mouth ran almost the whole length of its head.
    When he came out of his egg by breaking his shell, he was a tiny creature that could be hunted by a bird or by a great carnivorous fish that eats baby crocodiles. He ate whatever he could and fended for himself. Now, he was capable of hunting and eating everything which came within his reach—fish, ducks, deer, monkeys, dogs and thin cows. Sometimes his hunger forced him to go down the burning ghats where he could find half-burnt bodies of Indians cast into the stream. He had no scarcity of food and thus was prospering well.
    The mugger crocodile, blackish-brown above and yellowy-white under, laid motionless able to wait forever till food came. The body of the crocodile was covered with an inch-thick hide that nothing could pierce—even rifle bullets would bounce off. Only the eyes and the soft underarms were exceptions. It was ferocious and formidable. It propelled in the water by the irresistible and unimaginable power of its tail. It lived well with other crocodiles, muggers and fish-eating gharials.

  2. Describe the crocodile’s surroundings.
    Ans. The crocodile lived in the river close to the village. It was an ideal location for him with the availability of food and was a secure place to have sunlight in order to warm his body. There was a forest beside the river. The timber logs came down from the forest and struck around the stones. The crocodile came to rest in the place where the water was not deep and he enjoyed the sunny air. He rested where the rocks and sand were warm with sunlight, and he would go into the water as soon as he sensed any danger to himself.
    The surroundings were also ideal for him in the matters of food. The big crocodile would eat fish, deer, monkeys, ducks and animals which came to the river to drink water. At the ford, he would feed upon a pi-dog or a skeleton cow. Sometimes, he would go down the burning ghats and feed upon half-burnt bodies of Indians cast into the river. Since he had many food options in his surroundings, it helped him to grow to a great length.

  3. Describe Sibia.
    Write a short note on Sibia.
    Pen down a brief character sketch about Sibia.
    Ans. Sibia was a thin little girl who had white teeth, ebony hair and great eyes. Her skin was the colour of oiled brown cream. She was a happy immature child-woman about twelve years old. She was barefoot and often goosey-cold on a winter morning and born to toil.

    The little girl was marked for work since her childhood. Since she could toddle, she husked corn, gathered sticks, put dung to dry, cooked, weeded, carried and fetched water and cut grass for fodder. There was no end to her hardships and toil due to her poverty. Yet, she was a happy child with no complaints.

    She was interested in the natural jewellery made with seeds which rattled around her neck. She appreciated little things in life like watching Kashmiri merchants selling silks, the smell of the wonderful dressing of the cloth stall etc. She was brave, laborious and extremely observant.

    Sibia was a courageous and adventurous girl. Even after being the heroine of such an adventurous and life-threatening battle with the crocodile, the only detail that she considered important to tell her mother was that she found a blue bead for her necklace.

  4. Why was Sibia called a ‘child-woman’? What works were done by her?
    Ans. Sibia belonged to a poor family. She started to work when she could toddle in order to support her family. She husked corn, gathered sticks, put dung to dry, cooked, weeded, fetched water and cut grass for fodder ever since when she could do all of these. She went with her mother and some other women to get paper grass from the cliffs above the river. The grass could then be sold to an agent, who would give them some revenue. The women toiled the whole day to earn a living by selling the paper grass to the agent.
    There was a certain maturity in her even though she was just a twelve-year-old girl. She would break her food into several parts to feel happy that she had a lot of food to enjoy.
    Therefore, we can conclude that though she possessed the innocence of a child, she had the maturity of a grown-up woman.

  5. How did Sibia attack the crocodile?
    Ans. Sibia was sitting on the boulder when she saw that a Gujar woman was going down the river to fill her earthen pots with fresh water. She had two pots to be filled with water. She was in a hurry as she walked on the stepping stones where the crocodile resided and missed to spot the animal. The great crocodile was hiding in the water where he could not be spotted easily after sunset. As a result, the crocodile attacked the woman as she was within his reach and grabbed her leg with his mighty jaws. Sibia witnessed this and at once went to the rescue of the Gujar woman. With amazing speed, she drove her hayfork in the crocodile’s eyes which were a vulnerable zone for the fully grown and strong crocodile. The hayfork hit right at his eyes and the prong went into his eyes. The crocodile released the women as he was in utter pain and swam back into the water.

