Monthly Archives: December 2013

Creative World

“Though his beat covered Vinayak Mudali Street and its four parallel roads, it took him nearly six hours before he finished his round and returned to the head office in Market Road to deliver accounts.” (page 14)

This is the beginning line of The Missing Mail and it leaves the reader wondering who “he” is. This quote also describes Malgudi and what it looks like. As the story goes on the reader figures out why Thanappa (he) does not deliver the mail.

Notes: mystery as to who “he” is, Malgudi landscaping, celebrations are the cause of the letter not reaching the house.

The power of the written word

So this is an apt topic for my last blog ~ the power of the written word. In several of Narayan’s short stories the character put in writing the things they can’t say. The nature of the things they put into letters, powerful things they can’t say, suicide, quitting a job, false accusations against a teacher. There is a letter with good news of a pay raise that Sigh cannot open in “Gateman’s Gift” and it drives him mad. What is thee significance of all these letters never delivered, unopened, taken back.

In “Gateman’s Gift” Singh’s wife tells him of the registered letter “Why not open it and see, ask someone to read it?” Singh cannot read ~ is that why the written word frightens him so? It represents the unknown and for Singh can only bring bad news.

Consider the note that Venkat Rao writes in “Forty`-Five a Month”. He cannot speak to his boss but writes a strong and angry letter equating his job to slavery. For a raise of only 5 rupees a month he snatches the letter back. There is social commentary here in who has a voice and whose voice is repressed.

Even thinking of the written word in “Out of Business” Rama Rao becomees obsessed with words and their meaning, writing them into a weekly contest in a newspaper with the hopes of winning a large sum of money but only losing small sumss of money he cannot afford. it is an escape and yet a trouble for him ~ these weekly word puzzles.

Malgudi Days

He walked off to his car, sat in the back seat and reflected.  He looked at his watch.  Midnight.  If the will was to be signed, it must be done within the next two hours, or never.  He could not be responsible for a mess there; he knew the family affairs too well and about those wolves, Subbiah and his gang,  But what could he do?  If he asked him to sign the will it would virtually mean a death sentence and destroy the thousandth part of a chance that the patient had of survival.”

Narayan, R.K. Malgudi Days. New York: Penguin, 2006.

Notes: Strange how the doctor thinks signing a will can bring about the death of a patient.  The doctor is facing a sort of conundrum here.  He knows that not signing the will can ruin the chances of the family inheriting the property, yet he is concerned with his life.  There is an importance on making sure the property remains with the family while at the same time trying to remain optimistic about the chances of survival.  It is a question of who is being pragmatic in this situation, the doctor or the patient?

Never Clever Enough

“Swami went to his seat with a bleeding heart. He had never met a man so good as Samuel. The teacher was inspecting the home lessons, which usually produced (at least, according to Swami’s impression) scenes of great violence. Notebooks would be flung at faces, boys would be abused, caned, and made to stand up on benches. But today Samuel appeared to have developed more tolerance and gentleness. He pushed away the bad books, just touched people with the cane, never made anyone stand up for more than a few minutes. Swami’s turn came. He almost thanked God for the chance.”

Narayan, R.K. Malgudi Days. New York: Penguin, 2006.

Notes: Complete 360: polar opposite versions of the character [Samuel] leads the audience to fall for the trap like Swami does. “The chance” he should have taken was to behave well and not test Samuel’s limits. Swami’s naivety is apparent as he tries to be clever, which ultimately lands him in more trouble than at the start. It also makes me question whether he actually had a headache in the first place. He asked his mother rather than his father because he knew she would allow him to stay home. Swami is a character that attempts to have things his way, but is most times unsuccessful because he does not think rationally.

Malgudi Days

‘He had earned he reputation of having aged in the Intermediate Class. He entered the Intermediate Class in Albert Mission College as a youngster, with faint down on his upper lip. Now he was still there; his figure had grown brawny and athletic, and his chin had become tanned and leathery. Some people even said that you could see grey hairs on his head.’

