Archive for the ‘R.K. Narayan Campaign’ Category

If the Mahatma could rethink his xenophobia…

8 October 2012

Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

R.K. Narayan did not write in Kannada, but his works sensitively portray the people, culture and landscapes of the state of Karnataka. His 1938 book, Mysore, remains a classic of travel-writing; still valuable for anyone who seeks to know about, or visit, the shrines, towns, and water-falls of the southern part of the state.

The Malgudi of his novels was almost certainly based on the town of Nanjangud, on the banks of the river Kabini, some 15 miles from Mysore. The name, Malgudi, was made up from the names of two venerable Bangalore localities, Malleswaram and Basavangudi.

The restaurant-owners, printers, shopkeepers, teachers, housewives and students who people Narayan’s stories are as authentic Kannadigas as one can get. Which is why the television serial, Malgudi Days, was such a hit in Kannada and among Kannadigas. And it continues to be watched, 30 years after it was first made, available in DVDs that can be downloaded from the internet.

I hope the Kannada writers [who claimed Narayan was, so to say, a ‘foreigner’, have the good grace to withdraw their protest after this necessary intervention by Girish Karnad and U.R. Anantha Murthy. To admit that one was wrong, or mistaken, is in the best traditions of writing and scholarship. Besides, there is the example of Gandhi; if he could rethink his impulsive xenophobia, so can the rest of us.

Read the full column: Good Kannadigas and bad Kannadigas

Also read: Four reasons why R.K. Narayan deserves a memorial

What Kannada racists can learn from a Raja-rishi

How can Bhyrappa & Co be the same as Yedi & Co?

How can Bhyrappa & Co be same as Yedi & Co?

2 October 2012

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: Parochial thoughts. Narrow-minded pettiness. Divisive ideas that spell acrimonious discord. Ttaking cheap potshots at men and twisting core issues out of proportion. Displaying a reckless and irresponsible sense of disdain towards the sensitivities of society.

Raising issues of language and even caste….

These, as no one would dispute, have been observed for long as the in-built characteristics, perhaps the very genetic make-up of men and women, who identify themselves as politicians in this country, of course with the odd exceptions, who anyway show up on our political horizon, as regularly as a certain comet named after an English astronomer called Edmond Halley.

But for writers, for men of letters?

The commentators of society at large, those who, with their power of the pen and their intellect can dissect and disseminate thoughts?

They, who tell stories of man and have the talent to chronicle the ways of humankind?

They, who are supposedly adept and capable of sifting the chaff from the grain of life itself; those who have been endowed the powers and gift of serious, sensitive, responsible, fair, meaningful, and worthy intercourse on matters profound and intelligent?

They, who are the arbiters of all that should be invoked in society in order to make it a better entity for lesser men to inhabit; those ordinary members of the public who obviously do not have the talent and the powers of serious writers?

For a group of such writers to make a case for a fellow-writer, R.K. Narayan, to not have the posthumous privilege of a memorial in his name; in a City (and at a home) in which he lived and wrote for close to 50 years is something that simply confounds, confuses and numbs the minds of all right-thinking citizens of the great city of Mysore.

Narayan was a man who traversed its lanes and by lanes with fond affection; someone who made a fantastic connect with the very ethos of the city, its people, their ways, their eccentricities and foibles, their loveliness and innocence, their very being in a sense; and weaved some of the most rollickingly interesting, sensitive, comical, gentle, poignant and tender stories of his age and time about a certain unique culture, and immortalised in print, the very soul of a largely unknown city called Mysore which was widely presumed to be his literary muse, among the rest of India as also in the eyes of the west, save for those few westerners who had had the pleasure and honour of having been invited to the city and acquainted to it by its Maharaja as his guests, perhaps for Dasara or the Khedda in the jungles of Kakanakote.

That Narayan did not speak Kannada; that he chose to move to Madras during his later years; that he did not donate his manuscripts to the University of Mysore and chose to give them away for a price to a foreign university; that he was not a Kannadiga in the first place but a Tamilian.

So what’s new about such haranguing?

What is new is this, perhaps not so new but something that needs to be reiterated at this juncture.

That R.K.Narayan was a man who had the gift of the pen like no other Indian writer in English had some 75 years ago, that he was a man who had the confidence and the literary flamboyance to make an English publishing house in England of that era sit up and take notice and finally agree to publish his stories, for their sheer flow and flair, for their simplicity of prose and the absolute enthralling grip of the narration; about a people and their culture, that was I’m dead sure, to the publisher himself as alien, strange and unknown as the river Avon and the denizens who populated its banks was, to the dramatis personae of Narayan’s stories!

The decision to become a full time writer and endeavour to make a living off it, with a family to feed; at a time in history when Indians at large, barely comprehended the alien language, let alone write or speak it with any great expertise.

Narayan’s tensions, his worries, and the patience he exercised in waiting for replies from a place, England, so far from Mysore that it could well have been on another planet, every time he either sent excerpts of his writings or plainly corresponded with potential publishers.

At a time when the red-coloured post box was all that existed as a symbol of communication. And not the power of the telephone or the speed of the internet, for heaven’s sake.

At a time when most Indians were ridiculed for their lack of English proficiency, so much so, that most of them were thought to not even be able to write four meaningful lines by way of a leave letter to be presented to their bosses in office; for Narayan to be able to write not four but perhaps forty thousand or four hundred thousand lines in English that not only impressed but had the west in thrall is a decent enough reason to remember him.

To cut to the chase, let’s give Mr Narayan a memorial for sure.

And as soon as possible.

For in his memorial shall lie the story of one man’s inimitable brilliance and perseverance in making the impossible possible. To put it simply, that is.

It simply shouldn’t matter that he was not born 16 miles west of Holenarispura or some such place in Karnataka and that his father was called Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer.

Cartoon: courtesy Mahmud/ Praja Vani

Also read: Four reasons why R.K. Narayan deserves a memorial

What Kannada racists can learn from a Raja-rishi

What Kannada racists can learn from a Raja-Rishi

26 September 2012

The silhouette of Jayachamaraja Wodeyar, the 25th and last maharaja of Mysore—a raja-rishi” (statesman-saint) in the words of a certain somebodyon Wednesday, as a sad and silly storm over a memorial for the world’s most famous Indian writer in English, R.K. Narayan, gathers chauvinistic steam in their hometown.

Even a cursory glance at the Wikipedia page of the king, who also served as the governor of Madras, suggests that he helped Ramanathan Krishnan to play at Wimbledon; that he helped the Western world discover the music of the little-known Russian composer Nikolai Medtner; that he provided patronage to ‘Tiger’ Varadachar….

But then, the Wikipedia page is in English.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: Once upon a time at the Maharaja’s study circle

Once upon a time, a 50′x50′ site for 50 rupees

‘My father, His Highness, the Maharaja of Mysore’

4 reasons why R.K. Narayan deserves a memorial

25 September 2012

15, Vivekananda Road, Yadavagiri, Mysore 570020: the home R.K. Narayan built in 1952 and lived in for nearly half a century

K.C. BELLIAPPA writes: R.K. Narayan is in the news again thanks to the objections raised to a memorial for him by a host of Kannada writers. The fact that many of them are giants in the Kannada literary scene made me sit up and read their press release with utmost care.

Let me respond to their objections.

The first objection is that R.K.Narayan is not a Kannadiga. This is stating the obvious but we should remember that Narayan is first and foremost an English writer. He did not write in any other Indian language. They are unhappy that Narayan while he translated Kamban’s Ramayana into English did not introduce any Kannada literary work to the outside world like A.K. Ramanujan.

To draw a comparison between Narayan and Ramanujan is manifestly unfair.

While Ramanujan was an acclaimed translator who had inwardness with three languages — Tamil, Kannada and English — Narayan was not a translator in the real sense of the term but what he managed to do was to render a free translation of Kamban, generally regarded as a work of inspiration.

Narayan had neither the competence nor the talent to translate Kannada works into English. Hence, this is not a legitimate complaint.

***

The Kannada writers are unhappy that Narayan sold his manuscripts to an American University and did not donate it to any University in Karnataka. They regard this as injustice to Kannada readers who know English.

I honestly fail to understand their specious logic.

Let me now give the real reason behind this decision. During one of my visits to Narayan’s house in Yadavagiri with Prof C.D. Narasimhaiah, he held forth eloquently on his reason for giving the manuscripts of his novels to Boston University library.

He said:

“CD, if I had given my manuscripts to the government archives, they would have dumped it in some corner where it would have been lying gathering dust and I would have got an acknowledgement on a buff paper. In Boston, they are preserved in air conditioned lockers.”

Of course, he added that he was paid $5,000 for each manuscript. In a manner of speaking, Narayan was a professional writer and looked at his writings wholly from a commercial perspective. I am not too sure whether we can question this premise of his.

***

They further argue that Narayan did not know Kannada well enough except for four or five sentences which he spoke with a mixture of Tamil. I think his Kannada was much better than that and this accusation has to be seen in the context of their opposition to the memorial.

Finally, they are of the view that Narayan’s relatives are selling the house just as Narayan did his manuscripts solely for money. The major burden of their argument is that Narayan as a non-Kannadiga does not deserve a memorial in Mysore and the government of Karnataka should not spend any money over it.

To be honest, I read the press release repeatedly to make sure that they meant what they had said.

I cannot understand how writers, eminent ones at that, could take such a stance.

***

Literature at its basic level teaches us to transcend all differences, be it linguistic, religious, cultural or any other for that matter. If they were genuinely concerned about memorials for other famous Kannada writers, they ought to have raised this issue dispassionately without questioning the decision of the government of Karnataka to build a memorial for Narayan.

R.K. Narayan by virtue of his being a writer in English is a pan-Indian literary figure of international acclaim. He is an eminent Indian English novelist who along with Mulk Raj Anand and Raja Rao was responsible for putting Indian Writing in English on the map of world literature.

He is possibly the most widely translated Indian writer.

I suspect that he was also the bestselling author among Indian writers and should rank as one of the richest among them. Narayan will reign supreme in world literature as far as readability is concerned.

There is a larger question whether governments should spend money on building such memorials for writers. England, for instance, has preserved the house of every writer, for that matter of all artists irrespective of their being considered major or minor in importance.

For the lover of arts, it is bound to be a memorable visit wherein he feels the ambience and the spirit of the place.

