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Authors: R. K. Narayan

Malgudi Days

BOOK: Malgudi Days
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Table of Contents
R. K. NARAYAN was born on October 10, 1906, in Madras, South India, and educated there and at Maharaja's College in Mysore. His first novel,
Swami and Friends
(1935), and its successor,
The Bachelor of Arts
(1937), are both set in the fictional territory of Malgudi, of which John Updike wrote, “Few writers since Dickens can match the effect of colorful teeming that Narayan's fictional city of Malgudi conveys; its population is as sharply chiseled as a temple frieze, and as endless, with always, one feels, more characters round the corner.” Narayan wrote many more novels set in Malgudi, including
The English Teacher
The Financial Expert
(1952), and
The Guide
(1958), which won him the Sahitya Akademi (India's National Academy of Letters) Award, his country's highest honor. His collections of short fiction include
A Horse and Two Goats, Malgudi Days,
Under the Banyan Tree
. Graham Greene, Narayan's friend and literary champion, said, “He has offered me a second home. Without him I could never have known what it is like to be Indian.” Narayan's fiction earned him comparisons to the work of writers including Anton Chekhov, William Faulkner, O. Henry, and Flannery O'Connor.
Narayan also published travel books, volumes of essays, the memoir
My Days,
and the retold legends
Gods, Demons, and Others, The Ramayana,
The Mahabharata.
In 1980 he was awarded the A. C. Benson Medal by the Royal Society of Literature, and in 1981 he was made an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1989 he was made a member of the Rajya Sabha, the non-elective House of Parliament in India.
R. K. Narayan died in Madras on May 13, 2001.
JHUMPA LAHIRI was born in London and raised in Rhode Island. She is the author of
Interpreter of Maladies,
her debut collection of stories that won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction as well as the PEN/Hemingway Award, and an acclaimed novel,
The Namesake.
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell,
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Auckland 1310, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in the United States of America by the Viking Press 1982
First published in Great Britain by William Heinemann Ltd 1982
Published in Penguin Books 1984
This edition with a new introduction by Jhumpa Lahiri published 2006
Copyright © R. K. Narayan, 1972, 1975, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1982
Introduction copyright © Jhumpa Lahiri, 2006
All rights reserved
Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following publications in which some of these selections
originally appeared:
: “Cat Within,” “The Edge,” “The Martyr's Corner,” and “Trail of the
Green Blaze.”
The New Yorker
: “Naga” and “Second Opinion.”
: “God and the Cobbler.”
The map on pp. 4-5 has been faithfully redrawn for publication by Clarice Borio from the original
constructed by Dr James M. Fennelly of Adelphi University to illustrate his paper “The City of Malgudi
as an Expression of the Ordered Hindu Cosmos,” delivered at the American Academy of Religion
International Region Conference, 1978. It is . K. Narayan.
Copyright © Viking Penguin Inc. 1982.
Narayan, R. K., 1906-2001
Malgudi days / R.K. Narayan ; introduced by Jhumpa Lahiri.
p. cm.
eISBN : 978-1-440-67463-1
1. Malgudi (India : Imaginary place)—Fiction. 2. India—Social life and customs—Fiction.
3. City and town life—Fiction. I. Title. II. Series.
PR9499.3.N3M34 2006
823'.912—dc 2006044313
The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means
without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only
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of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated.

Here is one way I propose that you read this book: one story per day, for thirty-two consecutive days, by the end of which you will have experienced
Malgudi Days
as a Malgudi month, more or less. Each day's reading, with only a few exceptions, will take about ten minutes. The vast majority of these stories are less than ten pages long, several are under five, and only one is more than twenty. “What a fine idea,” you are perhaps thinking, “ten minutes a day, I can manage that.” And if you are the type of virtuous person who is satisfied after just one piece of chocolate from a chocolate box, never tempted, until the following day, by a second, then perhaps you will be able to savor
Malgudi Days
in a similarly restrained, monthlong fashion.
If, on the other hand, you are like me, then you may find yourself, after the first ten minutes, reading on for twenty, then thirty, gobbling up one tale after the next, eventually looking up and realizing that a good portion of your day has passed. When I discovered this book, my own days were, much like these stories, intensely brief and full. I had recently given birth to my daughter, had a two-year-old son, and scarcely the opportunity to comb my hair in the mornings, never mind sit down with a book and a cup of tea. For some reason the first thing I did after opening the front cover of
Malgudi Days
was to study the table of contents and count the number of stories, as if they formed a long list of sums. Aha, I thought once I'd calculated the total figure, thirty-two, that's perfect, in a month I'll have finished.
With an infant in my lap and a toddler at my knee, I read the first story, “An Astrologer's Day.” I turned the page once, then just once more—already, white space was signaling the finish. How could this be? I wondered, we're just getting started. I anticipated a sketch, a vignette at best. But in spite of their signature shortness there is nothing scant about Narayan's stories, no sense of feeling deprived as we are these days on airplanes, when we are handed Lilliputian meals in the name of dinner. In the course of four and a half pages, “An Astrologer's Day” erects, complicates, and alters a life, and this is the difference between mere description and drama. In the first sentence the title character is a faceless stranger to us; by the last, he is a man guilty of attempted murder with whom we nevertheless sympathize. The plot hinges on a suspenseful action. We hold our breath, fearing one thing only to discover another. The resulting effect is what novelists across the globe struggle, over the course of their lifetimes and in the space of hundreds more pages, to achieve. It is what R. K. Narayan quietly renders thirty-two times in this book.
“An Astrologer's Day” contains an image that is a perfect metaphor for Narayan's artistry. The astrologer works cheek-by-jowl with a series of vendors plying their wares in relative darkness. Narayan writes, “The astrologer transacted his business by the light of a flare which crackled and smoked up above the groundnut heap nearby. Half the enchantment of the place was due to the fact that it did not have the benefit of municipal lighting. The place was lit up by shop lights. One or two had hissing gaslights, some had naked flares stuck on poles, some were lit up by old cycle lights and one or two, like the astrologer's, managed without lights of their own.” In the story, a man comes up to the astrologer and demands his fortune after the neighboring flare has been extinguished, and so the astrologer must work under even more compromised circumstances, glimpsing his subject's face in the seconds it takes to light a cheroot. The glimpse gives the astrologer enough information to proceed with his work. It is that sudden outburst of intense light upon a character's world that Narayan provides again and again, in narratives that die down almost as soon as they begin, but in the course of which entire lives are powerfully illuminated.
Setting aside his plentiful and remarkable novels, Narayan firmly occupies a seat in the pantheon of short story geniuses who wrote slightly before and during his lifetime: Chekhov, O. Henry, Frank O'Connor, and Flannery O'Connor are some names that come to mind. Another kindred spirit is Maupassant, whose tightly coiled narratives share with Narayan's a mastery of compression, of events quickly unfolding and lives radically changing in paragraphs that can be numbered on two hands. With Narayan as with Maupassant there is that same purity of voice, the same realism and constraint. Both explore the frustrations of the middle class, the precariousness of fate, the inevitable longings that so often lead to ruin. Both create portraits of everyday life, and share a vision that is unyielding and unpitying.
BOOK: Malgudi Days
6.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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