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R. K. Narayan

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R. K. Narayan (October 10, 1906 - May 13 2001), born Rasipuram Krishnaswami Ayyar Narayanaswami,(Tamil: ராசிபுரம் கிருஷ்ணசுவாமி அய்யர் நாராயணசுவாமி ) (Kannada: ಆರ್.ಕೆ.ನಾರಯಣ್) is among the best known and most widely read Indian novelists writing in English.

Most of Narayan's work, starting with his first novel Swami and Friends (1935), captures many Indian traits while retaining a unique identity of its own. He was sometimes compared to the American writer William Faulkner, whose novels were also grounded in a compassionate humanism and celebrated the humour and energy of ordinary life.

Narayan lived till age of ninety-four, writing for more than fifty years, and publishing until he was eighty seven. He wrote fourteen novels, five volumes of short stories, a number of travelogues and collections of non-fiction, condensed versions of Indian epics in English, and the memoir My Days.

Biography

Birth

R. K. Narayan was born in Madras (now called Chennai), India on October 10, 1906. His father, Rasipuram Venkatarama Krishnaswami Iyer, was a provincial head-master. He was the third of eight surviving children and an elder brother to popular Indian cartoonist R K Laxman. His full name was Rasipuram Krishnaswami Ayyar Narayanaswami.

Childhood

Narayan's mother, Gnanambal, was quite ill after his birth and enlisted a wet nurse to feed her young son. When she became pregnant again, the two-year-old Narayan was sent to Madras to live with his maternal grandmother, Parvathi, who was called "Ammani." He lived with her and one of his uncles, T. N. Seshachalam, until he was a teenager. He only spent a few weeks each summer visiting his parents and siblings. Narayan grew up speaking Tamil and learned English at school.

Education

After completing eight years of education at the Lutheran Mission School near his grandmother's house in Madras, he studied for a short time at the CRC High School. When his father was appointed headmaster of the Maharaja's High School in Mysore, Narayan moved back in with his parents. To his father's consternation, Narayan was an indifferent student and after graduating from high school, he failed the college entrance exam in English because he found the primary textbook to be too boring to read. He took the exam again a year later and eventually obtained his bachelor's degree from the University of Mysore.

One of the few Indian-English writers who spent nearly all his time in India, he went abroad to the United States in 1956 at the invitation of the Rockefeller Foundation. Narayan's first published work was the review of a book titled Development of Maritime Laws of 17th-Century England.. He began his literary career with short stories which appeared in The Hindu, and also worked for some time as the Mysore correspondent of Justice, a Madras-based newspaper. He also took up teaching at a government school, but left the job within two days.

Writing career

His writing career began with Swami and Friends. At first, he could not get the novel published. Eventually, the draft was shown to Graham Greene by a mutual friend, Purna. Greene liked it so much that he arranged for its publication; Greene was to remain a close friend and admirer of his. After that, he published a continuous stream of novels, all set in Malgudi and each dealing with different characters in that fictional place. Autobiographical content forms a significant part of some of his novels. For example, the events surrounding the death of his young wife and how he coped with the loss form the basis of The English Teacher. Mr. Narayan became his own publisher when World War II cut him off from Britain.

Death

R. K. Narayan passed away on May 13, 2001. He was 94. Until his very last days, he remained an avid critic of the changes occurring around his Alwarpet apartment in Chennai, and was also a voracious reader.

Writing Style

Narayan's novels are characterised by Chekhovian simplicity and gentle humour. He told stories of simple folks trying to live their simple lives in a changing world. The characters in his novels were very ordinary, down-to-earth Indians trying to blend tradition with modernisation, often resulting in tragi-comic situations. His writing style was simple, unpretentious and witty, with a unique flavour as if he were writing in the native tongue. Many of Narayan's works are rooted in everyday life, though he is not shy of invoking Hindu tales or traditional Indian folklore to emphasize a point. His easy-going outlook on life has sometimes been criticized, though in general he is viewed as an accomplished, sensitive and reasonably prolific writer. His stories are incredibly easy to read because of their simplicity. He almost always writes about India in some way, and usually puts cultural influences about Indian life in his works.

