Narayan, R. K.
R. K. Narayan 1906–
(Full name Rasipuram Krishnaswami Narayan) Indian novelist, short story writer, essayist, memoirist, travel writer, journalist, critic, and editor.
The following entry presents an overview of Narayan's career. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 7, 28, and 47.
R. K. Narayan is considered one of the three best Indian authors writing in English; the other two are Rao Raja and Mulk Raj Anand. Narayan's fiction contains a unique blend of Indian mysticism and English form. His fictional world, Malgudi, is one of everyday concerns and common language set in southern India, which he successfully portrays through subtle prose and humor.
Narayan was born in Mysore, India, in 1906. His father was an administrator and headmaster at several government schools and instilled in Narayan a love of literature. He did not have much academic success, however, having difficulty with his college entrance exam in English. In 1926, he enrolled in the B.A. program in English in Maharaja College, Mysore, after which he embarked on a short-lived teaching career. Finding the academic life was not for him, Narayan turned to writing. After being turned down by several publishers, Narayan gave the manuscript of his first novel, Swami and Friends (1935), to a friend and gave him permission to destroy it. The friend showed the novel to Graham Greene, who was impressed and found a publisher for the book. Narayan's writing career was born and the prolific writer went on to publish novels, several volumes of short stories, collections of essays, and his memoirs, entitled My Days (1974).
Narayan's fiction inhabits the world of everyday events and common people in a fictional place called Malgudi. He incorporates traditional Hindu mythology and legends in stories of modern events. He tells stories of ordinary people who rely on Hindu principles to guide them through the ethical dilemmas and problems of modern life. Narayan's fiction avoids being overtly political or ideological. His early novels focus on the conflict between Indian and Western culture. Swami and Friends chronicles an extroverted schoolboy's rebellion against his missionary upbringing. The Bachelor of Arts (1937) depicts an idealistic college student who attacks the bourgeois order but eventually reconciles himself to an obedient, lawful existence. In The English Teacher (1945; published in the United States as Grateful to Life and Death), an educator who endures the premature death of his wife overcomes his grief through religion and philosophy. After 1945, Narayan's fiction portrays middle-class characters who must reconcile Western ideals of financial and personal success with the everyday reality of Indian life. Mr. Sampath (1949; published in the United States as The Printer of Malgudi) chronicles a village printer's unsuccessful attempt to become a film producer. Narayan's most obviously political novel, Waiting for the Mahatma (1955), recounts the adventures of a man whose love for a young woman leads him to attempt to sabotage Mahatma Gandhi's peace movement. The Guide (1958) is Narayan's most popular and accomplished novel. This work is the tale of Raju, a former convict who is mistaken for a holy man upon his arrival in Malgudi. Implored by the villagers to avert a famine, Raju is unable to convince them that he is a fraud. Deciding to embrace the role the townspeople have thrust upon him, Raju dies during a prolonged fast and is revered as a saint. In The Sweet-Vendor (1967; published in the United States as The Vendor of Sweets), a merchant abandons his profession and his family concerns for a life of tranquillity and meditation. In A Tiger for Malgudi (1983), Narayan makes use of Indian legends and folktales to suggest that beasts may be as capable of thought and feeling as human beings. Narrated by a tiger, this novel traces the animal's spiritual development in overcoming its potential for violence. Narayan's collections of stories, such as Gods, Demons and Others (1965) and The Grandmother's Tale (1992), encompass many of the same themes as his novels in the tighter form of the short story.
Critics often classify Narayan as arising out of the tradition of oral storytelling. Reviewers note his gift for wry, subtle humor, which he uses to expose the foibles of being human. Shashi Tharoor asserts that "Narayan at his best [is] a consummate teller of timeless tales, a meticulous recorder of the ironies of human life, an acute observer of the possibilities of the ordinary: India's answer to Jane Austen." Narayan's comedy is the focus of many reviews, and it is commonly held that his is a gentle humor. Hilary Mantel says, "At the heart of Narayan's achievement is this: he respects his characters, respects their created natures. This is why he can make jokes about them and stay friends with them." Critics also point out his ability to give individual stories arising out of a unique cultural experience, universal significance. Reviewers assert that the creation of the fictional Malgudi helps Narayan portray the flavor of Indian life without worrying about the specifics of a real city. Critics attribute much of the popularity of Narayan's work to his ability to successfully use the English novel form to portray Indian life and Hindu culture. Chitra Sankaran says, "With Narayan's works … the deceptive simplicity of his fiction very often obscures his superb capacity to blend traditional Indian modes with the English novel form."
