Research: Canada
Yellow Pages & The Short, Happy Life Of Harry Kumar
Literature: Critic
By: Yalda Mahmoudi
Reader-Response Perspective on
"Yellow Pages" by Nicole Markotic
"The Short, Happy Life Of Harry Kumar" by Ashok Mathur

A piece of literature can be interpreted in many different ways depending on who the readers are. The moment that we pick up something to read, our understanding of the text is formed by our own previous perception of things, or perhaps, our baggage of life. We comprehend the words through our own experience; we try to make sense of it in our own unique way. We put ourselves in the shoes of the characters and try to re-live their lives by our own standards. If something does not make sense throughout the story, it frustrates us, because it interrupts our escape, and if something happens that we really relate to, it makes the story much more enjoyable.

Yellow Pages and The Short, Happy Life of Harry Kumar truly test the boundaries of the reader. Just when the reader is becoming drawn in and has almost lost his/herself in the story, there is something new thrown in the face of the reader, which will make them take a step back and not get too involved. One can’t help but try to understand Aleck, Melly, Marie, Mabel, Harry, Sita and Athnic through one’s own subjective and objective opinion. Trying to understand what their underlying reasons are for acting and saying the things they do.

Aleck looks up to Melly, but doesn’t really get a chance to get to know him in latter years of his life. He then claims that he is in love with Marie, but calls her an “unpleasant talkative girl” (Markotic 53). He eventually ends up marrying Mabel, a girl that he does not show any real romantic interest or emotions throughout the story.

Harry and Sita parallel to Mabel and Aleck in that when Harry goes to find Sita, he becomes a whole new person in the process of finding her. He starts trusting everyone and forgets about himself for Sita. Aleck reinvents the phone with Mabel in mind. He loses himself and starts trusting Waston, whom he dislikes, for the greater result, for the hope that Mabel might hear again.

”When Marie steps off the train onto the platform, Aleck’s legs are already tired from walking round and round the same path, his throat sore from rehearsing his dialog” (Markotic 49). Aleck is at the train station an hour before Marie gets there, and he is pacing back and forth with his lunch basket in hand rehearsing, what he is going to say and where he is going to make Marie for the day, the day that has been waiting for, for a long time. The day that has made him make a picnic basket, has made him wait for an hour at a train station just thinking, has made him anxious and eventually will make him happy. What kind of personal baggage do I as a reader bring to this passage? When I read this passage, it brings a pleasant smile to my face and a warm feeling to my heart. Whereas, someone else could read it and think that Aleck is just someone who has got too much time in his hands and is to young to really understand love at all.

Reading the story as a person that has been in “four years long” distance relationship, I know exactly what it feels like to be waiting an arrival of your loved one. I think it is pleasant, because I have been in that situation. Not at a train station, but at an airport. Been there not an hour before the plane landed, but three hours, because I was so nervous that the plain might miraculously land sooner than expected and I would not be there. I could miss two hours of being with him, just for being late. Time becomes very experience, when your significant other is not in the same town as you. Everything becomes planned, because you have a time line. You might have a day, weekend, or maybe if you are a lucky week, but your time is limited. Time will eventually run out on you, and you have to make sure that before it does you have done all that you wanted to do. Therefore you have no choice but to plan and plan well, because if you don’t “rehearse” your plan enough times with yourself, then the whole trip can be wrong. Time is completely against you, when you are anxiously waiting for that other person. It hardly moves, when you are in the airport going from one store to another, buying things that you will never use, just to make time pass, and it will go by so fast, when he gets there and you almost feel that the whole weekend lasted five minutes and you are back in that same airport, saying your dreaded goodbye once again. So you are back, when you started again, planning the next trip.

Yellow Pages is a novel that has a little or big surprise on its every page and we respond differently to those surprises, because we associate with it different ways. When Aleck and Melly are playing “who am I,” Aleck thinks the Melly has chosen to be something of a greater power, God, heaven, or the sky, but Melly has picked to be a “bottom of the ocean,” nothing above but rather below. Growing up with a brother, who was two years older than I was, I can completely understand why Aleck would think that Melly would choose to be something that is untouchable. They are the greater power. They are capable of everything and anything in the eyes of the younger one.