Depending on one’s familiarity with the artist, memories will come rushing in and result in an aesthetically satisfying experience. As a matter of fact, this is the nearest that one can come to experiencing the real thing. Surely, there is no substitute for this.

I would like to add that all such houses of writers should be seen as slices of literary heritage and not as pieces of real estate.

Here, I am reminded of what a friend from the fourth estate told me. Apparently, the heirs of a well-known politician of Karnataka demanded a fancy price for the house of their ancestor. When the officer concerned demanded that they offer the house free to the government, they refused. It was clear that they were more interested in the money part of it rather than the desire to perpetuate the memory of their illustrious forefather.

To be fair to Narayan’s relatives, they offered the house for sale as there was no one to stay in it. Only when the demolition of the house began did this become a public issue. Star of Mysore Editor-in-Chief K.B. Ganapathy, an ardent admirer of Narayan’s writings, wrote about the necessity of converting the house into a memorial.

Officials and Ministers responded favourably to this demand and it was officially announced that the government will buy the house and make it into a museum. It is more than a year since this happened and hence it is regrettable that such renowned writers are making an issue of this so belatedly.

(Former vice-chancellor of the Rajiv Gandhi central university in Arunachal Pradesh, Prof K.C. Belliappa is former faculty of the department of English, University of Mysore. This piece originally appeared in Star of Mysore and is republished with kind courtesy)

When R.K. Narayan went to see a ‘blue’ film

16 April 2012

Khushwant Singh in the Hindustan Times:

“Once while attending a writers conference at Hawaii the only participant I knew was R.K. Narayan. He was a saintly sort of person, not great company for the likes of me. He was a strict vegetarian.

“In the evening he would buy a carton of dahi and go from cafe to cafe looking for plain boiled rice. He insisted I keep him company.

“One evening I tried to shake him off with the excuse that I wanted to see a blue film. ‘I come along with you,’ he announced. So we went to a locality where there were a few cinemas showing blue films.

“After an hour I got bored. So did he. We came out and resumed our search for dahi-chaawal and place where I could also get a meal of fried fish. I have not been able to find out why sexy films are called blue films. Why not red, yellow or green?’

Read the full column: Lost romance of candlelight glow

A home that housed four generations of genius

9 October 2011

For a decade after his demise, R.K. Narayan‘s lovingly built residence in Mysore lay unloved and uncared-for. The sight of the crooked teeth of excavators rapaciously chomping at its edges suddenly woke up everybody–the media, the intelligentsia, the government—to what they were about to lose: a slice of Indian literary history.

Eventually, the government jumped in to declare Narayan’s home a heritage building, with the promise to restore it to its original shape. On his 105th birth anniversary, Narayan’s grand-nephew, the journalist turned corporate manager Chetan Krishnaswamy, recaptures life as it used to be at 15, Vivekananda Road, Yadavagiri, Mysore 570020.

***

By CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY

Many years ago in Madras, reclining on an easy chair and chewing on a piece of clove, R.K. Narayan quite uncharacteristically said: “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.”

I don’t quite remember the details now, but oddly, that muggy afternoon, I thought I detected a streak of nostalgia beneath the veneer of cold pragmatism and bravado.

In a 2006 Boston Review article, Jhumpa Lahiri, the American writer of Indian origin, found similarities between French writer Guy de Maupassant and Narayan’s literary styles: “Both explore the frustrations of the middle class, the precariousness of fate, the inevitable longings that so often lead to ruin. Both create portraits of everyday life and share a vision that is unyielding and unpitying.”

In hindsight, I wonder: were Narayan’s comments on his house an extension of this rather passive worldview that Jhumpa articulates so well?

***

A 1952 picture of R.K. Narayan at home with his nephews and niece. Seated on a chair is his mother Gnanambal, standing by the door is his daughter Hema and younger brother R.K. Srinivasan. Photograph by T.S. Satyan.

The true magnificence of RKN’s sprawling bungalow on 15, Vivekananda Road in Yadavagiri, Mysore, lies in the lively people who inhabited, or were associated, with it throughout its 60-plus years of existence.

In 1948, the scrubby land measuring 180 x 120 was bought from a local Shetty at the rate of around Rs 2 per square yard. Narayan’s older brother R.K. Pattabhi had a share in it, too.

By this time, Narayan had already established himself as a writer and was attracting global acclaim. He had written  four novels: Swami and Friends (1935), The Bachelor of Arts (1937), The Dark Room (1938) and The English Teacher (1945).

Two short story collections—Malgudi Days (1942) and An Astrologer’s Day and Other Stories (1947)—both published by his own publishing house Indian Thought Publications, were out by then.

Mysore’s famous chief engineer Shama Rao (who had built the famous Krishna Raja Sagar Hotel and after whom a string of  buildings are named in Mysore’s Vontikoppal, including the shopping complex on 3rd main road called Shama Rao building), who was retired by then, was given the contract to construct RKN’s house in 1949.

In keeping with his grand and selfless desire to have his extended family by his side, Narayan designed a large, roomy home that would accommodate his brothers, their wives and their children. By this time, the cartoonist R.K.Laxman, the other famous sibling, had already flown the coop and was building his reputation in distant Bombay.

The extended family which resided at door number 963, Lakshmipuram, comprised brothers R.K. Srinivasan and Pattabhi and their families apart from Narayan’s daughter Hemavathi (his wife Rajam had passed away suddenly in 1939).

Reigning over the household was Narayan’s mercurial mother Gynanambal—expert cook, chess champ and tennis player all rolled into one. The other two brothers Ramachandran and Balaram were away in other cities, so were the two sisters.

Constructing a house in Yadavagiri—the hilly area was named thus by the famous administrator M.A. Sreenivasan, since the Melukote temple was apparently visible from this location—then a remote corner of Mysore was replete with challenges. [The last pradhan of Mysore, Sreenivasan's daughter Devaki married the social economist, L.C. Jain. Their son Sreenivasan Jain is an NDTV editor.]

The terrain was strewn with steep slopes and sharp dips, with absolutely no access to water.

The contractor had worked out a system where a bullock cart periodically rattled on to the site with drums of water drawn from Kukkarahalli tank, a scenic spot which had fuelled  Narayan’s creative instincts and offered him the “world’s best sunsets”.

At the building site, there was a stone grinder or chakki—powered by sturdy bullocks which mixed the lime and mortar that went into the construction of the house. Narayan intermittently visited the site and used the services of another civil engineer friend A.K.S. Raghavan to monitor and supervise.

Finally in 1952, the construction work was completed. The griha pravesha was a “grand affair” and the family carries sunny memories of the day. For the kids – trudging up to the new house in Yadavagiri -through the undulating landscape – was an expedition in itself.

Among the guests was Soma, a blind mystic who lived atop Chamundi hills and who had taken a liking for the family. On one occasion, the gifted Soma through his clairvoyant powers had accurately traced Laxman’s wife Kamala’s missing diamond ring, that had been swept away with the garbage.

***

R.K. Narayan, behind the wickets, playing cricket with his nephews Thumbi (R.S. Krishnaswamy) and Nokki (R.S. Jayaram), and niece Shanta, at their Lakshmipuram residence. Photograph by T.S Satyan.

And then came the unforeseen crisis, probably quite amusing in hindsight.

None of Narayan’s brothers were keen to relocate to Yadavagiri from the centrally located Lakshmipuram. This, despite the comforts of  a large house. An affectionate Narayan would plead and sometimes even shed tears but both Pattabhi and Srinivasan were unrelenting.

Meanwhile, a confused Gynanambal toed the line of her eldest son Pattabhi.

In light of this new dilemma, Narayan settled into a peculiar routine: After his breakfast in 963, Lakshmipuram he would go for a long walk, and after lunch be driven in his silver-grey Morris Minor to Yadavagiri by driver Rangappa, who was paid a salary of Rs 50 per month.

In the unbroken silence of his house, Narayan wrote profusely only to stir now and then to mix coffee, and munch on his favorite “Golden Puff” biscuits. This was the phase in which he wrote two of his novels: The Financial Expert and Waiting for the Mahatma.

By about 5.30pm, after lighting the lamp in the ‘pooja room’, Narayan would be back home in Lakshmipuram for his routine evening walk with brother Srinivasan. The walks would invariably be around bustling marketplaces and streets like Rama Vilas Agrahara.

Late evenings would be spiced up by gossip sessions with his family, which I have referred to elsewhere on churumuri.

The writer kept up with this routine for quite some time.

Eventually, for about a year, 15, Vivekananda Road was rented out to Henry C. Hart, a visiting professor of political science from the University of  Wisconsin, on a monthly rent of Rs 200. Hart was in India on a Fulbright fellowship, with his wife in tow.

Their legacy was an elegant piece of furniture custom made for the house: wooden seating that skirted the entire semi-circular perimeter of the large living room. After many years of service, and in the wake of sustained onslaught from a riotous bunch of kids, that primarily included my cousins, the furniture slowly disintegrated.

Narayan engaged a watchman cum gardener, Annamalai, who later became the subject for one of his short stories. He was given a room in the basement, and he would  often rustle up a deliciously smelling vegetable sambar in a pot balanced over a crude hearth made up of two stones.

During Narayan’s first visit to the United States of America in 1957, to undertake the writing of  The Guide commissioned by Viking, a strong Godrej padlock was installed on the front door of 15, Vivekananda Road.

There were numerous anxious and embarrassing moments when Narayan would misplace the keys and would be found standing in the porch helplessly. In due course, the writer spent his nights in Yadavagiri alone. He would be driven to the house every evening by his driver Majeed in a Standard Herald that he had bought by then.

Around that time, 15, Vivekananda Road, had a surprise visitor one morning.

The flamboyant actor Dev Anand accompanied by Yash  Johar (Karan Johar’s father) had dashed to Mysore, after giving a day’s notice to Narayan. The actor was there to negotiate for the filming rights of The Guide.

Narayan’s starstruck nephews were directed to fetch a breakfast of idli-vada and dosas  from Seshagiri’s hotel (Hotel Ramya now).  After thoroughly enjoying the meal, Dev is said to have whipped out his cheque book and asked “how much?”.

RKN feebly said, “I don’t know.”

Dev left after presenting the author with an advance of  Rs 5,000.

