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

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


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.

42 Responses to “T.S. SATYAN: The R.K. NARAYAN only I knew”

  1. Saumya Says:

    Churumuri in its element! Makes me want to pick up an RKN book and read.


  2. ದೀರೇಂದ್ರ ಗೋಪಾಲ್ Says:

    K.P nimma Jeevana Dhanya..yivathu yeno post maadudralla R.K.N bagge
    Dayavittu churumuri close maadi swamy ..neevu Post madalla aadhu agalla .
    Athva yaaradhru nimma gelayarige aadhru bittu kodi nimma kayalli aaaglilla andhre.

  3. Haldodderi Sudhindra Says:

    Thank you TSS Sir! You have presented a perfect picture of RKN. Its people like RKN and you, who made my life easier.

    While reading your blog, I moved back on a time machine to my school days (of hard struggle to pick up english). My father (Kannada Journo HR Nagesha Rao of Tayinadu and Samyukta Karnataka) had subscribed for The Illustrated Weekly of India, The Hindu and Readers Digest. He was an ardent fan of RKN. He had a collection of RKN’s writings that included the newspaper clippings.

    I was struggling to pickup English (and still struggling now!), and my dad suggested me to read RKN. He made me an ardent fan of RKN and I read my first ever english book ‘Swamy and his friends’.

    My dad had a high esteem for you as well.

    Thanking you once again. I just watched you on an English TV Channel speaking on RKN.

  4. Nikhil Moro Says:

    Satyan Sir, thanks for sharing your evocative paper.

    I never met Narayan, but I can imagine what an intelligent wit he was. The drollness in his writing is perhaps less celebrated than the grace.

    I’m somewhat amused that Dr. Harish Trivedi, the English scholar from Delhi University who opened the R.K. Narayan seminar, said Narayan was born in Mysore (Star of Mysore report of October 10). Hope folks from Purasawalkam, Madras, didn’t notice!

  5. balu Says:

    This article is published in Star of Mysore today, Copy cat KP

  6. Ramanuja Says:

    When I was studying in high school in Mysore in 1950s a stone throw from his house, no English teacher that I knew there ever recalled meeting Narayan. Finally,when efforts were made by my school to invite him to talk to students, he turned the invitations down. We were told that he did not seek publicity that way!! But he did readily accept invitations to talk to students and present lectures based on his books in universities in USA. I have seen him in late 60s travel in his Mercedes around Mysore, even to visit Srinivasa stores He was then seen not in dhoti but in the traditional Indian suit (closed coat etc..). A good account of a trip in a memory lane nevertheless.

  7. Ramesh S P, Mysore Says:

    Thank you TS Satyan

  8. V.R.Anil Kumar Says:

    An intimate and heartfelt account of a friendship which could have come from RKN’s pen. It is a wonderful piece of writing.Thank you, Mr.Satyan.

  9. Arun Padaki Says:

    Simply superb.

  10. Arun Padaki Says:

    Excellent piece…

  11. rk Says:

    this ought to be one of the best tributes to the master storyteller. you took us on a wonderful journey into the world of RKN. thanks a ton.

  12. Padmini Bhat Says:

    I enjoyed the wonderful piece of mater storyteller.Thank you Mr Satyan for your best tribute to Sri RKN.

  13. anoop Says:

    by far the best introduction for the master story teller, R.K.Narayan . thanks for reproducing this verbatim.

  14. Ranga Says:

    If RKN had spent also the last years of his life in Mysore, his death would have
    triggered the kind of recognition many of his friends are now demanding in printed and electronic media. I have heard from many about experiences similar to what Mr Ramanuja has narrated in that RKN shunned invitations to speak to the young readers in schools. He had a narrow circle of friends and was contented in conversing with them, we were told. Also in my time in secondary school, the English texts had no RKN’s works, which would have added another dimension to narrative techniques.

  15. Prasad Says:

    I got this piece from the California Literary Review which talks about RKN’s first visit to the US. It was as late as 1956, two full decades after he had written his first known novels. It is quite interesting.
    The Rockefeller Foundation selected Narayan for a travel grant. This was his first travel abroad, and he says coyly, “Finally I did break out of the triangular boundary of Madras, Mysore and Coimbatore and left for the United States, in October 1956.”

    A memorable travelogue, “My Dateless Diary”, came out of Narayan’s American sojourn. He visited New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, the Grand Canyon among other places and met eminent personalities such as Aldous Huxley, John Gunther, Greta Garbo. Garbo was apparently much interested in Narayan’s mystic leanings.

    In the Hotel Carlton, Berkeley, California, Narayan wrote the most famous of his novels, “The Guide”. Sometimes he wrote with a typewriter, sometimes with paper and pen, cooking his own food on a hot plate in the hotel room every day.

