Malgudi Days by R.K.Narayan
Created: Mon Mar 22 17:09:03 2010 | Last modified: Mon Mar 22 17:09:03 2010
"Malgudi Days" is a collection of short stories written by R.K.Narayan and probably the most famous title associated with R.K.Narayan with the possible exception of "Swami and Friends."
So what is so special about R.K.Narayan's prose that earned him so much accolades? That's just the catch. There is nothing special and that's where the speciality lies. The prose is disarmingly simple, the language is not stylized or even idiomatic. It is essentially English, but the heart and soul, the accent and culture is unashamedly Indian. And that's what made Narayan famous. That distinctive Indian touch in an era when it was fashionable for Indian authors to ape the West.
Rather than calling them short stories, it would be better to call them a collection of narratives or even anecdotes. For you will not find strong, close-knit, plot-and-action oriented stories but merely ordinary lives of ordinary people in all its ordinariness. Some of them vary a bit: some of the stories are ironical, some mildly fantastic, some tragic, some comic, but most of them reflecting the cross-section of social life in India in Narayan's era. This is reflected in the way Narayan sometimes end a story rather abruptly without stitching all the pieces together. In a sense you might say that these stories have no beginning or end. They're just pieces of people's lives.
One thing the Western reader won't notice in Narayan's prose is "strong" anything. Everything is mild and subtle, although in parts Narayan can involve emotions. You get a real slice of Indian life from a cross-section of society: from the man who climbs palm trees to earn a living to a society celebrity and everyone in-between. And though times have changed, beneath the surface of modern sophistication Indian culture and Indians remain essentially the same to this day and that's what makes Narayan's tales timeless. While life has changed since Narayan's time, culture remains ageless.
Now the weak points I noticed. While I did appreciate most of the stories, you tend to sometimes find places where narrative becomes awkward for some reason which I could not put my finger on. Astute readers will also notice a naive streak in Narayan here and there. There are places in the narration where Narayan doesn't know how to leave some things to the reader's imagination. But overall the weak points are far and few between and after warming up with the first couple of stories, you tend to begin enjoying Narayan a lot more. I think essentially it is up to the reader to relate to what Narayan says and not the other way round. The author makes absolutely no effort to relate to the reader in many parts and so sometimes the reader might feel alienated or remote from the stories, especially a non-Indian reader.
Finally I must give four out of five starts to "Malgudi Days." If you read this book, you get an idea of what you can expect from R.K.Narayan. But if you have based all your expectation of this book based on Narayan's first novel "Swami and Friends" prepare to be disappointed. The whole mood of "Malgudi's Days" is different: more restrained, more reserved and emotionally lighter.