***

Finally, with the daughters of the house married and gone and brother Srinivasan moving out of  Mysore in pursuit of government service, a hesitant Pattabhi gave in. Much to Narayan’s relief Pattabhi moved to Yadavagiri with his wife and mother. Also in tow were Narayan’s young nephews R.S. Krishnaswamy and R.S. Jayaram, both studying at the Mysore’s National Institute of Engineering (NIE).

In 1973, Narayan’s mother Gynanambal passed away.

Among the longest residents of the house was Narayan’s nephew Jayaram and his family who lived there between 1974 and 1983. The writer’s grandchildren Srinivasan (Chinni) and Bhuvaneshwari (Minnie) also stayed in the house for a few years while pursuing academics in  Mysore.

***

The large, two storied house of around 5000 sq ft had five bedrooms, with attached bathrooms.  There was a spacious semi-circular living room with an array of  windows that brought in the sunlight.

The dining hall, kitchen, an unusually huge store-room adjoining a ‘pooja room’  formed another portion of the expansive house.

A winding, narrow flight of stairs led to Narayan’s airy room on the top floor.

The room was minimalistic – almost spartan- in décor. Apart from a single cot, there was this heavy easy chair and a solid walnut table from Kashmir on which rested an assortment of books and papers.

In another corner Narayan displayed his interesting collection of miniature owls, which he had picked up during his travels. On a wooden bracket fixed to the wall rested the Filmfare award (which the writer had won for The Guide) and other memorabilia. That he never though too highly of this award was another thing.

The room had a modest ante chamber where Narayan tucked away his veena. He played it well. The veena exponent Doraiswamy Iyengar, who was a close friend, played the instrument frequently for Narayan.

Some of the greatest musicians who were friends of the family had privately recorded for Narayan.

A number of them including M.S. Subbulakshmi (whom he affectionately called Kunjamma), M.L.Vasanthakumari, Semmangudi Srinivas Iyer and D.K.Pattamal visited the Yadavagiri home and stayed on for days, with the RK family.

One of these friendships turned into a matrimonial alliance, when Pattamal’s son married Pattabhi’s only daughter Shanta in 1967.

Narayan’s cupboards held a large collection of audio tapes, mainly Carnatic music. Some of them were recorded by the singers (without accompaniments) exclusively for Narayan.  There were times when the writer himself recorded the private renditions on his state of the art spool tape recorders, Grundig or Uher.

On the wall of his room was a framed picture of his late wife Rajam. He would regularly place a string of jasmine flowers on the frame every day. The room opened up to a cosy balcony, which was Narayan’s favorite spot. He sat there, hours on end, writing, watching the flitting birds and squirrels on the frangipani  tree that majestically arched into the compound, scattering its canopy of green.

Sometimes he would meditate and recite a version of the Gayatri mantra sitting here. Narayan  had revealed to my aunt Rajani, Jayaram’s wife, that this particular mantra was a revelation that was relayed to him from another spiritual plane.

Narayan had also procured an exquisitely carved six-inch Gayatri statue for his table from the “School of Sculpture’’ opposite the Kama Kameshwara temple at Hale Agrahara in Mysore. This rested inside his cupboard.

The other room, which usually accommodated guests and other relatives who were on an extended stay, had an unusual revolving wooden shelf, which originally belonged to Narayan’s academic father R.V. Krishnaswamy Iyer. The shelf creaked and groaned under the weight of the thick hardbound classics, some of which were rare out of print editions.

The house had a garage which at one time held Narayan’s Mercedes Benz, a gift from a publisher which he subsequently disposed off. There were also two make shift ‘sheds’ that in the later years were used to park the other automobiles in the house.

Narayan’s obsession  with coffee has been well documented, and it was a fact that he was finicky about his blend. He went to great lengths to get the right proportions, sometimes lecturing the household women on the correct way of making coffee.

The writer had eight coffee makers and percolators, with which he would constantly experiment, before finally settling for his tumbler of traditional filter coffee.

In 1987, after Pattabhi’s death, Narayan travelled into Madras and the US, periodically coming into Mysore. From 1991 onwards he started living in Chennai owing to his ill health. For many years, the empty house was taken care of by Narayan’s driver Krishnamurthy.

‘Krishnamurthy, saar‘, as we called him, came to the house in the evening on his Luna and left early next morning. A beat constable would appear every night and sign on a roster, hurriedly survey the compound and sometimes chat with the security guard before sauntering away.

Sometime in early 2000, the house was leased out to the cousin of a very powerful Congress party politician. The influential tenant used it as an office cum residence, altering certain facets and progressively destroying the old world charm of the house.

At one point, he stopped paying the rent and refused to move out. The family seemed helpless…

One fine morning, suitably galvanized by Narayan’s son-in-law Chandrasekaran, who lives in Chennai, I strode into the house determined to take on the truant tenant.

I was accompanied by a few friends including Vinay Ramakrishna, an old friend and long-time resident of  Yadavagiri.

After making us wait for a long time, the kurta-clad man came down and spoke to us in the most unfriendly manner, clearly indicating that he would leave the house when he felt the need to do so.

I left the house quite disappointed and reported the conversation back to Chandrasekaran. In a few months’ time, good sense prevailed and the man left the house but in complete disarray.

***

Today 15, Vivekananda road  stands forlorn, almost ghostly, echoing the laughter, the quibbles and the genius of four generations of an uncommon family that it has nurtured.

Patiently,  uncomplainingly, it waits for that fresh gust of wind to breathe again.

Photographs: courtesy M.A. Sriram/ The Hindu (top), and T.S. Satyan via Frontline

Also read: ‘Where is Malgudi? Where we all wish we lived’

R.K. Narayan on Mysore

Ved Mehta on a day in the life of R.K. Narayan

T.S. NAGARAJAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

T.S. SATYAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

R.S. KRISHNASWAMY: A day in the life of R.K. Narayan

How R.K. Narayan passed the test to be an MP

CHURUMURI IMPACT: A train for R.K. Narayan

24 September 2011

churumuri.com is delighted to record the renaming (and flagging off) of the daily Mysore-Yeshwanthpur Express between Karnataka’s two premier cities as Malgudi Express, to perpetuate the memory of India’s first globally renowned English writer, the Mysorean R.K. Narayan.

We are delighted for two reasons.

One, we believe that even as small a gesture as getting a train named after Narayan’s creation, although rather late in coming, is an important signal in giving our literary, social and cultural titans their due.

And two, the railway ministry’s decision is largely if not solely the outcome of the suggestions of churumuri readers across the world, who responded magnificently to our campaign which began over five years ago.

In many ways, therefore, this is a victory of online activism of a kind not generally known or seen in India.

***

On this happy occasion, please allow us a moment of self-congratulation.

We would like to thank the then governor of Karnataka, T.N. Chaturvedi, who took the churumuri campaign to the railway ministry in the centenary year of Narayan’s birth; the Union minister for external affairs S.M. Krishna who revived the campaign in the 10th year of RKN’s death; and the railway minister Dinesh Trivedi who gave the green signal.

Additionally,we are thankful to the late Mysorean icon, T.S. Satyan, the historian Ramachandra Guha, and the writer Sunaad Raghuram who took the churumuri campaign to the governor of Karnataka. Several writers have kept the campaign alive over the years by writing pieces on Narayan. S.M. Krishna’s advisor Raghavendra Shastry, played a key role in reactivating the campaign this year.

Above all, we are thankful to our readers. Without you, this small salute for a giant Mysorean would not have been possible.

Coming up next: A stamp for R.K. Narayan.

***

MALGUDI EXPRESS TIMINGS

Train No. 17304: Leaves Yeshwanthpur daily at 11.35 am, reaches Mysore at 3 pm

Train No. 17303: Leaves Mysore daily at 12.10 pm, reaches Yeshwanthpur at 3.30pm

***

Photograph: courtesy Simon Winchester/ The Guardian

Read: All the stories in R.K. Narayan campaign

***

Also read: ‘Where is Malgudi? Where we all wish we lived’

R.K. Narayan on Mysore

Ved Mehta on a day in the life of R.K. Narayan

T.S. NAGARAJAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

T.S. SATYAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

R.S. KRISHNASWAMY: A day in the life of R.K. Narayan

CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY: As Mysorean as Mysore pak, Mysore mallige

S.M. Krishna revives Churumuri’s RKN campaign

23 August 2011

The minister for external affairs, Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna, may be creating news for all the wrong reasons in the year of the lord 2011. But he has struck the right PR note by reviving churumuri.com‘s acclaimed campaign for recognition for India’s original English writer, R.K. Narayan, in his hometown, Mysore.

When churumuri.com was launched in 2006, we made an all-out effort to get Narayan his due place in the landscape of Mysore, where he spent almost all his life and from where he gave the world, Malgudi.

A churumuri delegation comprising the photographer T.S. Satyan, the historian Ramachandra Guha, and the writer Sunaad Raghuram even made a representation to the then governor of Karnataka, T.N. Chaturvedi, armed with reader suggestions on how Narayan’s memory could be perpetuated.

After all the usual noises from the usual quarters, the campaign died a slow death.

Now, S. M. Krishna, a close friend of  RKN’s brother, R.K. Laxman, has given the campaign a fresh lease life in this, the 10th year of Narayan’s passing away. He has written to prime minister Manmohan Singh and railway minister Dinesh Trivedi to name a train between Mysore and Bangalore as Malgudi Express, and urged communications minister Kapil Sibal to release a stamp.

It might be too early to hail this attempt, but at least for trying, Krishna deserves some plaudits.

Also read: All the stories in R.K. Narayan campaign

T.S. SATYAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knews

T.S. NAGARAJAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

‘Where is Malgudi? Where we all wish we lived’

9 June 2011

On the 10th anniversary of his passing away, The Guardian, London, has a long piece on the legendary creator of the fictional town of Malgudi, R.K. Narayan, with churumuri‘s own Sunaad Raghuram quoted in it.

churumuri‘s 2006 campaign for keeping Narayan’s memory alive in Mysore, by renaming a Mysore-Madras train as Malgudi Express, connecting the two cities Narayan was connected with, also finds passing mention.

“There is at least one place in Mysore where you can put your finger on the elusive RKN – at his former home, up in the northern suburb of Yadavagiri. It was built to his own specifications in the late 1940s.

