R.K. Narayan (1906-2001), a product of British India, belongs to the earliest generations of Indian Writing in English. Hailing from an academic family, boasting also of the cartoonist R.K. Laxman, he started writing at a very young age. Narayan was a struggling artist and his renown as an author came gradually, in a long career sprinkled generously with rejections. His first novel, Swami and Friends (1935), which is the story of an eight year old school-going boy in the British-reigned South India, is today an enjoyable book read both by children and adults.
The creator of the fictional South Indian town of Malgudi, Narayan’s oeuvre includes travelogues, memoirs, essays, and retold legends like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Although Narayan’s Malgudi, his characters and situations are fictional, they are very plausible, and contemporaneous of his time and location. Narayan employs everyday characters on whom the story lives. The narrative, though not descriptive of the scenes that it works in, is capable of painting in the mind’s eye, the picture of a quaint town with the river bank and the dusty streets.
The Bachelor of Arts (1937), set in Malgudi, is the second from Narayan’s literary basket. It is a story about a young man, Chandran, tracing his college days, a failed love, a flight, a stint of asceticism, a revival and return, employment, and finally his marriage. This work is just another example of the author’s distinctive, subtle humor and his ability to draw his readers into the story, and hold them there from the beginning to the end. The story, though in third person narrative, is related through the perspective of the protagonist. The text follows Chandran as he gradually transforms from an impulsive adolescent to a mature adult, the trajectory of any young man’s life.
“Chandran was just climbing the steps of the College Union when, Natesan, the secretary, sprang on him and said…” The story begins with Chandran being asked by Natesan, to fulfill his promise by speaking in the motion of ‘Historians should be slaughtered first’ in a college debate. Beginning from here Narayan goes on to trace the next few months, the last of Chandran’s final year in college, stopping only with his marriage. In his trademark way of writing, the author steps clear from giving the background details of the character or the story and challenges the reader to judge by the present, running story.