Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Perhaps the sharpest criticism of Narayan’s writing in general and of The Printer of Malgudi in particular concerns the very Indian attitude of passive acceptance and withdrawal that rounds off the book. Critics—especially V. S. Naipaul—believe that Narayan leaves out too much that is overwhelmingly at odds with his Malgudi world. They believe that the small town is a simplification of reality, and that Narayan’s novels require a special response, for they are not pure social comedies but Hindu moral fables.

The Printer of Malgudi, for example, ends with the madness of an artist (Ravi) and the detachment of the protagonist. Ravi’s desire for Shanti frustrates his art. He can be cured only by a Hindu magician, who begins the exorcism ritual by beating the artist. Then it is Srinivas’ turn to share once again in the Hindu attitudes, for he does not interfere in Ravi’s exorcism ritual and decides with equanimity that “Even madness passes.”

As Naipaul and other critics contend, the ending marks a division between Narayan’s form (which implies concern) and his attitude (which denies it). Srinivas’ story ends with a sense of Karma, the Hindu doctrine of calm acceptance of fate. Everything Srinivas sees is now balanced as distress melts away and chaos is perceived as an illusion of reality. The novel becomes, in effect, a fable in which the protagonist survives by preparing to withdraw from old relationships and from a world teeming with anxieties and frustrations.