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Magic of the Mundane: Marvellous Days of Malgudi



Dear Reader,

                     I hope the summer has been kind to you. Let’s take a moment to reminisce about the jubilant spring bloom of last month. Let this beautiful memory be our respite till the monsoon’s arrival.  


Does the world seem to be a harsh place to live? Or has it been a little too quiet for you? Either way, let's escape to a wonderland where chaos and quiescence entwine - Malgudi: A South Indian town cartographers still scratch their heads trying to locate. Watched over by Mempi hills and Sarayu river, Malgudi is a quintessential South Indian town. However, the characters and the chaos thriving in Malgudi are universal. So, even if you haven't been to a South Indian town before, rest assured, you'll feel at home. And oh, beware of tigers and snakes!


R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi Days is a collection of thirty two short stories, all taking place in Malgudi. Each story has a different protagonist and they hail from all walks of life. From an astrologer to a snake charmer to a postman, a gateman, a doctor, a dog, an idler, the reader is invited to see a town from a plethora of perspectives. Malgudi Days can’t be boxed into a single genre as we see people forced to accept their fate to the one who battled a tiger in a matter of a few pages. We see people who go to great lengths for the happiness of others to the ones who aren’t happy with anything. Humour pervades in the stories like dew drops in a rainforest. In Narayan’s stories, pain and loss aren’t sugar coated but the crushing weight of reality is held up by an invisible hand of hope lurking beneath his matter-of-fact mots.         


Narayan’s stories are a goldmine for students of irony. He is often compared to Russian short story writer Anton Chekov for the same. The writer wields irony to portray the absurdity of modern life in a town riddled with high aspirations, illiteracy, unemployment, poverty, and misfortune. The irony in Malgudi Days is universal too. The high improbability of the protagonist's dreams set the stage for irony in Malgudi. The heroes don’t always have a bad ending. However, Narayan’s characters show us that we never learn how to be content with what we have. Let’s have a look at the case of Ramo Rao in the story “Out of business”. Rama Rao has lost his business and decides to try his luck on a magazine crossword contest. He loses all his savings on mailing the answers to the crossword puzzles. Realising his failure, Rama Rao lies down on the railway track. To his (mis)fortune all trains got delayed by a few hours. Rama Rao returns home to find out that his luck has changed. 


I have always preferred comedies over tragedies. I feel that comedies reflect the true state of a society. Humour is the medium of the hapless and the hopeless. R. K. Narayan’s humour is top notch. At tough times, remembering stories like “Engine trouble” and “Attila” brings lightness to tortured souls. One holds on to the conviction that maybe everything that happens is for the good! 


Another aspect of R. K. Narayan’s stories are their brevity. Almost all of the stories in Malgudi Days are around ten pages in length and they leave us wanting for more. The unexpected ending and briefness of stories are what makes them very realistic and relatable. All of us must have had at least one experience that is included in this collection. Sailing on the tides of life, we may not have had enough time to explore those peculiar isles. The shortness of stories leaves space for imagination to flourish and Malgudi becomes indistinguishable from the towns we have lived in. Slowly through time, Malgudi seeps its roots into our memories leaving us with a deep sense of nostalgia. Luckily, R. K. Narayan has written a handful of novels and short stories for us to relish the magic of Malgudi.


Malgudi has no flying brooms. Nor does it have witches and goblins. Yet, Malgudy is full of magic. Each story in this wonderful collection is magical. From the ‘lucky’ winner of a road engine to the cat whose curious head stuck in a pot to the actress who reclaimed her true wealth, Malgudi’s magic lies in the mundane. Something similar to everything that happens in Malgudi has already happened. Still, the author’s craft leaves the readers with a sense of perfection. Remember, Malgudi is far from perfect. However, it is up to us mortals to create our own perfection. Malgudi Days reminds us of the stoic philosophy that it doesn’t matter what has happened to us, but our reaction to it. 


Testament to R. K. Narayan’s writing prowess, readers all over the world are still seeking Malgudi. The town has an existence beyond the pages of Malgudi Days and the rest of R. K. Narayan’s oeuvre. The author himself has asserted multiple times that Malgudi’s chronicles are universal. But it doesn’t stop the beloved admirers of Malgudi! They look to identify Malgudi in every town they go, only to return with long faces and loose shoulders. But Malgudi is in every town. One only has to look up from the narrow streets, in the bushes at the periphery, the banyan trees at dusk, and railway platforms, with a pair of unhurried eyes.    


I hope tales of Malgudi help you cope with the scorching heat of May. Next time we meet, I’ll share with you a perfect companion for the monsoon!


Love,

Akhil Thekkepat

 

Columnist: Akhil Thekkepat

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