Regional Elements (like Malgudi) in R. K. Narayan Novels

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1. A Regional Novelist Par Excellence, Malgudi his Casterbridge, his only Locale

      R.K. Narayan is a regional novelist par excellence. Malgudi is Narayan’s only locale. As the Lake District in Wordsworth, Wessex in Hardy, Pottery Towns in Arnold Bennett, Bihar in the Hindi novelist, Phaneeshwarnath Renu, Narayan’s Malgudi has its own distinct individuality. It occurs and reoccurs in Narayan’s novels and short stories. “Malgudi is Narayan’s Casterbridge, but the inhabitants of Malgudi — although they may have their recognizable local trappings — are essentially human, and hence, have their kinship with all humanity. In this sense, Malgudi is everywhere.”

2. Malgudi as a Symbol of the Transitional India

      Malgudi is a symbol of the transitional Indian shedding the age-old traditions and accepting the modern Western Civilization. It is thus a bridge between the East and the West, the ancient and the modern. “In Swami and Friends, Malgudi is neither village nor city, but a town of modest size. With each new novel we advance in time (a few years at a step) and Malgudi grows in importance and gains in definition. The major landmarks, however, remain. The river Sarayu flows by its side. Fringing Malgudi or just beyond it are Nallappa’s Mango Grove and the Memphi Forest reached by the Grove Street and the Forest Road respectively. There is a Trunk Road to Trichinopoly. One can board the train from Madras to the Malgudi station....within the town here is the Market Road, which is described as “the life-line of Malgudi” in Mr. Sampath. The road intersects the Race Course Road (we often pass through it in The Dark Room). There are various streets and lanes: Kabir Street and Kabir Lane, Anderson Lane, Sarayu Street, Kulam Street, Smith Street, Vinayaka Mudali Street, Abu Lane, Ellamman Street (the last street), Keelacheri...tell-tale names in the Tamil country.” (Srinivas Iyengar). ’

3. Reference to the New Extensions, Roads and Streets in Narayan’s Works

      The extension towns with their cross roads and trim houses are also referred to in Narayan’s novels. We come across the Extensions such as Lawley Extension, named after Sir Frederick Lawley. There is also a tendency to change names of all. the streets and parks in honour of independence. This has been mentioned in Narayan’s short story, Lawley Road. In this story he mentions that the Coronation Park is renamed as ‘Hamara Hindustan Park’; similarly ‘Market Road’, ‘North Road’ are also replaced by new names such as ‘Chitra Road’, ‘Vinayaka Mudali Street’ and so on.

4. References to Municipality, Clubs, Schools and Colleges of Malgudi

      From the novels of Narayan we come to know that Malgudi has a municipality, a Town Hall, a club, and two schools-the Albert Mission School and the Board High School. The School boys are cricket-conscious, talk of Bradman, Hobbs and Tate. In 1930, Swami is a pupil, first in the Albert Mission and later in the Board High School. The Mission School is already Albert Mission College from which the hero of Bachelor of Arts graduates and in which the hero of The English Teacher lectures on English literature.

5. References to the Modern Life of Malgudi

      Modern life of Malgudi is hinted by references to cars. Even in Swami and Friends, Swami has an exciting ride to the club in his father’s friend’s car. In The Dark Room, the hero (Ramani) has his own Chevrolet with its hoarse hooting, and it comes in handy when he takes out his mistress, Shanta for moonlit drives to the banks of the Sarayu. But, then, we are already in 1935.

      Malgudi in 1935 suddenly came into line with the modern building of a well-equipped theatre — the Palace Talkies. Then there is the Englandia Insurance Company, of which Ramani is the Branch Manager, the English Banking Corporation in Mr. Sampath. Some modern shops and centres have come up in Malgudi, e.g., the Regal Hair Cutting Saloon, the Malgudi Photo Bureau, the Suburban Stores, the Truth Printing Works, the Central Co-operative Land Mortgage Bank. The hotels have also sprung up (Anand Bhawan, Modern Lodge and the Taj).