    Narayan has written, “The Guide attained a certain degree of popularity, which, though pleasant in itself, brought in its wake involvements that turned out to be ludicrous and even tragic.” It was made into a film which mutilated the original storyline much to the author’s chagrin. A planned Broadway edition was as reckless in its treatment. Narayan had to withhold his permission to present it on stage, even as the adaptation was done by an old friend of his, a former literary editor of the New York Times. As an example of the outrage, Narayan mentions, “For instance, his version managed to abolish the heroine. I objected to his omission and to two irrelevant characters of his own; above all I objected to the hero’s turning around and urinating on the stage.”

    Matters became rather acrimonious over this script and Narayan had to leave New York at a very short notice to avoid being summoned for a subpoena; he found asylum in the Indian consulate before boarding a flight out of the United States. However the script was later revised and “The Guide” opened in Broadway in March 1968. It closed in less than a week.

  16. decemberstud Says:

    Mr. Satyan,

    Thank you very much for a great piece. A brillaint tribute indeed.


    Even if whatever you said is true, was it really required to put that comment here ? now ? Reading that comment was like eating salt at the end of a ‘bhUri bhOjana’.

  17. Vijay Says:

    Mr. Satyan, a truly filling tribute that could only come from a true friend who knew R.K. Narayan for a long time. You are lucky to have walked with him.

    Great trip down memory lane. Still remember his house in Yadavagiri.

  18. sudipta Says:

    what a glorious tribute. thanks Satyan Sir _ and KP. have already taken out all the RKN books to re-read. wish you had published some of his fabulous pictures too…

  19. idly soma Says:

    Superb TSSI.. Thanks for this wonderful piece.

  20. H.R.Bapu Satyanarayana Says:

    I have deliberately refraained from going through 19 comments lest it should taint my view. Yes, I do not maake any pretence of reading al R.K.Narayan’s bok. I have read three of them to give the insight. As Satyan says going throuhg them is like sitting by the side o the author and savour the sounds and sights of Mysore. It was a delectble experience. I wonder how history bypasses us. My father was the classmate of R.K.Pattabhi, RKN’s elder brother and in that connection I hasd gone to his house and saw him sitting on ratten chair. Yet being very young I missed out the bnrush of graeatness sitting next to me. Well, mor to the point os Satasn’s pen-portrait. The very simplicity is stunnig and to go through it so wholesome experience. I am in Gujarat, rcovering from a bypass surgery and when i contacted him yesterday he mentioned about his write-up and here I am sitting against the remonstarions of my near and dear ones to make my comment. 6 years junior and when I was in Mysore till about five weeks ago Satyan would walk to my house and we both sit out to savout the cofee and two rusks. I have heard many times when he use to come to my house he would recount with photographic memory his experiences of many of hsi phot-journalist career many of which is part of his extremely enjoyable book- ‘Alive and clicking’ I can vouchsafe when Satyan recounts his experiences one is transported. His narrative is simply exquite and add to this his twinkle in his eyes of recalling with such micro details the even long past several decades it leaves yoiou spell boung. He is astory teller par excellance

  21. Vinay Says:

    Dear brothers and sisters,

    This is the 21st comment! Please read on…

    When I was studying in Seshadripuram College, Bangalore, I became interested in RKN’s novels. I would hide behind the tall shelves in the library and read the Malgudi gems. The fragrance of old paper excited my mind (is there anobody who likes the smell of old paper?) To me, his novels were sacred and personal, I didn’t want my classmates to know about it. A bit jealous, you might say.

    One morning at seven, before my college started, I took a train to Mysore. I knew RKN stayed in Yadavgiri or Bojanna Lines or Saraswathipuram (ref: ‘My Days’). Like a detective I reached Mysore safely, munching Maddur vadas on the way (any takers for hot, hot, maddur vadas?).

    I tiptoed toward Dasprakash hotel (that’s where somebody said he stayed!). In fact, his house was right opposite to the hotel. I made enquiries inside. And to my dismay, the ‘Emperor of Malgudi’ wasn’t there. But anyway, I sat on a stone bench in his garden and brought back sweet memories of his childhood. I felt so nice after that.

    Now I’m in Manchester, UK, working on my second novel. I know RKN is here somewhere… probably next to me.

  22. Ranga Says:

    1. It is not clear what kind of vadas you were munching. Masala Vadas usually are cold when you get them. Similar case with Uddina Vada.
    2. It is not clear when you went to Mysore. Is another Dasaprakash in Yadavagiri lately? The gates had been locked since RKN left for Madras ages ago and usually gate keeper had been difficult to find.

