Jagan, the protagonist of The Vendor of Sweets, is a traditional Indian man in the sense that he had followed Gandhi, worked for India’s independence, and studies religious texts. Author R. K. Narayan depicts Jagan as suffering internal or mental conflict as well as conflicts with his son, Mali, and Mali’s partner Grace. Jagan’s mental conflict relates to his desire to retire from business and retreat from the commercial, material world. In his daily life, mental and physical conflicts are connected through his personal diet, which resembles that of an ascetic but is at odds with his business, which is selling unhealthy sweets.
Jagan’s internal conflict is tightly tied to his family, as his disagreements with the younger couple impede him from retreating as he intends to do. The ongoing conflicts lead to Jagan’s frustration, as he is torn between making a serious change in his life and continuing with the comfortable—and lucrative—business role he has long enjoyed. The elements of Jagan’s inner conflict are also explored through his relationship with the hair dyer, who exemplifies the deeper spiritual dimension that has eluded Jagan.
The question of whether Jagan represents “a traditional Indian” or “the traditional Indian” remains open to debate. An individual reader’s position will likely depend on whether they see Jagan as a rounded, or complex character who is well-developed as an individual or as a flat character whose elements were selected to create an unrealistic, symbolic depiction of an Indian man of his generation.