Philip Li Ching Hum
RK Narayan stands out as one of the leading figures of Indian literature in English language. His contribution to Indian literature is beyond description. If Mulk Raj Anand is the novelist of the working class, Narayan can be hailed as the writer of the middle class. The small town of Malgudi is the focal place around which most of his novels revolve. Readers become acquainted with the landmarks and features of this fictional town and take cognizance of the ameliorations that have operated there in the course of time. Malgudi teems with characters, each with their idiosyncracies and attitudes.
RK Narayan’s style bears the hallmarks of complete objectivity spiced with a quaint mixture of humour and irony. He closely weaves his humour with the texture of his prose. He manifests more of his dose of humour in the portrayal of eccentric characters within his description and dialogue. The world of comedy of Narayan covers a wide spectrum of literary genres ranging from wry farce and simple witticism to the irony of incongruous worlds.
In all his novels except The English Teacher, The Guide and The Man-Eater of Malgudi, Narayan adopts the picaresque style: the story is told by an omniscient fictional narrator. In The English Teacher the story is told in the first person. In The Guide part of the story is told by the author and part in the first person by the hero himself. The narrator of the story in The Man-Eater of Malgudi is one of the characters. Narayan introduced different techniques of narration in these three novels for greater realism and sounder effects. His other novels are: The Bachelor of Arts, Mr Sampath, The Dark Room, The Financial Expert, Waiting for Mahatma and The Vendor Of Sweets.
The family occupies a primordial place in the novels of Narayan, which are remarkable for the subtlety and conviction in which his sensibility works. He harps on the intricacies of family relations and he shows his talent as a good judge of human nature. He triggers the action on the conflict between the egocentricity of an individual member and the family’s claim on him.
Narayan as a novelist is also a commentator on the wide inclinations of his society and age. He has inherited the tradition of storytelling from ancient India but he refurbishes it with Western literary tradition. The greatness of his style lies in comedy, irony and satire. Narayan keeps very close to the surface reality that strikes him as typical of everyday Indian life. He provides us with lenses to view life mockingly. He highlights the conumdrums of the everyday life of his characters. Some critics have compared him to William Faulkner. Others say that his short stories stand equal to Guy de Maupassant’s for his dexterous ability to compress a narrative. He has been labelled as the Indian Chekov with a unique ability to fuse characters and actions together. RK Narayan can be regarded as one of the best novelists India has ever produced along with Raja Rao and Mulk Raj Anand.
* Published in print edition on 14 June 2019