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R. K. Narayan

R. K. Narayan

R. K. Narayan (born 1906) is one of the best-known of the Indo-English writers. He created the imaginary town of Malgudi, where realistic characters in a typically Indian setting lived amid unpredictable events.

Rasipuram Krishnaswami Narayanswami, who preferred the shortened name R.K. Narayan, was born in Madras, India, on Oct. 10, 1906. His father, an educator, travelled frequently, and his mother was frail, so Narayan was raised in Madras by his grandmother and an uncle. His grandmother inspired in young Narayan a passion for language and for people. He attended the Christian Mission School, where, he said, he learned to love the Hindu gods simply because the Christian chaplain ridiculed them. Narayan graduated from Maharaja's College in Mysore in 1930. In 1934 he was married, but his wife, Rajam, died of typhoid in 1939. He had one daughter, Hema. He never remarried.

Creating a Small-Town World

Narayan wrote his first novel, Swami and Friends, in 1935, after short, uninspiring stints as a teacher, an editorial assistant, and a newspaperman. In it, he invented the small south Indian city of Malgudi, a literary microcosm that critics later compared to William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County. More than a dozen novels and many short stories that followed were set in Malgudi.

Narayan's second novel, Bachelor of Arts (1939), marked the beginning of his reputation in England, where the novelist Graham Greene was largely responsible for getting it published. Greene has called Narayan "the novelist I most admire in the English language." His fourth novel, The English Teacher, published in 1945, was partly autobiographical, concerning a teacher's struggle to cope with the death of his wife. In 1953, Michigan State University published it under the title Grateful to Life and Death, along with his novel The Financial Expert; they were Narayan's first books published in the United States.

Subsequent publications of his novels, especially Mr. Sampath, Waiting for the Mahatma, The Guide, The Man-eater of Malgudi, and The Vendor of Sweets, established Narayan's reputation in the West. Many critics consider The Guide (1958) to be Narayan's masterpiece. Told in a complex series of flashbacks, it concerns a tourist guide who seduces the wife of a client, prospers, and ends up in jail. The novel won India's highest literary honor, and it was adapted for the off-Broadway stage in 1968.

At least two of Narayan's novels, Mr. Sampath (1949) and The Guide (1958), were adapted for the movies. Narayan usually wrote for an hour or two a day, composing fast, often writing as many as 2,000 words and seldom correcting or rewriting.

Making the Mundane Extraordinary

Narayan's stories begin with realistic settings and everyday happenings in the lives of a cross-section of Indian society, with characters of all classes. Gradually fate or chance, oversight or blunder, transforms mundane events to preposterous happenings. Unexpected disasters befall the hero as easily as unforeseen good fortune. The characters accept their fates with an equanimity that suggests the faith that things will somehow turn out happily, whatever their own motivations or actions. Progress, in the form of Western-imported goods and attitudes, combined with bureaucratic institutions, meets in Malgudi with long-held conventions, beliefs, and ways of doing things. The modern world can never win a clear-cut victory because Malgudi accepts only what it wants, according to its own private logic.

Reviewing Narayan's 1976 novel The Painter of Signs, Anthony Thwaite of the New York Times said Narayan created "a world as richly human and volatile as that of Dickens." His next novel, A Tiger for Malgudi (1983), is narrated by a tiger whose holy master is trying to lead him to enlightenment. It and his fourteenth novel Talkative Man (1987) received mixed reviews.

In his 80s, Narayan continued to have books published. He returned to his original inspiration, his grandmother, with the 1994 book Grandmother's Tale and Other Stories, which Publishers Weekly called "an exemplary collection from one of India's most distinguished men of letters." Donna Seaman of Booklist hailed the collection of short stories that spanned over 50 years of Narayan's writing as "an excellent sampling of his short fiction, generally considered his best work" from "one of the world's finest storytellers." Narayan once noted: "Novels may bore me, but never people."

Further Reading

Harish Raizada's, R. K. Narayan: A Critical Study of His Works (New Delhi, 1969), provides a detailed description and evaluation of his work. Discussions of his work are in K. R. Srinivasa Lyengar, Indian Writing in English (1962); David McCutchin's, Indian Writing in English: Critical Essays (1969); and Marion Wynne-Davies', (editor), Bloomsbury Guide to English Literature (1990). □

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Narayan, R. K.

