This essay is a personal tribute to R.K. Narayan on the fifth anniversary of his death (May 13th 2006)…
I have a writer’s block and I can only think of Swami, my best friend and cheerleader, to help me break out of this. He always comes to my rescue, no matter where or when. He’s always there for me.
Swami was my friend as I was growing up and he continues to be today. I was introduced to him in one of my English readers in middle school and since then he became a friend, a good friend, thru various periods of my life.
Yes, I am talking about R.K. Narayan’s famous protagonist from his first collection of short stories, Swami And His Friends, one of the most brilliant characters in English literature. Malgudi was like Mylapore to me, the town where I grew up.
What resonated most with me was the fact that Swami, even though he was a mischievous little boy, was another Tamil child like myself. I studied in an all girls convent in Madras, India, now known as Chennai, and most of the readings that I had in my English reader were from England or America. At the time, Swami was one of those rare finds for me. I could understand and vibe well with his character, clothes, parents and family, culture and traditions, pranks and tricks.
Like Graham Greene, E.M. Forster, Somerset Maughm and his other mentors and contemporaries, R.K. Narayan’s works’ have been enthralling several generations of readers and writers such as myself, and they will continue to for several generations more. Life in a small southern town in colonial India, the tradition and culture of this town as described by R.K. Narayan, are only too familiar to me.
The characterization of Swami and Malgudi is only one among many brilliant personalities, characters and settings that R.K. Narayan has so skillfully created. The minutiae and details that go into building each character in his works are simply inspiring.
To this day R.K. Narayan’s works are my remedy, whether it is to cheer me up, to be a tonic for any writer’s blocks that I may have, to provide relief from my two year olds antics, or to merely offer me pleasant and humorous entertainment. R.K. Narayan is a silent mentor guiding me with his crafty storytelling and simple yet elegant and precise writing style.
Even today as I skim through pages of Swami And His Friends I sincerely hope that Swami will be my son’s friend as well. From this eastern counterpart of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, I hope my son and his generation will learn not just about the culture and traditions of growing up in a beautiful and endearing town like Malgudi but also about the fun associated with living life simply yet delightfully.
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