It was during the middle of the 20th century that India emerged as a power to reckon with in the world of English literature. The major Indian born writers who brought India to the world map of English Literature were Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao, and R.K. Narayan.
It is important to mention R.K. Narayan especially above the others as it was his work that formally introduced Indian English Literature to the world as we know it.
His Early Years and Education
Born as Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanswami, on 10th of October 1906, R.K. Narayan is one of the biggest names in English fiction in India. R.K. Narayan, or Kunjappa, as his maternal grandmother called him, was born in erstwhile Madras in the Madras Presidency.
His father was a headmaster of a school and had a transferable job, which made him stay more with his maternal grandmother. Narayan frequently changed schools and studied in the Lutheran Mission School, C.R.C. High School, and the Christian College High School. Narayan later moved to Mysore when his father was transferred to the Maharaja’s Collegiate High School.
When he joined the school, he easily satiated his undying hunger to read and with such exposure he also started writing. Narayan failed the University Entrance Exam and sat back at home reading and writing. He later joined the Maharaja College in Mysore.
His Popular Works and Accolades
Narayan’s first publication was a book review of Development of Maritime Laws of 17th Century England. Later he wrote Swami and Friends which was centered on the fictitious town of Malgudi. After getting married and joining the newspaper The Justice as a reporter, he came in contact with Graham Greene. Graham helped Narayan publish Swami and Friends and his subsequent works like The Bachelor of Arts and The Dark Room.
His books have always portrayed social problems, from corporal punishments at school to male oppression in marriages. After his wife’s death he wrote The English Teacher, a book that translated his grief.
The work actually turned out to be a part of an unintentional trilogy that includes Swami and Friends and The Bachelor of Arts. His works are to a great extent autobiographical with characters named differently and the story set in the fictional town of Malgudi.
Narayan started his own publication house called Indian Thought Publications when due to the Second World War the connection between Narayan and Greene was severed. He published his short stories under the title Malgudi Days. The Financial Expert is considered as Narayan’s magnum opus followed by his fictional take on the Indian independence movement titled Waiting for the Mahatma.
His works were published by the Michigan State University and later by the Viking Press. It was this time when he wrote the story called The Guide that won him the Sahitya Academy Award. The story was also made into a film that won him the Filmfare award for Best Story.
He eventually wrote 15 novels, six non-fiction stories, three mythological stories, and six short story collections. He won the Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan, the AC Benson Medal and a membership of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was also nominated for the Nobel Prize but never won it.
Narayan can be credited with taking Indian literature to a worldwide audience. His publication is still run by his granddaughter and Malgudi Days was even made into a television series that won worldwide appreciation an acclaim.
His youngest brother R.K. Laxman is one of the greatest Indian cartoonists of all time. He was often criticized for being simple in his writing style and diction and yet, this was his signature style that made him an instant celebrity and his work has always been compared to that of Guy de Maupassant. He breathed his last in the year 2001.