Rasipuram Krishnaswami Narayan (nuh-RI-yuhn) was born into a prosperous middle-class family on October 10, 1906, in Madras, India. There he spent his early years with his grandmother and uncle. Later he joined his parents, brothers, and sisters in the family home in Mysore. Mysore is probably the basis of his fictional city Malgudi, an Indian city as complex and as real as William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County. Although according to his memoirs he was never particularly enthusiastic about academic work, Narayan attended a Lutheran mission school and Christian College High School (both in Madras) and in 1930 received his B.A. from Maharaja’s College (later the University of Mysore). He married in 1933; his wife, Rajam, gave birth to their only child, a daughter named Hema, in 1938. Rajam died of typhoid in 1939. Narayan never remarried.
Narayan began reporting for the Madras newspaper The Justice in 1933. After brief stints in teaching and journalism, he decided that he would be a fiction writer. His first novel, Swami and Friends, the comic story of two young Indian boys, was set in the fictional city that would make him famous. Yet the friend in England to whom Narayan had entrusted his manuscript could not find a publisher for it. In despair Narayan told his friend to destroy it. Instead, the friend took the manuscript to the writer Graham Greene, who was so impressed that he placed it with a publisher.
In his second book, The Bachelor of Arts, published two years later, Narayan takes a young man into a marriage, arranged, like the writer’s own, with the help of a horoscope. The Dark Room also deals with a marriage, but one far less happy than that of Narayan. When his own beloved young wife died of typhoid, Narayan faced a spiritual crisis; out of that crisis came the spiritual growth, the intellectual maturity, and the acceptance of life which would bring to Narayan new status as a writer. After his father’s death in 1937, Narayan began selling articles to magazines. That year, British novelist W. Somerset Maugham visited Mysore and read Narayan’s work. In 1938, Narayan received a government grant to write a travel book about Karnataka state, and this experience provided information for many future works. In 1939 he began writing stories for the Madras newspaper The Hindu. He began publishing his own periodical, Indian Thought, in 1941.
The English Teacher, published in 1945, which tells the story of a teacher who loses his wife, is the first of Narayan’s major novels. Critics praised the work, which was both more unified and more profound than those which had preceded it. During the 1940’s,...
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