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Written by 12:57 PM General interest

A town called Malgudi

Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanaswami, better known as R. K. Narayan, became one of India’…

Does the name Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanaswami ring a bell?

“Sometime in the early 30’s,” Graham Greene recalled, “an Indian friend of mine called Purna brought me a rather traveled and weary typescript — a novel written by a friend of his — and I let it lie on my desk for weeks unread until one rainy day.” The English weather saved an Indian voice: Greene didn’t know that the novel “had been rejected by half a dozen publishers and that Purna had been told by the author . . . to weight it with a stone and drop it into the Thames.”

A novel that was made into a film by Vijay Anand

Greene loved the novel, “Swami and Friends,” found a publisher for it in London, and so launched India’s most distinguished literary career of recent times, that of Rasipuram Krishnaswami Narayan.

Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanaswami, better known as R. K. Narayan, became one of India’s most prolific authors.

R.K. Narayan was born in 1906 in Madras (now known as Chennai, Tamil Nadu), British India, to an ordinary Hindu family. He was raised in the city of Madras and in the city of Mysore, India, where he attended the prestigious Maharaja’s College.

Because his mother was sick and his father was a teacher who was often away, Narayan was raised in Madras by his grandmother and uncle. Narayan’s grandmother sparked his interest in language and humanity. He claims that the Christian chaplain’s mockery of the Hindu gods during his time at the Christian Mission School ultimately led him to embrace Hinduism.

In 1930, Narayan earned his diploma from Maharaja’s College in Mysore. He tied the knot in 1934, but his wife Rajam passed away in 1939 from typhoid. He never married again. Hema was his only child.

the town called Malgudi

With his first novel, Narayan fabricated a small southern Indian town called Malgudi, an entirely fictional urban city in Southern India. Critics later likened this town to the imaginary county Yoknapatawpha, invented by William Faulkner. Faulkner set most of his novels in this mythical city. Like Narayanan, Faulkner’s novels were also grounded in compassionate humanism and celebrated the humor and energy of ordinary life.

The map of Malgudi –

During my tenure with a foreign airline in Kochi, my wife and I often visited a small market near Kakanad. Those were the days of extreme power crisis in Kerala, perennial power-cut. When we did have power, it was low-voltage. So, the market, which sold mainly woven baskets, ropes, and other kinds of quaint merchandise, lit up by hurricane lanterns, had an aura of time gone by.

I promptly named the market Malgudi.

the troika of Indian authors

The troika of R. K. Narayan, Raja Rao, and Mulk Raj Anand was the leading English-language writers of India. My personal choice was precisely in this order; at times, Mulk Raj Anand held second place, but R. K. Narayan was always my first choice. Probably because the language he used and the description of the settings of his stories were all very South Indian, this is something that I could easily relate to, the primary reason being that I am South Indian! Also, his humor was strangely Wodehousian, like if P.G. Wodehouse were a South Indian, he would probably write like Narayan. And I say this as a compliment to Narayan.

Narayan’s stories are grounded in the real world, with characters from all walks of life and various situations. As time passes, everyday occurrences become increasingly absurd due to random chance, human error, or misunderstanding. The hero is just as likely to experience good fortune as bad. The characters believe everything will work out for the best, regardless of their intentions or actions. Western goods, attitudes, and bureaucratic institutions collide in Malgudi with established norms and values. Because Malgudi accepts only what Malgudi it wants according to its private logic, the modern world can never win a clear-cut victory.

Critic Anthony Thwaite of the New York Times praised Narayan for creating “a world as richly human and volatile as that of Dickens” in his review of Narayan’s novel The Painter of Signs from 1976. The protagonist of his next book, A Tiger for Malgudi (1983), is a tiger whose holy master attempts to teach him the meaning of life. In 1987, he published his fourteenth novel, Talkative Man, to mixed reviews.

his life in while he was 80

Even as he entered his 80s, Narayan was still having books published. In 1994, he published Grandmother’s Tale and Other Stories, which Publishers Weekly hailed as “an exemplary collection from one of India’s most distinguished men of letters” because it focused on the woman who had first inspired him to write: his grandmother. For Booklist’s Donna Seaman, this collection of short stories spanning over half a century of Narayan’s career represents “an excellent sampling of his short fiction, generally considered his best work” from “one of the world’s finest storytellers.”

his quotes

In his own words, Narayan once said, “Novels may bore me, but never people.”

Some of his other quotes were:
“life is about making right things and going on..”
― R.K. Narayan

“You become [a] writer by writing. It is a yoga.”
― R. K. Narayan

“The difference between a simpleton and an intelligent man, according to the man who is convinced that he is of the latter category, is that the former wholeheartedly accepts all things that he sees and hears while the latter never admits anything except after a most searching scrutiny. He imagines his intelligence to be a sieve of closely woven mesh through which nothing but the finest can pass.”
― R. K. Narayan

“To be a good writer anywhere, you must have roots both in religion and family. I have these things. I am rooted.”

He would often describe some writers,

“His writing is interesting, but the writer has no roots.” ― R. K. Narayan.

Says N.Ram, chairman of The Hindu;

He didn’t leave the house much except to see his great-grandchildren. He would also show up at my home out of the blue and say, “I am giving you trouble,” while pointing at the couch. That was where he sat, holding his walking stick. As a matter of fact, I can still picture him here.

The Southern Spice at the Taj was always a go-to for us. He had his preferred table and order (usually a dosa or appam) down to a science. In terms of nutrition, he was highly self-controlled. When he ate, he wouldn’t have anything to eat or drink beforehand.

Though his son-in-law has diabetes, he never experienced any of its symptoms. However, he had a soft spot for sweets, especially chocolate and Indian candies. He’d scour the house for treats when he got hungry late at night.

His stories always had an O. Henry-like twist at the end.


  • The English Teacher (1945),
  • Waiting for the Mahatma (1955),
  • The Guide (1958),
  • The Man-Eater of Malgudi (1961),
  • The Vendor of Sweets (1967), and
  • A Tiger for Malgudi (1983).

Narayan also wrote several short stories; collections include

  • Lawley Road (1956),
  • A Horse and Two Goats and Other Stories (1970),
  • Under the Banyan Tree and Other Stories (1985), and
  • The Grandmother’s Tale (1993).

In addition to works of nonfiction (chiefly memoirs), he also published shortened modern prose versions of two Indian epics, The Ramayana (1972) and The Mahabharata (1978).

Narayan passed away on May 13, 2001, in Madras (Chennai), the city of his birth.


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