Memories of Malgudi …

Today’s Google doodle features noted Indian writer R K Narayan and his most celebrated creation of ‘Malgudi Days’ on the occasion of his 108th Birthday.

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R K Narayan and Malgudi

Narayan won our hearts by narrating simple tales of the common man that were relatable to our own lives. His mythical creation of Malgudi became popular and featured in many stories and novels. It was televised as well. But his most well-known work would be Dev Anand’s Hindi movie – ‘Guide’ though Narayan himself was not happy with it.

Guess we all remember ‘Malgudi Days’ being telecast on good ol’ Doordarshan while growing up in late 80s and relished the adventure of Swami and friends growing up in the days of the British Raj. It was very appropriate that the opening sketches were done by his younger brother and the champion of the Indian Common Man, R K Laxman.

Narayan was one of the pioneering authors who unfurled the flag of Indian fiction in English to the world. It has become such a popular genre now and we are so very used to the acclaim of Indian authors writing in English and particularly drawing the adulation from the Indian diaspora now spread wide and far. In those days the popular names would have been Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand (Untouchable) and Raja Rao (Kanthapura).

Much of his initial work was autobiographical and representative of life in a small time town in South India – the settings and cultural life were akin to ours. Adventures like Swami and Friends, The Bachelor of Arts, and The Dark Room were a familiar world to us. The English Teacher also recounts the sad personal loss Narayan suffered when his young wife succumbed to TB.

Narayan’s work might not even seen the light of the day were it not for his unique mentorship by Graham Greene who found him a publisher for ‘Swami and Friends’ and continued  to guide his budding career. His talent was noticed by many though and even Somerset Maugham was impressed.

In India, Narayan took an innovative step of becoming a publisher (Indian Thought Publications) to ensure that his work was available at an amazingly affordable price to his fans. ‘Mr. Sampath – The Printer of Malgudi’ drew on his experiences in the world of running a paper and publication.

Narayan’s narrative is very simple and straight – he can catch your attention with the most mundane routines and invariably provide you anecdotes of the travails of daily life with a dash of humour. Some regard him to like an Indian Chekhov though others find his stories far too simplistic to decipher true human nature. Undoubtedly all this matter is of little account since undoubtedly his work was popular and regaled multiple generations of readers.

Narayan was very modest as an author and did not venture much to promote himself or his work as a writer. Marketing exercises of the kind that are mandatory in today’s world would have surely not been to his taste. He believed that his work should speak for itself and indeed never even gave interviews to the popular press. My salute to the man who gave us the magical world of Malgudi – I hold many of his books in my collection and plan to re-read him now. Let me catch up with young Swami again who is so very comfortable to sleep in the night with his granny.

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