Exceptionally respected for his novels, short stories, R K Narayan was born in 1906 in Madras. He studied in Mysore and lived there for over five decades. Narayan created a fictional town of Malgudi in the pages of 22 books (14 novels & eight short-story collections). Narayan had a humo...
Exceptionally respected for his novels, short stories, R K Narayan was born in 1906 in Madras. He studied in Mysore and lived there for over five decades. Narayan created a fictional town of Malgudi in the pages of 22 books (14 novels & eight short-story collections). Narayan had a humorous way of presenting life around him. His first Novel Swamy and Friends and its successor, Bachelor of Art's are also set in the enchanting fictional territory of Malgudi. His books are regularly published in USA, UK and India and have also been translated into several European and Indian regional languages.
In fact, his novel, The Guide won him the National Prize of the Indian Literary Academy, the country's highest Literary honour. He also bagged the A C Benson Medal in 1980.
He has also written four collection of short stories: A horse and 2 goats, An Astrologer's Day and other stories, Lawley Road and Malgudi Days; he has published 2 travel books, 4 collection of essays and several other books. His biography R.K. Narayan, The Early Years provides an impressive insight into the first four decades of his life. The famous cartoonist R K Laxman is his brother.
Graham Greene, who in 1935 was instrumental in getting Narayan's debut novel, Swami and Friends, published in England once said: Narayan wakes in me a spring of gratitude. Without him I could never have known what it is like to be Indian.
R.K. Narayan's Biography
Born : October 10, 1906 Chennai (then Madras), India
Died : May 13, 2001 (aged 94) Chennai, India
Occupation : Novelist, Short Story writer, and Memoir...More details
R.K. Narayan's Biography
Born : October 10, 1906 Chennai (then Madras), India
Died : May 13, 2001 (aged 94) Chennai, India
Occupation : Novelist, Short Story writer, and Memoirist
Genres : Fiction, Mythology, and Non-Fiction
R. K. Narayan , shortened from Rasipuram Krishnaswami Ayyar Narayanaswami at the behest of Graham Greene, was one of India's greatest English language novelists, known for his novels based in the fictional town of Malgudi.
Narayan's works showcased his ability to highlight the social context and provide a feel of the characters through the simple narration of everyday life. He was often compared to the William Faulkner since both their works brought out the humour and energy of ordinary life and also displayed compassionate humanism.
R. K. Narayan was born in Madras (now known as Chennai), Madras Presidency, India. Narayan's father was a school headmaster and for a while he studied at his father's school. However, his father's job required him to move frequently, so he spent a good part of his childhood under the care of his maternal grandmother when his best friends were a peacock and a monkey. Parvati, his grandmother, gave him the nickname of Kunjappa, a name that stuck to him in familial circles. His grandmother taught him arithmetic, mythology, classical Indian music and Sanskrit. According to his youngest brother R. K. Laxman, during their childhood, the family would primarily converse in English and grammatical errors on the part of Narayan and his siblings was frowned upon. While living with his grandmother, Narayan studied at a succession of schools in Madras, including the Lutheran Mission School in Purasawalkam, C.R.C. High School, and the Christian College High School. An avid reader, Narayan grew up reading Dickens, Wodehouse, Arthur Conan Doyle and Thomas Hardy. When he was 12 years old, Narayan participated in a pro-independence march, for which he was reprimanded by his uncle; their family was apolitical and considered all governments wicked.
When his father was transferred to Maharajah's Collegiate High School in Mysore, Narayan moved there. The well-stocked library there, as well as his father's own, fed his voracious reading habit, and he started writing as well. Narayan initially failed the University Entrance Examination and spent a year at home reading and writing; he passed the examination in 1926 and joined Maharaja College of Mysore where he obtained his Bachelor's degree in four years, a year longer than usual. After being persuaded by a friend that taking a Master's degree (M.A.) would kill his interest in literature, he briefly held a job as a school teacher; however he quit in protest when the headmaster of the school wanted him to substitute for the PT master. After this experience Narayan decided that the only career for him was in writing and decided to stay at home and write novels. His first published work, albeit unpaid, was a book review of Development of Maritime Laws of 17th-Century England. Although the writing did not pay much (his income for the first year was nine rupees and twelve annas), he had a regular life and few needs, and his decision came to be respected. In 1930, Narayan wrote his first novel, Swami and Friends, an effort that was ridiculed by his uncle and rejected by a string of publishers. With this book, Narayan created Malgudi, a town that creatively reproduced the social sphere of the country while at the same time ignoring the limits imposed by colonial rule.
