RK Narayan’s Mysuru home is now a museum. Here’s why you must visit it
Best known for its palaces and natural beauty, Mysuru is also a literary pilgrimage spot. For the home of RK Narayan, one of India’s best-known writers in English, is located here.travel Updated: Jul 20, 2017 11:52 IST
Pick up a tourist brochure on Mysuru in Karnataka and chances are you will be told about the city’s iconic palace, its Dussehra (locally called Dasara) celebrations, the Chamundi Hill (temple of Goddess Chamundeswari is located there) and the Brindavan gardens. If you are historically inclined, a visit to Srirangapatnam close by, the seat of Tipu Sultan, is a must. If adventure and nature are your callings, the various waterfalls around Mysuru on the river Kaveri would interest you.
But rarely will anyone mention that the home of one of India’s best-known (and certainly most read) writers in English – RK Narayan (Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanswami) – is also located here. However, the little-known gem is worth exploring.
One vaguely knew that Narayan hailed from Mysuru. My most abiding images of the man and work were, strangely, the cinematic rendition of his stories – songs from the Hindi film Guide and Doordarshan series, Malgudi Days, directed by late Shankar Nag. I had, of course, read Guide in college but the memory of it had been failing over the years. Similarly, short stories from his many books too had featured in school. His compassionate humanism and celebration of the ‘ordinary’ being the talking points.
So, when an opportunity came along to visit his home in Mysuru, I went for it with gusto.
Located in the heart of a pretty pocket in the city called Yadavagiri, the house which Narayan built in 1952 is a museum today, maintained by Mysuru City Corporation. The double-storeyed white-washed house is pretty much like the man himself – spartan. Its airy and sun-lit appearance, peeping through the greenery around, is the first thing that hits you. It’s a big and spacious house, one notices.
The red cemented floor will take you back by 50 years. Both the floors are flanked by a broad verandah and a spacious balcony, respectively. It may be a big house but it doesn’t have too many rooms—the ground floor has a living room, leading up from the verandah. The semi-circular side wall of the room adds to its size. The room is lined with pictures from his life – RK as a young man with his wife Rajam and baby daughter, as a boy (sometimes solo and at other times with his family), a portrait of the RK as a writer is likely to stay with you … And there is much more. The walls are also adorned by the awards he won, eminently displayed is the Padma Vibhushan.
A staircase and inner verandah separate two more rooms and bathroom from the living area. Behind the main living room is a kitchen. One is taken aback at the relatively smaller rooms as compared to the spacious bath and kitchen. No fancy trimmings here – just a bathing area and a platform. Ditto with the kitchen (with the necessary changes, of course).
Back to the two rooms – there are more memorabilia here – his ties have been framed in a glass-covered panel. On the walls, is the story of his life – written and framed. So we know that while on a visit to his sister’s place in Coimbatore in 1933, he met and fell in love with a young girl, Rajam, whom he eventually married. Six years into the marriage, she died which left RK so distraught that he never married again.
There’s also an episode about how his mentor and friend, Graham Greene, was instrumental in getting publishers for Narayan’s first four books, including the semi-autobiographical trilogy of Swami and Friends, The Bachelor of Arts, and The English Teacher.
I move upstairs…
A flight of steps lead to a small landing on top with two identical rooms to the right and another airy and sun-kissed room, similar in design to the living room, below. This was RK’s study and it has no less than eight windows!
In this room, one is treated to the complete collections of RK’s work in small cupboards in the wall. No fancy built-in variety here, just niches in the wall with some shelves. On another wall, familiar pictures from the TV serial are displayed.
In the two rooms across the landing, more accounts of the man, pictures and personal belongings await. A frequent traveller to the West, he had a number of trench overcoats. Also seen are his sweaters, a muffler, and a suit all hung from simple boards. There are many accounts by colleagues, friends, journalists, writers. One by The Hindu Group’s N Ram (a close friend of RK’s) and another essay by Githa Hariharan in Times of India one can easily recall. They have been enlarged and displayed well. There’s another account on how the house, originally built in 1952, had nearly collapsed.
There are many pictures as well – one with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and many others from his Oxford days, with good pal Graham Greene.
His personal collection includes books on philosophy, Indian classical music, English classics.
Stepping on to the balcony and taking in the sight, there’s a realisation that such a balmy setting is sure to stir creative emotions. It’s green everywhere – a well-manicured garden below adds to its allure. Across the gate, the bungalows on all sides are equally spacious and speak of the cultured gentry. Some of the houses are pretty fancy. Yadavagiri is plush yet understated. The gently rolling landscape adds to the overall magic. It’s raining as the monsoons have set in.
Much later, one reads that it was only in mid-2016 that the house was made into a museum. After he died in 2001, the house remained in disarray, slowly decaying. When a builder picked up the property to raze it down and build a multi-storeyed complex instead, the people of the city protested and, along with the city’s municipal corporation, came together to buy it back, repair and refurbish it and convert it into a museum.
It’s is time to leave – one can’t but reflect on the man, his work, his city and its citizens, who have kept his memory alive. Not many Indian writers get such singular honour.
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