R. K. Narayan: (Rasipuram Krishnaswami Narayan) (nərī´yän), 1906–2001, Indian novelist, b. Madras (now Chennai). Narayan, who wrote in English, published his first novel, Swami and Friends, in 1935. While he wrote hundreds of short stories for the Madras newspaper Hindu, he first came to international attention when his works were hailed in England by Graham Greene. His humorous novel The Financial Expert (1952) was the first of his works published in the United States. Frequently set in the fictional town of Malgudi, many of Narayan's 14 novels and numerous stories provide exquisitely crafted, witty, vital, and perceptive descriptions of everyday village life in S India. His fiction often deals with the protagonist's search for identity. Narayan's major works, usually centering around a modest hero and containing portraits of a variety of eccentrics, include The English Teacher, also known as Grateful to Life and Death (1945), The Printer of Malgudi (1949), The Guide (1958), The Man-Eater of Malgudi (1961), The Vendor of Sweets (1967), The Painter of Signs (1976), and A Tiger for Malgudi (1983). Among his short-story collections are Malgudi Days (1982) and The Grandmother's Tale and Selected Stories (1994).

See his My Days: A Memoir (1974) and Talkative Man (1987); biography by S. Ram and N. Ram (1996); studies by W. Walsh (1982), C. Vanden Driesen (1986), J. K. Biswal (1987), P. S. Sundaram (1988), G. Kain, ed. (1993), N. N. Sharan (1993), A. Hariprasanna (1994), A. L. McLeod, ed. (1994), M. Pousse (1995), M. Rahman (1998), P. K. Singh (1999), C. N. Srinath, ed. (2000), and K. Parija (2001).

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Narayan, R. K.

R. K. Narayan

BORN: 1906, Madras, India

DIED: 2001, Madras, India

NATIONALITY: Indian

GENRE: Fiction, nonfiction

MAJOR WORKS:
Malgudi Days and Other Stories (1941)
The Financial Expert (1952)
The Guide (1958)
The Man-Eater of Malgudi (1961)
Under the Banyan Tree and Other Stories (1985)

Overview

When R. K. Narayan died at the age of ninety-four, he left behind a body of work that will continue to impress generations of readers. He published novels, short stories,

travel books, essays, and retellings of Indian epics, as well as articles he produced as a journalist in his early years. From the 1930s to the early 1990s, he managed to write at least three books every decade. Most of Narayan's prose centers around the fictional village of Malgudi, which Narayan used as a microcosm for studying the interaction between various classes and races of Indian society.

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

Early Hardships in Colonial India Rasipuram Krishnaswami Narayan was born on October 10, 1906, in his grandfather's home in Madras, the son of schoolteacher R. V. Krishnaswami Iyer and Gnana Iyer. Narayan spent the early years of his life in Madras in the care of his grandmother and a maternal uncle, joining his parents mainly during vacations. At the time, India was still the “jewel in the crown” of the British empire, a colony held since 1857. In the early years of the twentienth century, however, Indian nationalism intensified to the point that by 1919 the Government of India Act was passed giving India limited self government.

Narayan first went to school in Madras. In 1922 he was shifted to the school in Mysore where his father was the headmaster. My Days indicates that Narayan was an indifferent student but an avid reader. He failed the school entrance examination twice and also was unable to get through college easily. Eventually he did graduate from Maharaja College of Mysore with a bachelor of arts degree in 1930.

Serious Aspirations Narayan began to write seriously in the 1920s. His biographers Susan Ram and N. Ram describe his intense desire to see his name in print and the hard work he did to accomplish this, not only reading major English writers and periodicals but also going through books on how to sell one's manuscripts. He grew accustomed to receiving rejection slips from publishers and editors, but he continued to harbor hopes of making a living as a writer, until his father persuaded him to take up a teaching position in a school. The experience proved distasteful, and he soon returned to submitting his manuscripts. He eventually succeeded in getting an article on Indian cinema published in the Madras Mail in July 1930. The 1920s in India were also marked by the nonviolent protest campaigns of Mohandas Gandhi, whose actions were aimed at forcing Britain to relinquish control of India.

