Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 322
Margayya, the titular expect, provides financial consulting services in the town of Malgudi. His office is a spot under a banyan tree. Through a combination of skill and wiles, he expands his moneylending business and gains considerable wealth. An altercation with his old friend Pal, however, brings about his ruin.
Meena is Margayya’s wife. Innocent where he is sly, she is subordinated to his schemes and verbal abuse. Her submissive behavior generally enables her husband’s unscrupulous tactics. The notable exception is when she is propelled to action over concern for their son, Balu, and goes to Madras looking for him.
Balu, Margayya and Meena’s son, grows into an irresponsible, unmotivated youth in part because of their indulgent attitude in his childhood. Balu’s rash behavior is not limited to his own life, as he destroys his father’s business records. Marriage does not change his habits, as he fails to support his family. His father’s efforts to change his trajectory contribute to Margayya’s downfall.
Dr. Pal, a writer who dabbles in several genres, also considers himself a sociological expert. A foil to Margayya, he specializes in manipulating words rather than numbers. His advice and participation, by providing Margayya with an erotic book and securing office space, help impel his friend’s ascent. While he helps engineer Balu’s marriage, he also encourages his dissolute ways. The rumors he spreads finally lead to his friend’s ruin.
Brinda is a lovely 17-year-old who marries Balu and has his child. Her complaints over her husband’s behavior lead Margayya to confront Pal over his negative influence, in turn leading to his assault.
Madan Lal is an important printer who becomes enthralled by and then decides to publish the sex manual, which Margayya had provided after buying it from Dr. Pal.
Arul Doss is an elderly bank worker; an authoritarian figure, he evicts Margayya from his post under the tree.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 702
If, as has been suggested by some distinguished critics, The Financial Expert is the quintessential Narayan novel, then its characters are fully representative of the entire range of the writer’s invention and thus of India itself, for Malgudi is as representative of urban life on the subcontinent as is any other town or city in modern literature, and it is drawn in greater detail and with greater fidelity and sympathy. That is to say, the characters are both individuals and representatives of the types to be found in their multifarious modifications throughout South India.
Margayya, aware that his grandfather and his grand-uncles were corpse-bearers (and hence of one of the lowest castes), has nevertheless managed to rise above his origins through providing a service of sorts to illiterate and intimidated villagers; he is hardworking, frugal to the point of penuriousness, and—aware that knowledge is power—ever careful to become acquainted with others’ finances while remaining secretive about his own. His relationships reveal his character in all of its complexity. First, in typical fashion, he treats his wife, Meenakshi, as unworthy of being apprised of his business dealings and unworthy of love, or even of respect. (There is no word for love, as it is defined in English, in Indian languages.) Second, he regards Balu as a projection of himself and tries to force him into a mold quite unsuited to him; he shows him neither paternal affection nor true understanding but wants him to achieve academic success so that he might become a government official or a business success. By indulging him after his return from Madras, he merely ensures Balu’s future failure though his last act is to recommend that Balu follow in his father’s footsteps. It seems certain that the son, like the father, will never “pass on to the grade of people who [are] wealthy and not merely rich.”
It is Margayya’s consuming desire for wealth and position that blinds him to the machinations of Dr. Pal and Mr. Lal, author and publisher, respectively, of Domestic Harmony. All three men illustrate one side of Indian society: the puritanical public attitude toward sex (and even to normal heterosexual behavior) that coexists with the erotic, in the form of temple statuary and the Kama Sutra, which are almost compulsively exhibited to Western visitors. Dr. Pal, in particular, represents the seamy side of Indian academic life: He is, by his own account, a sociologist, psychologist, journalist, author, and tourist director, but in fact, he ekes out a living through illicit enterprises and by performing lowly tasks. He is, in essence, a social parasite. Mr. Lal, on the other hand, is merely a furtive businessman: He loves to read a titillating manuscript and sees in it ready profit from surreptitious sales.
