(A Quarterly International Peer-reviewed Refereed e-Journal
Devoted to English Language and Literature)
R.K Narayan is unparalleled in his presentation of the unique cultural characters of the middle class. He has chosen social atmosphere of middle class for all his novels. His focus is chiefly on the common men of the middle class milieu—teachers, clerks, printers, policemen, Pariahs, living their routine life. These characters have the middle class values. Narayan emphasizes the middle class people and their consciousness. Raman, Sri Ram, Jagan, Margayya, Mr. Sampath, Raju, Ramani, Krihna, Chandran and Swaminathan are such characters. They all are typical Indians and they are very much like the people whom we daily come across in the society. His middle class characters have great respect to temples and rivers. Love and affection for children always remain their strength. Narayan has beautifully created middle class milieu in his short stories and novels. This is the middle class milieu which spreads its fragrance which can be felt while making a tour of his works.
Keywords: Milieu, tradition, Juvenile characters, middle class society, psychological realism, Malgudi
The contribution of R.K. Narayan (1906-2001) in Indian Novel in English is of abiding significance. He, along with Raja Rao and Mulk Raj Anand has given a new direction to Indian Novel in English. It is he who chooses the social middle class atmosphere to reveal his points of view. In his novels, he creates a region, named Malgudi and, thus, becomes the pioneer of the regional novel in Indian Novel in English. His novels, namely, Swami and Friends (1935), The Bachelor of Arts (1937), The Dark Room (1938), The English Teacher (1945), Mr Sampath (1949), The Financial Expert (1952), Waiting for Mahatama (1955), The Guide (1958), The Man Eater of Malgudi (1962), The Vender of Sweets (1967), The Painter of Signs (1976), A Tiger of Malgudi (1983), Talkative Man (1986), The World of Nagaraj (1990), and Grandmother’s Tale (1993) reveal his talent of a novelist of high order. He reveals the comic vision of life with the help of irony and paradox. He knows the art of story-telling which illustrates the graph of his characters right from innocence to wisdom through experience. He is known for the use of psychological realism which makes the reader spell bound. He is unparalleled in his presentation of the unique cultural characters of the middle class. It is his artistic attitude which brings him popularity and enforces his genius. While appreciating R.K. Narayan, Sudhir K. Arora (2009) writes:
R. K. Narayan has almost become a legend in Indian English Fiction. He has given it a new orientation through aesthetic pleasure with the intention of making the reader feel quite comfortable in the world which may seem to be his own and hence, realistic one where he can enjoy the pleasure as well as feel the sufferings of life. And this he does by creating a locality—Malguidi on the regional scale but it is his genius that he turns it to the universal scale by making it not merely symbol of India and Indian life but the symbol of continuity and changes that reveal that whatever happens here, happens everywhere. (p.101)
Narayan has chosen social atmosphere of middle class for all his novels. This brought him wide popularity and universality. Most of the characters of his novels are also from other classes and stories are based on surrounding rural areas or the metro cities yet the heroes of his novels are common man of middle class.
Narayan is matchless in his presentation of the unique cultural characters of the middle class. It is his attitude which brings him popularity and enforces his genius. He belongs to a Brahmin family. He very well knows about the tradition and the values. Rituals have strong impact on the mind of the middle class Hindus. He depicts their psychology and skilfully portrays how mystifying beliefs operate Indian lives. That is why, in the novel The Vendor of Sweets, Jagan recites the Bhagvat Gita very devoutly and always wears non-violent foot-wear. He has penned a book of nature cure and natural diet and always takes salt free and sugar free diet and quite ironically makes the largest daily sale of sweets in the town.
The characters that Narayan portrays, show his deep knowledge about the psychology of the people and most of his characters which he delineates, are from the middle class people. These characters have the middle class values. Narayan emphasizes the middle class people and their consciousness.
In Narayan’s novels Malgudi itself is not less than a character. It represents Indian towns which are fast developing into modern cities but the focus of Narayan is chiefly on the common men of the middle class milieu—teachers, clerks, printers, policemen, Pariahs, living their routine life. Malgudi has become the small model of India showing different moods, ideals and cultures. All the characters of Narayan are typically Malgudian. Malgudi remains all the time and so has become the combination of social traditions, values and ideals which have proved true with the continuity of social life.
The language that Narayan uses is the language of middle class. His language is quite moderate and is traditional instrument. He does not suggest epithet and intricate metaphors. He gets success with the clever blend of Indian words which are interspersed with regular narrative. He does not create any jarring effect. Narayan has depicted a clear graphic of Malgudi and its inmate. He has been widely appreciated for it as an eminent novelist. Graham Greene in Preface to Swami and Friends has praised him in these words:
Whom next shall I meet in Malgudi? This is the thought that comes to me when I close a novel of R.K. Narayan. I do not wait for another novel. I want to go out of my door into these loved and shabby streets and see with excitement and certainly of pleasure a strange approaching, past the bank, the cinema, the hair-cutting saloon, a stranger who will greet me I know with some unexpected and revealing phrase, that will open a door on to yet another human existence. (p. vii)
Narayan has portrayed Malgudi and its inhabitants in a very sympathetic way and he has focused his attention on the middle class society and by doing so he has not only made his characters immortal but also himself. Narayan’s skill lies in making the routine of middle class life – a kind of value system.
