On RK Narayan’s birthday on October 10, we asked five authors to tell us about their favourite book by him
Malgudi Days (1942). The laid back ambience of a sleepy town in south India, the antics of the precocious Swami and the mesh of familial and neighbourly relationships make the collection a timeless read. If one is frazzled by the tempo of the 21st century (which is very often!) there is nothing like going back to the book repeatedly. It opens a portal to another time, another place where life was unhurried, delightful and filled with love. Malgudi Days is my favourite destination when the urge to escape the real world is pressingly strong.
By a long chalk, Swami and Friends (1935). I have never read an Indian account of a childhood so enchanted and yet so real. I think Narayan should have written more about children; his gentleness and his distance is suited to them in a way that becomes slightly otherworldly when he is dealing with adults.
My Days (1974). It has the same lightness of touch in the writing as Swami and Friends, another favourite, and the subject is very every day but not commonplace. There is a kind of wide-eyed wonder and wealth of detail, and a beautiful naivety about the writing.
For me, it would be Swami and Friends . I read it as a child and was enchanted by Swami, both strong-willed and vulnerable, and full of innocent subterfuge. It’s a novel that is so well served by Narayan’s bittersweet, acerbic style.
I like RK Narayan’s short story ‘A Willing Slave’ (from Malgudi Days), which is about an old maid. It was also serialised for TV and Dina Pathak played the old ayah who is exploited by her employers. The beauty of his writing is in how very real the characters are. We’ve all had ayahs exactly like her. She has so much love to give and receives so very little in return. And the beautiful fact that this very unromantic figure too has a love story.