Swami and Friends: A Novel of Malgudi (novel) 1935
The Bachelor of Arts (novel) 1937
The Dark Room (novel) 1938
Mysore (travel essay) 1939
Malgudi Days (short stories) 1941
The English Teacher (novel) 1945; published as Grateful to Life and Death, 1953
An Astrologer's Day and Other Stories (short stories) 1947
Mr. Sampath (novel) 1949; published as The Printer of Malgudi, 1957
The Financial Expert (novel) 1952
Waiting for the Mahatma (novel) 1955
Lawley Road: Thirty-Two Short Stories (short stories) 1956
The Guide (novel) 1958
My Dateless Diary: A Journal of a Trip to the United States in October 1956 (travel journal) 1960
The Man-Eater of Malgudi (novel) 1961
Gods, Demons and Others (short stories) 1965
The Vendor of Sweets (novel) 1967; published in England as The Sweet-Vendor, 1967
A Horse and Two Goats and Other Stories (short stories) 1970
The Ramayana: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic [translator] (novel) 1972
My Days: A Memoir (memoirs) 1974
The Painter of Signs (novel) 1976
The Emerald Route (travel essay) 1977
The Mahabharata: A Shortened Prose Version of the Indian Epic [translator] (novel) 1978
Old and New (short stories) 1981
A Tiger for Malgudi...
(The entire section is 230 words.)
Show us the love and view this for free! Use the facebook like button, or any other share button on this page, and get this content free!free!
SOURCE: "The Nearness of Two Worlds," in Commonweal, Vol. LIX, No. 3, October 23, 1953, pp. 70-71.
[In the following review, Fremantle calls Narayan's Grateful to Life and Death "a tour de force, as perfect as it is pure."]
Mr. Narayan's first novel, The Financial Expert, was a delicious comedy, subtle and gay. His second book, [Grateful to Life and Death,] about a teacher of English in a college in India, is one of the rare novels dealing with marriage which suggests the truly sacramental nature of the physical relationship. The hero, Krishna, his lovely wife, Susila, and Leela, their little daughter; his parents, her parents, the old family retainers; his colleagues, his friends, the little dusty town where they all live, are delicately chiseled, and the over-all impression is of a filigree carving, in sandalwood or ivory. We see, and smell, the jasmine that Susila always wears, and that is her own identification, the delicious meals she cooks, the horrible stench of the filth that gives her the typhoid from which she dies, and the garlands his friends hang on Krishna when, at the tale's end, he resigns his job, and decides to devote himself to running an eccentric school for small children.
Susila's long illness and death are heartbreakingly described, as are Krishna's stupid, tender clumsiness, and, at the last, his tragic unawareness. Because the fever has...
(The entire section is 569 words.)
Show us the love and view this for free! Use the facebook like button, or any other share button on this page, and get this content free!free!
SOURCE: "Three Minds in Trouble," in New York Times Book Review, May 19, 1957, p. 4.
[In the following review, Barr lauds Narayan's The Printer of Malgudi for its comedy and subtlety.]
The town of Malgudi, fermenting with dreams, is the setting R. K. Narayan has devised for his novels of life in modern India. They have all been charming novels—modest in dimensions, gentle both in laughter and in pain, alive with an easy eccentricity—and the latest of them, The Printer of Malgudi, is something more than charming.
It is the subtle story of three minds and six wild universes. These universes of philosophy, influence, art, love, sudden glory and vainglory have a kind of unearthly abundance. They keep no books. They are made of hopes. Kipling's puritan God of Things as They Are does not preside over any of them. The three minds are not geniuses but the brains of little bubbling, faltering fellows with complaining families and the ordinary male's mixture of remorse and absent-mindedness.
Srinivas, over whose shoulder we watch the story, is an editor, or rather a weekly philosopher, who is enabled to write his provincial magazine only by vigorously neglecting his wife and refusing to open any letter that might be a bill. Srinivas' young friend, Ravi, is a love-torn accountant with a brilliant talent for drawing one picture, the image of a girl with a...
(The entire section is 610 words.)
Show us the love and view this for free! Use the facebook like button, or any other share button on this page, and get this content free!free!
SOURCE: "A Man Called Vasu," in New York Times Book Review, February 12, 1961, pp. 5, 16.
[In the following review, Barr praises the delicacy of Narayan's comedy in The Man-Eater of Malgudi.]
Each artist—if he is a true artist, and not just a utensil by means of which people gratify themselves according to the habits they have already—has to educate an audience for himself. This is not so difficult for a writer who is unusual in the usual ways: perversity, obscurity, syntactical tricks. Yet it has taken a quarter of a century for Americans to learn the meaning of R. K. Narayan's bland, sly, important genius. Why? Perhaps if we know why we have been so obtuse about his other books, we may be a little more perceptive about The Man-Eater of Malgudi.
