RK Narayan’s novels are a delight to read; while there are more reasons than one for this, one of the most endearing aspects of his stories is their timelessness. Albeit conceived and set in different times, the themes he has covered resonate to this day, the quirky characters he has etched are refreshingly relatable. And yes, there is Malgudi – a fictional south Indian town that is more correctly described as a microcosm of India!
A Timeless Novel
While most of Narayan’s work has been enthusiastically commented upon the world over, there is one little gem that has been ignored, rather inexplicably, by the literary community. Waiting for the Mahatma was published in 1957 when RK Narayan was already an established international figure, and yet the novel received little recognition. The fact does tickle one’s curiosity, more so, when you consider the novel’s brilliance in laying out a plot that is hilarious and thought provoking in equal measures.
The book gives us a delightful perspective of India’s freedom struggle through the story of Sriram, a twenty-something Tamil Brahmin staying with his grandmother in Malgudi. He falls in love with Bharati, a beautiful girl who is an active participant in Mahatma Gandhi’s Quit India movement, and somehow sneaks his way into the movement himself, despite having little knowledge of what it entails. He successfully woos Bharati at one point, but destiny parts them. The rest of the story unfolds in form of the diverse experiences of a naïve, conservative Brahmin as he strives to reunite with his love and seek the Mahatma’s permission to marry her.
RK Narayan adroitly handles a heavy concept, in his own impeccable way, weaving a decent dose of humor to keep things light. And yet, some plot points hit really hard where they should – Sriram’s interaction with the terrorist Jagadish is one such moment in the book that compels the reader to ponder. My most favorite part, however, comes quite early in the book – a scene where Sriram is confused with Gandhi’s ideologies regarding non-violence and untouchability – a marvelous play at satire!
The book’s climax melodiously tugs at the heartstrings; I was numbed, and cursed the world for a moment for not having bestowed Narayan with immortality, before switching to silently admiring the novel for hours at a stretch. It is sad and unfair that such a brilliant book be so highly underrated! The book has that rare quality of appealing to all kinds of readers—and this can be said about Narayan’s entire body of work—be it the serious literature enthusiast or the casual college-goer. Give it a try and you can thank us later for it.
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About the author
Muktikant Garimella worships cinema and amasses knowledge by gobbling books. He is a modern-day philosopher and has an opinion on everything, even your cat’s irritable bowel movement. When free, he writes stories.