First Love, First Publication In his memoir, Narayan recalls wandering the streets of Mysore one day when Malgudi, the setting of most of his fiction, just seemed to “hurl” into his mind, along with a vision of a character called Swaminathan. He thus began his first Malgudi novel, Swami and Friends, completing it two years later in 1932.

In publishing short pieces in the Indian Review and Punch, Narayan satisfied his dream of writing and seeing his name in print. Also during this time, he fell in love. He had spotted fifteen-year-old Rajam Iyer as she was waiting for water at a local street tap. He persuaded his father to send a proposal of marriage to her father. He married Rajam on July 1, 1934. Around this time, he also became the Mysore reporter of a newspaper called the Justice.

Malgudi Is Put on the Map Narayan knew that for an Indian writing English fiction, Swami and Friends would not find a publisher in his country, and publishers in England were not responding. Sometime in 1934 he contacted his friend Krishna Raghavendra Putra, who soon persuaded the famous English novelist Graham Greene, who was already attempting to get some of Narayan's short stories published in English magazines, to look at Swami and Friends. Greene was so impressed that he recommended the book. It appeared in October 1935, and Malgudi was launched. Though sales were weak, public and critical response was positive. The year 1935 also saw the passage of another Government of India Act that moved the country one step closer to true independence.

Stalled Writing Efforts After The Bachelor of Arts (1937) and The Dark Room (1938), both of which sold poorly but received better and better reviews, Narayan entered the darkest period of his life: Five years into his marriage, his wife died after a short illness of what was probably typhoid. Overwhelmed with grief, he stopped writing. He finally managed to get out of his depression at the same time as the outbreak of World War II. During this time, however, Greene became inaccessible due to his involvement in the war effort, and Narayan found paths to publishing doubly difficult.

Malgudi Lives On Narayan managed to sustain himself in this difficult period through his journalism and by giving talks on Madras radio. He became the editor of a journal called Indian Thought in 1941, and by 1944 he had managed to complete his fourth novel, The English Teacher (1945). It was widely praised and sold well in England. In 1947, Britain ceded control of India by signing the Indian Independence Act, which simultaneously created the Muslim-majority nation of Pakistan.

The author's work returned to Malgudi in Mr. Sampath (1949), and the fictional but no less realistic land continued in The Financial Expert (1952), arguably one of Narayan's best and most popular novels. Narayan followed that work with his most political novel, Waiting for the Mahatma (1955), and repeated the success with The Guide (1958). Narayan followed The Guide with another triumph: The Man-Eater of Malgudi (1961). After two less popular works, Narayan's twelfth novel, A Tiger for Malgudi (1983), made yet another impression—with a tiger as the protagonist. A Tiger for Malgudi was the last of Narayan's novels to receive wide critical attention, but it got mixed reviews, and a few critics noted their disappointment with it.

Final Work Efforts At eighty years old, Narayan published Talkative Man in 1986, and followed it with his last novel, The World of Nagaraj (1990), four years after. He received a number of major awards, including the Sahitya Akademi Award for The Guide, the Padma Bhushan, and several honorary degrees up until 2001, the year he died.

Works in Literary Context

Influences In My Days: A Memoir (1974), the novelist says that his grandmother was a major influence on his life and his storytelling. His maternal uncle, who published a literary journal in Tamil, also played a part in the growth of the novelist's mind in his early years. Narayan is most noted for his creation of Malgudi, a fictitious village set in southern India that most critics consider a composite of his birthplace of Madras and his adult residence of Mysore. These narratives derive from India's oral and literary traditions.

Economical Style Among Narayan's strengths as a novelist are the economy of his storytelling and the skill with which he manipulates his plot so that events that complicate the lives of his central characters are resolved within a few hundred pages. Narayan is also a master of shorter forms of fiction—his five collections of short stories, such as Malgudi Days (1943), cover the same territory as the novels. The stories of the early collections are slight pieces and usually journalistic in style. Some are anecdotal or no more than character sketches. The stories of the later collections are longer and more intricately built. A few of the stories are satirical in tone and sometimes slip into the absurd.

