R. K. Narayan as A Regional Novelist of Malgudi

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      Like Hardy, R.K. Narayan is also a regional novelist. Malgudi is his Wessex. He knows all the river-sides, forests, hills, towns and villages of this region. In his novels he portrays the men and manners of Malgudi on a broad canvas and achieves distinction. Malgudi appears and re-appears in novel after novel of R.K. Narayan. Malgudi symbolises the traditional India shedding the age-old traditions and accepting the modern Western civilization. Surrounded by the Sarayu, the Memphi forests and the Memphi hills, Malgudi is a semi-agricultural town in Swami and Friends. In The Bachelor of Arts the new civilization has started invading the otherwise peaceful and conservative life of Malgudi, but the Malgudi of The Dark Room is already a commercial centre with Ramani in insurance business. Malgudi recurs in The Financial Expert. In Waiting for the Mahatma, Mahatma Gandhi delivers his speech on the bank of the Sarayu. In The Vendor of Sheets and The Man-Eater of Malgudi again the setting is that of Malgudi. In The Guide not only the town Malgudi with its inception of the Railway and its life influenced by the Railway is portrayed but we are also taken to its vicinity, its forests and caves, temples and other places of interest. The Sarayu river also is a recurrent phenomenon. Mr. Sampath and The English Teacher also incorporate Malgudi as their background and setting.

      Malgudi also symbolizes the link between the ancient and the modern India. As against the humdrum of city life is pictured the serenity and peace of village life. The modernized parts of Malgudi are disturbed mentally and spiritually. Its people are materially-minded and hypocritical whereas the people of the village are simple, and straight-forward, god-fearing. Since Malgudi was gradually putting on urban atmosphere it was gradually losing its serenity. Raju is unprincipled perhaps because he grows in urban atmosphere among the money-minded shopkeepers and railway men. It is only in the suburbs of Malgudi on the bank of the Sarayu that Raju gets peace. The atmosphere of the village is quite different from the urban atmosphere of Malgudi.

      The Memphi hills and the Sarayu symbolise the continuity of the universe and the definiteness of fate. The Sarayu is hardly if ever absent from the novels of Narayan. In The Guide it is present not only in Malgudi but also in Mangla village where Raju goes to live during last phase of his life. In The Bachelor of Arts, Chandran experiences the crisis of conscience on the bank of the Sarayu. In The Dark Room Savitri jumps into the Sarayu to end her life, but is saved by a blacksmith. In The English Teacher, the Sarayu is a symbol of purity and beauty. In The Waiting for Mahatma, Mahatma Gandhi preaches the message of non-violence on the bank of the Sarayu. In Mr. Sampath the genesis of Sarayu is traced back to the days of Ram, the hero of the Ramayana. Like the Ganga it is also the symbol of purity and eternity.

      R. K. Narayan has presented not only the urbanized people of Malgudi but also its rustic characters. Velan in The Guide is one such character. Malgudi with its people and studios, its shops and streets, its taxi-stands and hotels, Memphi hills and forests, its natural landscape and other features is present in all novels and stories of R.K. Narayan.

      Narayan is rightly called the father of the regional novel in Indo-Anglian fiction. He has written about the town of Malgudi and its surroundings and its people in ‘ten novels and hundred and fifty one short stories’. His first novel ‘Swami and Friends’ introduces us to this ramshackle sort of town called Malgudi, a South Indian town on the border of the states of Mysore and Madras. It is a region, whose particularities were to be gradually unfolded in a series of novels making the region familiar in the mind’s eyes as Malgudi of R.K. Narayan. We see Raju playing under a tamarind tree as the new railway line is being laid for Malgudi. We see the Albert Mission College, the Lawley Extension including the lead statue of Sir Frederick Lawley. We pass by the Offices of the Banner and Market Road in Kabir Street with editor Srinivas, trying to revolutionize the world. Outside the town crystal clear waters of the river Sarayu flow past the town while far off in the distance the Memphi Hills with a solitary tourist bungalow cast their shadow. All that belongs to Narayan. It is his own creation. We see Malgudi, a small out of the way town growing into a busy centre humming with activities and business, and to cap it all, R. K. Narayan brings Mahatma Gandhi to his Malgudi.

      Malgudi is his only locale. As the Lake District in Wordsworth, Wessex in Hardy, Pottery Towns in Arnold Bennet have their individuality, Narayan’s Malgudi too has its own distinct individuality.

      His India is symbolised by Malgudi, an imaginary town and locale of his novels. Since the early ‘thirties’ the town has grown into a good city and gradually he added studios, hotels, a railway station and ultra-modern flats in the extension area. It is a town of pariahs, potters, printers, lawyers, teachers and small and big businessmen. Its growth from a rural-looking, conservative and backward town into a town of tourist’s interest.....even Mahatma Gandhi visited it (Waiting for the Mahatma) — symbolises the growth of the whole country. All the heroes of Narayan move in or around Malgudi from Swami to Chandran, Krishnana, Sampath, Margaryya, Raju and Mali. Whereas Swami had no idea of anything that existed outside Malgudi (see Swami and Friends), Raju had moved out of Malgudi to another part of the country, and Mali went to America to return to Malgudi with an American girl.

University Questions

R. K. Narayan is a regional novelist. Discuss.
How far is it correct to say that most of Narayan’s novels are set in and around Malgudi?
Illustrate that Malgudi is Narayan’s Wessex.

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