A Tiger for Malgudi by R. K. Narayan

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Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

When asked in an interview which of his novels he favored, Narayan named A Tiger for Malgudi. The reason for his choice is readily understandable. The book offers an engaging animal story, even as it works out once again Narayan’s preoccupation with gaining a balance between the demands of the everyday world and the attractions of the spiritual realm. The novel is also a highly successful experiment in narrative voice. Although Narayan never followed the dictates of fiction slavishly, this book departed more radically from convention than any of his other works.

In the preface, Narayan explains that the idea for the novel came to him after reading about actual Indian holy men whose only companions are tigers, the animals roaming freely from place to place with their human companions. Narayan also notes in the preface how the sannyasi (a person in India who renounces the world in order to go on a spiritual quest) approaches the tiger:That, deep within, the core of personality is the same in spite of differing appearances and categories, and with the right approach you could expect the same response from a tiger as from any normal human being.

Such is Narayan’s approach to the tiger as well, which suggests that he pictures a world far more expansive than one made up only of human beings living out their mundane lives and believing they are the center of the universe.

In fact, humans generally do not fare very well in the tiger’s story. During his early days the tiger enjoys an idyllic life in the jungle, but he soon learns that humans are not to be trusted. First, his mate and their cubs fall prey to hunters. Then, left alone, the tiger begins to raid villages and spreads terror among the inhabitants. Unable to get any official help, the villagers finally find a circus owner who is willing to capture what they describe as a man-eating tiger. Narayan takes the opportunity to satirize Indian bureaucracy as the villagers try unsuccessfully to get government assistance in ridding their territory of the tiger.

Once in the circus, the tiger hero undergoes a long period of severe training before becoming the show’s star performer. At first he is a model circus animal, but one day in a fit of rage he kills his trainer, escapes from the circus, and ends up hiding in the Malgudi college’s main building. After a hilarious scene in which the tiger terrorizes the entire city, a sannyasi arrives and rescues the frightened animal, taking him into the wilderness where they live in perfect contentment and harmony for many years. When the sannyasi realizes the time for his death is nearing, he places the tiger, now aging as well, in the Malgudi zoo to live out his final years. The holy man assures his longtime tiger friend that he will bring happiness to the Malgudi community, especially the children, as an attraction in the zoo.

Through the recounting of these events by the tiger narrator, new aspects of day-to-day activities in Malgudi surface, in particular the colorful details of Indian...

(The entire section is 748 words.)