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Author: John Thieme

R. K. Narayan's reputation as one of the founding figures of Indian writing in English is re-examined in this comprehensive study of his fiction. Arguing against views that have seen Narayan as a chronicler of authentic ‘Indianness’, the book locates his fiction in terms of specific South Indian contexts, cultural geography and non-Indian intertexts. It draws on recent thinking about the ways places are constructed to demonstrate that Malgudi is always a fractured and transitional site – an interface between older conceptions and contemporary views which stress the inescapability of change in the face of modernity. Offering fresh insights into the influences that went into the making of Narayan's fiction, this is a wide-ranging guide to his novels to date.

John Thieme

‘characters in mid-air, their destinies unresolved.’2 The second and third of these charges highlight central characteristics of Narayan’s fiction. His invented South Indian town of Malgudi, which is the setting for virtually all his fiction, has been seen by many of his readers as a site that represents quintessential Indianness. Graham Greene’s oft-quoted comment, ‘Without him I could never have known what it like to be Indian’3 is the most famous of many testimonials to Narayan’s supposed grasp of essential Indianness, but it is only one; and it is mirrored in remarks

in R.K. Narayan
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John Thieme

the novel that he has referred to as his favourite,1 A Tiger for Malgudi (1983), in which the main angle of focalization is provided by the eponymous tiger, Raja,2 a protagonist invested with a sensitivity lacking in most of the novel’s human characters. It would be tempting simply to view Raja as an anthropomorphic creation, but unlike such figures in English animal stories (such as the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland or Toad of Toad Hall in The Wind in the Willows), he is not so much an animal with human characteristics as a being that erodes the distinction

in R.K. Narayan
Mr Sampath to Waiting for the Mahatma
John Thieme

3 Middle-period novels: Mr Sampath to Waiting for the Mahatma Beginning with Mr Sampath: The Printer of Malgudi (1949) and culminating with The Painter of Signs (1976), the novels of Narayan’s middle period represent his finest achievement. The protagonists of these novels are usually small businessmen in the second asrama of life, whose occupations are contemporary versions of the scribal and priestly roles traditionally undertaken by Tamil brahmins. Sampath in Mr Sampath and Nataraj in The Man-Eater of Malgudi (1961) are printers and printers also figure

in R.K. Narayan
John Thieme

, haughty and arrogant).13 He contends that the satvic temperament is predominant in the preIndependence novels and that the rajasic assumes central importance subsequently. Hindu myth receives considerable attention in many responses to Narayan’s work, with the criticism of The Man-Eater of Malgudi affording numerous instances of this.14 In a study which compares Narayan’s use of classical myth with that of Raja Rao, Chitra Sankaran extends discussion of Narayan’s deployment of mythology to include discussion of Mr Sampath and The Guide. Other discussions of the use of

in R.K. Narayan
The Guide to The Painter of Signs
John Thieme

Middle-period novels II 103 guru’ found himself able to give freer expression to the Hindu layers of his imagination in his fiction and this led to the writing of two of his best novels: The Guide, which many consider to be his finest book,6 and The Man-Eater of Malgudi (1961),which this study will argue is a superior work and his most consummately achieved piece of fiction. The Guide may have been written in Berkeley, but like Narayan’s two previous novels, The Financial Expert and Waiting for the Mahatma, its more immediate origins came from an actual Indian source

in R.K. Narayan
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John Thieme

that Swami attends has a curriculum that includes lessons in Tamil as well as the Christian scriptures and, like the protagonist, the novel’s mode draws on both Hindu and Western discursive codes. When Swami takes his Tamil exam, he writes his address on the paper’s flap in a passage that is reminiscent of Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus’s boyhood positioning of himself in the universe:23 28 R.K. Narayan Tamil Tamil W.S. Swaminathan 1st Form A section Albert Mission School Malgudi South India Asia. (Swami 62) Significantly, unlike Stephen, he stops short of universalism

in R.K. Narayan
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Ainslie T. Embree

Malgudi, which is at once the India of the past as well as of the present and the future. Of all novelists, Indian or Western, Narayan’s work is the most free from the seeming stereotypes of suffering, cruelty and saintliness, but behind his humane urbanity and the lightness of his narrative lie many of those same aspects of India which have fascinated Westerners. The heat and smells, the lust and cruelty

in Asia in Western fiction
Saurabh Mishra

, The Man-Eater of Malgudi 1 Our narrative of the social life of cattle in India has, until now, dealt mostly with rural developments and colonial policies. However, this story must also venture into towns, cities and urbanised spaces, where the question of adulterated dairy products caused quite a few frayed tempers – as reflected in the quote above

in Beastly encounters of the Raj
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Andrew Teverson

Untouchable (1935) and Coolie (1936), R. K. Narayan’s first Malgudi novel Swami and Friends (1935) and Raja Rao’s Gandhian-Marxist-inspired novel of rural Indian life Kanthapura (1938). The ‘foreword’ to this latter work is of particular interest to students of Rushdie’s fiction since it includes one of the first prominent formulations of the demand for Indian writers to develop an Indian English ‘dialect’ that will ‘some day prove to be as distinctive and colourful as the Irish or the American’. 26 ‘The tempo of Indian life must be infused into our English

in Salman Rushdie