Under the Banyan Tree Summary
“Under the Banyan Tree,” the title story in R. K. Narayan’s collection Under the Banyan Tree, and Other Stories (1985), appeared originally in his earlier volume, An Astrologer’s Day, and Other Stories (1947). It is the story of an old-fashioned storyteller named Nambi, in whom Narayan has created a character of mythic dimensions. The story radiates its author’s deep love for tradition as he, using the omniscient point of view, nostalgically evokes the Old World charm of oral storytelling by showcasing Nambi.
The story begins in a remote village in southern India where people live “in a kind of perpetual enchantment,” unmindful of their dismal surroundings. The “enchanter” is Nambi, the storyteller whose tales work like magic to transmute the drab existence of the villagers. The story focuses on Nambi, an old man of indeterminate age. Though illiterate, he is gifted with a fertile imagination. He can weave a story in his head with great ease, at least one every month, and then he narrates the story to an eager audience in an open space in moonlight.
The narrator further reveals Nambi’s simple, tranquil, and austere lifestyle. Nambi lives in the front portion of a little temple dedicated to the goddess Shakti, at the end of the village. A man with no material possessions, he spends most of his day in the shade of the Banyan tree in front of the temple. On Friday evenings, he serves as the temple priest and leads the villagers in the worship of the goddess.
The narrator recounts in detail the rituals and the method of Nambi’s storytelling. On the night Nambi is to tell a story, he lights a small lamp and keeps it at the trunk of the banyan tree to send a signal to the villagers. At moonrise, men, women, and children rush to the temple and gather under the banyan tree, while Nambi sits inside the temple, before the goddess, lost in deep meditation. When he comes out ablaze with inspiration, he takes his seat on the stone platform in front of the temple and begins the story with a question and a dramatic gesture to capture the attention of the audience.
Building each story on an epic scale, he takes several days to finish it. He narrates continuously for three hours each night, luxuriating in every detail of the setting, the characters, and the episodes. His vivid imagination makes everything come alive for the audience. With a dramatic modulation of his voice, he even sings the songs appropriate to the occasion. At the end of the story, he and the entire audience go into the temple to offer their thanks to the goddess.
This goes on for years. Nambi...
(The entire section is 701 words.)