6. References to Tea-Estates, Ruined Temples and Tribes of Malgudi

      There are also references to tea-estates on Memphi Hills. We hear of ruined temples and of half a dozen jungle tribes on the top of the Hills. In The Guide, there are the “spacious bamboo jungles of Memphi”, and we are privileged to explore Sarayu’s source on Memphi Peaks. Marco in The Guide takes rooms in Memphi Peak House on the topmost cliff. ‘‘there was a glass wall covering the north veranda, through which you could view the horizon a hundred miles away. Below us the jungle stretched away down to the valley, and on a clear day you might see the Sarayu sparkling in the sun and pursuing its own course far away. This was like heaven to those who loved wild surroundings...”

7. References to Memphi Hills and Caves

      Marco explores caves with their carved doorways and wall-paintings, and discovers musical notations on the walls.

8. Malgudi as the Real ‘Hero’ of Narayan’s Novels

      Prof. Iyengar rightly advocates the theory that Malgudi is the real ‘hero’ often novels and the many short stories of R.K. Narayan, and that underneath the seeming change and the human drama there is something — the ‘soul’ of the place? — that defies, or embraces, all changes and is triumphantly and unalterably itself. All things pass and change, men and women try to live, and even as they are living, they are called upon to die; names change, fashions change, but the old landmarks — the Sarayu, the Hills, the Jungles, the Grove remain. “The One remains, the many change and pass”.

      Even the characters in these novels seem to have fallen in love with Malgudi. Most of them live in and around Malgudi. They never leave it. If at all they are compelled to leave it by circumstances, they return to it or to its surroundings.

      Malgudi and Malgudi humanity are the one theme of Narayan’s novels and short stories. Srinivas the seenario-writer in Mr. Sampath imaginatively passes in review the possible history of Malgudi since Puranic times: perhaps Rama (the exiled Prince who was verily God) passed the village on his way to Lanka, perhaps. He made the Sarayu flow; perhaps the Buddha preached at the very spot where now Lawley Extension sprawls about; perhaps Sankara preached Vedanta here. Malgudi is present in all the novels of R.K. Narayan. 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 Sweets 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 tourist interest. Mr. Sampath and The English Teacher also chose for their locale Malgudi and reflect its economic, social and educational conditions. The Sarayu river is continually present in Narayan’s novels; it flows eternally; it represents eternity.

      It is not only the physical side of Malgudi that attracts Narayan. The land may be real or imaginary; but it is the land of his heart’s desire. He loves its people, and portrays in his novels not only the men and their manners but also the spirit, and inner essence of its people. The habits, fashions, superstitions, activities, educational, social, economical, religious, domestic are all portrayed with minute detail and in a realistic manner by the novelist.


      As mentioned by Shiv K. Gilra, a superficial look at the Malgudi world gives one an impression of narrowness and circumscription. It does have an element of local or regional colour. This element is so persistent and authentic that it turns Malgudi into a central character, suggesting a sense of continuity and growth while keeping intact the old landmarks - Lawley Extension, Kabir Street, Nallappa’s Grove, Bombay Anand Bhawan, the Lawley Statue, the Sarayu river, the Banner Office, etc. The peace-loving, horoscope-matching, coffee-drinking and lotus-eating’ Malgudians are a distant community but they are also part of the universal human community. “Nothing could be more provincial and localized than the life of Malgudi town, yet R.K. Narayan successfully achieves a universal vision through it.” It may, however, be admitted that the world of Malgudi does not change or grow in its essentials. Its traditional placid surface gets occasional ripples but resumes the normal course invariably. One may regard Narayan’s portrayal of life in Malgudi as pre-ordained and tailor-made, and so deficient in veracity and comprehensiveness. But the question is sincere to his vocation, and conscientious in his exploration. And we cannot honestly impose our demands or ideas on an artist’s creative sensibility.

“It is better for a writer to know a little bit of the world remarkably well than to know a great part of the world remarkably little,” observes Hardy in his Note Books. R.K. Narayan’s fiction is a copy book example of the truth of this statement. The Malgudi novels and short stories are strongly imbued with what D.H. Lawrence has called “the spirit of place.”

      The action of all the eleven novels and all the four score and more short stories except a dozen is set in the imaginary small town of Malgudi in south India... “But as a regionalist, it is not with Hardy and Faulkner that Narayan should really be compared, but with Arnold Bennet, who, like the Indian novelist, is essentially a chronicler of town life.” (M.K. Naik).

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