  6. Describe in brief Sibia’s encounter with the crocodile.
    Ans. When Sibia saw the Gujar woman struggling to free herself from the crocodile, she immediately came to her rescue. She could see in the boiling bloody water, the face of the crocodile was fastened around her leg and was tugging to and fro and seemed to smile. His eyes rolled on to Sibia. Sibia knew that one slap of the tail could kill her. He eventually struck and the water shot up twenty feet high and fell like a silver chain. The rock too jumped under the blow of its tail. But in the daily heroism of the jungle, as common as a thorn tree, Sibia did not hesitate. She aimed at the reptile’s eyes. With all the force of her little body, she drove the hayfork at the eyes, and one prong went right in its eyes, while other prong scratched past on the horny cheek. The crocodile then reared up in convulsion.

  7. Describe in brief how Sibia saved the woman.
    Ans. The Gujar woman walked on the stepping stones with two gurrahs to fill them quickly with good clear water without any sand. However, as she was within a yard of the crocodile, he lunged at her. The great reptile heaved up out of the darkling water, and with his yawning livid jaws with all teeth flashing, he slashed at the Gujar woman’s leg. When the crocodile attacked the woman, she screamed, dropped both pots with a clatter on the boulder from where they bounced off in the current of the water. The Gujar woman recoiled from the crocodile. When the crocodile’s jaws closed on the woman’s leg, she slipped and fell on the bone-breaking stone. She clutched one of the timber logs to save herself. However, the log jammed between two boulders, with the woman clinging to it and screaming, while the crocodile pulled her leg, threshing his mighty tail to and fro in great smacking flails as he tried to drag her free and carry her off down the depths of the pool. Her blood spread everywhere.
    When Sibia saw the woman struggling to free herself from the crocodile, she immediately leapt from boulder to boulder like a rock goat. Sibia took immediate action using her presence of mind at the right time. She showed courage, and with all the force of her little body, she drove the hayfork at the crocodile’s eye. One prong of it went in and the other scratched past his thorny cheek.
    Thus, the crocodile returned into the water and the life of the woman was saved because of Sibia’s brave act.

  8. Explain any four examples which denote Sibia’s poverty.
    Ans. Sibia wore an earth-coloured rag and had torn the rag into two to make a skirt and a saree. Even the roll of chapatti that she ate, she divided it into many parts so that it seemed more. In all her life she had never owned anything but a rag. She did not have even one anna or a pice or a pi. The family needle was broken, and they did not have enough money to buy another. These are some of the signs which state that Sibia’s family was not economically sound.

  9. Mention the visual imagery of the bazaar.
    Ans. The bazaar was full of blown glass beads and thin glass bangles. It had a sweetmeat stall of brilliant honey confections. The cloth stall was tagged with great rolls of new cotton cloth. There were other wonders to see too like satin sewn with real silver thread, tin trays from Birmingham and a saree which had chips of glass embroidered into the border. A Kashmiri travelling merchant brought silks, a little locked chest with turquoise and opals in it and a box from which a yellow woollen chicken would jump out on pressing it.

  10. “Ai! Ai! What a day!” Who says this and why?
    Ans. This line is said by Sibia when she found something that she earnestly desired, a blue bead. Sibia went back for her grass, sickle and fork. There in the water she found a blue bead. Her heart was filled with ecstatic joy. Her long-awaited wish had been fulfilled. She now had the blue bead for her necklace. She walked back as if nothing had happened. Her feet smudged out the wriggle mark of snakes in the dust, and there were malaria mosquitoes all over. There was also a morose old elephant whose track she was on, but Sibia had no thoughts of these. When she met her mother, she didn’t describe her fight with the crocodile; instead, she mentioned that she found the blue bead.