“The area, then rustic and isolated, is now a leafy street in a pleasantly breezy uphill location, but the house stands empty and rather forlorn, with a look of out-of-date modernity – two storeys, cream-coloured plaster, with a stoutly pillared verandah on the first floor.

“The idiosyncratic touch is a semi-circular extension at the south end of the house, like the apse of a church. On the upper floor of this, lit by eight windows with cross-staved metal grilles, he had his writing room.

“It had such a splendid view over the city – the Chamundi Hill temple, the turrets and domes of the palace, the trainline below the house – that he had to curtain the windows, “so that my eyes might fall on nothing more attractive than a grey drape, and thus I managed to write a thousand words a day”.

“A few hundred yards up the street stands the smart Hotel Paradise. The manager is Mr Jagadish, a courteous and slightly mournful man with a neat grey moustache. He knew Narayan in the 1980s, when he would sometimes dine at the hotel with his equally famous younger brother, the Times of India cartoonist, R.K. Laxman.

“I ask what he was like, but it is Laxman who stands out in his memory. Laxman was “very funny”, and had opinions about everything, but Narayan was “more serious”. He was a modest man, he didn’t “blow his trumpet”.

“Sometimes, says Mr Jagadish, he has guests who ask him: “Where is Malgudi?” He laughs and taps the side of his head. For a moment I think he is giving an answer to the question – that Malgudi was all inside one man’s head – but what he means, of course, is that the question is daft.

“Narayan was asked it many times, and ducked it in a variety of ways. One of his more enigmatic answers was this – “Malgudi is where we all belong, and where we wish we lived.”

Read the full tribute: Rereading R.K. Narayan

Illustration: courtesy James Fennelly/ Adelphi University, New York

R.K. Laxman/ The Tribune, Chandigarh

Also read: R.K. Narayan on Mysore

Ved Mehta on a day in the life of R.K. Narayan

T.S. NAGARAJAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

T.S. SATYAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

R.S. KRISHNASWAMY: A day in the life of R.K. Narayan

CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY: As Mysorean as Mysore pak, Mysore mallige

‘Your attention please: Flight IT 2404 is at MYQ’

1 October 2010

When Rajiv Gandhi‘s “feeder airline” Vayudoot took flight in the mid-1980s, the onus of inaugurating its services to (and from) Mysore fell on the fragile shoulders of its most famous name, R.K. Narayan.

The inaugural flight took off till it was noticed that the chief guest had been left behind. The plane came back to the old Mandakalli air strip to pick Narayan up.

Interesting story, of course, if true.

There were no such “mishaps”—real or made up—when a Kingfisher Airlines ATR -72 landed at the new, revamped airport (MYQ, in the air traffic controller’s lexicon) against the backdrop of Chamundi Hills to mark the commencement of commercial air operations to and from Mysore on Friday.

The plane was given a ceremonial aviation welcome—a “water salute” by fire tenders—before the decidedly less-literary VIPs of 2010—chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa, leader of the opposition Siddaramaiah, tourism minister Janardhana Reddy et al—alighted.

***

Kingfisher Airlines’ flight IT 2404 will depart every day from Bangalore at noon and arrive at Mysore at 12.45 pm. From Mysore, flight IT 2407 will depart at 2.20 pm and arrive at 3.10 pm in Bangalore.

The new direct flight will offer travellers from Mysore a one-stop connection to and from Goa, Hyderabad, Mangalore, Poona, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Trivandrum, Cochin and Bombay via Bangalore.

The honorary doctorate from South California University, “Dr” Vijay Mallya, said:

“I am delighted that we have commenced flights between Mysore and Bengaluru. The launch of this new route is an important milestone for Kingfisher Airlines and a very special moment for me personally given the place of pride that Mysore has in our glorious State. Our convenient flights will make it easier for people to travel to and from Mysore and connect with the vast network of Kingfisher Airlines via Bengaluru. Linking Mysore via air with Bengaluru and other key cities in India will provide an impetus to tourism, trade and commerce and make Mysore an even more attractive destination for the IT industry, tourists and others.”

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: Is the Mysore airport jinxed before take off?

After all, an airport doesn’t open/close every day

Posthumous Dalit empowerment of R.K. Narayan

13 July 2010

The Guardian, London, ran a story last April on a coffee shop in a hotel in Mysore staffed by Dalit girls.

“Dressed in a sunshine yellow and burgundy langa davane, the traditional costume of young south Indian girls, Gouri glides gracefully around the Green Hotel coffee shop.

“Poised and confident, she is one of 11 young women trained to run the Malgudi coffee shop at the Green Hotel, Mysore.

“The hotel is the brainchild of Dame Hilary Blume, founder of the Charities Advisory Trust in London. But Gouri’s mother could hardly have dreamed that her daughter would enter such a place….”

Admittedly, there is something to be said about this kind of empowerment especially when Dalits have traditionally been condemned to menial tasks like cleaning toilets; when their girls are routinely beaten up, stripped, paraded naked, even killed, for so much as daring to aspire.

Agreed it makes sense for a restaurant in Mysore to name itself after the mythical town that was born in the City, in a manner of speaking. Yet, there are a couple of questions to be asked after throwing political correctness to the wind.

# Like, has Green Hotel or Dame Hilary Blume taken the permission of the writer R.K. Narayan or his family for the use of his creation “Malgudi” for a commercial purpose albeit with a social cause?

# If they haven’t, would vegetarian Narayan, who rarely wore his social concerns on his half-sleeves, have allowed the exploitation of “Malgudi” even if it was to empower Dalit girls?

# And if neither Narayan nor his family have been kept in the loop about such a development, does a “Malgudi” coffee shop amount to a copyright violation, Dalit or no Dalit?

The author of the Guardian article Mari Marcel Thekekara wrote elsewhere in June 2009:

“The Malgudi coffee shop opened on February 2, 2009, with much fanfare. The press was extremely supportive of the idea and gave us wonderful reviews. The girls were nervous on opening day, but they charmed the guests nevertheless….

“Mysore is considered a conservative, one-horse town (by Bangaloreans and the fashionable elite), but the much-maligned media went to town praising the concept of dalit slumdwellers being given a break. And the girls were delighted to be on local television and on the front pages of the major dailies….”

On the one hand, you could argue that a Malgudi coffee shop in Mysore is better than a Malgudi that serves authentic Chettinad, North Indian and multi-cuisine in Singapore. Or in Madras.

And in a City that has  done little to preserve the name of its most famous writer, a Malgudi coffee shop is better than no Malgudi coffee shop, considering that at least a few foreigners will go home with memories enlivened by the experience of sipping south Indian filter coffee by the river Sarayu.

Still, on the other hand….

Read the full story: Taking destiny to task

Image: courtesy Bellur Ramakrishna

Also read: Anybody Dalit in the media and speaks English?

CHURUMURI POLL: Dalits being taken for a ride?

Disgusted. Afflicted. Literate. Intelligent. Talented

Where can you view such masterpiece sunsets?

2 June 2009

CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY writes: The Kukkarahalli Kere in Mysore stirs the soul.

Unfailingly, every evening, the calm waters lunge flirtatiously towards a flamboyant sun performing a visual jugalbandi enthralling the walkers around the bund.

Prof Shivaram Malavalli—an illustrious Mysorean and a venerable friend—has over the months captured the Kukkarahalli’s mystique through his mobile phone.

Last week, I ran into him during one of my rare visits to the lake.

Prof Shivaram, brother of Kumar Malavalli, maintains that every day is a new day at KK and its moods are varied.

To quote R.K. Narayan, another Kukkarahalli lover:

“Sometimes, I went back to the Kukkarahalli tank in the late afternoon, when the evening sun touched the rippling water-surface to produce uncanny lighting effects, and the western sky presented a gorgeous display of colours and cloud formations at sunset. Even today, I would assert, after having visited many parts of the world, that nowhere can you witness such masterpiece sunsets as in Mysore. I would sit on a bench on the tank and watch the sun’s performance, the gradual fading of the colours in the sky, and the emergence of the first single star at dusk.”

View Prof Shivaram’s Facebook album: Kukkarahalli Lake

Also read: Ugadi sunrise over Kukkarahalli Lake

Swamy and all his friends meet again in Malgudi

18 March 2009

Seema Chisthi in The Indian Express:

“The non-Congress, non-BJP parties rallied in Dobbespet, and now the Congress president is scheduled to flag off their campaign from Davangere in north Karnataka next Monday. Karnataka has suddenly leapt out of the history books to recall its special (if only periodic and anecdotal) place in national politics and identity….

“As all fans of R.K. Narayan’s Swami and his stories set in Malgudi know, while Malgudi is meant to be an imaginary town, it nevertheless gives us a sense of quintessential small-town India, something that several readers rush to lay claim to.

“Politicians too, seem to be returning to Karnataka, to find and cling on to a Malgudi they can call their own.

“The Congress has its Chikamangalur (and now Davangere) dream of an adrenaline push; the Third Front hopes against hope that the Dobbespet hand-holding lasts for ever; and the BJP, well, it’s hoping its assembly dream run here could just, somehow, be replicated elsewhere.”

Read the full article: Vote for Swamy and Friends

‘PADMA BHUSHAN’, DR RAMACHANDRA GUHA

26 January 2009

churumuri.com is delighted to record that the writer and historian Ramachandra Guha has been honoured with the nation’s third highest civilian award, the Padma Bhushan.

A well-wisher of churumuri since its inception, Ram was named among the 100 most influential public intellectuals in the world last year by Foreign Policy magazine last year. Through his books, newspaper and magazine articles, and his television, academic and public appearances, Ram adds lustre to our intellectual firmament.

By honouring a true man of letters, the nation has truly honoured itself.

RKN-RKL: How one family produced two geniuses

1 July 2007

CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY forwards an excerpt from a piece by V.K. Ramachandran that appeared in Frontline magazine in 1998.

***

“It is a matter of considerable interest that two of India’s most outstanding achievers—each pre-eminent in his field—are brothers. What is it about their background that played a formative part in the creative geniuses of R.K. Narayan and R.K. Laxman?