Awards and Recognition

Mr. Narayan won numerous awards and honours for his works. He won the National Prize of the Sahitya Akademi, the Indian literary academy, for The Guide in 1968. He was honoured with the Padma Bhushan, a coveted Indian award, for distinguished service to literature in 1964. In 1980, R. K. Narayan was awarded the AC Benson Medal by the Royal Society of Literature. He was an honorary member of the society. He was elected an honorary member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1982 and nominated to the Rajya Sabha — the upper house of the Parliament of India — in 1989. In addition, the University of Mysore, Delhi University and the University of Leeds conferred honorary doctorates on him. He was awarded Padma Vibhushan in 2000.

  • R.K. Narayan was short listed for the Nobel Prize in Literature several times but never won. Literary circles often joke that the Nobel Committee ignored his works, mistaking them instead for self-help books due to their curious titles (The English Teacher, The Painter of Signs, etc.).
  • His works were translated into every European language as well as Hebrew.
  • His admirers included Somerset Maugham, John Updike and Graham Greene, who called him the "novelist I admire most in the English language."

Criticism

Though Narayan's writing have been extremely popular amongst the masses, the upper, literary classes never really warmed up to him. It has been said that his writing was pedestrian, with his simple language and stories of village life. One of his most outspoken critics has been Shashi Tharoor.
There is nevertheless a respectable body of criticism, some of the best of which is listed below.

  • AFZAL-KHAN, Fawsia, Cultural Imperialism and the Indo-English Novel: Genre and Ideology in R. K. Narayan, Anita Desai, Kamala Markandaya, and Salman Rushdie (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993).
  • BEATINA, Mary, Narayan: A Study in Transcendence (New York, Washington, D.C./Baltimore, Bern, Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Brussels, Vienna, & Oxford: Peter Lang Publishing, 1994 [Studies of World Literature in English, vol. 3]).
  • BLOOM, Harold, R. K. Narayan (New York: Chelsea House Publishing, 1994 [Modern Critical Views Series 2]).
  • GOYAL, Bhagwat S., ed., R. K. Narayan’s India: Myth and Reality (Lahore: South Asia Books, 1993).
  • HARIPRASANNA, A., The World of Malgudi: A Study of R. K. Narayan’s Novels (Lahore: South Asia Books, 1997).
  • JHA, Ramā, Gandhian Thought and Indo-anglian novelists: Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao, R. K. Narayan, & Bhabani Bhattacharya (Delhi: Chanakya Publications, 1983).
  • KAIN, Geoffrey, ed., R. K. Narayan: Contemporary Critical Perspectives (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1998).
  • LENNARD, John, ‘R. K. Narayan’, in Jay Parini, ed., World Writers in English (2 vols, New York & London: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2004), II.385–407.
  • MISHRA, Pankaj, ‘The Great Narayan’, in New York Review of Books, 22 February 2001 .
  • POUSSE, Michel, R. K. Narayan: A Painter of Modern India (New York, Washington, D.C./Baltimore, Bern, Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Brussels, Vienna, & Oxford: Peter Lang Publishing, 1995 [Studies of World Literature in English, vol. 4]).
  • PRASAD, V. V. N. Rajendra, Five Indian Novelists: B. Rajan, Raja Rao, R. K. Narayan, Arun Joshi, Anita Desai (Lahore: South Asia Books, 1997).
  • WALSH, William, R. K. Narayan (London: The British Council/Longman, 1971 [Writers & their Work])
  • WALSH, William, R. K. Narayan: A Critical Appreciation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983).

Bibliography

Fiction

Collections

Short Story Collections

An asterisk indicates a collection published only in India.

Non-Fiction

Mythology

TV and Movie Adaptations

The Guide was made into a film in both English and Hindi by Dev Anand. It was commercially a most successful venture, but Narayan was not happy with the screen adaptation of his novel. His novel Mr. Sampath was made into a film by S.S. Vasan of Gemini Films. Another novel, The Financial Expert was made into the Kannada movie Banker Margayya. Swami and Friends, The Vendor of Sweets and some of Narayan's short stories were adapted by the late actor-director Shankar Nag into a television series, Malgudi Days. It was shot in the village of Agumbe in Karnataka. This village served as the backdrop for Malgudi, complete with a statue of the British personage. It was serialised and telecast on Doordarshan, the Indian National Television network.

References

External links

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