In 1933, Narayan met and fell in love with Rajam, a 15 year old girl who lived near his sister's house in Coimbatore; despite astrological and financial obstacles, Narayan managed to gain permission from the girl's father and married her. Following his marriage, Narayan became a reporter for a Madras based paper called The Justice, dedicated to the rights of non-Brahmins, a job that brought him in contact with a wide variety of people and issues. About this time, a friend of his at Oxford, whom Narayan had sent the manuscript to, showed Swami and Friends to Graham Greene; Greene then recommended it to his publisher and the book was finally published in 1935. Greene also counseled Narayan on shortening his name to become more familiar to the English language audience. The book was semi-autobiographical and built upon a variety of incidents from his own childhood. Reviews were favourable but sales were few. Narayan's next novel The Bachelor of Arts (published in 1937), inspired in part by his experiences during his time at college, dealt with the theme of a rebellious adolescent transitioning to a rather well adjusted adult; it was published by a different publisher, again at the recommendation of Greene. His third novel, The Dark Room (published in 1938) was about domestic disharmony, showcasing the man as the oppressor and the woman as the victim within a marriage and was published by yet another publisher; this book also received good reviews. In 1937, Narayan's father, in whose house he lived, died, and Narayan was forced to accept a commission from the government of Mysore as he wasn't making any money.
In these books, Narayan appears to highlight the problems with certain accepted practices; examples include the caning of students in the first book and the associated shame, in the next book, it's the concept of horoscope matching and the emotional toll it takes on the possible groom or bride while in the third book it's how the wife always puts up with the husband's attitudes and actions.
Rajam died of typhoid in 1939. At the time of her death, their only child, a daughter Hemalatha, was three years old; Narayan remained distressed for a long time, out of grief and concerns of single parenthood. The bereavement brought about a significant change in his life and was the inspiration behind his novel, The English Teacher. This book like the first two book, is more autobiographical, but more so, and completes an unintentional thematic trilogy following Swami and Friends and The Bachelor of Arts.
Bolstered by some of his successes, in 1940, Narayan tried his hand at a journal, Indian Thought; with the help of his uncle, a car salesman, he managed to get more than a thousand subscribers in Madras alone; however, the venture didn't last long due to Narayan's inability to manage it, and ceased publication within a year. His first collection of short stories, Malgudi Days, was published in November 1942, and The English Teacher in 1945. Inbetween, in 1942, being cut off from England due to the war, Narayan started his own publishing company, naming it (again), Indian Thought Publications; the publishing company was a success and is still active, managed by his grand daughter. Narayan had also found recurring success, with a devoted readership stretching from New York to Moscow. In 1948, he started building his own house on the outskirts of Mysore, which took five years to finish. He arranged his daughter's wedding in 1956, and began travelling occasionally, continuing to write at least 1500 words a day even when travelling. The Guide was written in 1958 while in the United States. Its popularity led to a film produced by Dev Anand, but Narayan was dismayed by its treatment and received no profits from it.
The later years
Living alone in Mysore, Narayan developed an interest in agriculture, buying an acre of land and making some attempts at farming. In 1990 he fell ill and moved to Madras to be close to his daughter's family. Narayan died on May 13, 2001 in Chennai at the age of 94.
Narayan has been considered the Indian Chekhov for the similarity in their writings, the simplicity and the gentle beauty and humour in tragic situations His writings focused on ordinary people, reminding the reader of next door neighbours, cousins and the like, thereby providing a greater ability to relate to the topic. Unlike his national contemporaries, he was able to write about the intricacies of Indian society without having to modify his characteristic simplicity to conform to the current fashions in fiction writing. and employed the use of nuanced dialogic prose with gentle Tamil overtones based on the nature of his characters.