  11. Explain the moral/theme of the story.
    Ans. ‘The Blue Bead’ is a story which depicts the extraordinary power of human will. This story written by Norah Burke highlights the heroism of a 12-year-old girl in a humble way. If we are keenly determined to achieve something, we can always find a way to have it. Sibia, hardly twelve, sees a Gujar woman being attacked by a ferocious crocodile. She jumps from rock to rock as if she has wings. She knows that one slap of the crocodile’s tail could kill her, but she is determined, and with all the force of her little body, she drives the hayfork into the reptile’s eyes. Rather than giving up in order to reach back home, she overcomes the crocodile and helps the woman to return home. Her willpower and determination to save the woman's life make her victorious over the dangerous crocodile.
    She was very fascinated by the colourful beads that she had seen in the market. She was very hopeful and desired of having a blue bead so that she could make a necklace out of it. When she went back to collect her instruments and the earthen pitchers of the Gujar woman, she found a blue bead lying close to the river.
    These incidents make it quite clear that if one has a strong and positive will of achieving something, one shall definitely have it or find a way to achieve it.

  12. The story denotes the struggle for survival. Justify how.
    Ans. Life is a struggle and we face new challenges every day. ‘The Blue Bead’ is a story written by Norah Burke about a girl, Sibia, her family and people struggling for their daily survival in a village close to a forest. Besides the life of these people constantly threatened by wild animals, they have to strive very hard for basic amenities. They live in mud houses, the roads are not proper, the people use sticks and dung as fuel for the fire. Sibia who is a very young child belongs to a poor family and is also undernourished. The women of the village have to climb a cliff to get paper grass to sell in the market. They have to carry a great load back home since there are no bridges to cross the rivers. The women need to jump from stone to stone and have to shout and make noise to frighten the crocodiles. They have to come to the river to fetch water for their daily needs, and hence, their lives are always at risk from wild animals. These are the serious health hazards, lack of facilities and other hurdles which subdue the invincible human spirit.

  13. Mention how poverty is one of the themes of the story.
    Ans. Poverty is one of the most important themes of the story. It is depicted through the life lived by Sibia, the protagonist. She lives in the mud house in a noisy village. She is introduced as a thin starving child dressed in an earth-coloured rag. She is 12 years old, but she has accepted the fact that she is born to toil. To make her chapatti seem more, she divides it into several pieces. She stands amazed before the sweetmeat stall but cannot have them. Satin sewn with silver thread and clothes with looking glass embroidery seem wonderful to her eyes, but she has to collect paper grass from the cliff along with her mother to provide for her daily needs. She imagines how nice it would be to hear the rattling swish of a necklace around her neck, but she has to wait till her family can afford another needle to drill the seed beads. The last scene of the story is very touching, as Sibia exclaims to her mother that she has found a blue bead for her necklace. The battle that she fought with the crocodile to save the Gujar woman is sidelined by her because this daily heroism is a part of the jungle life. What is of worth in Sibia’s poverty-stricken life is the glittering blue bead. These things depict that poverty is one of the direct aspects highlighted in the story.

  14. Did Sibia ignore her heroism? Why?
    Ans. Sibia was an extremely poor girl who led a simple life devoid of materialistic pleasures. The only thing she owned was a rag. Thus, fighting a crocodile to save the Gujar woman was not as big an achievement for her as that of finding a glittering blue bead. The blue bead was one of the unattainable wonders for her that she managed to attain at the end. Thus, it was only natural for her to rejoice at having discovered the glittering bead. Hence, Sibia says to her mother in ecstasy, ‘I found a blue bead for my necklace’. Sibia was a courageous and adventurous girl. Even after being the heroine of such an adventurous and life-threatening battle with the crocodile, the only detail that she considered important to tell her mother was that she found a blue bead for her necklace. This immediately reveals that though she had accepted her poor condition, deep in her heart, she wished to have the ‘wonders of the world’ which are the amazing things that she saw in the bazaar.