Friday, March 04, 2005

Narayan's legacy

There are those who love R K Narayan's Malgudi. And there are those who hate it.

For a long time I was in the latter category.

When I was in Delhi, living in a shack with a friend, an engineer by profession, I was astounded by my friend's love for Narayan's novels. That guy had bought a number of Narayan's novels, and in the dingy room, used to read them with great relish. One reason was surely the price. Narayan's novels came for less than US$1 a copy while other novels would easily cost you more than US$4. Now the prices have gone further up. The other reason, I guess, was the novels' accessible language. And Narayan's novels were never fat (as compared to, say, Midnight's Children, or Trotternama, or better still, A Suitable Boy). They were slim volumes about life in small town India, written with gentle humour. I guess my friend appreciated all these qualities in Narayan's novels.

As a kid, I had seen Narayan's Malgudi days as a television series on Doordarshan. I had liked it. The humour was lost to me but I had liked the South Indian culture wherein the stories were set. Later, I saw the Dev Anand movie, The Guide. I found it only so so. The only interesting thing for me in the movie was the character of the archeologist--It was rare kind of character in a Hindi movie--who was finally cuckolded in the story.

In those days, I was reading the novels of Krishan Chander, the Urdu writer. I used to fantasize about his stories being made into movies. For example, I was especially taken up by his novel, A Violin by the Sea. It's protagonist was a history professor in a US University. If I remember correctly, the story was based on the themes of love and reincarnation. The novel was begging to be made into a Hindi film. Alas, no one ever paid any attention to it.

One day I decided to read Narayan. I picked up his (supposedly) best work, The English Teacher. It was well-written, and I was enjoying the read until it began treading into the metaphysical world. Maybe Narayan was trying his own (Indian) style of magic realism which bored me. I guess nobody has looked at this aspect of Narayan's work and it is time someone did.

I have reserved Narayan on my reading list. Maybe with age, I will be able to enjoy his brand of homour. Something like this happened to Jaithirth Rao. Read his essay here.

8 comments:

bibliobibuli said...

Am in the "love him" category ... though quite a while since I read him (part from his essays).

Kak Teh said...

Hi, I will certainly read The Guide. There's a copy in my library. At the moment I am reading Indonesian writers. Two months ago, I did Thai writers.

Susan Abraham said...

Hi Zafar,
Just hopping onto a different tangent... I happened upon the Africa Book Cente at Covent Garden just the other day. First time I went in. Was marvellous. They had listed future programmes of talks, book signings and with their beautiful books were very clever somehow in ressurecting that old Colonial flavour which is vital to the enduring magic & flavour of East Africa. It had the ambience of a small cluttered bookshop. The background music featured lively African drumming and all of a sudden, I longed with all my heart, to go back on a safari.
The pull was so terribly strong. Plus, there were wall pictures of hippos, giraffes and elephants everywhere! The shop with a pretty blonde at the cash register, also sold handsome hardy mugs featuring the labels of Penguin classic writers. Even that looked enchanting somehow. I bought one for me; guaranteed to hold a fair amount of coffee; for when I was writing. It's coloured in purple and is called "A Room of One's Own" by Virginia Woolf. It was a wistful time and awesome in a way, when you realise out of the blue, that there's a vast universe of all kinds of different cultural/literary experiences on offer esp. with books. Just in the way you shared with us on India. I think even to study the works of translated Bengali poets would be mesmerising to say the least! And then you also know that there's just no room for boredom in life somehow. Books layered with generous individual cultures could never trigger a dull moment for any soul, could they... cheers! susan

Susan Abraham said...

Hi again Zafar,
Also just to introduce my good friend, the lovely lively Kak Teh to you. She's a prominent Malaysian journalist who lives with her family in London. sue

Zafar Anjum said...

Hi Kak Teh!

Thanks for dropping in. I am sure you will enjoy the work. Keep coming back.

Zafar Anjum said...

Hi bib,

Yes, I have read his essays too. I especially loved his non-fiction, his biography. It is simple but very moving. Fascinating!

Zafar Anjum said...

Susan, that was beautiful. And thanks for bringing Kak teh on board.

Hey, I am off to Hong Kong for the Lit Fest. Will be back on Thursday with more stuff. Cheers!

Susan Abraham said...

Hi Zafar,
You lucky thing! I wanted to go at first but decided to stay on in London to finish my book. Went 2 years ago. Was a heady experience.
Will be waiting for all your lovely HK stories when you get back. Have a safe flight! And enjoy, enjoy, enjoy...