Arul Doss, however, although he plays a seemingly minor role as chief servant of the Co-operative Land Mortgage Bank, is an important foil to Margayya, whose cupidity and self-interest (if not also his deviousness) are contrasted to the values that have been represented for years by the Bank: cooperation, frugality, regularity, punctuality, moderation, and caution. That is, the Bank represents the Puritan ethic of Western culture. Doss is ready to address Margayya on terms of equality and with politeness, but it is not a reciprocal attitude. Doss has an inherent dignity as a functionary that suggests a basis in Christian theology and in a philosophy of service and equality—service to employer and customers alike.
Even the minor characters—such as Balu’s wife, Brinda; the inspector of police; and the mystic owner of the Madras theater— add materially to R. K. Narayan’s panorama of Indian characters. Brinda is the arranged bride, sought out by negotiation and consultation with astrologers yet dutiful, retiring, complaisant, and devoted to her domestic duties; the inspector is diligent, resourceful, modest, and professional in the execution of his work; the theater owner is one of those mystics who pervade the Indian scene—partly religious, partly profane, they seem to belong to neither world entirely, yet they influence both. When impoverished villagers, prostitutes, film-makers, and small-time vendors are included, one has a picture of Indian urban life of remarkable detail and comprehensiveness.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 614
Margayya, the owner of a small business, in his thirties. A wizard with numbers, crafty, and unscrupulous, Margayya earns a modest living as a financial consultant from a spot under a banyan tree in the Indian town of Malgudi. Eventually, he becomes a wealthy moneylender and banker, but when he assaults an old associate, he loses his reputation, his business, and his fortune.
Meena, Margayya’s wife, his uncomprehending confidant and his scapegoat. Although she is frightened by his rages and his irrational schemes, she accepts the various changes in her fortune with docility. The only time she asserts herself is when she thinks that Margayya has driven their son Balu to suicide; then her fury and her grief frighten him into going to Madras to find Balu.
Balu, Margayya and Meena’s son, who is first seen as a spoiled, uncontrollable baby. He is later a failure at school, a runaway, and even, after his marriage, a wastrel. Ironically, it is his childish destruction of his father’s account book that drives Margayya from the banyan tree to a new business venture and wealth. At the end of the book, it is an attempt to stop Balu’s debauchery that causes Margayya’s downfall.
Dr. Pal, a self-styled journalist, author, and sociologist. A lean, confident thirty-year-old when he first appears, Dr. Pal has a seemingly intellectual patter that awes Margayya. Periodically, he turns up to direct Margayya’s life. At first, his influence on Margayya is benign. It is Dr. Pal who sells him the sexually explicit book whose publication becomes the basis of Margayya’s fortune; it is he who moves Margayya into the fortunately situated office and pushes him into banking; and it is he who arranges an appropriate if inaccurate horoscope so that Balu can marry the girl whom Margayya has selected. At the end of the story, however, it is Dr. Pal who encourages Balu’s debauchery and who takes revenge for the assault by spreading the rumors that ruin Margayya.
Brinda, Balu’s wife, a beautiful, sweet seventeen-year-old, the daughter of a man who owns a small tea estate. At first, she is as delighted with her young husband as Margayya is with her and her station. When Balu mistreats her, however, she confides in her father-in-law. These complaints lead to his attack on Dr. Pal. In the collapse of his fortunes, Margayya is comforted by the fact that Brinda’s baby will now be living with him.
Madan Lal, the principal printer in Malgudi. A large, red-faced man who is aware of his own importance, he is so fascinated by the sex manual that Margayya has bought from Dr. Pal that he stops work to read it and then arranges to publish it.
Guru Raj, a dark, talkative, and polite blanket merchant, the friend of Dr. Pal. He rents an office to Margayya.
Arul Doss, the head servant at the Cooperative Bank. An old Christian, wrinkled, with a white mustache, he has the air of authority that derives from his uniform and his position. When he brings Margayya word that he must leave his place near the bank, Doss frightens Margayya and his clients, even though he himself laughs at Margayya’s boldness.
The Inspector, a Madras policeman. A kindly man, he befriends Margayya on the train and finds the runaway Balu for him.
Sastri, Margayya’s accountant. A tired old man, he occasionally remonstrates with his employer about his unkindness to customers. He has no real status, however, until Margayya entrusts to him the search for an appropriate wife for Balu.