This is the first read from what I picked up at the Chennai BookFair 2015 last week.
RK Narayan is still one of my favorite characters along with his brother RK Laxman, the cartoonist. Between them they simplify and romanticize and caricature every South Indian common man.
RK Narayan’s and his sibling’s collective childhood is Swami’s (of Swami and Friends and Malgudi) childhood. A childhood spent among eccentric uncles, consistently ill fated pets and an independent minded enterprising Grand Mother. His father, mother and the rest of the Rasipuram brood were brought up separately and thus make annual appearances, short but wildly exciting annual holidays, which always starts off on a note of awkward shyness and ends with rambunctious noisy adventures. I do not know if things have changed but I like to remember my childhood exactly the same way.
This is where I feel RKN pulls off a neat trick in life. How could he have wrangled together a career in writing? He seems to have persevered in this and many other hare brained efforts to succeed. But it is a classic story of hard work and luck. Mixed with a good sense of humor and the ability to view oneself objectively. He sees in himself and those around him the absurdities, foibles and follies of everyday living in Chennai and Mysore. Chaotic places and times which can invoke nationalistic and passionate writings, but in RKN’s case seems to mellow down to tightly scripted humorous incidents that then make their way into Anglo Indian literary history to entertain all us readers.
The Disturbed Years
Tragedy strikes when Rajam, RKN’s wife passes away from typhoid. His subsequent psychological struggles and spiritual dealings and single parenthood show us that he is all too human after all. Again his ability to articulate separates him from the multitude who resort to such methods at various phases in life. All through his trials with the psychics while mourning he seems to be gathering a good amount of material unlike what he used as subjects in his earlier days.
My love for him only increases with his disgust for Bollywood and their bastardization of his work “The Guide” (though the movie has some of the best songs ever).
RK Laxman features minimally as a brother and family member in RK Narayan’s My Days. But the former’s illustrations capture as much about malgudi as do RK Narayan’s prose. Squiddly lines in monochrome help us conjure up even the most mischievous frown of every character in RK Narayan’s world. Just like with Sanjay Patel’s Ramayana, R K Laxman reminds us that a good illustrator knows the art of conveying much with minimal effort.
Something I all too glaringly lack. I go for the opposite. Maximum prose. Minimum subtlety.