Narayan's first novel, Swami and Friends, was the beguiling comedy of a Hindu schoolboy. It was oblivious of the class struggle, and it was unsuspicious of love; there was a cricket club in the book, but it was only a cricket club, and there was pain, but it was only a fact; not a word would have had to be different if Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud had never lived. This story was published in England in 1935, a time when young writers were supposed to search, either in the sharpening crisis of the social order or in the unhealthy recesses of the human personality, for the causes of the monstrous evil that was then spreading...
(The entire section is 883 words.)
SOURCE: "It's All in the Telling," in New York Times Book Review, November 8, 1964, pp. 4, 56.
[Rama Rau is the author of Remember the House and other books about her native India. In the following review, she asserts that Narayan is like a revered village storyteller in his presentation of stories from Indian mythology in Gods, Demons, and Others.]
R. K. Narayan, writing about that cherished and revered figure in Indian life, the village storyteller, displays all the gifts of wit, insight, moral inquiry and teaching possessed by—well, the expert Indian village storyteller. His latest book is quite different in form, though not in attitude, from his much-admired novels of modern Indian life. Gods, Demons and Others is a carefully grouped collection of ancient tales taken from the vast and complex mythology of India and presented as they might be told in their traditional setting—except that, unmistakably, the author's urbane and affectionate style informs his descriptions of the narrator and the texts of the stories. Mercifully, he spares us the expected didactic interludes which most of his colleagues use to give weight to their efforts.
In Mr. Narayan's skillful hands each story engages and enlightens the reader on at least three levels. The first and most obvious comes from the universal essential of all storytelling combined, in this case, with the special nature...
(The entire section is 935 words.)
SOURCE: "R. K. Narayan's The Printer of Malgudi," in Literature East and West, Vol. XIII, Nos. 1 and 2, June, 1969, pp. 68-82.
[In the following essay, Harrex analyzes Narayan's use of comedy in The Printer of Malgudi.]
The Printer of Malgudi was first published as Mr. Sampath in 1949. It is not the most accomplished of R. K. Narayan's novels, and its action, though very funny at times, is a little inadequate as a representation of life which is both amusing and true. However, considered from the point of view of Narayan's development as a comic artist. The Printer of Malgudi is an interesting transitional work; and it complements the enlarged consciousness of life evident in his previous novel, Grateful to Life and Death, in which he explored through a newly sharpened tragicomic style the metaphysical implications of an anguishing experience. In devising a parabolical setting for the comedy of The Printer of Malgudi, Narayan extended his imaginative horizons. Thus, by the penultimate chapter the author is viewing the story in terms larger than itself—archetypally, in fact.
Up to this point the story has been fairly straightforward. Srinivas, a university graduate who had been undecided about his professional future, became a newspaper proprietor-editor. His printer, Mr. Sampath, came to regard the paper (The Banner) as his personal...
(The entire section is 3742 words.)
SOURCE: "A Piquant Infusion of India," in Christian Science Monitor, Vol. 62, No. 72, February 19, 1970, p. 10.
[In the following review, Millar discusses the character studies in the stories of Narayan's A Horse and Two Goats.]
Mother India has many gentle children. This book [A Horse and Two Goats] is written with the gentleness of strength.
R. K. Narayan is a novelist of distinction who follows no trend but humanity, no vision but his own—kindly, level, comical, moved.
A Horse and Two Goats is a collection of short stories, all (one suspects) wholly Indian in spirit. Each of them is a character study, a glint of mankind, an infusion of India.
The surface is comedy and tragicomedy. Sometimes grief lies under it, but never despair. And each story deserves to be read at least twice—in an age when much contemporary fiction may not deserve to be read once.
Mr. Narayan's quiet, almost insidious prose makes it clear that his world is not ours, although part of ours may be part of his. But his world is available to us, an achievement made possible by his skill and by the common humanity of both worlds.
Not that the author's people are especially common; his main actors are all eccentrics in one way or another. (Who isn't?) They teach us lessons for or about ourselves. Perhaps all credible tales of...
(The entire section is 701 words.)
SOURCE: "From Picaro to Pilgrim: A Perspective on R. K. Narayan's The Guide," in Indo-English Literature: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by K. K. Sharma, Vimal Prakashan, 1977, pp. 141-56.
[Goyal was a book reviewer for the Hindustan Times and has published several books analyzing literature. In the following essay, he traces the metamorphosis of the main character, Raja, in Narayan's The Guide.]
