R(asipuram) K(rishnaswamy) Narayan Biography
Nationality: Indian. Born: Madras, 1906. Education: Collegiate High School, Mysore; Maharaja's College, Mysore, graduated 1930. Career: Teacher, then journalist, early 1930s; owner, Indian Thought Publications, Mysore. Awards: Sahitya Academy award, 1961; Padma Bhushan, India, 1964; National Association of Independent Schools award (U.S.A.), 1965; English-Speaking Union award, 1975; Royal Society of Literature Benson medal, 1980; Padma Vibhushan, India, 2000. Litt.D.: University of Leeds, Yorkshire, 1967; D. Litt.: University of Delhi; Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati; University of Mysore. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1980; honorary member American Academy, 1982. Agent: Anthony Sheil Associates Ltd., 43 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LF, England.
Swami and Friends: A Novel of Malgudi. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1935; with The Bachelor of Arts, East Lansing, Michigan State College Press, 1954.
The Bachelor of Arts. London, Nelson, 1937; with Swami and Friends, East Lansing, Michigan State College Press, 1954.
The Dark Room. London, Macmillan, 1938.
The English Teacher. London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1945; asGrateful to Life and Death, East Lansing, Michigan State College Press, 1953.
Mr. Sampath. London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1949; as The Printer of Malgudi, East Lansing, Michigan State University Press, 1957.
The Financial Expert. London, Methuen, 1952; East Lansing, Michigan State College Press, 1953.
Waiting for the Mahatma. London, Methuen, and East Lansing, Michigan State College Press, 1955.
The Guide. Madras, Higginbothams, London, Methuen, and NewYork, Viking Press, 1958.
The Man-Eater of Malgudi. New York, Viking Press, 1961; London, Heinemann, 1962.
The Vendor of Sweets. New York, Viking Press, 1967; as The Sweet-Vendor, London, Bodley Head, 1967.
The Painter of Signs. New York, Viking Press, 1976; London, Heinemann, 1977.
A Tiger for Malgudi. London, Heinemann, and New York, VikingPress, 1983.
Talkative Man. London, Heinemann, 1986; New York, Viking, 1987.
The World of Nagaraj. London, Heinemann, and New York, Viking, 1990.
Malgudi Days. Mysore, Indian Thought, 1943.
Dodu and Other Stories. Mysore, Indian Thought, 1943.
Cyclone and Other Stories. Mysore, Indian Thought, 1944.
An Astrologer's Day and Other Stories. Mysore, Indian Thought, andLondon, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1947.
Lawley Road. Mysore, Indian Thought, 1956.
A Horse and Two Goats. London, Bodley Head, and New York, Viking Press, 1970.
Old and New. Mysore, Indian Thought, 1981.
Malgudi Days (not same as 1943 book). London, Heinemann, andNew York, Viking Press, 1982.
Under the Banyan Tree and Other Stories. London, Heinemann, andNew York, Viking, 1985.
The Grandmother's Tale, with sketches by R.K. Laxman. Madras, Indian Thought, 1992; London, Heinemann, 1993; as The Grand-mother's Tale and Other Stories, New York, Viking, 1994.
Salt & Sawdust: Stories and Table Talk. New Delhi, Penguin, 1993.
Uncollected Short Story
"The Cobbler and the God," in Playboy (Chicago), 1975.
Mysore. Mysore, Government Branch Press, 1939.
Next Sunday: Sketches and Essays. Mysore, Indian Thought, 1956.
My Dateless Diary: A Journal of a Trip to the United States in October 1956. Mysore, Indian Thought Publications, 1960; New York and London, Penguin, 1988.
Gods, Demons, and Others. New York, Viking Press, 1964; London, Heinemann, 1965.
The Ramayana: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic. New York, Viking Press, 1972; London, Chatto and Windus, 1973.
Reluctant Guru (essays). New Delhi, Hind, 1974.
My Days: A Memoir. New York, Viking Press, 1974; London, Chatto and Windus, 1975.
The Emerald Route (includes play The Watchman of the Lake).Bangalore, Government of Karnataka, 1977.
The Mahabharata: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic. New York, Viking Press, and London, Heinemann, 1978.
A Writer's Nightmare: Selected Essays 1958-1988. New Delhi, Penguin, 1988; New York, Penguin, 1989.
