Somerset Maugham happened to read the novel and was interested to meet Narayan when he visited South India. Unfortunately Narayan was still an unknown name so didn’t quite make the connect and their paths didn’t cross.
Set in Malgudi, the novel is grim and full of foreboding sense of doom. In the tale Narayan focuses on aspects of traditional Indian marriages that are a cause of grief instead of celebration. The Dark Room narrates the sad but futile struggles of Savitri who justifiably fights with her philandering husband but ends up losing the war.Continue reading “R K Narayan’s ‘The Dark Room’”
Acknowledged as a member of the triumvirate – along with Raja Rao and Mulk Raj Anand – Narayan was a pioneer writing Indian fiction in English. In today’s world we have many Indian writers who pen their thoughts in English – quite a few are from the Indian diaspora spread far and wide. But Narayan’s days and times were far different – it was tough to write in English and be a commercially viable proposition.
It was Graham Greene who managed to get Narayan published first in England. They shared a warm and cordial relationship and Greene continued to mentor Narayan in many ways. But for this partnership we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the magical world of Malgudi.
Malgudi is a magical world alright – the reader is able to relate it on lines of Holmes in Baker’s street or Bertie Wooster at Drones Club – familiar locales that welcome you with warmth and comfort. You can sit back and relax to be drawn into the affairs of the men – there are rarely any shocks and seldom do they disappoint on account of straying away from their core character.
So various actors take up their roles in Malgudi but certain fixtures are common as if cast in stone. The story would usually figure around a middle or upwardly mobile middle class protagonist based in a small town in South India. Culture and rituals would easily pervade into his lifestyle and yet in many ways the man would have adopted himself to English ways and manners.
Next Sunday is a collection of short essays that Narayan wrote to provide the common man a breezy relief from the languor of a lazy Sunday afternoon. It includes over 50 pieces that deal with an assorted variety of areas including politics, bureaucracy, culture, the ‘day-to-day’ hassles that beset our lives.
60 years after they appeared it is quite remarkable to see that much of it remains relevant in modern India even today and one is easily able to relate to Narayan’s narrative.
The opening essay is a novelty for sure – it talks about the need to obtain an annual licence to operate a Radio service. Well this is sometime during the 50s so TVs had not yet made their appearance on the scene. The annual fee is mentioned to be Fifteen rupees – quite a handy sum in those days and an interesting relic from the past. Narayan’s focus on the story is more about the bureaucratic process involved in getting the radio licence renewed. Continue reading “Review of ‘Next Sunday’ by R K Narayan”
It is always easier to read an autobiography if one has read substantial work of a novelist – traces of his own life and personality always seep into his books so one is quite familiar with the material and does not get many curve balls.
Still it amuses one to learn that Narayan had failed English while attempting his University Entrance Exam and was obsessed with Marie Corelli’s novels.
Narayan’s childhood was spent in Madras of the yore at his Grandmother’s home where he a Peacock and Monkey for company. He narrates a few tales from those days – a sad succession of pets who were lost to accidents of all kinds, being afraid of a muscle-man with a moustache next door and roaming the streets with a cycle rim not caring for the summer Sun that beat on him and his friends. Continue reading “Review of ‘My Days’ – autobiography of R K Narayan”
Narayan mentions a pithy 1-liner in the tale that could well serve the purpose of being its synopsis : ‘A money-making sweet-maker with a spoilt son’. But that is a bit too simplistic as the narrative is layered with meaning.
We are back in Malgudi but the tone of the story is sad and sorrowful. There is no longer the cheer and fun that were part of his early tales. And even the fantastic concoction of a factory meant to manufacture ‘novel-writing’ machines and cousin as a variant of the ‘Talkative Man’ can’t quite cheer us up.
Weak as water and a waffling runt, Nataraj is indeed a character that should excite our contempt. Instead Narayan weaves an incredible tale about his antics that leave us ambivalent as we alternately battle being amused or vexed at his antics.