“I wrote to N. Ram, co-author of the biography of R.K. Narayan and a close friend of both brothers, to ask him this question, and I quote, at length, his reply:

“R.K. Narayan is India’s greatest writer in English of this century, one of the world’s major literary figures. His youngest brother, R.K. Laxman, is way and ahead India’s finest cartoonist, and one of the world’s best. Their autobiographies, Narayan’s My Days, published in 1974, and Laxman’s The Tunnel of Time, which I have just read, provide clues towards an explanation of how one family can produce two such outstanding creative figures.

“It happens very rarely but it has happened elsewhere. They express individual genius, which has always defied explanation, but they are also products of a particular family and social milieu that has been congenial to creativity: liberal and modern in outlook, yet imbued with strong values and laidback integrity and respectful of independence and originality.

“The link between childhood and adult creativity is now well recognised in the social science, especially psychological, literature: that is, the importance to the creative mind of a childhood in which exploration and curiosity are encouraged, not restricted or stifled.

“Laxman, a decade-and-a-half younger than Narayan, is very different in make-up, temperament and experience. But he is a product of the same kind of upbringing and social milieu that have fostered creativity, although they cannot of course ‘explain’ it.

“Further, Laxman (who, in his autobiography, tells us that ‘I do not remember wanting to do anything else except draw’) has clearly benefited, from the beginning, from having Narayan around him: to mind him as a child, to encourage his independence and creativity, to have him illustrate his Malgudi stories and novels, to take pride, without ever making a fuss, in his gift and accomplishments. I have observed the two brothers together: so close, yet so different, and so independent from each other—creative contrasts from one distinctive, difficult to replicate, pool”.”

How we can make Mysore pedestrian-friendly

23 April 2007

TARLESUBBA and ARUN PADAKI write: In the documentary, “R.K. Narayan—India’s Chekov“, Narayan leisurely explains, that strolling through its cultural, natural, commercial and social landmarks, and enjoying the life around it—at the pace at which it moves—is the quintessential Mysore experience.

He observed that Mysore was designed to be walkable. It was designed to fire imaginations. Years later, though, misfiring pistons have captured the imagination of our city planners.

Interventions to calm and control these vehicles have slowly but steadily replaced what was once a pedestrian -friendly city to one that is inconvenient if not outright hostile to pedestrians. However, vehicles are our new reality, as are Seena, the Mysorean, and Bob, the tourist.

This is where the Mysore Heritage Trail comes in. It is a relatively low cost, high impact intervention, that would provide a safe, convenient, and sustainable pedestrian -friendly infrastructure towards sustain the charm of Mysore.

At a minimum, the trail will consist of elevated footpaths that are at least six feet wide and have distinctive leveled pavements. The trail should be barricaded from the road and be well lit. It should also have signs to landmarks, benches and garbage cans.

While it is conceptually a simple footpath network, serious effort will be needed to make this work. The key here is to strive for consistency and connectivity. For example, this means that the trail cannot disappear at intersections and intersections have to be deliberately designed for pedestrians by providing well-identified safe pedestrian crossings.

The key also is to recognize the primacy of the pedestrian in all city-planning decisions.

If done properly, apart from pedestrians, this would also benefit trail-side businesses. Further, this would form part of a “heritage hunt” for tourists. Tourists would saunter on these paths, using the distinctive pavement material of the trail as cue and come to discover heritage structures. Well made printed boards would briefly describe the heritage value of these treasures.

The image above is a suggestive schematic map of the trail. Eventually, the entire city could embody these pedestrian -friendly practices.

Can we generate some useful ideas in making this possible? Everything is open to discussion; benchmark issues and sustainability issues; path suggestions, material for footpaths, width, barricades, lighting, signages, finances, constraints of particular roads, community and business involvement. And, most importantly, how to get this done.

KOSAMBARI: Mysore’s greatest contributions

16 February 2007

On our newly launched food blog, kosambari, Citibank’s youngest country head ever, Jaithirth alias Jerry Rao, recounts what his grandfather told him on the three greatest contributions of Mysore: R.K. Narayan‘s novels, the Mysore veena, and…

Read the full article here: The three greatest contributions of Mysore

T.S. NAGARAJAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

6 January 2007

The inimitable T.S. NAGARAJAN writes: I discovered the joys of walking from two friends—R.K.Narayan and Khushwant Singh–-both of them writers of great repute and walkers of equal fame.

I had just finished college when I struck friendship with Narayan in Mysore. He guided me in my initial years to take up photo-journalism. We met often and went on long walks on the tree-shaded roads in and around the city.

People we met on the way invariably became subjects for witty comment and discussion. Narayan knew nothing about photography; but he had much to say about possible subjects for my stories. I found him at his creative best during these evening strolls.

Walking was not a mere routine exercise for Narayan but the main spring of all his thinking. He once said: “I pray I should be able to walk all my life and write a book called Testament of a Walker on the pleasures and problems of walking, the equipment needed, the dos and the don’t s etc.”

Mysore, a walker’s paradise, knew him better perhaps as a regular walker than as a writer of repute.

With his unopened umbrella in hand, Narayan was a familiar figure in the city. For him an umbrella was “a status symbol and an elegant adjunct to walking”. He had collected umbrellas from all over the world, and the strange thing was that he retained most of them. He hated lending his umbrella to anyone. He liked Kerala and its people because of their ‘devotion to umbrellas’. “They are the only people who have realized its place in life.” he once told me.

One morning, while we ambled along through rugged paths towards Chamundi Hill, he suggested that, to begin with, I should do a stint with The Hindu in Madras. He did get me an offer from the newspaper as its mofussil correspondent with an added allowance of Rs.50, considering my ability to double-up as a photographer.

Fate willed it otherwise. On the same day I was to leave Mysore for Madras to take up The Hindu job, I got an offer from the government of India to join Khushwant Singh as photographer for Yojana journal in the Planning Commission in Delhi. I didn’t know which one to choose– a career with The Hindu or become an official photographer in Delhi.

Narayan made the decision.

Narayan’s visits to Delhi were infrequent. In fact, he first went to the Capital only in 1961 (in his late fifties) to receive the Sahitya Academy award from Prime Minister Nehru. But whenever he was in the Capital, we made it a point to meet and go for walks. His interest was people, simple folks, especially of the odd kind. Young couples sitting under trees or in the shelter of bushes, talking to each other in whispers, excited him most. “I wonder what they would be saying to each other. I would give anything to understand them. You can’t go on whispering all life.” He had a light-hearted comment ready for all human situations.

Whenever Narayan visited Delhi, he preferred staying with his brother R.K.Srinivasan (also a witty conversationalist), who lived on Pandara Road. One day, when I went there to join Narayan for an evening walk, I found him stretched comfortably on a charpoy in the verandah. He was reading an article by Nirad C. Chaudhury on the subject of charpoy published in a magazine. Soon we found ourselves seriously discussing the charpoy as an item of furniture.

“I don’t like anyone who hates the charpoy. It appears Nirad hates the charpoy. Perhaps, what he hates really is the charpoy society,” he said, and went on to explain why he loved the charpoy, the simple cot (a four-legged bamboo or wooden rectangular frame with matted ropes in the middle) so common in homes all over north India, especially in the Punjab and parts of Uttar Pradesh.

“I am going to adopt the charpoy as my only furniture, reception hall, dining table, for putting out laundry in addition to using it as a bed. There is nothing to equal it in its multi-purpose utility. You can handle it as roughly as you want. There is a rugged beauty about it. It is a much misunderstood thing by sophisticated minds”, he said.

While walking towards Raj Path that evening, we saw a blind man in a fit of rage busy beating a boy in the middle of the road. A visibly upset Narayan rushed towards the man and tried to chastise him in his broken Hindi. The blind man was totally confused and let the boy go away. When we resumed the walk, I found Narayan still somewhat disturbed.

Turning towards me, he said: “It is the hand that is responsible for all the evil in the world. The legs commit no crimes, save kicking, perhaps. If you keep the fingers busy, it has a tranquilising effect on the mind; writing or typing for a writer and knitting for women. The hands function independently of the mind when we misplace things. Fingers are the most dangerous part of the human anatomy. They do their work even in darkness.” Narayan had a knack of turning even an ordinary aspect of life into a philosophical statement.

For many years, Khushwant Singh and R.K.Narayan had never met. This is because Narayan seldom went out of Mysore and Khushwant, after living abroad for a long time, remained somewhat anchored to Delhi and didn’t go down South often. But, both admired each other in their own way. Khushwant, who believed that ‘anyone who wrote well was worth knowing’, was keen on meeting Narayan. He asked me whether I could bring Narayan to his home some day when he visited Delhi. While on a walk, I broached this matter with Narayan.

“In the mind, you have an image of a person whom you have not met. It is difficult to say whether that image remains unchanged even after meeting him. I like his transparent quality. He hides nothing. He is there for you. Accept him or reject him. Authors should be like him. They should not put on a pose”, he said describing his image of Khushwant Singh.

I don’t know when they actually met each other. But, when they did meet, probably, Narayan must have seen a bearded Sikh for the first time from close quarters.

Natwar Singh, former minister for external affairs, a common friend of both, has this to say about his first meeting with Narayan: “While in Mysore (as an IFS trainee on Bharat Darshan), I left my colleagues and went in search of R.K.Narayan. He was yet to become a household name and it was with considerable difficulty that I got to his newly constructed house in Yadavagiri. It was the only house there 42 years ago. I opened the wooden gate, walked up the gravel path. A man in shirt and lungi was standing on the veranda.

“My name is Natwar Singh. I am looking for R.K. Narayan, I said.

“You are talking to him.” he answered and asked.

“Are you Khushwant Singh’s brother?

“I then produced my cliché about Singhs and Sikhs.”

Despite the difference in age, Narayan never talked to me from the pulpit. We discussed various subjects, even the Ramayana. Nothing was taboo—God, spirits, love and sex. One day I asked him about his best work. “There is no such thing as my best work. Some stories may please me more on a second reading. Perhaps it is easier for me to point out my worst work; but I won’t for obvious reasons,” he said with a twinkle in the eye.

On another day, while talking about his famous story Breath of Lucifer, published in the Playboy magazine, the conversation turned towards sex.

This is what Narayan said about the subject: “Sex. I don’t know. At this point of my life, I am not the best judge on this subject. It is one of the functions of life. Not the only one as it has been made out. Everywhere sex has become the obsessed theme. It has its normal function and place in every life. Beyond that, it is a mere exaggerated subject. I have no private life at all. Facts of my life are known to everyone. I have even stopped answering ‘who is who’ queries. All of them say the same thing, every year: R.K.Narayan, widower, born 1906, B.A….”

