Biography of R.K. Narayan
R.K. Narayan ( October 10, 1906 – May 13, 2001 ), shortened from Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanaswami was an Indian Author whose works of fiction include a Series of Books about People and their Interactions in an imagined town in India.
R.K. Narayan is one of three leading figures of early Indian Literature in English, along with Mulk Raj Anand and Raja Rao. R.K. Narayan is credited with bringing Indian Literature in English to the rest of the world, and is regarded as one of India’s Greatest English Language Novelists.
Narayan broke through with the help of his mentor and friend, Graham Greene, who was instrumental in getting publishers for Narayan’s first four books, including the semi – autobiographical trilogy of Swami and Friends, The Bachelor of Arts and The English Teacher.
Narayan’s works also include The Financial Expert, hailed as one of the most original works of 1951, and Sahitya Akademi Award winner The Guide, which was adapted for films in Hindi and English Languages, and for Broadway.
The setting for most of Narayan’s stories is the fictional town of Malgudi, first introduced in Swami and Friends. His narratives highlight social context and provide a feel for his characters through everyday life. R.K. Narayan has been compared to William Faulkner, who also created a fictional town that stood for reality, brought out the humour and energy of ordinary life, and displayed compassionate humanism in his writing.
Narayan’s Short Story Writing Style has been compared to that of Guy de Maupassant, as they both have an ability to compress the narrative without losing out on elements of the story. Narayan has also come in for criticism for being too simple in his prose and diction.
In a writing career that spanned over sixty years, Narayan received many awards and honours. These include the AC Benson Medal from the Royal Society of Literature and the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second – highest civilian award. R.K. Narayan was also nominated to the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament.
R.K. Narayan Life
RK Narayan Early Years
R. K. Narayan was born in Madras (now known as Chennai), Madras Presidency, British India. His father was a school headmaster, and Narayan did some of his studies at his father’s school. As his father’s job required frequent moves, Narayan spent part of his childhood under the care of his maternal grandmother, Parvati. During this time his best friends and playmates were a peacock and a mischievous monkey.
His grandmother gave him the nickname of Kunjappa, a name that stuck to him in family circles. She taught him arithmetic, mythology, classical Indian music and Sanskrit. According to his youngest brother R. K. Laxman, the family mostly conversed in English, and grammatical errors on the part of Narayan and his siblings were frowned upon. While living with his grandmother, Narayan studied at a succession of schools in Madras, including the Lutheran Mission School in Purasawalkam, C.R.C. High School, and the Christian College High School.
Narayan was an avid reader, and his early literary diet included Dickens, Wodehouse, Arthur Conan Doyle and Thomas Hardy. When R.K. Narayan was twelve years old, Narayan participated in a pro – independence march, for which R.K. Narayan was reprimanded by his uncle; the family was apolitical and considered all governments wicked.
Narayan moved to Mysore to live with his family when his father was transferred to the Maharajah’s Collegiate High School. The well – stocked library at the school, as well as his father’s own, fed his reading habit, and R.K. Narayan started writing as well. After completing high school, Narayan failed the university entrance examination and spent a year at home reading and writing; R.K. Narayan subsequently passed the examination in 1926 and joined Maharaja College of Mysore.
It took Narayan four years to obtain his Bachelor’s degree, a year longer than usual. After being persuaded by a friend that taking a Master’s degree ( M.A. ) would kill his interest in literature, R.K. Narayan briefly held a job as a School Teacher; however, he quit in protest when the headmaster of the school asked him to substitute for the physical training master.
The experience made Narayan realise that the only career for him was in writing, and he decided to stay at home and write novels. His first published work was a book review of Development of Maritime Laws of 17th – Century England. Subsequently, he started writing the occasional local interest story for English newspapers and magazines. Although the writing did not pay much ( his income for the first year was nine rupees and twelve annas ), R.K. Narayan had a regular life and few needs, and his family and friends respected and supported his unorthodox choice of career.
In 1930, Narayan wrote his first novel, Swami and Friends, an effort ridiculed by his uncle and rejected by a string of publishers. With this book, Narayan created Malgudi, a town that creatively reproduced the social sphere of the country; while it ignored the limits imposed by colonial rule, it also grew with the various Socio – Political changes of British and post – independence India.
