Mr Narayan: The writer of Mysuru

Mr Narayan: The writer of Mysuru

Credit: DH Photo /T R Sathish Kumar

Sombre. Sunless. Subdued. This is how Chetan Krishnaswamy, vice-president of public policy at a multinational company, describes the house of his legendary granduncle R K Narayan at Yadavagiri in Mysuru, which is now the R K Narayan Museum.

Interestingly, the establishment of the R K Narayan Museum at his house in Vivekananda Road in Yadavagiri was a matter of chance.

Narayan’s grandchildren Bhuvaneshwari and Srinivasan, who have settled down in Chennai, had inherited the writer’s house. They sold it to a builder and developer in 2011. When its owner started demolishing it, to construct a new structure, a section of the public, including writers and prominent personalities, opposed the move.

They demanded that the government procure the house and convert it into a museum, on the lines of William Shakespeare's family homes in Stratford-upon-Avon, in the United Kingdom.

So the Mysuru Urban Development Authority (MUDA) declared the house, whose construction started in 1948 and was completed in 1953, a ‘heritage structure’ on September 7, 2011.

This is a special case because a building has to be over 100 years old to be declared a heritage structure under the Karnataka Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1961.

The museum was set up at a cost of Rs 35 lakh by Mysuru City Corporation (MCC) in 2016. Any maintenance or repair work is taken care of by the MCC.

Since its opening, some 17,000 people have visited the museum, says M V Anand Kumar, an employee of MCC, who is deputed as Supervisor of the museum.

The museum may not be as popular as other tourist attractions in Mysuru. But, there are people who come to the city, to just visit RK Narayan Museum. They come to experience the house and its ambience that housed and inspired the great writer, immortalised by his books and characters.

While the place used to see a footfall of 150 people on an average weekend day, barely a dozen people visit the premises in a day during Covid-19, he says.

Today, the ambience at the Yadavagiri house is still calm and soothing and continues to enthuse and inspire book lovers from of all generations.

The house itself is a modest four-room, two-storey building on a sprawling 10,800 sq feet plot, set amidst trees and plants. The wide and huge windows bring in soft light and breeze, allowing visitors to imagine the ambience and setting that would have inspired Narayan during his writing.

According to some contemporaries of Narayan, the writer would visit his new house at Yadavagiri and stay there up to the evening, but rarely spent the nights there. His family house at Lakshmipuram, where his nephews and grandnephews resided, was his home and the Yadavagiri house served as his office.

Mysuru as muse

It is not a surprise that R K Narayan bloomed in Mysuru. The city is a treasure trove of history, culture, art and architecture, among other things. The list of achievers who trace their origin to Mysuru or are associated with the city in some way — including Narayan’s brother R K Laxman — also keeps growing.

The idyllic life of the small south Indian town in Narayan's writings also seemed to have stemmed from his life in Mysuru.

Ved Mehta, a New York-based writer, wrote in New Yorker, in 1962: “R K Narayan told me about his Mysore day. It begins with a three or four-hour stroll. He considers his morning walk his office hours, because he stops and talks to people, many of whom chat with him freely about their doings or their troubles, or give him advice about renting his house (empty houses bring bad luck) or about making profits on his books, which they cannot read. Only a few ask him for practical help, probably because they know him to be a mere writer; most demand his ear and his sympathy.”

On August 12, 2015, when the works on the museum were underway, Chetan Krishnaswamy wrote: Sombre. Sunless. Subdued… This is writer R K Narayan's house in Mysore. All set to be converted into a museum/memorial by the state government. Many years ago in Madras, reclining on an easy chair and chewing on a piece of clove, Narayan had quite uncharacteristically told me: “Although I have built the Mysore house brick by brick, I carry no emotions, no nostalgia about it…. In life one has to move on, you can’t simply dwell in the past.”

There is another reference to his house in Ved Mehta's New Yorker article: “After his writing, he meditates, and his barren room is especially suited to that. He begins his exercises by reading a little bit of the puranas, or Sanskrit sacred poems, after which he repeatedly recites to himself the Gayatri Mantra, a prayer to the light that illuminates the sun to illuminate all minds. After he has had a short rest, the late afternoon finds him at his family’s house; he dines, then makes the rounds of his intimate friends, and goes home [to the family house in Lakshmipuram] to bed.” 

G M Satyamurthy, a neighbour and contemporary of Narayan’s nephews, recalls: “In the early 1960s, we used to go to the Yadavagiri house at least once a week and spend some time there. The phone number of R K Narayan in that house was 1080, while his Lakshmipuram house phone number was 1106. His car numbers were MYM 432 and MYM 234 — one a Morris Minor and other a Standard Herald. Later he got an imported Mercedes Benz. All cars were blue in colour.”