I really should have read Malgudi Days a long time ago – I’m not sure why I never got around to it. R. K. Narayan is one of India’s most famous writers, and this is a collection of his short stories, set in and around the fictional south Indian town of Malgudi. Most of the stories are slice-of-life, set from the perspective of a variety of people, from poor beggars and food vendors to schoolboys to rich nonagenarians. Some of them are touching, some are humourous, some are ironic, and some just are. They work really well together to describe the various kinds of people that make up a small town in India.
R. K. Narayan’s style of writing is really simple and unpretentious, but every word he writes conveys so much. His characters are all really approachable, and they might even seem simple, but it is my opinion that it’s really hard to do simplicity well, and no one is better at it than Narayan.
Pretty much all of the stories are about a single minor incident that occurs in the protagonist’s life, and how they react to it. A retired security guard receives a letter in the mail and is driven almost insane by the thought of what it might contain. An old gardener has to say goodbye to the house he has worked in for decades. A man takes temporary responsibility for a lost child and dreams about the family he might have had.
One of the most amazing things about Narayan’s writing is how much sympathy he can arouse for almost any character in a couple of paragraphs. His stories are often about very different people, often flawed or annoying, but they’re inevitably lovable, no matter what stupid decisions they make. I often get unreasonably frustrated with characters that have lapses of judgement, so this is truly a remarkable feat.
The last thing that I wanted to mention was that I recognised one of the stories (“The Missing Mail”) from one of my English textbooks from school. I remember really liking the story back then, and was delighted to rediscover it.
This is book 7 of 25 of my Dec 11, 2011 book challenge.
Malgudi Days by R.K. Narayan
Indian Thought Publications, 1943 | Buy the book