R. K. Narayan's literary imagination has the same dazzling comicality, the same vigorous mask-stripping as the creative genius of his brother, R. K. Laxman, the celebrated cartoonist. Narayan, however, does not resort to exaggeration, distortion, or caricature to achieve his comic effects. He chiefly relies on a resilient and multidimensional irony to expose the human follies and absurdities generated by a blind adherence to obsolete custom, mechanical ritual, and belittling superstition. He is well-acquainted with the powerful hold of traditional values and attitudes on the psyche of middle-class Hindus and skilfully portrays the subtle operation of vague, amorphous and mystifying beliefs in their lives. His major themes and techniques are defined by the exigencies arising out of the conflict between middle-class morality and individual aspiration and between human endeavour and its unexpected consequences, by his human and social concerns, and by his intense preoccupation with man's need...
(The entire section is 6132 words.)
SOURCE: "R. K. Narayan's 'Gateman's Gift': The Central Theme," in Literary Criterion, Vol. XV, No. 1, 1980, pp. 37-46.
[In the following essay, Sah asserts that the central theme of Gateman's Gift is Govind Singh's role as a socio-economic animal.]
What is the central theme of R. K. Narayan's story "Gateman's Gift"?
In asking this question I assume that a good story is written not purely for entertainment, or for the sake of an interesting and amusing description of an event or a character, but for communicating something to the reader over and above the simple facts of description. By this I do not mean that every good story has a 'message' or a 'moral,' but I do mean that every good story has a perception of reality—be it social or individual, and this is the writer's own perception which he wants to communicate to the reader. The reader of course is at liberty to read the story at any level he likes, and in most cases it may not include the level of the writer's perception of reality, but a good story does not become a good story till it includes this level.
When asked to describe the central theme (the main idea, the motivating factor, the writer's intended communication, of "Gateman's Gift," students often quote the opening sentence of the story which is a layman's statement of the psychological principle of suggestion:
(The entire section is 3786 words.)
SOURCE: "R. K. Narayan's Comic Vision: Possibilities and Limitations," in World Literature Today, Vol. 55, No. 3, Summer, 1981, pp. 416-19.
[In the following essay, Srinath asserts the importance of the fictional Malgudi in Narayan's fiction.]
R. K. Narayan's Malgudi has not changed much since 1935 when he wrote his first novel. It is the same pace of life, same locale, same topography, which should naturally amount to monotony; but thanks to the novelist's craftsmanship in not resorting to descriptions of the place, Malgudi is alive as a character. In novel after novel we find the familiar landmarks such as Nellappa Grove, the Lawley Extension, Kabir Road, the Albert Mission school, the spreading tamarind tree, the river Sarayu, the Mempi hills—all these are presented realistically, but what makes it a living reality in art is the ability of the author to give a mythical aura to factual details. Any attempt of the novelist to be realistic in the narrow sense in presenting the changing circumstances of the technological world would have meant ruin to Narayan's art, which thrives on familiar characters in limited surroundings, the life of a small town that refuses to grow into anonymity but like his characters strives toward self-identity. Hence the mythical realism becomes essential for Narayan to communicate the spirit of the place.
It is interesting to watch how, while Malgudi...
(The entire section is 3167 words.)
SOURCE: "Narayan Country," in New York Times Book Review, March 7, 1982, pp. 1, 14-15.
[Desai is the author of such books as Clear Light of Day. In the following review, she presents an overview of the setting and characters found in Narayan's Malgudi Days.]
When R. K. Narayan was recently made an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, he said in his acceptance speech that he had created the town of Malgudi in order to play the despot. Had he chosen to write about Calcutta or Bombay, he would have had to step carefully, confine himself to observation, whereas in the imaginary town of Malgudi he could set up a statue wherever he liked, demolish the town hall if he wished, put up a tea shop without the permission of the municipality, banish old residents and introduce strangers, just as he pleased.
Anyone who reads this new collection of stories[, Malgudi Days,] will laugh at the notion of Narayan as a despot, for there could be no one less tyrannical and more amiable. The town he has created on the sandy banks of the Sarayu River, with its Town Hall Park, its Albert Mission School, Lawley Road, the ineffably named Boardless Hotel and the Matchless Stationery Mart, is small, uncrowded and unpretentious; its residents appear to be bound together by ties of long familiarity and neighborly curiosity rather than the spirits of envy, malice and rivalry that...
(The entire section is 1361 words.)
SOURCE: "Narayan's Sense of Audience," in Ariel, Vol. 15, No. 1, January, 1984, pp. 59-65.
[In the following essay, Ahluwalia discusses how Narayan's awareness of his audience influences his writing.]