R.K. Narayan,  ‘Iswaran’, in ‘Malgudi Days’ Penguin Book, New York 1984), 53

The axe and the tree – Short story genre and Modernism

The dull noise of a blade meeting a tough surface reached his ears. He got up and rushed out. He saw four men hacking the massive trunk of the old margosa tree. He let out a scream: ‘Stop that!’ He took his staff and rushed at those who were hacking. They easily avoided the blow he aimed. ‘What is the matter?’ they asked.
Velan wept. ‘This is my child. I planted it. I saw it grow. I loved it. don’t cut it down…’
‘But it is the company’s orders. What can we do? We shall be dismissed if we don’t obey, and someone else will do it.’
Velan stood thinking for a while and said, ‘Will you at least do me this good turn? Give me a little time. I will bundle up my clothes and go away. After I am gone do what you like.’ They laid down their axes and waited.
Presently Velan came out of his hut with a bundle on his head. He looked at the tree-cutters and said, ‘You are very kind to an old man. You are very kind to wait.’ He looked at the margosa and wiped his eyes. ‘Brothers, don’t start cutting till I am really gone far, far away.’
The tree-cutters squatted on the ground and watched the old man go. Nearly half an hour later, his voice came from a distance, half-indistinctly: ‘Don’t cut yet. I am still within hearing. Please wait till I am gone farther.’ (107)

The axe, in R.K. Narayan, Malgudi Days, Penguin Classics Edition, 2006

Notes: The short story genre is a very fascinating exercise in style. The author manages to set a solid relationship between the reader and the character(s) of the story, within a few pages only. It is interesting to consider this genre in a modernist perspective, as an experimentation and a break of conventions, but still a rigorous practice in its formal effects and its use of epiphany.

Out of Business

“For the next few days his head was free from family cares. He was intensely thinking of his answers: whether it should be tallow or follow…Week after week he invested a little money and sent down his solutions, and every week he awaited the results with a palpitating heart…He was too impatient to wait…” (167)

Notes: pacing, entire story told so succinctly & simply; a lot of little plot happens, nothing significant though, this adds to the fast-paced feel; language, spanning days & weeks, spending money, “awaited,” “impatient” suggests strange anticipated feeling quickening pace and waiting; strange mixture of hope/disappointment, disillusionment

Narayan, R.K. Malgudi Days. New York: Penguin, 2006.


“One day the good journal announced a special offer of eight thousand rupees. It excited Rama Rao’s vision of a future tenfold. He studied the puzzle. There were only four doubtful corners in it, and he might have to send in at least four entries. A larger outlay was indicated. ‘You must give me five rupees this time,’ he said to his wife, at which that good lady became speechless. He had become rather insensitive to such things these days, but even he could help feeling the atrocious nature of his demand. Five rupees were nearly a week;s food for the family. He felt disturbed for a moment; but he had only to turn his attention to speculate whether HOPE or DOPE or ROPE made most sense (for “Some People Prefer This to Despair”), and his mind was at once at rest.”

-R.K. Narayan, “Out of Business”

Notes: I feel a very strong sense of irony in this passage. Rama Rao’s desperate hope that he will win a large prize from these puzzles seems especially absurd when juxtaposed against the alternatives of dope or rope (connoting substance abuse or suicide, respectively).

Swami and Samuel

“Swami went to his seat with a bleeding heart. He had never met a man so good as Samuel.”

“He is very violent, especially with boys who come late. Some days ago a boy was made to stay on his knees for a whole period in the corner of the class because he came late, and that after getting six cuts from the cane and having his ears twisted. I wouldn’t like to go late to Samuel’s class.”

Narayan, R.K. Malgudi Days. New York: Penguin, 2006.

Notes: I was wondering if these stories that Swami tells about Samuel are fabrications to get him out of school. I think they are. Even when Samuel eventually canes Swami, he does it reluctantly, it seems like. 



Appearances in Malgudi Days

“His forehead was resplendent with sacred ash and vermilion, and his eyes sparkled with a sharp abnormal gleam which was really an outcome of a continual searching look for customers, but which his simple clients took to be a prophetic light and felt comforted. The power of his eyes was considerably enhanced by their position–placed as they were between the painted forehead and the dark whiskers which streamed down his cheeks; even a half-wit’s eyes would sparkle in such a setting. To crown the effect he wound a saffron-coloured turban around his head. This colour scheme never failed. People were attracted to him as bees are attracted to cosmos or dahlia stalks”  — An Astrologer’s Day, 1

Notes: abnormality as comforting?, misconceptions, appearances, attraction to the unknown, mysticism, artificiality.

Narayan, R.K. Malgudi Days. New York: Penguin, 2006.