  23. Ramanuja Says:

    Mr Vinay,

    Are you trying to say that you are a writer and your first novel is out ? If your novel has a style of narration similar to the your posting above, you would not go far as a novelist.

    Manchester -a right place to write a novel? Shouldn’t you be in quieter places like Dorset? Given the number of Islamic Funadamentalists you have in Manchester and the rampant gun crime, Dorset or a place in Wessex is the place. That was where Thomas Hardy wrote his immortal novels.

  24. RAMA Says:

    You are wrong Ranga

    Yes there is another Dasprakash atUdayagiri.
    RKN leftforMadras.But, a watchman(s) stillthere.
    to find go there

  25. Haldodderi Sudhindra Says:

    For Mr.Ranga…

    1. It doesn’t matter whether its cold or hot, Vadas are Vadas which can be munched hot or cold, with chutni or sambar.

    2. It is not the good old Dasprakash Hotel, Mr. Ranga. There is another hotel of the same group in Mysore called Dasprakash Paradise which is (was) right opposite to RKN’s House.

    Talking of Mysore brings in greater than the greatest memories.

    I returned from (a one day trip) Mysore yesterday. I enjoyed a half an hour Tonga ride from the palace to the whole of market place and back. My fifteen year old daughter enquired whether we can go around RKN’s house with this Tonga. If he were to be alive, we could have met this Grand Old Man of Malgudi.

    The Tongawala (Mr.Ahmed) and his horse (Khaleem) took us 3 or 4 decades back in the memory lanes.

  26. ravi Says:


    RKN never spent his childhood in Yadavagiri, AFAIK, it was in Madras and wee bit in Chamundipuram/Krishnamuthypuram.

  27. Ranga Says:

    My relatives know him reasonably well. He lived in Lakshmipuram most of his life except a few years towards the end. Though he lived in Mysore, my relative would say he was more a Tamilian at heart, knew very little Mysore issues and had very few Kannaddiga friends. When the London’s ITV filmed him for their South Bank show in late 1970s, he was in Yadavagiri, and took the reporter to the Saraswathipuram railway station and during the conversation indicated that it was the genesia of his Malgudi- which sounded like Lalgudi to me. a town in Tamil Nadu. But he invented a genre of story telling which is worth preserving.

  28. Vinay Says:

    Thanks for clearing some misconceptions, Mr Sudhindra. I was munching vadas that were brought on the platform at Maddur train station. I enjoyed them!

    Ravi, I was remembering RKN’s childhood memories ( I know he didn’t spend much of his childhood in Mysore) as I do remember my childhood days, sitting here in Manchester. You don’t have to be in the place to remember the past. You can be sitting anywhere and thinking about anything. Mind is such a beautiful thing. You can think of anything and enjoy the experience.

  29. Ranga Says:

    Sure, there is nothing wrong in remembering childhood days sitting anywhere.
    The way the gun crime is escalating in Manchester, it forces me to think about the childhood whenever I visit Manchester, perhaps twice a year, as I am never sure where the next bullet is coming from.

  30. Ramanuja Says:

    I posted my piece about RKN just to give my experience. Many great men of letters that Mysore produced including Kuvempu, Tarasu, Adiga etc..were very willing to come to our school to talk to a student audience. CDN came once when his essays were included in our text, talked about learning and enjoying English, and we were simply thrilled.

    In Europe and USA, discussion of famous men of letters, their, life and work has been part of tradition. Contributions of Brontes, Austen, Dickens, Hardy, Defoe, Dumas, etc.. were all evluated against the tapestry of their lives.

  31. shmoun Maqsood Says:

    I know Vinay and he lives in Manchester. I have lived in Manchester all my life and I am proud of this fact. Why can you not write a novel living in Manchester? As I can gather a novel should be based on real-life incidents and facts. There are more gun battles and bullets flying inm India then there are in Manchester. You have to always watch your back in India as in Manchester. You can only make judgements about a place until you experience it for yourself.
    As for fundamentalists, there are more fundamentalists and terror attacks in India than in Manchester.
    Before you make any judgements, look at what is happening in your own house before looking at others house.

  32. Haldodderi Sudhindra Says:

    I do not remember who gave this information. RKN coined the name of the town Malgudi from MALleswaram+basavanaGUDI of Bangalore.

    Anyone to enlighten on this issue?