A Story-Teller's World: Stories, Essays, Sketches. New Delhi, Penguin, 1989.
Editor, Indian Thought: A Miscellany. New Delhi, Penguin, 1997.
Mugar Memorial Library, Boston University.
R.K. Narayan: A Critical Study of His Works by Harish Raizada, New Delhi, Young Asia, 1969; R.K. Narayan, London, Longman, 1971, and R.K. Narayan: A Critical Appreciation, London, Heinemann, and Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1982, both by William Walsh; The Novels of R.K. Narayan by Lakshmi Holmstrom, Calcutta, Writers Workshop, 1973; R.K. Narayan, New Delhi, Arnold-Heinemann, 1973, and R.K. Narayan as Novelist, New Delhi, B.R., 1988, both by P.S. Sundaram; Perspectives on R.K. Narayan edited by Atma Ram, Ghaziabad, Vimal, 1981; R.K. Narayan: A Critical Spectrum edited by Bhagwat S. Goyal, Meerut, Shalabh Book House, 1983; The Ironic Vision: A Study of the Fiction of R.K. Narayan by M.K. Naik, New Delhi, Sterling, 1983; R.K. Narayan: His World and His Art by Shiv K. Gilra, Meerut, Saru, 1984; The Novels of R.K. Narayan by Cynthia Vanden Driesen, Nedlands, University of Western Australia Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, 1986; A Critical Study of the Novels of R.K. Narayan by J.K. Biswal, New Delhi, Nirmal, 1987; Patterns of Myth and Reality: A Study in R.K. Narayan's Novels by U.P. Sinha, New Delhi, Sandarbh, 1988; The Language of Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao, and R.K. Narayan by Reza Ahmad Nasimi, New Delhi, Capital, 1989; Human Struggle in the Novels of R.K. Narayan by Nazar Singh Sidhu, New Delhi, Bahri, 1992; A Critical Study of the Novels of R.K. Narayan by Nagendra nath Sharan, New Delhi, Classical, 1993; Cultural Imperialism and the Indo-English Novel: Genre and Ideology in R.K. Narayan, Anita Desai, Kamala Markandaya, and Salman Rushdie by Fawzia Afzal-Khan, University Park, Pennsylvania State University Press; Indian Life and Problems in the Novels of Mulk Raj Anand, Faja Fao, and R.K. Narayan by G.N. Agnihtri, Meerut, Shalabh Prakashan, 1993; Irony in the Novels of R.K. Narayan and V.S. Naipaul by K.N. Padmanabhan Nair, Trivandrum, S. India, CBH, 1993; Major Themes in the Novels of R.K. Narayan by R.M. Varma, New Delhi, Jainsons, 1993; Message in Design: A Study of R.K. Narayan's Fiction by P.S. Ramana, New Delhi, Harman, 1993; R.K. Narayan: Contemporary Critical Perspectives edited by Geoffrey Kain, East Lansing, Michigan State University Press, 1993; R.K. Narayan's India: Myth and Reality edited by Bhagwat S. Goyal, New Delhi, Sarup, 1993; R.K. Narayan, Critical Perspectives, edited by A. L. McLeod, New Delhi, Sterling Publishers, 1994; Myths and Symbols in Raja Rao and R.K. Narayan: A Select Study by Rajesh K. Pallan, Jalandhar, India, ABS Publications, 1994; R.K. Narayan: A Painter of Modern India by Michel Pousse, New York, P. Lang, 1995; R.K. Narayan by Susan Ram and N. Ram, New Delhi, Viking, 1996; The Novels of R.K. Narayan: A Typological Study of Characters by Ramesh Dnyate, New Delhi, Prestige, 1996; Six Indian Novelists: Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao, R.K. Narayan, Balachandran Rajan, Kamala Markandaya, Anita Desai by A.V. Suresh Kumar, New Delhi, Creative Books, 1996; The Elusive Searchlight: The World of R.K. Narayan by Mustafizur Rahman, Dhaka, Bangladesh, Popular Publishers, 1998; The Novels of R.K. Narayan: A Critical Evaluation by P.K. Singh, New Delhi, Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, 1999; R.K. Narayan: A Study of His Female Characters by K.K. Gaur, Delhi, S.S. Publishers, 2000.