T.S. SATYAN: The R.K. NARAYAN only I knew

10 October 2006

The following is the full and unexpurgated text of the paper read on 10 October 2006 in Mysore at the international seminar to celebrate the birth centenary of eminent English writer, R. K. Narayan organized by the Central Sahitya Akademi, Indian Association of Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies and Central Institute of Indian Languages
***

By T.S. SATYAN

I  feel honoured to be asked to present a paper at this scholarly forum to mark the birth centenary of R.K. Narayan. I am not an academic. I am only a foot soldier of Indian photography. My only credentials to speak on this occasion are that I knew Narayan since the early 1940s. I benefited from his unalloyed affection and guidance for some six decades. And I kept in touch with him till his end.

Being a photographer I am more interested in presenting a portrait of Narayan as I knew him than making an elaborate critical assessment of his works.

When I was in the Maharaja’s College in the early 1940s––where Narayan had studied earlier––I was greatly attracted by newspapers and picture magazines. I had already started contributing photographs to the Illustrated Weekly of India. Initially, I shared my father’s belief that the best way to improve one’s English was to read The Hindu regularly. However, its editorials put me off. The part of the paper that interested me most was the Sunday column by R.K.Narayan. He would write an essay or story which made delightful reading. Reading his essays I felt that Narayan was chatting with me and making me laugh. I mentioned this to my English teacher, M.N. Parthasarathy––Pachu to his friends and students. “If you are interested in pursuing a career in freelance journalism, you better meet RK Narayan, our family friend. It might help,” he said. Pachu asked me to read Narayan’s first three novels––Swami and Friends (l935), The Bachelor of Arts (l937) and The Dark Room (l938). They had already been published in England and raised him to the status of a celebrity.

I remember how I sat reading them late into the night, enjoying the author’s fragrant prose. I cannot suitably describe the sheer joy and humour that Narayan’s Malgudi and the graceful men and women who lived there evoked in me. I also felt that Narayan was writing about people who were familiar to me in my own quiet, uneventful town of Mysore. A very thin line seemed to divide fiction from fact.

I found his first novel, Swami and Friends, the most striking. I was surprised to find that not many of my friends had read Narayan’s novels or even heard of him. Why, one of my classmates was even warned not to waste his time reading Narayan’s writings, which would do no good to his English. They still lived in the world of Scott and Dickens. Mysore’s small academic circle had no use for a novelist who wrote in Indian English, though he was living amid them and walking the streets, morning and evening.

Narayan was not yet a celebrity. In fact, when Somerset Maugham visited Mysore and asked to meet a novelist of the city who was making a name for himself, he was solemnly assured by Charles Todhunter, Secretary to the Maharaja, that he did not know of any. University teachers knew him, of course, but high-school boys and others did not pause in the street to point him out to one another as he went on his walks.

My first meeting with Narayan in 1944 was at his home in Lakshmipuram, a quiet area where he lived in a house with gabled windows and tiled roof. Though he was already setting out on his evening walk, clad in dhoti and coat, holding an umbrella, he readily agreed to spend some time with me. I showed him copies of the Illustrated Weekly of India that had my pictures and articles.

Narayan was curious to know why the Weekly editor printed TSSI while crediting my contributions instead of my full name. I mentioned that the editor had abbreviated my long name––Tambarahalli Subramanya Iyer Satyanarayana Iyer. He advised me not to lose time in getting it shortened and to get the change published in the Government Gazette. He recalled how he had shortened his own name from Narayanaswamy.

I mentioned that I wanted to make photojournalism my career. “I am getting more rejection slips from editors,” I said. “I have also had my share of editor regrets”, he replied. “That ought to be some consolation for you! Freelancing is not easy. If you persist with it and work hard, success will be yours some day.” He asked me to visit him more often, discard my bicycle and start walking with him. “It will do good to your health. Mysore is a small place. You can walk from one end to the other without much strain.”

One of my greatest joys in life was to stroll down the streets of Mysore in his exhilarating company, listening to his witty comments and observations of the people he met and the goings-on he saw. He never walked fast and would stop at many places on the way. He observed people and their ways with pleasure. He confidently interacted with all strata of society––hawkers, lawyers, clerks, printers, shopkeepers, students and professors and was curious to know all about them and their daily problems. He would even linger on the fringe of the crowd during a street brawl, attentively listening to every word spoken. “An engagement can wait, but not the crowd. I am convinced that a good crowd is worth any sacrifice in the world. In a crowd a man can attain great calm, he can forget himself for a few hours,” he wrote in The Hindu. “If you have the language and the curiosity to know about them you can also write about these people,” he used to tell me. According to him, the cat owes its nine lives to its curiosity. “Curiosity and our critical sense increases the awareness of our surroundings. We can watch someone else’s back better than our own,” he has said.

On his walks Narayan always sucked a clove, cardamom or betel nut stored in a tiny Kodak film box he carried in his pocket. He always bought his stock from Srinivasa Stores on Sayaji Rao Road. I have seen him smilingly rattle the film box before his friends and proclaim: “I carry my life blood in this. My pen moves only when I have a betel nut in my mouth. Without one, I can neither think nor write!”

After visiting the market where he would buy chocolates and toys for the children back home, he would invariably spend some time at his favourite port of call––the City Power Press––owned by his dear friend Cheluva Iyengar––Sampath to his friends. He was the earliest printer of Narayan’s paperback titles and the short-lived sturdy journal Indian Thought. Sampath turned up in several incarnations in Narayan’s books. In the evenings Narayan walked on the bund of the Kukkarahalli Lake, “when the sun touched the rippling water-surface to produce uncanny lighting effects and the western sky presented a gorgeous display of colours and cloud formations at sunset,” he has said.

Narayan’s conversation, laced with puckish, sometimes sardonic humour, always fascinated me. Many a time I got the impression that he was a better teller of tales than a writer. “I am a storyteller and not a commentator,” he would say. In fact his writing is less fiction and more life-like as he relied upon the living characters rather than imagined ones. He strongly objected when some academics, especially in the West, said that Malgudi was populated by caricatures. “They are not caricatures.” he insisted and went on to say that they are “very real. Perhaps those academics have simply not seen India.”

Mysore, and to some extent Coimbatore, where his sister and daughter Hema lived, provided Narayan with these ‘real-life’ people who became characters in his hands. He wanted them to come to Malgudi. Even Mahatma Gandhi must visit there to be written about. Malgudi was his ‘beehive’ that hummed with somewhat leisurely bees and Narayan uncovered its veneer of feudal sophistication.

The flamboyant Raju (The Guide, 1958), the restrained Sampath (The Printer of Malgudi, 1957) or the glib Margayya (The Finacial Expert, 1952) were all real-life Mysoreans who were endowed with rich dimensions and shades by his fountain pen. I have personally known these ‘characters’ that stand out most prominently in Narayan’s creative oeuvre.

From day one, Narayan considered me as his young friend––later designated me as ‘one of his constant friends.’ Over the years our friendship grew. Though there was a difference of seventeen years between us, he was frank and outspoken while talking to me about his personal life and his early years as a writer. “Writing in the beginning was like going uphill. Absolutely terrible. It was all frustration and struggle for more than fifteen years.”

In his early years as a writer, Narayan had to literally struggle to contribute to the kitty of the large joint family presided over by his mother Gnanambal. His early novels brought him a name, but not much by way of royalties. In fact, I remember the day when he asked my younger brother, Nagarajan, to help him in disposing of all the unsold copies of Swami and Friends that his Indian publishers had returned many years after its publication. He wanted the books be donated to all the school libraries in Mysore. My brother took up this job with much pride. After Narayan had signed all the copies, he stacked them on his bicycle carrier and pedalled about in the city visiting schools. He had to plead with the head masters to kindly accept the gift from the renowned author who belonged to their city. Not many of them showed any interest and some of them thought that by accepting the books they were doing both Narayan and Nagarajan a great favour.

In order to stabilize his income Narayan worked for some time as the Mysore correspondent of The Justice published from Madras. He went out news hunting through the bazaar and market place, hung about law courts, police stations, and the municipal building. “I tried to make up at least ten inches of news each day before lunchtime… I sat down at my typewriter, and typed the news items with appropriate headings.” He would mail his reports at the Chamarajapuram post office, before the postal clearance at 2:30 p.m. There were days when he went back to the post office to retrieve his packet in order to revise his writing. The indulgent postmaster used to oblige him.

As a moffusil correspondent of a metropolitan newspaper, Narayan, early on, understood the value of picking up human-interest stories and deviations from the normal as nuggets of news. This helped him to cast his net wide for observing human habits, frailties and personal relationships. This ability was invaluable when he began to write fiction.

As a writer, Narayan excelled in his unfailing instinct as an editor of his own work. He was a fastidious chooser of words and spurned adjectives. He read and reread his manuscripts. Brevity was his strong point. In his conversations he did away with words and often responded with a flicker of the mouth.

Narayan was a private person and a whole-time writer and was never seen at literary seminars, conferences etc. For us who were in college, he was something of a puzzle. Says HY Sharada Prasad, his close friend and student leader: “During the Quit India movement and all when nationalist politics were at fever pitch, Narayan never issued statements condemning imperialistic perfidy or the inadequacy of the Cripps Proposals. He appeared curiously unconcerned and uncommitted––to borrow a word which came into vogue later.”

In the beginning of his writing career, the royalties from his books were meagre. He was forced to accept odd writing jobs for the local radio station, Akashvani, and dialogues for films. I remember going with him to the Kakanakote forests to photograph the ‘Khedda’, the elephant catching operations. Narayan had been assigned to write the script for a radio feature. In fact, he has written short texts to accompany the photographs I made for the External Publicity Division of the Government of India. He expressed his delight when he got more than twice the money that The Hindu was paying him for similar work. Narayan’s financial problems ended only after his novel, The Guide, was published in l959. By then he had become better known in India and abroad and was on the way to becoming the country’s best-known novelist.

