R.K. Narayan's full name 'Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanaswami', was an Indian writer, best known for his works set in the fictional South Indian town of 'Malgudi'. He is credited with bringing the genre to the rest of the world. The setting for most of Narayan's stories is the fictional town of Malgudi, first introduced in Swami and Friends. His narratives highlight social context and provide a feel for his characters through everyday life. In a writing career that spanned over sixty years, Narayan received many awards and honours. These include the AC Benson Medal from the Royal Society of Literature and the Padma Vibhushan, India's second-highest civilian award. He was also nominated to the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of India's parliament.
Sahitya Akademi Award in 1958
Filmfare Award for the best story
Padma Bhushan in 1964
Honorary doctorates by the University of Leeds 1967
Padma Vibhushan in 2001
R. K. Narayan was born on October 10, 1906 at Madras, British India (now Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India). His father was a school headmaster, and Narayan did some of his studies at his father's school. As his father's job entailed frequent transfers, Narayan spent part of his childhood under the care of his maternal grandmother, 'Parvati'. She taught him arithmetic, mythology, classical Indian music and Sanskrit. According to his youngest brother 'R. K. Laxman', the family mostly conversed in English, and grammatical errors on the part of Narayan and his siblings were frowned upon.
He was studied Lutheran Mission School in Purasawalkam, C.R.C. High School, and the Christian College High School. Narayan was an avid reader, and his early literary diet included Dickens, Wodehouse, Arthur Conan Doyle and Thomas Hardy. When he was twelve years old, Narayan participated in a pro-independence march, for which he was reprimanded by his uncle, the family was apolitical and considered all governments wicked.
In 1930, Narayan wrote his first novel, 'Swami and Friends', an effort ridiculed by his uncle and rejected by a string of publishers. With this book, Narayan created Malgudi, a town that creatively reproduced the social sphere of the country. while it ignored the limits imposed by colonial rule, it also grew with the various socio-political changes of British and post-independence India. In 1933, Narayan met and fell in love with 'Rajam' a 15-year-old girl who lived nearby. Despite many astrological and financial obstacles, Narayan managed to gain permission from the girl's father and married her. Then Narayan became a reporter for a Madras based paper called The Justice, dedicated to the rights of non-Brahmins.
His wife Rajam died of typhoid in 1939.Her death affected Narayan deeply and he remained depressed for a long time, he was also concerned for their daughter 'Hema', who was only three years old. The bereavement brought about a significant change in his life and was the inspiration behind his next novel, The English Teacher. This book, like his first two books, is autobiographical, but more so, and completes an unintentional thematic trilogy following Swami and Friends and The Bachelor of Arts.
The inspiration for the novel was a true story about a financial genius, Margayya, related to him by his brother. The next novel, Waiting for the Mahatma, loosely based on a fictional visit to Malgudi by 'Mahatma Gandhi', deals with the protagonist's romantic feelings for a woman, when he attends the discourses of the visiting Mahatma. In 1953, his works were published in the United States for the first time, by Michigan State University Press, who later relinquished the rights to Viking Press. While Narayan's writings often bring out the anomalies in social structures and views, he was himself a traditionalist.
Narayan's novel, 'The Man-Eater of Malgudi', was published in 1961. The book was reviewed as having a narrative that is a classical art form of comedy, with delicate control. After the launch of this book, the restless Narayan once again took to travelling, and visited the U.S. and Australia. In 1964, Narayan published his first mythological work, Gods, Demons and Others, a collection of rewritten and translated short stories from Hindu epics. Like many of his other works, this book was illustrated by his younger brother R. K. Laxman.
Living alone in Mysore, Narayan developed an interest in agriculture. He bought an acre of agricultural land and tried his hand at farming. He was also prone to walking to the market every afternoon, not so much for buying things, but to interact with the people. In a typical afternoon stroll, he would stop every few steps to greet and converse with shopkeepers and others, most likely gathering material for his next book. In 1980, Narayan was nominated to the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament, for his contributions to literature. During his entire six-year term, he was focused on one issue—the plight of school children, especially the heavy load of school books and the negative effect of the system on a child's creativity, which was something that he first highlighted in his debut novel, Swami and Friends. His inaugural speech was focused on this particular problem, and resulted in the formation of a committee chaired by Prof. Yash Pal, to recommend changes to the school educational system.
In May 2001, Narayan was hospitalised. A few hours before he was to be put on a ventilator, he was planning on writing his next novel, a story about a grandfather. As he was always very selective about his choice of notebooks, he asked N. Ram to get him one. However, Narayan did not get better and never started the novel. He died on 13 May 2001, in Chennai at the age of 94.
Written By Narayan
1935: Swami and Friends
1937: The Bachelor of Arts
1938: The Dark Room
1945: The English Teacher
1948: Mr. Sampath
1952: The Financial Expert
1955: Waiting for the Mahatma
1958: The Guide
1961: The Man-Eater of Malgudi
1967: The Vendor of Sweets
1977: The Painter of Signs
1983: A Tiger for Malgudi
1986: Talkative Man
1990: The World of Nagaraj
1992: Grandmother's Tale
1942: Malgudi Days
1947: An Astrologer's Day and Other Stories
1956: Lawley Road and Other Stories
1970: A Horse and Two Goats
1985: Under the Banyan Tree and Other Stories
1994: The Grandmother's Tale and Selected Stories
1960: Next Sunday, My Dateless Diary
1974: My Days, Reluctant Guru
1980: The Emerald Route
1988: A Writer's Nightmare
1989: A Story-Teller's World
2002: The Writerly Life