* * *
No other twentieth-century novelist besides William Faulkner has so well succeeded in creating through a succession of novels an imagined community that microcosmically reflects the physical, intellectual, and spiritual qualities of a whole culture as has R.K. Narayan in his tales of the South Indian community of Malgudi. His stories have made a naive, highly emotional society half a world away as much a part of a reader's experience as Faulkner's novels have made the mad, decadent world of the red hills of Mississippi.
Narayan took longer than Faulkner to discover his metier, though all the Indian writer's novels have been largely set in Malgudi. With his third novel, Sartoris (1929), published when he was 32, Faulkner laid the cornerstone for his Yoknapatawpha saga of pride-doomed families. Narayan published four apprentice works based largely on reminiscences before producing, at the age of 43, Mr. Sampath, the first of the five most remarkable studies of flamboyant characters who electrified the sleepy city of Malgudi.
It is unlikely that anyone would have guessed that Narayan's first two novels were the work of a major artist. Swami and Friends is a kind of charming Indian Penrod and Sam, an episodic account of the adventures of two cricket-playing chums as they start high school. The Bachelor of Arts is another episodic account of a young man's graduating from college, experiencing a frustrating love affair, wandering about the country disconsolately, returning home to become an agent for a big city newspaper, and finally marrying under family auspices. His third novel, The Dark Room, he describes as dealing with a Hindu wife who submitted passively to an overbearing husband.
His work changed drastically with The English Teacher, a thinly veiled account of his own marriage and the event that most matured and shaped his character, the early death of his beloved wife. This novel begins like Narayan's earlier ones with episodic sketches of a young preparatory school teacher's relationships with his students, colleagues, and family. After the tragic death of the wife while househunting, however, the novel becomes a much deeper and more tightly unified work.
With his next novel, Narayan settled upon the kind of characters and narrative patterns that he was to employ in his five remarkable explorations of the fantastic agitations beneath the enervating surface of the life of Malgudi. Near the end of Mr. Sampath, Narayan observes of Srinivas, the principal character, that "he felt he had been involved in a chaos of human relationships and activities."
Nearly all of Narayan's subsequent novels involve characters and readers in such chaos. Srinivas is a rather aimless young man who has finally been driven by his family to choose a profession and who comes to Malgudi in 1938—when war clouds hang over the whole world—to found a newspaper that has "nothing special to note about any war, past or future," but is "only concerned with that war that is always going on—between man's inside and outside." He falls into the hands of a printer, Mr. Sampath, who takes a proprietary interest in the success of the paper, but who is lured from his printing trade into a film-producing venture. Even Srinivas is briefly tempted to abandon his paper and take up script writing. Despite frantic activity and great expenditures, however, the movie-making venture collapses. Only Srinivas emerges unscathed. He finds another printer and returns to publishing his paper, reflecting on one of the men involved in the catastrophe he has witnessed:
throughout the centuries … this group was always there: Ravi with his madness, his well-wishers with their panaceas and their apparatus of cure. Half the madness was his own doing, his lack of self-knowledge, his treachery to his own instincts as an artist, which had made him a battleground. Sooner or later he shook off his madness and realized his true identity—though not in one birth, at least in a series of them.
The passage is a key to understanding Narayan's major works and their relationship to Hindu philosophy; for the characters he focuses upon are those who are "mad" as a result of their lack of self-knowledge. Some must await another reincarnation; but some manage to shake off the madness and find their true identities.
One who must wait is the title character of The Financial Expert, Margayya, whom we meet sitting under a banyan tree assisting peasants in obtaining loans from a cooperative banking institution. The society's officers resent Margayya's activities, but his business flourishes until his spoiled young son throws into a sewer the book in which all accounts are kept. During a trip to collect a red lotus needed for a penitential ritual, Margayya meets Dr. Pal, a self-styled sociologist, who has written a pornographic manuscript based on the Kama Sutra. Margayya recoups his fortune by publishing it under the title Domestic Harmony; then, embarrassed by the source of his new wealth, he goes back into a money-lending business that is based on withholding the interest from the first installment on the loan. He becomes so successful that he achieves an honored position in the community and recruits Dr. Pal to attract investors. The scheme collapses, however, when the son, who has been gambling with Dr. Pal, demands a share in the business; Margayya assaults Dr. Pal, who in turn discredits the money-lender with his investors. When investors demand their money back, both Margayya and his son are ruined and driven back into dealings with the peasants beneath the banyan tree.