R. K. Narayan is one of those creative writers who make a living out of their writing. He has struggled very hard to establish himself, i.e., to make himself and his works acceptable to a particular audience in the English-speaking world. Narayan's awareness of his audience is matched by his acute understanding of the commercial aspect of imaginative writing. Describing the book buying situation in his home town (Mysore) in an article published in 1953 he says that among a population of two hundred and seventy-five thousand persons capable of reading and appreciating his books and financially able to buy them, only 200 copies of his novel, The Bachelor of Arts, had been sold. In another essay, Narayan says, "The commercial aspect of literary life is alien to our culture; and book-buying and book-keeping [sic] are not considered important. Our tradition is more 'Aural,' that means a story-teller is in greater demand than the story-writer. The story-teller who has studied the epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, may take up any of the thousand episodes in them, create a narrative with his individual stamp on it, and hold the attention of an audience, numbering thousands, for hours, while the...
(The entire section is 2226 words.)
SOURCE: "The River, the Lotus Pond and the Ruined Temple: An Essay on Symbolism in R. K. Narayan's Novels," in Indian Readings in Commonwealth Literature, edited by G. S. Amur, V. R. N. Prasad, B. V. Nemade, and N. K. Nihalani, Sterling Publishers, 1985, pp. 94-105.
[In the following essay, Amur traces Narayan's use of the symbols of the lotus pond, the garden, and the ruined temple in The English Teacher, The Financial Expert, and The Vendor of Sweets.]
An interesting episode in R. K. Narayan's autobiography, My Days, relates to his brief role as editor and publisher of Indian Thought, a journal which was started with the grand design 'to phrase our culture properly', to utilise the English language as medium for presenting our cultural heritage'. Indian Thought failed, as a similar venture by Shrinivas, the fictional hero of Mr. Sampath, was to fail later, because Narayan soon realised that what he needed was a five thousand page encyclopaedia and not a hundred and twenty page journal and he was trying to 'pack an elephant into a demi-octavo carton'. In spite of the characteristic irony Narayan employed in both the contexts however, he has been carrying out his ambitious design not only through works like his English adaptation of Kamban's Ramayana or Gods, Demons and Others where he retells some of the Hindu myths, but through the novels themselves...
(The entire section is 4122 words.)
SOURCE: "Quite Quiet India," in Encounter, Vol. LXIV, No. 3, March, 1985, pp. 52-9.
[In the following essay, Cronin looks at V. S. Naipaul's appraisal of the religious and the political in Narayan's work by analysing Waiting for the Mahatma and The Painter of Signs.]
I know of only one substantial attack on R. K. Narayan's achievement. It might be of some interest simply as a novelty, but, coming as it does from a man who has claims to be the best living writer in English, it deserves more serious attention than it has received. V. S. Naipaul admires Narayan, and his admiration survived, he tells us, the rainy season in India during which he slowly re-read Mr Sampath, the Printer. It survived, but the account of the novel that follows leaves us in little doubt that it did not survive intact. Before the monsoon Naipaul had admired Narayan as a comic realist: after it he was left with an uneasy appreciation of Narayan's skill in disguising religiose fables to make them look like novels. A Tiger for Malgudi would not seem to him a retreat into quasi-philosophical whimsy forgivable in a writer near the end of a distinguished career, but the predictable outcome of tendencies present even in Narayan's strongest work.
Naipaul's problem has to do with the status of Malgudi. He knows that Narayan's fiction depends on the creation of Malgudi: his "comedies were of the sort...
(The entire section is 6439 words.)
SOURCE: "A Calm Eye on Daily Disasters," in New York Times Book Review, July 21, 1985, p. 19.
[Kazin teaches English at the City University of New York Graduate Center and the author of An American Procession. In the following review, he praises Narayan's use of the short story form in Under the Banyan Tree.]
Rasipuram Krishnaswami Narayan is on the threshold of 80 still India's most notable novelist and short-story writer in English. Quite apart from the beautiful traditionalism of his middle name, there is good reason to note his full Indian name. Mr. Narayan is an elegant, deceptively simple stylist who cleverly reports—or translates—the speech of his Indian characters into inflated schoolroom English. "How can we blame the rains when people are so evil-minded?" "A good action in a far-off place did not find an echo, but an evil one did possess that power." Yet everything he describes is intensely local, reflecting his long residence in Mysore and the intricacy of continuing and conflicting traditions throughout modern India.
Mr. Narayan's strength is that his material seems inexhaustible. He clearly feels he has only to look out his window, take a walk, hire a servant, to pick up story after story. The American reader may not know exactly where all this is taking place, but the world is so intensely visualized and comprehended—without any particular judgment made on so...
(The entire section is 1487 words.)
SOURCE: "R. K. Narayan's Neglected Novel: Waiting for the Mahatma," in World Literature Written in English, Vol. 26, No. 2, Autumn, 1986, pp. 362-69.
[In the following essay, Driesen analyzes Narayan's Waiting for the Mahatma by tracing the main character's relationship to Gandhi.]