Nataraj could have had an extremely prosperous printing business if only he were to focus on his own affairs and deal with people using a firm hand as are the ways of the world. He refuses to do either and so we hear about his sufferings at the hand of the tough cookie Vasu, the taxidermist. There is no real man-eater of significance in the tale – instead it is just an allusion for Vasu’s ferocity that spares nobody be it the wild animals or the hapless people he encounters.
We are back in the familiar world of Malgudi wherein a mixture of comical and bizarre events unfold. Nataraj, the printer, is a classic example of such mindless capers. He seems to be well-connected in the town and has enough work to keep himself occupied. Nonetheless he chooses to focus on everything except minding his own business. He is easily drawn into the affairs of his acquaintances and enthusiastically tries his amateur hand at fixing their troubles.
It is quite a story in itself as to how this début novel by R K Narayan featuring his magical world of Malgudi, a sleepy town in South India, finally found a publisher in England. R K Narayan has profusely thanked his mentor Graham Greene for his help in ensuring that the book found the light of the day.
It is immensely readable particularly so if one comes from the same locale. One instantly relates to the narrative and Narayan’s most delectable creation is the strong character he creates in Swami. Swami comes across a cowardly young boy who is a mixture of naiveté and slyness always looking to escapes his tormentors even at the cost of his reputation. He became an instant stereotype and the TV serial ‘Malgudi Days’ did great justice in reproducing the stories.Continue reading “Review of ‘Swami and Friends’ by R K Narayan”
The focus of the story remains on Srinivas, the editor of a weekly tabloid grandiosely called ‘The Banner’ but his symbiotic relationship with Mr. Sampath, printer of his labour of love seems to have led to the title. And of course in the final course of events it is Mr. Sampath whose life is deeply impacted by what seemed to be an ordinary episode.
Undoubtedly the content is autobiographical and one can see a reflection of Narayan in Srinivas. He dwells on the intricacies of human motivation and searches for meaning of life. He fails to solve the grand riddle but seems wiser than before by the time we come to the end of the novel.
So we are back in the magical world of Malgudi and in the realm of small men and their smaller schemes. A few things are missing though this time – we do not have a trademark character of the ‘Talkative Man’ to don the role of the narrator. And characteristic Narayan humour is missing for most part of the narrative. A little relief is provided by the mordant sketch drawn regarding the workings of an Indian film studio trying to pull off a mythological epic.
Narayan concedes in his postscript that the story falls somewhere between the two stools of being a short story or a novel. So novella it is and in that regard it disappoints readers who are used to the usual fare set in Malgudi – a small town in South India.
Also missing are the usual Malgudi characters and it is only the ‘Talkative Man’ – often referred to as TM – who provides us glimpses of vintage Narayan.
As I mentioned earlier the novel fails to fully engage you – in particular it draws to a rather hurried and abrupt end. And you are left hanging in the air thinking that you have not yet quite arrived at the destination. Maugham was a popular writer who laid down the canon that every story should have a beginning, middle and end. And in similar terms a novel should draw us into a situation or character where the curtain call should be on a definite end even if it is not a happy one. Instinctively we hate being in limbo as it were.
One of Narayan’s earlier books still set in the mystical South Indian town of Malgudi, the novel is mostly a breezy affair though it should appear to be bizarre to the modern readers. Graham Greene’s introduction is charming enough though he seems to get his facts wrong when he alludes to a dubious ,even dishonest, horoscope entering the ‘marriage-making’ scene.
Yet we enjoy Narayan’s narrative – his easy manner of telling a tale of small men with smaller schemes and dreams that often become undone for a variety of reasons. He humours us just like his characters by presenting us the foibles of the human heart with just a touch of disdain and a bigger dose of sympathy.
Imagine falling in love at first sight with a shadowy image of a girl in Green Sari by the river in the gloaming light. Fine that is not so very unusual – but in the ordinary narrative would you be drawn to do the following ? Pursue the marriage proposal, get dejected enough to walk out of your home on learning it is not ‘destined-to-be’ and become an ascetic (Sanyasi). Give that up again in 8 months time to return to your family and easily reconcile to marrying another girl – rationalizing your choice and coming to think in terms of the first girl being like a sister. Continue reading “Review of ‘The Bachelor of Arts’ by R K Narayan”