Sympathetic Humor in Themes of Struggle Narayan's stories usually show people as fallible, eccentric, and often amusing. Narayan often uses wry, sympathetic humor to examine the universalized conflicts of Malgudi, focusing on ordinary characters who seek self-awareness through their struggles with ethical dilemmas. All of Narayan's characters, in accordance with principles of Hinduism, retain a calm, dignified acceptance of fate. In his early fiction, Narayan makes use of personal experience to address conflicts between Indian and Western culture. Swami and Friends: A Novel of Malgudi (1935), for instance, chronicles an extroverted schoolboy's rebellion against his missionary upbringing. Such novels, like Narayan's later works, were noted for his natural and unaffected language, his subtle humor, and his ability to transform a particular lifestyle into a universal human experience.

LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES

Narayan's famous contemporaries include:

Rachel Carson (1907–1964): Marine biologist, environmentalist, and naturalist and science writer, her work Silent Spring (1962) was instrumental in the advent of global environmentalism.

Hiroshi Inagaki (1905–1980): Japanese filmmaker who is best known for his Samurai trilogy.

Frida Kahlo (1907–1954): Mexican painter who became an influential figure with her distinctive style and representation of indigenous culture.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980): French philosopher, writer, and critic who is often attributed with pioneering modern existentialism.

Works in Critical Context

Peers as well as successors have been quick to acknowledge Narayan's contribution to Indian writing in English. In an essay written at Narayan's death, for instance, the distinguished Indian poet Dom Moraes called Narayan “by far the best writer of English fiction that his country has ever produced.” Typical of the praise heaped on the novels and their writer are comments such as those made about The Financial Expert and The Guide.

The Financial Expert (1952) The Financial Expert shows Narayan's powerful handling of the central theme of the vanity of human wishes and his deft manipulation of plot. The portrait of the central character, Margayya, reveals a man who is deeply flawed but also capable of retaining the reader's sympathy. The novel is memorable, too, for the portraits of Dr. Pal, the archetypal confidence man; Meenakshi, Margayya's long-suffering wife; and Balu, his prodigal son.

Margayya's rise and fall take place against a backdrop of a world full of poverty, corruption, bureaucracy, and the opportunism displayed by cynical businessmen and officials in wartime India. Narayan manages to be serious and comic throughout the novel; he also alternates details of everyday life in Malgudi with moments where readers view the workings of Margayya's mind. The critic William Walsh writes that the novel “has an intricate and silken organization, a scheme of composition holding everything together in a vibrant and balanced union.”

The Guide (1958) The Guide is usually considered Narayan's most accomplished novel. In this work, a former convict named Raju is mistaken for a holy man upon his arrival in Malgudi. Implored by the villagers to avert a famine, Raju is unable to convince them that he is a fraud. Deciding to embrace the role the townspeople have thrust upon him, Raju dies during a prolonged fast and is revered as a saint.

In a 1958 issue of the New Yorker, critic Anthony West praised The Guide as “the best of R. K. Narayan's enchanting novels about the South Indian town of Malgudi and its people…. It is a profound statement of Indian realities.” The Malgudi novels as a whole are most often highly regarded. Critics often compare Narayan's creation of Malgudi to William Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha County, and most agree with Charles R. Larson's assessment: “While Faulkner's vision remains essentially grotesque, Narayan's has been predominantly comic, reflecting with humor the struggle of the individual to find peace within the framework of public life.”

Responses to Literature

  1. Narayan books often feature Hindu cultural practices. Using your library and the Internet, research the modern Hindu practices in India and write a paper summarizing your findings.
  2. Narayan lived and wrote during a time of great change in India, as control of the government passed gradually from the British to the Indians themselves. To find out more about Britain's long involvement in India, read Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India (2000), a historical work by Lawrence James.
  3. Chronologically, Narayan's fiction takes up the major events of Indian history. Read one of his novels, then research and write a paper describing the historical context of the action in the novel.

COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE

Here are a few works by writers who focused on the tragedy of human fallibility:

The Infernal Machine (1936), a play by Jean Cocteau. In this play, the playwright turns the classic story of Oedipus into a tragic-comedy by using irony where there originally was none.

A Rose for Emily” (1930), a short story by William Faulkner. In this short story, Emily Grierson is alienated from her immediate society and is isolated in her aging, eccentric, and “spinster” years.

Snow (2005), a novel by Orhan Pamuk. In this work, a clash of ideals is witnessed by a poet in exile as he comes to terms with his alienation from poetry and God.

A View from the Bridge (1955), a play by Arthur Miller. Italian American longshoreman Eddie Carbone suffers the profound betrayals and conflicts of family and friends in this play.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books

Hariprasana, A. The World of Malgudi: A Study of R. K. Narayan's Novels. New Delhi: Prestige Books, 1994.

Narayan, R. K. My Days: A Memoir. New York: Viking, 1974.

Ram, Susan, and N. Ram. R. K. Narayan: The Early Years: 1906–1945. New Delhi: Viking, 1996.

Walsh, William. R. K. Narayan. New York: Longman, 1971.

Periodicals

Berry, Ashok.”Purity, Hybridity and Identity: R. K. Narayan's The Vendor of Sweets.” WLWE 35 (1996): 51–62.

Mishra, Pankaj. “The Great Narayan.” New York Review of Books (February 22, 2001): 3.

West, Anthony. Review of The Guide. New Yorker (April 19, 1958).

Web sites

Bangla Literature in America. Memorable Books by R. K. Narayan. Retrieved May 28, 2008, from http://www.bangla.8k.com/exclusive/rk_books.html.

Brians, Paul. R. K. Narayan: The Guide: A Study Guide (1958). Washington State University at Pullman. Retrieved May 28, 2008, from http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~brians/anglophone/narayan.html.

Datta, Nandan. “The Life of R. K. Narayan.” California Literary Review. Retrieved May 28, 2008, from http://calitreview.com/21.

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Narayan, R. K.

NARAYAN, R. K.

NARAYAN, R. K. (1906–2001), renowned author of novels, short stories, and essays Regarded by many critics as India's greatest writer in English, R. K. Narayan's birth name, Rasipuram Krishnaswami Narayanaswami, was shortened at the suggestion of his first English publisher for the convenience of Western readers. Born on 10 October 1906 in Madras (Chennai), he was the third of eight children of Gnanambal Iyer and Rasipuram Iyer. His father was a well-educated school teacher in the education department in the princely state of Mysore, but Narayan was brought up in Madras by his maternal grandmother. In his memoir, My Days (1974), as well as in his last novel, The Grandmother's Tale (1992), he acknowledged his debt to her, not only for maternal care but also for a deep introduction to South Indian traditional culture. His knowledge of the wealth of Hindu legends and myths reflects her storytelling, but she also taught him Sanskrit, the classical language of religion and literature, as well as Tamil, the South Indian language rich in song and poetry. From her he learned to understand and enjoy classical Canatic music, one of the most complex of Indian musical systems. In his old age, he remarked that "We don't have that kind of granny nowadays."

While immersed in his grandmother's culture, at the same time he was also introduced to the greatest literature of the West, thanks to an uncle—a college student who lived in the family house—who was taking part in a production of William Shakespeare's Tempest. Narayan knew it, he said, before he knew anything else. Part of Narayan's greatness as a writer is explained by the "Indianness" of his early upbringing as well as his love of English literature, acquired from his father and his college teachers. No other Indian writer reflects so unselfconsciously the seamless inheritance of these two rich, but very different, cultures. Of the many Indian writers in English, none impresses readers as does Narayan, conveying an authentic voice of the unique historical experience of the making of modern India in the context of the modern West, mediated through the imposition of British rule on a traditional society. An interviewer once asked Narayan whether the creative writer is a free spirit or a spokesman of the community in which he lives. A writer, Narayan replied, must be a free spirit if he is to be a creative writer, but he is always a spokesman of the community in that he is a product of his society. So a writer must keep a tricky balance between the two.