I used to look up to my brother for everything. He was my God; anything that he would do, I would do; anything he said, I would follow, until I reached an age when I realized that we were equal and he was not superior to me. I also understand this passage well, because it reminds me of the mind games I used to play with my brother. We played a game, where one would think of a number between one and ten and the other person had to guess what the number wads. We would hold hands and pretend that we were transmitting the number from one brain to another, telepathically. I would never win that game because even if I were to guess the right number, he would have said that it was wrong. But, when he did guess the right one, I would have not changed my number and was honest with him. Therefore, he would always win, and I would always lose. I also was told that I was slow and dumb, and the reason for it was that he was the older kid, so he took all the brains and left nothing for me, till one day may mom filled me in on what was happening and asked me to ask my brother to write the number on a piece of paper behind my back, so he would not be able to change it. It was than “my turn” to have a chance in wining the guessing the number game. Sure enough, I was not dumb anymore, and I started to win a few games, but my brother slowly got disinterested in the game. I wonder why? So we stopped playing it.

Harry Kumar is an individual, who does not like to take he is passive. He works at a bank, and even though his raise is so long over due, he does not have any plans to say anything. He will remain the man he is regardless of his surrounding and environment. He leads a simple life and has no plans in making any part of it complicated. But, after Sita kisses him, he reaches a conclusion about himself: “I have to change the way I think, the way I am with people, the way I do things, the things I like… cosmic change” (Mathur 50). When he realizes that Sita has been kidnapped, he is ready to do anything to get his friend back. His metamorphosis starts when he gets on the boat with Athnic in the search for Sita. Harry goes through thick and thin, without ever thinking of giving up. His love for Sita and the changes that keep happening to him make him go further and deeper in to his journey. When Sita gets kidnapped over the phone, Harry knows that he has to go beyond his limitations and boundaries to save Sita. Finding good friends is not easy, and once you find one, you will do anything in your power to keep that friendship.

I can completely understand, why Harry would put his life in jeopardy for someone else. Three years ago, one of my best friends went missing. No one had any idea as to where he was. His mother had dropped him at work that morning, and she thought that she would go pick him up at 6:00 pm, like any other day. But, to her surprise, she gets a call that same morning from her son’s work place. They were wondering if he was going to work or not. The search started at 7:00 pm that night. His friends and families searched every inch of North and West Vancouver. All his friends were searching in shifts, which meant for 6 days we were all searching 24 hours a day. But, there was no sign oh him anywhere. The police told us that they think, they had spotted him in Calgary at a shelter. His mother and I took the first plane there and searched every single shelter and hospital in Calgary, but we found nothing.

We tried anything and everything; we were open to any option and trusted anyone that had anything to say to us. We were desperate and trust was the only thing we had. Twelve days later he was found on Cleveland Dam in North Vancouver. His mother had taken his dog for a walk that morning and ironically it was his own dog that found his body under one and a half feet of mud. Later examinations showed that he must have died the first day that he was lost. He had gone to his favorite trail to walk, before going to work, and had slipped all fallen about 15 feet down the trail. They said that he did not suffer and had died instantly, since there was major damage done to the brain at the time of the fall, but we will never know if he did suffer or not; if he had yelled for help or not; if someone heard him and did nothing or maybe no one ever heard him. But, what I do know is that we tried everything in our power to find him. Money, time, effort, energy, nothing was an issue. Everybody worked as a team to reach one goal, and at the end we did not succeed in finding him alive. When I read how Harry looked for Sita, I can totally imagine why he would break through all his boundaries, because he believed in something more important: Sita and what his friendship meant to him

It is inevitable to read something and not get involved in it. Anybody that reads enjoy the pleasure of escape from one’s life to someone else’s, but even that escape gets formed around what the reader is comfortable with. As I read “Yellow Pages” and “The Short, Happy Life of Harry Kumar”, there were moments when I completely understood the character and his or her actions, and there were moments when I could not figure them out. Harry finds himself through the help that he gets externally; he manages to internalize it and find himself. He learns through trusting people that there are many things that he still needs to learn about himself and his surroundings. That he can’t be oblivious to the events that occur around him. He needs to learn react, to speak out and to get what is rightfully his. And Aleck tries to internalize himself by reinventing the telephone. He tries to make life easier for every human being starting with his deaf wife, Mabel.


Conrad, Josef. “The Secret Sharer.” The Secret Sharer. 1st Ed. London: Mac Millan, 1997.

Phelan, James. “Reading Secrets.” The Secret Sharer. 1st Ed. London: Mac Millan, 1997. 128-143.

Markotic, Nicole. Yellow Pages. Alberta: Red Deer College Press, 1995. 30-52.

Mathur, Ashok. The Short, Happy Life of Harry Kumar. Vancouver. Arsenal Pulp Press, 2001. 50-64



Research: Critic, Speech, Novel


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