By the time Waiting for the Mahatma was published (in 1957), R. K. Narayan had already established an international reputation as a novelist. It is therefore somewhat surprising that in the steadily accumulating volume of critical commentary on Narayan's work in Western literary journals, no detailed study of this particular novel has yet appeared. Some general discussions of Narayan's work hardly mention the novel, while those that do evince a variety of contradictory impressions. For example, Keith Garebian objects to the portrait of Gandhi in the novel as being "sketchy, and at worst, clichéd," while another critic sees it as one of the novel's strengths, "a sure and delicate description of saintliness whose equal is perhaps only to be found in the great Russian novelists." Again, where this latter critic finds the novel's central irony lies in the Gandhian disciple's inability to abide by the rules of conduct set for him by his guru, Shirley Chew finds that Sriram is "pleasingly bold in following his ideal." As the one novel in which Narayan appears to have drawn very directly on one of the most...
(The entire section is 3782 words.)
SOURCE: "Tradition and Transformation in R. K. Narayan's A Tiger For Malgudi," in International Fiction Review, Vol. 14, No. 1, Winter, 1987, pp. 8-13.
[In the following essay, Atkinson discusses Narayan's depiction of Hinduism and its relationship to everyday life in A Tiger for Malgudi.]
R. K. Narayan is often labeled "a small town ironist," who, with gentle humor, lays bare the weaknesses, foibles, and incongruities of ordinary people. As well, Narayan addresses fundamental questions about human existence, creating in Malgudi a fictional microcosm of India that embraces the organic wholeness of the Hindu tradition. Here Narayan is especially sensitive to how humankind falls short in its religious ambitions, as his characters repeatedly settle for less than the ideal and are frustrated by the fundamental limitations of being human. In Narayan's most recent novel, A Tiger for Malgudi (1983), these limitations emphasize the unsettling disjunction between the philosophical underpinnings of Hinduism and their relevance to everyday life.
Central to A Tiger for Malgudi is how the individual, fettered by his own self-delusion, works within a framework established by the Hindu concepts of dharma and karma. Dharma is a word having many meanings, but in essence it points to how the individual, possessed of particular abilities, functions in society. How these...
(The entire section is 3360 words.)
SOURCE: "An Interview with R. K. Narayan," in Daedalus, Vol. 118, No. 4, Fall, 1989, pp. 232-37.
[In the following interview, Narayan discusses Indian writers, India, and criticism of his work.]
[Graubard:] What can one say, in brief compass, about Indian literature? How do you see it?
[Narayan:] This is a vast field—Indian literature—ancient, modern. There are so many languages in India. To know the literature of each is very difficult, and yet there are few translations from one language into another. It is difficult to judge the literature of so many languages. I can judge only Tamil; I cannot read literature in Kannada but I understand it, and English, of course. About literature in the other languages I would not be able to tell you very much. Yet there is so much literature and literary criticism in each of these languages.
Yes, that is true. What is read by one group may not be read by others. But what about Indian English literature—writers like Anita Desai,… Mulk Raj Anand, and Vikram Seth?
Anita Desai and Vikram Seth are good writers. I very much enjoyed reading The Golden Gate Bridge. In fact, I reviewed it.
What about poetry in English?
I don't read modern poetry. I confine myself to old English poetry. And to T. S. Eliot.
But looking at Indian...
(The entire section is 1545 words.)
SOURCE: "R. K. Narayan as a Gandhian Novelist," in Literary Criterion, Vol. XXV, No. 4, 1990, pp. 77-90.
[In the following essay, Pousse delineates how Narayan "separated the obviously ephemeral implications of [Gandhi's] philosophy from what was eternal in it and he gave literary existence to the latter."]
It has proved difficult to separate Gandhian novelists from the Mahatma himself, the Freedom Fighters, or the first years of India's independence. Gandhi and the school of literature he inspired seemed to be so much at one with each other that many a literary critic assumed that the school which had taken over in form and content the whole of Indian English literature wouldn't survive its master. As far back as 1976 Uma Parameswaran noted a sharp decline in the creative powers of such novelists. To her, extinction obviously was round the corner.
Gandhi could only survive his own message if its universality were brought into light. The philosophical value of his teaching had to find a field of application in a context other than that of the fight for independence.
This is where Narayan, of all Indian English writers the least directly committed to violent social reforms subtly illustrates in his gentle novels of Malgudi that the quintessence of Gandhi's teaching is part and parcel of India's daily life; one might even be tempted to say of India's folklore....
(The entire section is 5237 words.)
SOURCE: "Theme of Art and Immortality in R. K. Narayan's The Guide," in Literary Criterion, Vol. XXV, No. 2, 1990, pp. 36-46.
