I was under the notion that the average Indian student hears and reads Narayan at least once in his school syllabus but only until yesterday when I came across a warm and lively girl from one of the best schools of Delhi who thought she had a good command over literature, mainly English. I diverted the conversation towards Indian writing in English, and to my amazement, she was silent. Apparently that was her weak point. Not that, I am criticizing her over this, but she didn’t really seem to get excited over the one-sided talk about Narayan’s works. That is when; I thought to put a very small list here, to begin with.
“The novels of R.K. Narayan are the best I have read in any language for a long time . . . . His work gives the conviction that it is possible to capture in English, a language not born of India, the distinctive characteristics of Indian family life.”—Amit Roy, Daily Telegraph
R.K.Narayan holds a distinctive place in Indian writing and even more in English. His novels celebrate the sheer enthusiasm and charisma of daily life. The theme of humanism is very much there in all his books. His affection for people and their ordinary lives reflects in his works like Malgudi Days, Swami and friends. The very stimuli that make a person respond to certain situations in a certain way are very nicely analysed in his stories. Since, his characters share our idiosyncrasies, human errors, life and much more, we naturally feel connected to almost all of his characters in one or the other way. Larger than life people are rarely found in his novels, which is a good thing since they rarely exist in the World. In this sense, Narayan’s books can be very easily said to the reflection of the world, which we live in. Moreover, most of his novels are placed in a distant, imaginary town or place in southern part of India and through this he portrays the culture of this part of India. 3 of his novels, one should definitely read are –
Swami & Friends
In a 2011 review, The Guardian newspaper called the novel “one of the world’s best English novels by an Indian author”. Swami and Friends is an episodic narrative, which tells the story of a group of school children in the fictional town of Malgudi in British India in the 1930s.
Swami and Friends is a novel that will make you smile and remind you of the ‘big problems’ you had to face as a child. Narayan’s effortless prose is power packed with innocent and simple style of writing which will help you get a glimpse of your own childhood again. He very perfectly captures the thinking of a child caught up in incidents that are beyond his understanding or control. The way the child responds to those circumstances and tries to wade his way out through the swamp is adorable to read and even better to ponder over for days later. It is the sheer ingenuity of the book that it is alive even today.
The Guide tells the story of Railway Raju, a young fatherless boy, who is transformed from a lost-in-world jail convict into a holy saint without any conscious effort on his part. Raju’s fate pushes him towards saintliness in the most incredible and unprecedented manner. Narayan touched hearts with this novel of his. This book is delightfully funny, and extraordinarily serious at the same time. The characters in The Guide are as real as us. They are neither black nor white. They reside somewhere in the middle called the grey zone, which by the way is the residence of almost all the people on the Earth. The reality has been shown in the book not only in terms of its characters but also the scenarios, which develop. The very evolution of circumstances entertains the reader very much. The Guide is a wonderful story of human emotions and human behavior along with fate, trust and betrayal. All these aspects have been very nicely interwoven so that the reader is enticed from the very beginning to the end.
The English Teacher
This novel completes the informal trilogy, which began with “Swami and Friends” and “The Bachelor of Arts,” The English teacher is a story of a an English-teaching college professor, namely Krishna who leads a mundane, routine hostel life, even though he had recently been married and has a kid. The book bags all awards due to its detailed nature. The fineness of Narayan’s writing oozes out of every other word in the book. This is an intensely human and spiritual book. We all subconsciously keep trying to find an ultimate happiness in our life. This line will hit you hard: “A profound unmitigated loneliness is the only truth of life.” We all actually know this truth about human kind but tend to ignore it due to being trapped in our daily and routine lives. The book, even if its metaphysical part is not to be taken too seriously, can influence millions about the truth of life, which only lies in living it to the fullest.