R K Narayan – My Favourites

My paternal grandfather passed away when my father was in his 20’s and my youngest aunt was barely a year old (my dad and his siblings number 10!). I don’t know much about my grandfather except for a few anecdotes I heard from my two oldest aunts. My grandfather was a sanskrit scholar who had large portions of the Valmiki Ramayana memorized. Instead of narrating bedtime stories, he would recite passages from the Sundar Kanda to his children each night. He valued education and books above everything else and would walk 10 kilometers to the nearest town each week to fetch his daughters books from the library. He did this at a time when education for women was not valued at all. He was a staunch brahmin but progressive in his thinking and never a believer in superstition or rituals.

When I read R. K. Narayan’s books, I like to think I’m hearing a voice very similar to my grandfather’s. R. K. Narayan could write about his grandmother chewing betel leaf sitting on the pyol yet never let her seem foreign. It’s a voice hard to come by these days what with our need to be global desis wearing Indian clothes with Western silhouettes, eating fusion Italian food with a South Indian soul, and watching movies about Indians living anywhere but in small-town India.

As always, I digress. Here’s what I came to post. A list of less famous R. K. Narayan works I love and consider among his best work. If you’ve read these, let’s chat over coffee! If you haven’t, please read them so that we can chat over coffee! Are you listening Hero, F.D., Physics Maami & SS?

These are in the Wikipedia order:

The Dark Room:
This book features an Indian housewife who at first glance doesn’t seem disadvantaged in any way. Her husband loves her and they have three children. They’re fairly well off and she employs a cook and other domestic help. Her life, by Indian maami standards, is complete. That’s only until her husband has an affair with a very liberated woman. The novel describes how Savitri deals with her husband’s infidelity. The depth in this story is amazing. The author doesn’t moralize or provide solutions and only paints a picture of society leaving all judgement to the reader.

Grandmother’s Tale:
Like the author, I’m not sure how true this tale is but it’s another book with very strong female characters. This grandma was one kick-ass lady!

Gods, Demons and Others:
I love his retelling of Indian mythology. He draws his inspiration from multiple sources and narrates authoritatively helping you understand all the little nuances. He makes me want to read the originals.

A Horse and Two Goats:
A fairly famous story compared to thebother works on this list and one I really love. What do you think about the old man’s craving for “chewing drumsticks out of sauce”?

Salt and Sawdust:
I love the little essays he calls Table-talk. If R. K. Narayan had a blog, these would be his top posts 🙂


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2 thoughts on “R K Narayan – My Favourites”

  1. Thank you for remembering one of my favorite writers on his birthday! I am yet to read an Indian author who can match RKN’s felicity of language or the earthiness of his characters and plots (perhaps Vikram Seth comes close). He truly captured small-town India like nobody else has!

    I was a tad too young to appreciate the Dark room when I read it. But A Horse and Two Goats is on my favorites list too! I even love the TV adaption, which for once does full justice to the writing.

    Another short story which I love is “Selvi” – do read it if you haven’t. It’s a poignant tale of a brilliant musician, which to me seems inspired by the life story of a young M.S. Subbulakshmi.

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