Narayan's formal introduction to Western learning began in 1912, when he began attending kindergarten in Madras, at a school founded by Swedish Lutherans. Readers of his novels, as well as of his memoir and his collection of essays, conclude that he hated school, but his unhappiness appears to be the normal response of an intelligent child being taught by boring, unimaginative teachers. He hated arithmetic, dreaded exams, and, like the schoolboys in his novels, welcomed the freedom of summer holidays. "No child with red blood in his veins," he said in A Writer's Nightmare (1956), "could ever think of its school with unqualified enthusiasm." Narayan neatly summarized his views on childhood by saying that children are "existentialists," living in the moment, sometimes happy, sometimes miserable. He was, he insisted, the same person that he had been eighty years before: "Inside, the sense of awareness, of being, is the same throughout. The chap inside is the same, unchanged." When he graduated to the better-known Madras Christian College High School, the "chap inside" rejoiced in having nicer classrooms, a good library, and educated, reasonable teachers, but his father summoned him to Mysore to live with his siblings, one of whom, R. K. Laxman, was to become India's best-known political cartoonist and the illustrator of many of Narayan's books. In Mysore, where he was to live most of his life, he attended Maharajah's Collegiate High School, where his father was headmaster. The great bonus of being the headmaster's son was that he had free range of the library, and he read voraciously, including the romantic poets and the novels of Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, and Leo Tolstoy, as well as those of contemporary writers like Rider Haggard and Marie Corelli, his favorite. Through English journals, he became familiar with all the literary greats of the era, including G. B. Shaw, H. G. Wells, and Thomas Hardy. He also learned about American writers through Harper's and the Atlantic. People unfamiliar with the fascination that England had for educated Indians of that time speak of the English language being "forced" on Indians, but nothing could be further from the truth. English was the key to another world, sought with eagerness by young Narayan. Despite his eclectic reading, for two years in succession he failed the university entrance examination, the first time in English, the second in Tamil literature. In My Days, he says his failure in English was due to concentrating on Dickens and poetry, while the questions were from the dull books he had left unread.

After managing to pass the exams, he attended Maharaja's College, got his bachelor of arts degree, and, when nothing else was available, took a job as a teacher. By his own account he was a disastrous failure, and after two attempts at maintaining discipline, gave it up and went home, deciding to devote himself full time to becoming what he always wanted to be—a writer. "I want to finish my novel," he announced, "and when it is published, it will solve all problems." Making a living from writing novels in India, especially in English, was virtually unknown, and the comment of an old friend expressed the almost universal reaction of his family and friends: "Unwisdom! Unwisdom! You could write as a hobby..The notion is very unpractical" (My Days, p. 92). Making a living became an urgent necessity in 1934, however, when Narayan, defying the customs of his society, did not settle for a marriage arranged by his family; he fell in love with a beautiful girl, Rajam Iyer, and made the arrangements himself. Two years later, their daughter Hema was born. She became his lifelong companion.

The novel that he was writing was Swami and Friends, which drew very heavily upon his school experiences and was set in Malgudi, the imaginary South Indian town that figures in many of his later books. "As I sat in a room nibbling my pen, Malgudi with its little railway station swam into view, all ready made with a character called Swaminathan running down the platform" (My Days, p. 79). For most foreign readers, Malgudi is their entry into the complex world of India, in many ways physically chaotic but with a carefully articulated social order. There was little hope of a novel of this kind, written in English, being published in India, but in any case his dream was to find a publisher in England, and against all probability his dream came true. Swami and Friends was rejected by a number of publishers, but he had sent the manuscript in 1935 to a friend, Purna, who was studying at Oxford, who persuaded Graham Greene, already one of England's most famous authors, to read it. Greene was delighted with the novel and recommended it to Hamish Hamilton, the publisher. Purna was able to send Narayan a telegram: "Novel taken. Graham Greene responsible" (My Days, p. 115). This was the beginning of a friendship that was of great importance to Narayan, for it brought him into the literary and academic world of Great Britain and the United States. He and Greene corresponded regularly, and Greene read and commented on his manuscripts, though they met only once, in 1956.

