Remembering R K Narayan, The Creator of Malgudi

R K Narayan is arguably one of the brilliant storytellers who could create stories and characters that were relatable yet intriguing. He was one among the few writers of his era, who could weave magic with simple words and effortlessly spin a tale out of the mundane everyday events.

Born as Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyyer NarayanaSwami in Madras, R K Narayan spent a part of his childhood in Madras with his grandmother and later moved to Mysore when his father, a school headmaster, was posted to the Maharajah’s College High School. An avid reader, he devoured the works of Dickens, Wodehouse, Thomas Hardy and Arthur Conan Doyle during his boyhood. 

If you were to observe the trajectory of R K Narayan’s life, you would find that he wasn’t someone who has had a smooth ride. From failing his university entrance exam, taking an extra year to complete his bachelor’s degree, quitting his rather short stint  as a school teacher, remaining jobless for a very long time to being ridiculed for his writing and facing a series of initial rejections, setbacks were a part and parcel of his life. Through all these, what kept him going was his intense passion for writing. 

During his initial days as a writer, he wrote occasionally  for local publications. His first short story Dodo – about a boy who wanted to earn pocket money to roam about and buy peanuts – was published by The Merry magazine. Thereafter he managed to get several other of his works printed by the magazine and by the Hindu. Later, he had also worked as a reporter for The Justice, a Madras-based paper, after his marriage to the love of his life, Rajam.

When he wrote his first book, Swami and Friends, it went through a string of rejections that, after a point, Narayan lost hope and asked his friend Kittu Purna in Oxford (whose address he had given as return address for the manuscript), to weigh manuscript  down with rocks and  drown it in the Thames if it were to be rejected again. Well, the novel did get rejected but his friend had a better idea than drowning it. He took it to Graham Greene, a writer who he had met in Oxford, who ended up loving it and even found a publisher for the book. The literary world would forever be indebted to Kittu Purna for not complying to his friend’s request or else the magical town of Malgudi would have forever remained hidden in the depths of the Thames. 

Around the time when he was gradually making a mark as a writer, life was not being particularly kind to him on the personal front. He lost his father and his wife within a gap of merely a couple of years, which left him devastated. In the face of losses, it was the world of words that held his hands and he managed to channel his grief into creating masterpieces in literature. The English Teacher, as he later acknowledged, was a reflection of his emotions during the time of his wife’s death.He went on to write several other novels and short stories during his career and most of them were set in Narayan’s very own Malgudi.

Image Credit: Farnaz Fever

Narayan was a brilliant storyteller who could capture the essence of the mundane everyday life and turn it into a literary masterpiece.Through simple words, punctuated cleverly by just the right amount of humour, he found his way into the hearts of millions of readers.

During the course of his literary career, he won various awards including the Sahitya Akademi Award for The Guide and the AC Benson Medal by the British Royal Society of Literature. He was also awarded Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan  for his contributions to the country. 

He was a man of simple needs (well,  except for that coffee, which he needed exactly the way he liked it ! ) and just like his characters lived a rather simple life. He always made sure to keep himself rooted in reality.Even during his later years, he never missed the chance to have a chat with the people who he used to meet during his afternoon strolls. He treated these walks as his office hours for that is where he often met his characters. 

Narayan was a person who valued friendships more than anything else. Much of his later years were spent in having warm conversations and the perfect Narayan-style coffees with the people he treasured the most. Perhaps those were the things that kept him going after he lost his daughter to cancer.  His final novel, Grandmother’s Tale was dedicated to his daughter Hema. He was a writer who was so invested in his craft that he used to write around 1000 words daily, even while travelling (aspiring writers please make a note !). Even a few hours before he was shifted to the ventilator, all he wanted was for his friend, N. Ram, to get him a notebook for the next novel that he was planning to write. Unfortunately for the readers, that novel never got materialised as he passed away soon after, at the age of 94.

R K Narayan will always be remembered as one of the finest storytellers who inspired many generations of writers to discover the beauty of their own backyards and his legacy will live on through every reader, who secretly wish to pack their bags and move to Malgudi.