Narayan worked in a small room that was bare except for a table and chair. There was a modest collection of books neatly arranged in a shelf beside the wall, on which was a framed photograph of his wife Rajam. He wrote by hand and later typed his manuscript using a portable machine. He read and reread his manuscript, making many corrections with his Parker fountain pen. If not satisfied with it, he unhesitatingly threw it into the waste-paper basket. I was somewhat surprised with what he did and told him that even his discarded manuscripts made literary souvenirs and valuable research material. “I don’t agree with you,” he responded emphatically. He went on to say that some American university tried to acquire his papers and that the idea appalled him. “I made a bonfire of all my papers. I have always felt disturbed by the craze for literary souvenirs. The value attached by some people to scraps of paper which deserve to be sent to the waste-paper basket has always amazed me.”

He used to get upset when interviewers asked him if he was an inspired writer. “Please don’t talk about inspiration and all that. It’s a hard task to make one’s writing readable.” Effort was the secret of his seemingly effortless and natural writing. It is hard to put a signboard on Narayan’s art. In fact the most celebrated eating place in Malgudi “has no board and its owner serves what he wants to, not what the clients might want.”

Says our close friend and well-known sociologist Dr. M.N. Srinivas: “It is necessary to recall that his decision, way back in the l930s, to live by pursuing a literary career in English, must have appeared extraordinary even to those who had glimpsed his gifts. It must have required enormous courage and self-confidence to decide on creative writing in English as a source of livelihood. Somewhere in Narayan’s gentle personality there is a steely layer which enabled him to face the tragedies which came his way––the death of his wife Rajam and daughter Hema.”

The genial, malice-free, infectious humour and readability is the essence of Narayan’s writings that endear him to his readers. Apart from his novels, which are well known and distinguished for their sense of form, his delightful autobiography––My Days––is restrained, evocative and exemplifies his art as a writer, the writer as citizen. As an artist, he was not interested in the theory of fiction and elaborate concepts structured by literary critics. As a novelist he wanted his stories to be read. As an essayist, he was content to chat. He read widely and had clear views on the quality of the writings of the younger generation.

Narayan adopted the narrative technique of the katha tradition to build up the human interest of characters and situations and left, like a harikatha vidwan, an element of suspense, built up one’s curiosity, so that the listener would be impatient to find out what happened next. His prose does not dazzle the reader. It forges a bond between him and the reader. While reading a Narayan novel, I have always felt as if I was sitting beside the author, enjoying a cup of coffee on a winter morning.

If curd rice was Narayan’s favourite dish, coffee was undoubtedly his favourite drink. He was a strict vegetarian and, when invited for a meal, would often tell my wife not to prepare many dishes. “I am happy with curd rice and lime pickle,” he would tell her. He thought, “the sound of curds falling on a heap of rice is the loveliest sound in the world.” He did not impose his regimen on his hosts. But I know for sure, that he made a great deal of fuss about coffee. He relied on his sister-in-law, Sulochana, to prepare the brew. This gracious lady, wife of his younger brother Seenu, was a great friend of my wife Ratna. She would bemoan: “It is a terrible task for me, making the ‘perfect’ coffee for Kunjappa––Narayan’s pet name. The warmth of the drink and the mix of sugar, milk and decoction have to be very, very correct. Even if there is a slight variation in warmth or flavour, he will ask me to make it all over again. One has to be a genius to ‘repair’ it.”

Though music was Narayan’s real passion, I wonder why he did not choose music as a theme or a musician as a character in any of his novels. Great musicians like MS Subbulakshmi and DK Pattammal were his close friends and stayed at his home on their visits to Mysore.

Narayan who spent most of his life in Mysore moved out to Madras, owing to his deteriorating health in the final decade of his life. It was in Madras that he could get the emotional support from his only daughter Hema and granddaughter Minnie. Mysore, thus, was deprived of a well-known citizen who was also the most famous tourist attraction.

Even after he left Mysore, I kept in touch with him by letter or by phone. He would always write back, his lines refusing to run parallel to one another. In one of his letters he wrote: “I spend a lot of time reclining in my easy chair and thinking of Mysore, which now has become a sort of emotional landscape, which is quite satisfying! God has given me the power of recollection. So, who needs train tickets”?

Whenever I went to Madras I used to find Narayan constantly talking to friends on a cordless telephone. “Without this I cannot survive,” he would tell me. When young friends visited him, they sought his blessings and prostrated at his feet. Narayan made them laugh saying: “This is an advantage that age bestows on a man even if he is an utter ass!”

Narayan’s room had a window overlooking a crowded junction of roads at Alwarpet. He would often gaze through this window to look at the world passing by. To some, this world may have seemed circumscribed. But for the creator of Malgudi, it was all the canvas he needed. “There’s so much happening here. There is so much to see. So interesting,” he told me on one of my last visits, before death overtook him. But, as long as he lived, Rasipuram Krishnaswamy Iyer Narayanswamy woke up each day to a new literary adventure.

MUST READ: Ved Mehta on R.K. Narayan’s day

8 July 2006

First published in the New Yorker, September 15, 1962 in an essay titled ‘The train had just arrived at Malgudi Station’

***

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.

“If, on his promenade, Narayan sees three or four men in a huddle, he observes their ways closely. In his many years of living in Mysore, he has made friends among artisans, businessmen, lawyers, teachers—the man and women of his novels. After lunch, he may do an hour or two of writing—his limit for a day’s serious work. He composes fast, and two thousand words in a couple of hours is not an unusual achievement for him.

“I am an inattentive, quick writer who has little sense of style,” he said candidly. Once he has written the first few pages of a novel, he seldom retouches a sentence, believing that writing is “a dovetailing process,” by which he means that a novel well begun writes itself.

“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 bed.”

India-born Ved Mehta was a staff writer of the New Yorker from 1961 to 1994, and has authored two-dozen books.

***

Also see: The life in a day of R.K. Narayan

MUST READ: R.K. Narayan on Mysore

4 July 2006

In 1939, R.K. Narayan wrote a travelogue on the Mysore State, titled Mysore. The book, which saw a second print five years later, is now sadly out of print. In a chapter in it especially devoted to the City where he spent almost all his writing and working life, RKN bemoaned the diminishing gleam of Mysore vis-a-vis Bangalore, with the shifting of the capital, Akashvani and the University:

“What has been left behind is the Chamundi Hill with its temple, also the rivers Kaveri and Kabini on the outskirts, and the forests on the farther perimeter with their tigers, bisons, elephants, and a hundred other creatures.

“To me at any rate, the really worthwhile things are here, and form an immutable background to life in Mysore, which goes on unruffled, free form the fret and fury of modern city life…”

http://churumuri.wordpress.com/rk-narayan/

RKN, as Mysorean as Mysore Pak, Mysore Mallige

3 July 2006

CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY writes: I write this piece in the context of certain uncharitable comments that I saw in response to the Churumuri campaign to secure civic recognition for R.K. Narayan in the City where he spent most of his life.

It seems hideously unfair to question R.K. Narayan’s love for Mysore, a City which he considered his own, a City which readily provided him creative sustenance for 70 years.

From the balcony of 15, Vivekananda Road, his favorite writing spot, a curious range of fictional characters took flight to be celebrated on the global literary runway. The writer’s block—as an affliction—never quite felled Narayan, and the reason for that, I believe, was Mysore.

Did RKN write with a Tamil sensibility? Surely he couldn’t have avoided that. He was, after all, born into a Tamil-speaking Iyer family in Madras and spent a considerable part of his childhood there.

Moreover, his maternal uncle T.N. Seshachalam—a renowned Tamil literary critic who edited the literary journal Kala Nilayam—had a powerful influence on him. Seshachalam, who was an authority in classical Tamil literature, derived immense pleasure in translating Shakespeare and Sheridan.

In his teens, Narayan was asked to return to Mysore by his father, who was the headmaster of the Maharaja’s Collegiate
High School. “Thus ended one phase of my life as a man of Madras; I became a Mysorean henceforth,” says Narayan in his autobiography.

He goes on to say:

“Unlike Madras, where even a shirt on one’s back proves irksome, here (in Mysore) one could dress properly—coat, cap and footwear, which my father insisted both as a headmaster and a teacher.’’

Further dwelling on the Mysore experience, Narayan says:

“Sometimes, I went back to the Kukkanahalli tank in the late afternoon, when the evening sun touched the rippling water-surface to produce uncanny lighting effects, and the western sky presented a gorgeous display of colours and cloud formations at sunset. Even today, I would assert, after having visited many parts of the world, that nowhere can you witness such masterpiece sunsets as in Mysore. I would sit on a bench on the tank and watch the sun’s performance, the gradual fading of the colours in the sky, and the emergence of the first single star at dusk.’’

Let me quote another portion:

“I enjoyed every moment of living in Mysore. Sometimes I loitered through the parks and the illuminated vicinities of the Maharaja’s Palace. Sometimes I climbed the thousand steps of the hill and prayed at the shrine of Chamundi, made coconut offerings and ate them with great relish on the way back. Some days I would notice the gathering storm and flee before it, running down the thousand steps and a couple of miles from the foot of the hill, to reach home drenched, dripping and panting, but feeling victorious at having survived the blinding lighting and thunder.’’

But then, as inaccurately pointed out by one of Churumuri’s readers, RKN’s world was not merely populated by “Rajan, Krishnaswami or Iyer….’’

The flamboyant Raju (The Guide, 1958), the restrained Sampath (The Printer of Malgudi, 1957) or the glib Margayya (The Finacial Expert, 1952) were all real-life Mysoreans who were endowed with rich dimensions and shades by RKN’s fountain pen.

If you notice, it is these Mysore “characters” who stand out most prominently in Narayan’s creative oeuvre.

Raju (some say Keshav) was an enterprising tourist guide who operated from opposite Hotel Metropole. Local lore speaks of how he once chaperoned a couple from the US, and even escorted the lady to meet Mysore’s legendary dancer Venkatalakshmamma, who lived in the vicinity of Gayathri talkies-area. In due course, Raju/Keshav is supposed to have charmed the lady and eloped with her to the US.

Mr Sampath was Mysore’s own Cheluva Iyengar who owned the City Power Press off Sayaji Rao Road. He was RKN’s dear friend and earliest printer of his paperback titles. Iyengar was also a theatre person and later became a Kannada film character-actor.