Other novels followed regularly, all marked by kindly ironic wit as he observes the comic absurdities in the lives of many of his characters; at the same time, he conveys the disappointments and tragedies of their everyday lives as they confront the conflicts engendered by their ambitions, their weaknesses, their self-delusions, and society's demands. His second novel, The Bachelor of Arts, published in 1937, is also autobiographical, and in some ways is his most humorous book, ending with the central character falling in love and marrying, euphoric in his happiness. His next novel, The Dark Room (1938), explores new territory, perhaps less successfully, with the story of a woman who, against all conventions, leaves her bullying husband.

There was a long break before The English Teacher was published in 1945 (in the United States it was published under the title Grateful for Life and Death). It is the most somber of Narayan's novels, and the most autobiographical. The story of the death of the young wife of a struggling schoolteacher replicates the death of Narayan's wife in 1939, leaving him utterly bereft, with his small daughter. Unable to work, he turned to spiritualism, and he believed that a medium had put him in contact with her. The friendship of the English mystic Paul Brunton helped him to return to writing in 1945, and Narayan began editing a literary journal, Indian Thought. He gave this up, however, to become his own publisher. Narayan entered a new and fruitful period, publishing some of his work in both England and the United States, including The Financial Expert (1952); The Guide (1958), which many readers consider his best work; The Man-Eater of Malgudi (1961); The Vendor of Sweets (1967); and The Painter of Signs (1976). The Guide was made into a widely publicized but unsuccessful movie, which many reviewers, including Narayan himself, considered a serious distortion of the novel. In addition, he published collections of short stories, essays, and notable retellings of the great Sanskrit epics The Mahābhārata (1978) and The Rāmāyaṇa (1972).

In 1956 he made his first visit outside India, stopping in London, where for the first time he met Graham Greene, on his way to the United States. There he met many authors, film personalities, and intellectuals. In My Dateless Diary (1960) he gives a humorous but very penetrating account of American life, including delightful meetings with actress Greta Garbo, who wanted him to discuss mysticism, which he felt unable to do. He subsequently became fond of travel, traveling often to London and New York as well as to many cities in Europe and Asia. He received numerous literary honors in foreign countries, as well as one of India's highest national awards, the Padma Bhushan. In 1985 the president of India appointed him a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament, as one the country's most distinguished citizens; there, he took a special interest in the welfare of children. This was in keeping with his literary work, which, as an obituary declared, expressed "a philosophic depth and a strikingly original moral analysis" (Manchester Guardian).

Ainslee T. Embree

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Only the dates of the first publication of Narayan's books are given above, because almost all of them were published by different publishers in India, Great Britain, and the United States, and often by more than one publisher in the same country. The best biographical study is Susan Ram and N. Ram, R. K. Narayan (New Delhi: Viking, 1996), which relates the novels to Narayan's life. John Updike wrote a sensitive appreciation of his work in "Books," in The New Yorker, 12 Sept. 1974, pp. 80–82. Narayan has been the subject of many critical studies. N. P. Nair, Irony in the Novels of R. K. Narayan and V. S. Naipaul (Trivandrum, Kerala: CBH Publications, 1993), offers interesting insights and has an almost complete listing of Narayan's many books. Michael Pousse, R. K. Narayan: A Painter of Modern India (New York: Peter Lang, 1995), stresses the value of his writings for their insights into Indian culture. Geoffrey Kain, editor, R. K. Narayan, Contemporary Critical Perspectives (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1993), examines many of his works. While these are all useful, Narayan's artfully crafted autobiographical works give insights into his life and work. These include My Day (New York: Viking Press, 1974) and My Dateless Diary (Mysore: Indian Thought Publications, 1960), as well his collections of essays, including A Writer's Nightmare (New Delhi: Penguin, 1988). An early insightful American review is found in Glendy Dawedeit, Washington Post, 3 November 1956, E, p. 6). An affectionate obituary by Susan and N. Ram appeared in The Guardian (Manchester, U. K.), on 14 May 2001. Narayan gave a selection of his private papers to Mugar Library at Boston University.

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