  33. M.P.V. Shenoi Says:

    I enjoyed reading TS satyan’s, my teacher for a short time, essay on his long association with RKN and his writings. I was introduced RKNs writing through a prize I got for Mathamatical test when I was at MHS. It was Dudu and other short stories. Not many perhaps know about it. I liked reading it immensely as the characters were ordinary and the incidents trivial like a doll getting crushed – or a young boy trying to sell his scribble on a coconut leaf to Oriental library. This led me to read most of his books and essays. It also developed my taste for short stories.
    He was really some one who believed in living like a eleya mareya kayi and offering to the world what frailties he saw in ordinary humans around him

  34. Ranga Says:

    I do not live in India, but know Machester well, which has become the citadel for islamic fundamentalists and AlQeida followers, thanks to the freedom provided by the Britsh democracy which these terrorists misuse. That would be the gist of my novel on Manchester, which was once a great city

    RKN was a story teller and that was his novel’s genre. He was not clear in ITV show referred to above, shown in Britain in late 1970s about the messages that he was conveying through his novels. He made references to Dickens.

  35. Peter Sommer Says:

    Dear Satyan, I would be honoured if you found the time for a short email-reply. I still have very fond memories of our last meeting in Mysore for dinner, with Gisela and my now 12-year old son Julian.
    We have moved to Hammerstr. 56, 14167 Berlin, our phone no. is
    0049-30-36 44 13 06 (home) and … 05 (office downstairs). I became 69 on 2.Oct.06.
    Gisela is still working for CHRIST-jewellers, and Julian is attending class 7b at his high school “Werner-von-Siemens-Gymnasium”.
    Hoping to hear from you soon, your friend Peter Sommer – and best wishes from Gisela and Julian, too.

  36. Saranyan Says:

    Dear Mr.Satyan.. it had made me entralled to read your recollections on Narayan,whom i can say without a second thought ,i love more than any author. Even Dostoevsly or Chekov, Maugham or Scott,or elliot or Wilde(i want to emphasise that i dont write these names to ostentate i have read them but only out of Narayan’s preponderation in my memory) has not made an impression on me as profoundly as my dear Narayan. though i had not known him in person..,i have and still am sharing my joy and sorrow in the world of malgudi. there i find people like me, having similar tastes and joys and problems, similar errands and labyrinths and innocence and simplicity..
    it is a place where i lose my self. i still recollect lines so beautiful and deft read long ago like “the rich baritone hovered over the babble like a drone..” and ” his self-assurance regained on seeing his wife..” gives me a purpose to smile.
    Narayan,i feel, is my own.. iam as well also impressed when u said that a book of his is a journey with himself holding a cup of coffee..
    i myself wanted to become a write. so profound was his influence. but things have changed. iam doing my MS in Netherlands. your reminiscence has brought a memory of india back to me. i will feel honoured if u reply me cia email.. thank u

  37. N.S. Manjunath Says:

    I wept after reading Saranyan’s experience with RKN!

    Let’s collect all the simple people in this world and unite them under RK Narayan Foundation and issue them with Malgudi Passports.

  38. I fourth it « Entertaining Research Says:

    […] if nothing, here is a very good reason for my liking Maugham so much: Narayan was not yet a celebrity. In fact, when Somerset Maugham visited Mysore and asked to meet a […]

  39. Soundar Says:

    My children (9 and 5) get to listen to Swami and friends for their bedtime stories here in Melbourne. While I stay away from Swami’s more extreme capers (running away from home, breaking window panes in riots, expelling himself from school..a running thought..was Swami the early prototype for the anarchic Ramachari in ..Naagarahaavu?)
    the detail of his stories are what get me everytime. For instance, the typical single mindedness of a ten year old in rushing out to play inspite of his grandmother calling him..and the remorse that strikes him as he returns home. I feel that only a true child at heart could place himself in the shoes of a ten year old.

  40. Peter Sommer Says:


    Dear T. S. Satyan,
    I was in India (Bengaluru, Ketti/Nilgiris and Mumbai) for close to two months and am flying back to Berlin via London tonight. I would have loved to meet you. However, I did not know how to contact you (no telephone number, no email).
    Please do take the time to write to me per email in Berlin (phw_sommer@web.de) .
    All the best
    Peter Sommer

  41. Alphonsa Philip Says:

    Dear Sathyan Sir,

    I am a research student of R.K Narayan’s short stories. First as part of my studies i read narayan but after finishing some of his works, i feel great joy now. When i went through your experience with narayan it helped me a lot to know more about the personal life of emperor of malgudi.

    Thank you very much for giving us a wonderful piece.

  42. Narayan Chabbi Says:

    Very emotional and thought provoking.Who can forget Malgudi and Swamy.I happen to see the episodes being filmed by Nag brothers.Met Satyan once at the press club in bangalore thru Mr.M.B.Singh,Editor ‘Sudha”.

    Hats off SatyanSir.May your soul rest in peace.

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