During one post-dinner gossip session, which RKN’s family religiously indulged in, Seenu (R.K. Srinivasan, who was RKN’s brother) lucidly narrated the shenanigans of an unscrupulous peon from his office.

Margayya, even after being dismissed from service, unflappably continued with his nefarious activities from the veranda of the main entrance of the building without entering the main offices. When the officials protested, he settled at the outer gate and made a quick buck advising people on the rules and by laws of the cooperative institution. He would fill up cumbersome applications, get a commission on the loans disbursed, etcetera.

Later, Narayan went to his desk and wrote that first line of The Financial Expert.

Quite amusingly, many years later after the release of the Financial Expert, RKN set his eyes on the original Margayya, in one of Mysore’s lively marketplaces:

“He was somewhat ragged now, as he sat on the bazaar pavement selling books. Apparently, he sold prayer books, and calendar pictures depicting the Gods, but to the favoured ones he produced from under cover a different category of books: nude picture albums and the Kama Sutra in simple language.’’

In 1939, Narayan wrote “Mysore“, a travelogue, that is rare and a collector’s item now. The book (second edition, 1944) is a record of his peregrinations across Mysore State. It blends local history, legend an anecdotes, and is largely seen as a “fiction writer’s source book and culture advertisements’’.

Not many know, that while he was at Holenarsipura on the banks of the river Hemavathi, RKN received news of his daughter’s birth. The writer went on to name the new born after the river that meanders through the Kannada heartland.

Apart from a string of interesting locales, Mysore captures the fable of the Bababudan Range in Chikamagalur; the spiritual fervor one finds in Sringeri; about remote Kaidala in Tumkur, the native village of Hoysala sculptor Jakanachari; the myth surrounding the summit of Devaraya Durga and then on his own Mysore City in a chapter under the same name.

Apart from intense affection for his local environs, what is striking in ‘Mysore City’ is Narayan’s somewhat anxious account of the civic-problems of the day rankling the royal capital:

“This is the sad part of it today—a feeling one gets that Mysore has been abandoned by its guardians. Garbage heaps keep growing by the roadside; tenemental constructions proliferate over carefully planned old extensions; the streets look sinister at nightfall, are ill-lit or not lit at all in most places (Mysore was called the city of lights once); roads are pitted in most areas, with potholes camouflaged with pebbles and a smearing of tar (a highly individual technique evolved by our road-makers on the basis of ‘out of sight, out of mind’); and above all we had the finest filtered water supply once upon a time. Now one hears with shock that it’s only half-filtered. The man who mentioned it asked, “Isn’t it better than nothing?” How can it be? It is in the same category as poison or sin for there can be no such a thing as semi-sinfulness or semi-poison; I hear rumours that finances are being found a hundered per cent filtering of water. I hope it will be done before there is one more attack of cholera.’’

Then there is the humour:

“A visitor to the city once asked why the bulk of the population of Mysore city, mostly in groups of four and six, seemed to be concentrated in its streets. The answer is simple. Mysoreans have not yet lost the use of their limbs; the distances are not insuperable, and the weather and the general surroundings are always conducive to a walking philosophy, tempting one to go out. A day’s visit to the ‘market side’ is indispensable, if not shopping at least to meet people. As in ancient Athens, people settle many matters of philosophy, politics and personal affairs, while promenading around the statue or strolling down Sayaji Rao Road. But this creates certain traffic problems, as such discussions, by preference, are held on road junctions, rather than on the very broad footpaths (which, for mysterious reasons, are detested and avoided by one and all).”

I also learn that Narayan wrote an endearing piece on
Mysore in a commemorative volume that was released in 1951 to mark the Centenary Celebrations of Maharaja’s College. I tried to ferret it out from the cavernous book-shelves of the Mysore University library as a student many years ago but did not succeed. That could be a worthwhile adventure to embark upon, once again.

***

There were certain foolish comments made by one of Churumuri’s contributors who, under the somewhat spurious name of S.S. Karnadsha, seems to effortlessly project his ignorance on all matters literary.

Narayan never wrote to impress Graham Greene. Their camaraderie spanning over half a century was genuine and not opportunistic. Also both practiced an entirely different genre of writing and were nominated for the Nobel Prize on numerous occasions, but did not make it. This obviously does not speak very well of Naryan’s self-promotion skills.

The ignorant Karnadsha spouts more smut: “What has RKN done for Mysore? Did RKN ever think of Mysore as his home and Mysoreans as his readers? If he is forgotten by Mysoreans it is not by devise, but by a default dynamic. He richly deserves to be condemned to such oblivion.’’

I allow Churumuri’s discerning readers to absorb that but not necessarily react to a phantom’s comments.

TO THE GOVERNOR OF KARNATAKA, FROM US

27 June 2006

A churumuri delegation today called upon the Governor of Karnataka, His Excellency T.N. Chaturvedi, on behalf of churumuri readers, to submit to him a memorandum seeking civic recognition for R.K. Narayan in Mysore in this, the centenary year of his birth.

The team comprised the photojournalist T.S. Satyan, the historian Ramachandra Guha, Sunaad Raghuram and Krishna Prasad. The memorandum contained copies of all the articles and comments carried by churumuri as part of the week-long campaign in April.

The following is the verbatim text of the petition submitted to the Governor:

***

Your Excellency, the Governor.

Thank you very much, Sir, for agreeing to see us and give us a hearing.

As you may be aware, CHURUMURI.WORDPRESS.COM is one of the world’s fastest growing web logs.

Recently, churumuri conducted a week-long campaign to secure R.K. Narayan his due in the City where he spent much of his writing life, Mysore. This campaign has drawn international attention, and the historian and writer Ramachandra Guha wrote a column commending churumuri‘s campaign in The Hindu recently.

We, the readers of churumuri, are astonished to learn that there is not a single monument to perpetuate the name and memory of R.K. Narayan in the whole of Mysore.

There is not a road or an avenue named after R.K. Narayan; there is not a circle, square or roundabout named after R.K. Narayan; there is not a statue of R.K. Narayan; there is not a building or hall or room named after R.K. Narayan; there is not even a University department named after R.K. Narayan. Nothing.

We, the readers of churumuri, believe that a great wrong has been committed on a great writer. And we believe that the time has come to rectify this wrong in this, the 100th year of the birth of R.K. Narayan. (RKN was born on 10 October 1906).

Mr Governor, we would urge you to use your good offices to secure justice for R.K. Narayan. It is not for us to suggest what you should do, but you may like to consider one or more of the following suggestions thrown up by readers of churumuri.

1) The naming of a prominent road, circle or square in Mysore after R.K. Narayan.

2) The naming of the walkway on the periphery of the Kukkarahalli lake in the Unviersity of Mysore campus after R.K. Narayan.

3) The awarding of a posthumous doctorate degree on R.K. Narayan by the University of Mysore.

4) The setting up of a walk-through “Miniature Malgudi” on the campus of the University of Mysore, alive with characters R.K. Narayan introduced to the world.

5) The setting up of a museum, along with a replica of his study, in the name of R.K. Narayan on the campus of the Unviersity of Mysore, so that future generations can see how India’s bestknown English writer in the English language lived and worked.

6) The setting up of a scholarship or fellowship in the English Department of the University of Mysore in the name of R.K. Narayan.

7) The naming of any one train connecting Karnataka and Tamil Nadu (since R.K. Narayan lived in both States) as “Malgudi Express”.

8) The setting up of a children’s library in the name of R.K. Narayan to immortalise R.K. Narayan’s name and to preserve and nurture the innocence of children through his books.

9) Events to be held by the University of Mysore and Dhvanyaloka, or a festival of some sort to be held by the department of Kannada and Culture.

We hope, Mr Governor, that the Government of Karnataka will not be lacking in recognising and rewarding a true son of Mysore who took its name far and wide into the hearts of millions of readers on every continent.

Yours sincerely

The readers of churumuri.

***

The following readers of churumuri by virtue of responding to the R.K. Narayan Campaign are deemed to have appended their signatures to it. Some of the names are screen names that internet users employ.

T.S. Satyan, A. Madhavan, Krishna Prasad, Sunaad Raghuram, Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi, Gouri Satya, P.M. Vijendra Rao, R.S. Krishnaswamy, Chetan Krishnaswamy, H.R. Bapu Satyanarayana, Bhamy V. Shenoy, Mohan Das Konanoor, Raviprasad P.K., Anupama G.S., Gopal Shetty M, G.V. Krishnan, Pamula Anandraju, Prakash Tumkur, Praveen G.K., Ravishekhar S., Amrit Yegnanarayan, D.P. Satish, S. Narahari, Kozhikode Chandu, N. Raghavan, Dileepa P., N. Niranjan Nikam, Rajnish Wattas, Rahul Bapat, Nikhil Moro, Jeevarathna, Kumar V.S., Rajiv, Suma, Sukhi, Raj, Ravi, Prasad, Venky, Amber, Vijay, Vinay, Suresh, Chitra, Gowrish, Nataraj, Preetam, Prakash, December Stud, onceuponatime, Aatmasakshi, Trinity, Nash, Lazy drive, tarlesubba.

***

We thank the readers of churumuri for taking part in this Campaign, and we hope something will emerge out of this. We may fail, but the satisfaction of having tried is ours. To access any or all of the R.K. Narayan pieces, simply type in “CAMPAIGN” in the Search window.

RAMACHANDRA GUHA on CHURUMURI campaign

21 May 2006

Churumuri is proud and privileged to record that its campaign to secure R.K. NARAYAN his rightful place in our memories has found national, even international recognition.

Ramachandra Guha, the historian, writer and columnist, has devoted a whole column in the Sunday Magazine of The Hindu today to churumuri‘s landmark campaign.

Click on the link below to read Guha’s column on how we should remember our icons and prepetuate their memory for posterity.

http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/thscrip/print.pl?file=2006052100270300.htm&date=2006/05/21/&prd=mag

Type CAMPAIGN in the “Search” window to access all the articles on R.K. Narayan run by churumuri.

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CAMPAIGN: A six-lane expressway in ‘New Malgudi’

9 May 2006

If R.K. Narayan were writing about Malgudi today, how would he have dealt with the steel and glass-fronted shopping malls, offices and multiplexes in bizarre shapes that now form the new skyline?

Rajnish Wattas in today’s Indian Express:

http://www.indianexpress.com/story/4021.html


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