[In the following essay, Singh analyzes the place of art and immortality in Narayan's The Guide.]
The desire for immortality which in Jungian terms is a "primordial affirmation" in human beings and which has its "origin in a peculiar feeling of extension in space and time" is realised to the highest degree by a perfect identification and expression of what Jung calls the "collective unconscious." This "collective unconscious," in turn, is realised in its full dimension by its approximation to what F. A. Wilson describes as "the qualitative aspect of the creativity of the universe … the transcendental universe programmed to become aware of itself". Now this becoming of the Universe completely aware of itself is presented in Indian thought as Shiva or Vishnu as representative of "Absolute Consciousness." Indian Vedanta also expresses a similar view. According to this philosophy "the Real self is called Atman. As an infinite conscious reality (Satyam, Jnanam, Anantam) the self for a man is identical with the self of all beings and, therefore, with God…." Jung's "Collective unconscious" which is almost the same thing as "servabhutam" becomes a reflection of the "absolute consciousness."
Art as a representative of life, reflects a co-ordination between...
(The entire section is 3714 words.)
SOURCE: "Patterns of Story-telling in R. K. Narayan's The Guide," in Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Vol. XXVI, No. 1, 1991, pp. 127-50.
[In the following essay, Sankaran analyzes Narayan's fusing of traditional Indian myth and the English novel form, focusing on The Guide.]
The novel as a genre, especially in the twentieth century, has undergone a great deal of change. In The West, one can witness a movement away from the Victorian Novel form of the nineteenth century. This movement can, to an extent, be seen reflected in commonwealth countries too, where during the middle and latter half of the twentieth century, we observe a shift away from previously established western modes.
In India for instance, the earlier fascination with Western form and theory, reflected in the works of Rabindranath Tagore and Sarojini Naidu, is replaced by the increasingly experimental works of the later writers. This change can be seen in the fiction of Raja Rao, as in the poetry of A. K. Ramanujam, the drama of Girish Karnad and many other writers. In the works of these writers, we notice a harking back to traditional native literatures. Thus poetry in Indo-Anglian writing very frequently incorporates the techniques of the Sanskrit kavyas, prose works adopt the ornate style of the Puranas, and dramas feature the poetics of Sanskrit natakas. Very often these works, we find,...
(The entire section is 9768 words.)
SOURCE: "R. K. Narayan, Raja Rao and Modern English Discourse in Colonial India," in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 39, No. 1, Winter, 1993, pp. 169-86.
[In the following essay, Knippling discusses Indian novels written in English and the implications of colonialism and nationalism on these novels, specifically focusing on Narayan's The English Teacher and Raja Rao's Kanthapura.]
Indigenous Indian novel-writing in English dates back to at least the mid-nineteenth century. Its "origin" owes as much to the educational reforms called for by both the 1813 Charter Act and the ensuing 1835 English Education Act of William Bentinck as to the circulation, representation, and purchase of English literature and culture among members of the Indian upper classes in nineteenth-century India. While we are not at liberty to assume that novel production in Britain and colonial India underwent simply parallel routes, we may still argue for the possibility, in the case of English-writing in India, of a nascent space in which British and Indian social codes and value systems began to intersect and mutually determine one another. More specifically, the translation of certain progressive British social codes and cultural values of the Enlightenment into Indian terms entailed something like a new episteme, within whose rigor Indian writers started to produce novels assuming a critical stance towards what were now viewed...
(The entire section is 6675 words.)
SOURCE: "Devadasi Defiance and The Man-Eater of Malgudi," in Journal of the Commonwealth Literature, Vol. XXIX, No. 1, 1994, pp. 15-28.
[In the following essay, Hubel explores the changing role of the devadasis caste in India by tracing Narayan's portrayal of them through the character of Rangi.]
In 1947, after over 50 years of agitation and political pressure on the part of a committed group of Hindu reformers, the Madras legislature passed an act into law that would change forever the unique culture of the professional female temple dancers of South India. It was called the "Madras Devadasis (Prevention of Dedication) Act". Despite having the wholehearted support of the Indian women's movement of the time, the Act represented the imposition of androcentric values on a matrifocal and matrilineal tradition, a tradition which had for centuries managed to withstand the compulsions of Hindu patriarchy. The devadasis were eventually forced to give up their profession and their unusual way of life. But the dance itself was not lost. It was, instead, reconstructed as a national treasure. One of the consequences of the 1947 Act is that, today in India and all over the world, the temple dance, once exclusively performed by devadasis, is dominated by women of the upper castes.
What I intend to do in the following pages is to explore the much suppressed history of the devadasis through a...
(The entire section is 6084 words.)
SOURCE: "Symbolism in R. K. Narayan's 'Naga,'" in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 31, No. 3, Summer, 1994, pp. 425-32.