The Indian religion incorporates self discipline, renunciation, incarnation, rebirth, non-violence and love of karma. All his novels exhibit all these Indian themes more or less. In Mr. Sampath, he mentions the burning of kama by lord Shiva. In The Guide, he shows the traditional Hindu belief that the gladdening of gods can be done by the sacrifice of a person’s life through fasting and prayers. In The Man Eater of Malgudi, Narayan has depicted Vasu as the type of mythological character Bhasmasura. In his novel, The Painter of Sings, Narayan depicts Daisy-Raman relationship on the model of mythological relationship of the holy Ganga and the King Santhanu. A Tiger for Malgudi demonstrates the theme on the oneness of soul of all living-beings and its sublimation through gradual self discipline and renunciation and its final salvation from the bondage of karma and the cycle of birth.
Narayan is thoroughly Indian—socially, sentimentally, spiritually and conceptually. His mental background is basically Indian, firmly rooted in the social religious customs. So, whatever stories come from his mind are the stories of Indian life. The characters in all his works whether it is novel or short story are firmly associated with Indian, social, cultural and religious customs. His characters belong to Hindu Joint-families. Raman, Sri Ram, Jagan, Margayya, Mr. Sampath, Raju, Ramani, Krihna, Chandran and Swaminathan are such characters. They all are typical Indians and they are very much like the people whom we daily come across in the society. The families that Narayan has depicted are the families which follow the old traditions and customs as the religion permits.
R.K. Narayan has evidently shown that the sense of caste and religion is dominant on the mind of Hindu middle class society. The caste and religion become the determined factors in the Hindu marriage in the middle class society. Mostly the marriages are fixed and arranged by the parents or the elders of the family like uncle-aunt and elder brothers or sisters. The son or daughter whether he or she agrees or not, does not matter. The consent of the bride or bridegroom is not necessary. What matters is astrology. Astrology is the part of Hindu religion. It also plays a vital role in determining the marriages. If horoscopes of the boy and the girl do not match, the marriage will not be arranged and solemnized. Marriage is possible only when the horoscopes tally. Chandran in The Bachelor of Arts faces its consequence. He is not permitted to marry Malthi who is the girl of his own caste and religion. As the horoscopes do not match, he is not allowed to marry her. As a result he suffers much. The duties which a middle class woman performs are the domestic duties which include tending her children and husband. Her loyalty to husband brings respect in the family and the society. She remains humble to her children and husband. She completely cooperates with them. She has to bear patiently. The novel The English Teacher illustrates the case of perfect marital harmony while the novel The dark Room reveals marital disharmony.
The characters which Narayan has presented are the true representative of the middle class Hindu society. The characters like Swami, Chandran, Ramani, Krishnan, Sampath, Sri Ram, Raju, Vasu and Mali are all the typical middle class Malgudian. His middle class characters have great respect to temples and rivers. Love and affection for children always remain their strength. All the members of the family shower their love and care on the children. Children are not looked-down upon. In Swami and Friends, When Swami does not come back late at night, his mother standing at the door waits for him and gets anxious and his grandmother does not sleep in anxiety and keeps walking to and fro in the lobby. When Chandran leaves home and remains absent for eight months, his mother and father are extremely anxious and worried. Grandparents are also given a higher place in Indian middle class society, specially the grandmother who plays the vital role in the joint family. Thus the middle class and its way of India has all the time been the focus of attention. Narayan has revealed a slim, short and veiled middle class social culture of India.
One can find unmistakable the autobiographical elements in the early works of Narayan. What experience Swami goes in the Albert mission school is certainly based on Narayan’s own experience. It is the south Indian joint Hindu family of the middle class society where Narayan hails from. This is the only reason that all Juvenile and grown up characters are taken from the middle class Indian society.
All the Juvenile characters which Narayan has depicted in his novels represent the middle class Indian culture through their behaviour, thinking, relationship, attitude towards religion and education. They are quite different from the upper class children. They do not enjoy the privileges and comforts of the elite class children. These ordinary children of the middle class people pass their most of time among the family members. The middle class children wander around without slippers in the scorching sunlight. Sometimes they entertain themselves playing cricket, spinning tops and rolling their hoops. Hence the children delineated in the novels of Narayan are thoroughly the incarnation of society. They embody the middle class children of India in their adventures and misadventures in their mischief making and in that decorum they maintain with their elders and in showing their devotions towards gods and goddesses. They reflect the Indian middle class culture in their attitude. This middle class culture does not allow them to open their mouth before their teachers and elders. They are quite different from their counterpart upper class children who enjoy school tours and picnic spots and enjoy playing different indoor games like ludo, carom and chess on the contrary the middle class children enjoy roaming on the bank of river Sarayu. In brief, Narayan has beautifully created middle class milieu in his short stories and novels. This is the middle class fragrance which one can feel while going through the novels of Narayan. This is the only milieu which Narayan knows as much as a farmer knows his field.
Arora, Sudhir K. (2016). Indian Novel in English: A Tour. Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger: A Study. Bareilly: Prakash.
Narayan, R.K. (1935). Swami and Friends. Mysore: Indian Thought Publication.
About the Author:
Abdul Raoof is a research scholar. He is doing his research on “The Depiction of Child in the Select Novels and Short Stories of R.K. Narayan” from Shri Venkateshwara University, Gajraula. He lives at Peepli Rehmapur, PS Salarpur Kalan, Sambhal, Uttar Pradesh, India. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.