Awards and recognition
Mr. Narayan won numerous awards and honours for his works. He won the National Prize of the Sahitya Akademi, the Indian literary academy, for The Guide in 1960. He was honoured with the Padma Bhushan, a coveted Indian award, for distinguished service to literature in 1964. In 1980, R. K. Narayan was awarded the AC Benson Medal by the Royal Society of Literature. He was an honorary member of the society. He was elected an honorary member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1982 and nominated to the Rajya Sabha ? the upper house of the Parliament of India ? in 1989. In addition, the University of Mysore, Delhi University and the University of Leeds conferred honorary doctorates on him. He was awarded Padma Vibhushan in 2000.
* R.K. Narayan was short listed for the Nobel Prize in Literature several times but never won. Literary circles often joke that the Nobel Committee ignored his works, mistaking them instead for self-help books due to their curious titles (The English Teacher, The Painter of Signs, etc.).
* His works were translated into every European language as well as Hebrew.
* His admirers included Somerset Maugham, John Updike and Graham Greene, who called him the "novelist I admire most in the English language."
* His short story "Leela's Friend" is studied as part of a GCSE course in the UK, under the OCR Examining Board, from 2003 - 2009.
Though Narayan's writing have been extremely popular amongst the masses, the upper, literary classes never really warmed up to him. It has been said that his writing was pedestrian, with his simple language and stories of village life. One of his most outspoken critics has been Shashi Tharoor
There is nevertheless a respectable body of criticism, some of the best of which is listed below.
* AFZAL-KHAN, Fawsia, Cultural Imperialism and the Indo-English Novel: Genre and Ideology in R. K. Narayan, Anita Desai, Kamala Markandaya, and Salman Rushdie (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993).
* BEATINA, Mary, Narayan: A Study in Transcendence (New York, Washington, D.C./Baltimore, Bern, Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Brussels, Vienna, & Oxford: Peter Lang Publishing, 1994 [Studies of World Literature in English, vol. 3]).
* BLOOM, Harold, R. K. Narayan (New York: Chelsea House Publishing, 1994 [Modern Critical Views Series 2]).
* GOYAL, Bhagwat S., ed., R. K. Narayan?s India: Myth and Reality (Lahore: South Asia Books, 1993).
* Swami and Friends (1935, Hamilton)
* The Bachelor of Arts (1937, Nelson)
* The Dark Room (1938, Eyre)
* The English Teacher (1945, Eyre)
* Mr. Sampath (1948, Eyre)
* The Financial Expert (1952, Methuen)
* Waiting for the Mahatma (1955, Methuen)
* The Guide (1958, Methuen)
* The Man-Eater of Malgudi (1962, Heinemann)
* The Vendor of Sweets (1967, Bodley Head)
* The Painter of Signs (1977, Heinemann)
* A Tiger for Malgudi (1983, Heinemann)
* Talkative Man (1986, Heinemann)
* The World of Nagaraj (1990, Heinemann)
* The World of Malgudi (2000)
* Salt and Sawdust: Stories and Table-Talk
* Malgudi Days (1942))
* Dodu and Other Stories (1943)
* Cyclone and Other Stories (1945)
* An Astrologer's Day and Other Short Stories (1947)
* Lawley Road and Other Stories (1956)
* A Horse and Two Goats (1970)
* Forty-Five a Month
* Under the Banyan Tree and Other Stories (1985)
* The Grandmother's Tale and Selected Stories (1993)
* The Watchman
* Fruition at Forty
* Indian Thought (1941)
* The Missing Mail
* The Martyr's Corner
* Next Sunday (1960)
* My Dateless Diary (1964)
* My Days (1974)
* The Emerald Route (1980)
* A Writer's Nightmare (1988)
* Like The Sun
* Gods, Demons and Others (1965)
* The Ramayana (1972)
* The Mahabharata (1972)
TV and Movie Adaptations
The Guide was made into a film in both English and Hindi by Dev Anand. It was commercially a most successful venture, but Narayan was not happy with the screen adaptation of his novel. His novel Mr. Sampath was made into a film in Tamil. Kothamangalam Subbu wrote the screenplay and directed the film, while S.S. Vasan of Gemini Films produced it. Another novel, The Financial Expert was made into the Kannada movie Banker Margayya. Swami and Friends, The Vendor of Sweets and some of Narayan's short stories were adapted by the late actor-director Shankar Nag into a television series, Malgudi Days. It was shot in the village of Agumbe in Karnataka. This village served as the backdrop for Malgudi, complete with a statue of the British personage. It was serialised and telecast on Doordarshan, the Indian National Television Network.Hide details