[In the following essay, Urstad discusses Narayan's juxtaposition of modern life and Hindu mythology in the short story "Naga."]
R. K. Narayan is generally acknowledged as the most outstanding of the three major Indian authors writing in English to emerge in the 1930s (R. K. Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao). His works have been described as "an original blend of Western method and Eastern material." His material is "Eastern" not just in the sense that he describes Indian characters in an Indian setting, but in the way that he uses references to Hindu mythology and the Indian epics to lend depth to his own works. He has what Britta Olinder has called "a singular power of joining his fresh and humorous view of the ordinary world with the deeper meaning and larger perspectives he finds in the mythical treasures of his own religion." In The Man-Eater of Malgudi, for instance, the comic conflict between the good-natured but ineffectual Nataraj and Vasu, his taxidermist lodger, is on a deeper level a struggle between the forces that sustain life and those hostile to life. The struggle is brought to a happy conclusion because Vasu, like the rakshasa to which he is compared, carries within him the seeds of his own destruction.
Narayan's basic technique of...
(The entire section is 3358 words.)
SOURCE: "Comedies of Suffering," in New York Times Book Review, September 11, 1994, p. 40.
[Tharoor is the author of The Great Indian Novel and Show Business. In the following review, he praises the stories in Narayan's The Grandmother's Tale as "interesting and often pleasurable," but complains of the banality of the author's prose.]
"Some time in the early 30s," Graham Greene recalled, "an Indian friend of mine called Purna brought me a rather traveled and weary typescript—a novel written by a friend of his—and I let it lie on my desk for weeks unread until one rainy day." The English weather saved an Indian voice: Greene didn't know that the novel "had been rejected by half a dozen publishers and that Purna had been told by the author … to weight it with a stone and drop it into the Thames." Greene loved the novel, Swami and Friends, found a publisher for it in London, and so launched India's most distinguished literary career of recent times, that of Rasipuram Krishnaswami Narayan.
The author, now 87, went on to publish 25 more books, including 12 more novels. This year he was awarded a literary prize in India for outstanding lifetime achievement by a South Asian writer. The jury's citation declared Mr. Narayan "a master storyteller whose language is simple and unpretentious, whose wit is critical yet healing, whose characters are drawn with sharp...
(The entire section is 1560 words.)
SOURCE: "Real Magicians," in New York Review of Books, Vol. XLII, No. 3, February 16, 1995, pp. 9-11.
[In the following excerpt, Mantel discusses the inhabitants of Narayan's The Grandmother's Tale and Selected Stories and how the author presents them with humor.]
Some years ago, in an essay called "A Writer's Night-mare," R. K. Narayan imagined himself a citizen of a strange country called Xanadu, where the government printer had made a grave error; five tons of forms meant for the controller of stores had been turned out with the heading "controller of stories." Five tons of paper is no mean amount, and an official must be invented to make use of it. Perhaps, indeed, this is a matter in which government should have interfered before?
The Government has observed that next to rice and water, stories are the most-demanded stuff in daily life…. Every moment someone or other is always asking for a story.
And so there is to be a Central Story Bureau, with four directorates, one each for plot, character, atmosphere, and climax. Authors contemplating a story would have to fill in a form, obtain a treasury certificate, submit a synopsis, and obtain authorization. Unauthorized story tellers would be fined. Bad story tellers would have their ink bottles smashed….
R. K. Narayan is a writer of towering achievement...
(The entire section is 1814 words.)
Alam, Fakrul. "Plot and Character in R. K. Narayan's The Man-Eater of Malgudi: A Reassessment." Ariel 19, No. 3 (July 1988): 77-92.
Analyzes the relationship between Nataraj and Vasu in Narayan's The Man-Eater of Malgudi and its effect on the novel's plot.
D. B. "A World Filled With Love." New York Times Book Review (25 December 1955): 10.
Favorably compares Narayan's Swami and Friends and The Bachelor of Arts to the work of other novelists, such as H. G. Wells.
Getlein, Frank. "The 'Little Life' of Everyman." The Commonweal LVIII, No. 5 (8 May 1953): 126.
Discusses the everyday nature of life, with all its pitfalls, described in Narayan's The Financial Expert.
Hardin, Nancy Shields. "Mysore/Malgudi: R. K. Narayan's World of South India." Missouri Review VI, No. 3 (Summer 1983): 125-38.
Discusses the relationship between Narayan's real home of Mysore with his fictional world of Malgudi, and the place of his Indian heritage in his work.
Kirpal, Viney Pal Kaur. "An Analysis of Narayan's Technique." Ariel 14, No. 4 (October 1983): 16-19.
(The entire section is 425 words.)