He will not be remembered for eight digit advances or for being ‘discovered’ by internationally acclaimed literary agents. He will not be remembered for his appearances on talk shows or high profile appearances at hot spots. He did not champion headline grabbing causes, nor did he woo controversy to enhance his celebrity status. He did not write with an eye firmly on the western market nor did he flirt with styles and techniques to attract attention. Instead he wrote simple, straight from the heart prose and created an idiom which has the fragrance of the Indian soil.
Yes. You guessed right. I am talking about the Maharajah of Malgudi - Krishnaswamy Narayanswamy Aiyer or R.K.Narayan as the world knows him.
And the reason why I, and many, many others are talking and writing about him is not because he got the Nobel Prize which he richly deserved, but because the Wizard of Words left us forever. R.K. died of heart failure on 13th May at around 3 a.m., in a hospital in Chennai, at the age of 95. This piece is a humble tribute from a die hard fan to a literary maestro.
R.K.’s glorious literary odyssey began with ‘Swami and Friends’ published in 1935 and continued for more than six decades. His other creative milestones include fifteen novels, six collections of short stories, three translations of Indian epics and myths, two travelogues and four collections of essays. His novel ‘The Guide’ won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1960.
“The world of Malgudi is peopled with ordinary men and women, sometimes indulging in extraordinary yearnings, dreams and schemes and enduring tragic-comic or even grotesque and weird destinies,” the Sahitya Akademi felicitation said.
‘The Guide’ was also made into a bilingual film. The Hindi version was produced by Dev Anand while the English one by the Nobel Laureate Pearl S. Buck. The Hindi version starring Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman was hugely popular and is still considered a major landmark in the annals of Indian Cinema. R.K.’s only other flirtation with mass media was the T.V. serial made by Shankar Nag, based on the maestro’s Malgudi Days. The serial too had a large fan following. Its appeal cutting across the boundaries of language, age, social stratum and gender.
Malgudi- the very name is synonymous with its creator. R.K. ‘built’ this fictional town using his creative genius and since then Malgudi has epitomised the Indian ethos as nothing else ever can. Malgudi and its people with their foibles and failures, their dreams, their hopes, their little flaws and follies, are indelibly etched in the memory of every reader who has had the fortune of paying a visit to ‘R.K country’.
It took a western to spot the genius of the Maharaja of Malgudi. The celebrated British novelist Graham Greene introduced R.K. to the western publishers. Years later, Greene recommended his name for the Nobel Prize. “Thank God the prize never came. Otherwise I would have been deluged with requests for interviews,” R.K quipped to a journalist. He was honoured with the Padma Bhushan in 1964, nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1989 and elected an honorary member of the American Academy and the Institute of Arts and Letters in 1982. The universities of Mysore, Delhi, Leeds and Yorkshire have conferred honorary Doctorates on him.
What was so special about Narayan’s writing ?
It has an enduring and endearing quality, a timeless appeal. Malgudi may have been imagined decades ago, but its characters, its situations are in the Here and Now. It is easy for one to empathise with Mr. Sampath, the English teacher, Swami or Raju the guide. R.K. did not attempt anything too ambitious. He was not into creating new genres or hardselling ideologies. As S.Krishnan, a literary critic and friend of R.K. says, “He never indulged in any ideologies and just wrote simple stories because to him the story was everything and that was his greatness.”
Modest, unassuming and down to earth, he considered himself only a ‘storyteller’. “I would be happy if no more is claimed from me than being just a storyteller,” he once said.
R.K.Narayan’s demise signals the end of the era in which qualities like simplicity, honesty and straight forwardness were prized both in literature as well as in life.