R.K. Narayan Turning Point
While vacationing at his sister’s house in Coimbatore, in 1933, Narayan met and fell in love with Rajam, a 15 Year old girl who lived nearby. Despite many astrological and financial obstacles, Narayan managed to gain permission from the girl’s father and married her. Following his marriage, Narayan became a reporter for a Madras based paper called The Justice, dedicated to the rights of non – Brahmins.
The publishers were thrilled to have a Brahmin Iyer in Narayan espousing their cause. The job brought him in contact with a wide variety of people and issues. Earlier, Narayan had sent the manuscript of Swami and Friends to a friend at Oxford, and about this time, the friend showed the manuscript to Graham Greene. Greene recommended the book to his publisher, and it was finally published in 1935.
Greene also counseled Narayan on shortening his name to become more familiar to the English – speaking audience. The book was semi – autobiographical and built upon many incidents from his own childhood. Reviews were favourable but sales were few. Narayan’s next novel The Bachelor of Arts ( 1937 ), was inspired in part by his experiences at college, and dealt with the theme of a rebellious adolescent transitioning to a rather well – adjusted adult; it was published by a different publisher, again at the recommendation of Greene.
His third novel, The Dark Room ( 1938 ) was about domestic disharmony, showcasing the man as the oppressor and the woman as the victim within a marriage, and was published by yet another publisher; this book also received good reviews. In 1937, Narayan’s father died, and Narayan was forced to accept a commission from the government of Mysore as he was not making any money.
In his first three books, Narayan highlights the problems with certain socially accepted practices. The first book has Narayan focusing on the plight of students, punishments of caning in the classroom, and the associated shame. The concept of horoscope – matching in Hindu marriages and the emotional toll it levies on the bride and groom is covered in the second book. In the third book, Narayan addresses the concept of a wife putting up with her husband’s antics and attitudes.
Rajam died of typhoid in 1939. Her death affected Narayan deeply and he remained distressed for a long time; R.K. Narayan was also concerned for their daughter Hema, who was only three years old. The bereavement brought about a significant change in his life and was the inspiration behind his next novel, The English Teacher.
This book, like his first two books, is autobiographical, but more so, and completes an unintentional thematic trilogy following Swami and Friends and The Bachelor of Arts. In subsequent interviews, Narayan acknowledges that The English Teacher was almost entirely an autobiography, albeit with different names for the characters and the change of setting in Malgudi; he also explains that the emotions detailed in the book reflected his own at the time of Rajam’s death.
Bolstered by some of his successes, in 1940 Narayan tried his hand at a journal, Indian Thought. With the help of his uncle, a car salesman, Narayan managed to get more than a thousand subscribers in Madras city alone. However, the venture did not last long due to Narayan’s inability to manage it, and it ceased publication within a year.
His first collection of short stories, Malgudi Days, was published in November 1942, followed by The English Teacher in 1945. In between, being cut off from England due to the war, Narayan started his own publishing company, naming it ( again ) Indian Thought Publications; the publishing company was a success and is still active, now managed by his granddaughter. Soon, with a devoted readership stretching from New York to Moscow, Narayan’s books started selling well and in 1948 he started building his own house on the outskirts of Mysore; the house was completed in 1953.
R.K. Narayan Awards and honours
Narayan won numerous awards during the course of his Literary Career. His first major award was in 1958, the Sahitya Akademi Award for The Guide. When the book was made into a film, R.K. Narayan received the Filmfare Award for the best story. In 1964, R.K. Narayan received the Padma Bhushan during the Republic Day honours.
In 1980, R.K. Narayan was awarded the AC Benson Medal by the ( British ) Royal Society of Literature, of which he was an honorary member. In 1982 R.K. Narayan was elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. R.K. Narayan was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature multiple times, but never won the honour.
Recognition also came in the form of honorary doctorates by the University of Leeds ( 1967 ), the University of Mysore ( 1976 ) and Delhi University ( 1973 ). Towards the end of his career, Narayan was nominated to the upper house of the Indian Parliament for a six – year term starting in 1989, for his contributions to Indian Literature. A Year before his death, in 2000, R.K. Narayan was awarded India’s second – highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibhushan.