Most people’s first brush with RK Narayan’s writing came with “Swami and Friends”. And they would recall how Swami and Friends would transport them to a world so different yet so similar. Swaminthan’s life, his friends, the fear of his father-all of them would resonate with every child in the class.
If read a book and not just the small chapters in the course syllabus, Swami and Friends leaves you with a mixed feeling, transporting you back to the times when things were simpler and easier, thus maybe not leaving you at all. Such was the brilliance and genius of RK Narayan!
Rasipuram Krishnaswami Narayan was born on October 10, 1906 in Chennai and is known to be one of the finest Indian writers of English Literature. Reared mainly by his grandmother, Narayan’s style is known to be simple, elegant yet marked with humour.
His father was a headmaster and it is in his library that Narayan fell in love with reading. A voracious reader, he read Dickens, Wodehouse and Hardy. After a brief stint in teaching, Narayan realised that he was meant to be a writer and quit his job to be one. Starting out as a writing for newspapers and magazines, his first novel Swami and friends was rejected by many publishers. It was only when Graham Greene read his manuscript and recommended it to his publisher, the novel was finally published in 1935.
His next work, “The Bachelor of Arts”,is semi autobiographical, inspired by his experiences at college. After his wife Rajam died, Narayan devoted himself completely to writing. He wrote “The Bachelor of Arts”, the book that reflects his emotions of his wife’s death and completed the Malgudi trilogy.
His writing took a more imaginative turn here and books like “Mr Sampath”, “The Financial Expert”, “Waiting for Mahatama” followed. “The Guide”, his most well known work follows the story of Raju, who transforms from a corrupt tour guide madly in love with a dancer, Rosie to a holy man fasting for rain. The book won him Sahitya Akademi Award and was later made into a film starring Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman.
Known majorly for his novels set in Malgudi, RK Narayan also published mythological works. His “Gods, Demons and Others” are short stories from Hindu epics. He translated Tamil epic “Kamba Ramayana”-a promise to his uncle and “the Mahabharata” in English. Novels like, “The World of Nagraj”, “A Tiger for Malgudi”, “Talkative Man” among others followed.
He turned publisher with when he was cut off from Britain due to World War-II and his company, “Indian Thought Publications” is still managed by his granddaughter.
He was also nominated to Rajya Sabha. It is a pity however that his writer image has always towered over his political image. All through his political life, he focused on the education system and was concerned about the plight of school going children.
He was awarded Sahitya Akademi Award for Guide, followed by Padma Bhushan in 1964 and Padma Vibhushan in 2000. It is said that when he passed away in 2001, he was planning to write a novel on his grandfather.
RK Narayan once told N Ram, former editor of The Hindu: “I am amused mostly by the seriousness with which each man takes himself.”
Probably that is the reason why his works resonates with everyone. Probably he provides an escape from everyday life or probably it is his brilliant storytelling. The reasons could be different for every individual. One thing that’s constant? His immortality and his presence in everything that he ever wrote.