Essay – R.K. Narayan
Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanswami (1906-2001) was an Indian writer and novelist, best known for his tales set in the fictional South Indian town of Malgudi. Better known by his pen name R.K. Narayan, he is widely recognized as one of the leading authors of his day and has been awarded with both the Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan, the second and third-highest civilian awards offered by the Indian government.
Born on 10 October, 1906, in a Tamil Brahmin family in British India, Narayan developed a love for reading at a tender age, with his favorites including the works of Dickens, Hardy, Arthur Conan Doyle, and several others. Following his education, Narayan had to overcome various obstacles, failing his university entrance examination, taking four years to obtain his bachelor’s degree, later resigning from his post as a teacher; it was the result of these hardships that Narayan chose to make writing his career, and not simply his passion. Towards the beginning, it was challenging for him to make a livelihood out of writing, with his occasional interest stories for newspapers barely making ends meet.
However, luck shone on Narayan as his novel Swami and Friends was published by Graham Greene, an English writer and journalist, in 1935, thereby landing him into the public scene. Swami and Friends went on to become the first of a trilogy of stories, with the latter two being The Bachelor of Arts and The English Teacher. In 1933, R.K. Narayan fell in love with a 15-year old girl by the name of Rajam, and they married soon after. The passing away of his father in 1937 forced Narayan to accept a commission from the government of Mysore. Further tragedy struck soon after, as Rajam passed away to typhoid in 1939, rendering him into a depressed and dejected state for the months that followed.
In 1942, Narayan published a set of short stories known as Malgudi Days, the beginning of his rise to the top. In subsequent years, he published The Financial Expert, a novel in 1952 that has been hailed to be among his best. A year after, his works were for the first time published in the United States; throughout the next two decades, he wrote rigorously and published a vast array of novels and short stories that attained massive critical acclaim. He even translated mythological works like The Ramayana and The Mahabharata into English, with the former a wish of his dying uncle in 1938. He wrote for magazines and newspapers as well, including The Hindu.
In his later years, he befriended N. Ram, the publisher of the aforementioned paper, and stopped giving interviews as a result of an unpleasant prior experience. On 13 May, 2001, R.K. Narayan passed away in hospital at the age of 94. He is remembered for acting as a bridge between Indian Literature and the outside world, and is considered as among the nation’s greatest authors.
His books have been adapted and abridged as well, an example being Swami and Friends’ inclusion in the television series Malgudi Days, among others.
In the words of R.K. Narayan himself, “Past is gone, present is going, and tomorrow is the day after tomorrow’s yesterday. So why worry about anything?” Long Live the Malgudi Man.
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