Malgudi stays

Malgudi stays

The simple edifice of R K Narayan where great literary works flowed from his prolific pen, enthrals Suryakumari Dennison

RK Narayan's house

I recently visited R K Narayan’s (1906—2001) house in Mysuru where he lived from the 1950s to the 1990s. In that stately, yet simple edifice, great literary works flowed from his prolific pen.

Thanks to the Mysore City Corporation, which intervened to prevent its demolition in 2016, R K Narayan’s home is now a museum; perhaps too grand a description, since even a leisurely look-around does not take long. Admirers of the author, however, will find it worth their while to explore this remarkable residence.

We were greeted at the entrance to the two-storey building by a young man who introduced himself as Shivakumar. Requesting us to remove our footwear, he informed us that the rooms had been maintained almost as they were when in use. A frangipani tree, just outside the garden, which has flourished for decades, is meticulously tended.

Several of R K Narayan’s personal effects are on display, including items of clothing. Of the pieces of furniture, a low writing table caught our attention. It sits in the centre of a room with five big windows that let in a lot of light. I observed with delight that an alcove contained a collection of Arthur Miller’s plays, which was identical to a volume in my possession.

Glass cabinets house the awards that R K Narayan received through the decades, notably the Padma Bhushan in 1964 and the Padma Vibhushan that followed years later. A magnified version of the commemorative postage stamp issued in R K Narayan’s honour, in 2009, occupies pride of place. The walls are lined with large print-outs of biographical details, lists of achievements and tributes by celebrities. Most interesting are photographs of R K Narayan with family and friends. There is a poignant picture of R K Narayan with his wife. He married Rajam when she was a teenager but soon lost her to typhoid. His daughter Hema (three years old at the time of her mother’s death, in 1939) succumbed to cancer in 1994. Shivkumar showed us the first-floor vantage point, from which her father would gaze anxiously, as he awaited her return from chemotherapy. Hema’s daughter, Bhuvaneshwari, who took care of her grandfather towards the end of his life, has donated many of the mementos on view.

One of the exhibits is a rare edition of a classic that inspired a famous film.
Guide, which conjures up memories of Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman, was an adaptation of R K Narayan’s The Guide, for which he won the 1958 Sahitya Akademi Award. Malgudi (the fictional town engendered in 1930) is the setting of the Raju-Rosie saga, as it is for most of his stories and all but one of his novels. Stills from the 1986 TV series, Malgudi Days (directed by the late Shankar Nag) are among the memorabilia.

If ever there was a ‘guide’ to R K Narayan, it was undoubtedly his contemporary, Graham Greene. That renowned English writer made it his mission to get the semi-autobiographical Swami and Friends published, a debt R K Narayan acknowledged in a copy of that book he presented his mentor: “But for you,” he declared, “Swami should be at the bottom of the Thames.”

It was Graham Greene who advised R K Narayan to shorten his impressive (if rather unwieldy) name: Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanaswami.

“Whom next shall I meet in Malgudi,” enquired Graham Greene. At the R K Narayan House we encountered, imaginatively, the mastermind of Malgudi.


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