I certainly did. When I was all of ten, I received RK Narayan’s fictitious world neatly wrapped as a birthday present. When I unpacked it, I was carted into Narayan’s numinous world of everyday deeds. His words and imagination brought alive the fictitious southern town of Malgudi, and growing up, it was difficult comprehending the simple verity about this ethereal world; it didn’t exist.
Malgudi Schooldays: The Adventures of Swami and His Friends was a journey I took eons ago, and won’t hesitate taking again. A decade-and-a-half later, Swami lives, fresh in memory, as the odd, adventurous and rebellious schoolboy. Which is why, I, like most others would want to carry myself back in time, possibly even teleport to this peculiarly-real town of Malgudi so we I can relive the days again; Swaminathan would approve.
Malgudi Schooldays is the story of a 10-year-old boy, who lives with his (authoritarian) lawyer father, (gentle) homemaker mother and a frayed grandmother in Malgudi, a small town in pre-independent India. Grandma’s stories give the initial wings to Swami’s imaginations. He finds comfort in her when not pranking around.
Reluctant on most days and eternally lazy, Swami is not particularly fond of his school. His only consolation is his impishness, which his close circuit of friends are a part of. For this boy, school means Mani, Shankar, Samuel and Somu. Rajam, the son of the deputy superintendent of Malgudi comes along, and the boys forge a unique friendship of mutual awe and admiration. For Swami, appeasing Rajam while keeping Mani close becomes a life goal.
But things do not go as per the plan. A baby brother, some misapprehensions, low grades and change of school later, Swami finds himself rusticated on disciplinary grounds. Shuddering at the very thought of facing his strict father and more ramifications at home, Swami runs away, right before a much-awaited Malgudi Cricket Club match – for which he has been chosen as the team’s bowler.
He breaks his best friend Rajam’s heart promptly, loses his trust and finds himself facing his worst fears. Vulnerable, haunting, relatable and terribly-funny, Malgudi Schooldays is one book everybody should live and relive, just for the sheer joy of re-counting their own commonplace lives through a young boy’s eyes.
RK Narayan wizardry with words is unparalleled, and some of us were lucky enough to have been a part of the leading light.