Narayan, R. K.


Narayan, R. K.
(1906–2001)
   novelist of Hinduism
   R. K. Narayan was one of India’s most celebrated modern novelists. Writing in English, he created works that are gentle evocations of small-town Indian life, the life of everyday Hindus.
   Rasipuram Krishnaswami Ayyar Narayanas-wami, better known by his pseudonym, R. K. Narayan, was born in the Prasawalkam section of Madras (Chennai) on October 10, 1906, and died May 13, 2001, at the age of 94. His father, R. V. Krishnaswami Iyer, moved the family to Mysore, where he became a schoolteacher and later headmaster of Maharajah’s Collegiate High School. R. K. was not an outstanding student but managed to receive his bachelor of arts degree at the University of Mysore in 1923. Once he had graduated his natural path was to take a govern-ment job, but R. K. had already decided that he wanted to be a writer.
   R. K.’s first published works appeared in maga-zines and in the newspaper Hindu. He eventually worked for that paper’s Sunday edition. In 1934 he married for love, an unconventional move very much in line with his writing. His wife, Rajam, gave him one daughter, Hema, before she tragi-cally passed away of typhoid in 1939, leaving him with a three-year-old daughter.
   Most of R. K. Narayan’s novels take place in the imaginary South Indian village of Malgudi, portrayed with brilliance and charm. He gives English readers who do not know his country a glimpse into the foibles and joys of the simple life and everyday piety of Hindu culture in India. He is also popular in India, where readers revel in seeing the India they know so brilliantly evoked in his deceptively simple prose.
   There is always a breezy, easy quality to Nara-yan’s work. It is not fraught with high philosophy or complex themes, but rather blessed with an accessibility that takes great skill to produce. His extraordinary productivity included many short stories and articles as well as his novels. On request, Narayan wrote popular versions of both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
   In the late 1980s R. K. Narayan was elected to India’s upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha. He was also honored with many literary awards, including India’s Sahitya Akademi Award (for The Guide), the Royal Society of Literature’s Christopher Benson Award, and Indian’s second highest literary award, the Padma Vibhushan, in 2000. He also made the short list for the Nobel Prize in literature.
   He died in 2001 after his own daughter’s sad early demise, still working on another novel. Narayan was a great figure in world literature, whose own personal humility and desire to avoid pretense may have made him less widely known than he deserved.
   Further reading: A. L. McLeod, ed., R. K. Narayan: Critical Perspectives (New Delhi: Sterling, 1994); R. K. Narayan, An Astrologer’s Day, and Other Stories (Mysore: Indian Thought, 1968); ———, The Bachelor of Arts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); ———, Gods, Demons and Others (New York: Viking Press, 1964); ———, The Guide (London: Bodley Head, 1970); ———, The Mahabharata: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic (London: Heinemann, 1978); ———, Malgudi Days (London: Heinemann, 1982); ———, My Days: A Memoir (Hopewell, N.J.: Ecco Press, 1999); ———, A Story-Teller’s World (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1990).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.


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