Narayan's next novel, Waiting for the Mahatma, is one of his most noble-minded, but least successful. It tells, in the episodic manner of his earlier books, of the misadventures of two young disciples of Mahatma Gandhi during the master's long effort to free his native land. Written after Gandhi's assassination, the book is an admirable tribute, but the fictional characters are too sketchily developed to make it of more than historical interest.
Narayan next turned to the work that has generally been recognized as his most outstanding, The Guide, an extremely complicated tale of a confidence man turned saint. In flashbacks, we learn of the rise of Raju from food-seller in the Malgudi railroad station to manager and apparent husband of Rose, who becomes an extremely popular dancer, and his quick fall when he is jailed for forging her signature to a package of jewels. We meet him first, however, when he has installed himself in an abandoned temple after his release from jail and has begun to play the role of spiritual advisor to a peasant community that accepts him as a Mahatma. Gradually he comes to believe in the role he has created, and to relieve a drought he feels compelled to make a fifteen-day fast that he has suggested as an appropriate penance. As a great crowd gathers, he gains "a peculiar strength" from, for the first time in his life, "learning the thrill of full application, outside money and love." Despite grave peril to his health he continues to fast until he feels that the rain is falling in the hills. The ending of this novel like that of The English Teacher is ambiguous: does Swami Raju die? do the rains come? Narayan tells us only, "He sagged down"; but he has transcended the madness that once affected him and found a fulfillment denied the printer of Malgudi and the financial expert.
Such fulfillment is denied also Vasu, the fanatical taxidermist of The Man-Eater of Malgudi, Narayan's greatest picture of the madness that leads to self-destruction. After successfully flaunting his great strength about the community unchecked through a series of outrageous incidents, he finally devises a plot against Malgudi's beloved temple elephant. The beast seems doomed, but Vasu dies instead; and in one of the most spectacular conclusions to any of Narayan's works, the almost incredible but carefully foreshadowed way in which he destroyed himself is disclosed. In the complementary The Vendor of Sweets Narayan portrays a man who discovers his true identity. Jagan had been freed from patriarchal thralldom when he broke with his orthodox family and followed Mahatma Gandhi. His example, however, proves of no value to a son who prefers American "get-rich-quick" ideas to the self-sacrificial life Gandhi recommended. Jagan indulges the boy by selling sweetmeats to the luxury-loving community; but when the son gets into serious trouble, Jagan feels helpless. He abandons his business and retires to a decrepit garden of meditation. Having freed himself from successive bondages to parents, hero, and child, he finds a tranquillity unique to this point in Narayan's tales.
Only confusion, however, awaits the protagonist of The Painter of Signs, in which Narayan also deals boldly with a new India's urgent and controversial problem of population control. Raman, a highly traditional thiry-year-old bachelor, who took up signboard painting because he "loved calligraphy," is cared for selflessly by his aunt until he meets Daisy, a dynamic propagandizer for birth control. When Raman induces Daisy to marry him, the aunt departs on a religious pilgrimage from which she does not expect to return. Then when Daisy discovers that she cannot give up her missionary work for marriage, Raman finds that he has destroyed his old life without creating a new one.
Reviewers accustomed to the down-to-earth manner of Narayan's ironic fictions were as disconcerted by A Tiger for Malgudi as the frantic villagers who are confronted by Raja, the tiger. Since Raja is the hero-narrator of the novel, Narayan seems to be abandoning reality for fantasy; but A Tiger for Malgudi is no traditional anthropomorphic beast fable. Drawing delicately on Hindu doctrines of reincarnation, Narayan depicts Raja as a creature with a soul, who lacks only the faculty of conversing with humans. His tale is told by those who learn to read his mind: the fictional master that saves Raja from the rest of the wryly depicted human community and the master of fiction who has conjured him up. The tale is of the overcoming of "the potential of violence," with which, Raja's master observes, "every creature is born." The seemingly whimsical history of a talking tiger thus expands into an ironic fable and prophecy about not just the recent troubled history of Narayan's own country, but of mankind generally. A wise and witty message from one who has aged serenely without missing the significance of a moment of his experiences, this novel should take its place among the most beatific visions of a century that has produced far more diabolical ones. It climaxes the achievement of the major Malgudi novels in depicting the soul's erratic progress from fanaticism toward the tranquil transcendence of the dusty streets of Malgudi.