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SPECIAL FEATURE: CONVERSATIONS & FICTION R. K. Namyan photo by ]oyce Ravid courtesy of Viking Press MYSORE/MALGUDI: R.K. NARAYAN'S WORLD OF SOUTH INDIA/ Nancy Shields Hardin THE STORY GOES that when Somerset Maugham was a guest of the Maharaja of Mysore (while it was still a princely state) he asked: "How is it that I haven't met Mysore's famous novelist, Mr. R. K. Narayan?" The Maharaja's English secretary is reputed to have given the order: "Find out if there is a famous novelist in Mysore. Consult the university vice-chancellor if necessary." After some stirring about, Maugham was told: "There is no novelist in Mysore. Maybe we can find one for you in Bangalore." Ignorance about Narayan's works is not limited to the British. American literary scholars also have been found remiss. In My Dateless Diary, Narayan tells about his first visit to the States in 1956, a trip funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. While visiting the University of Wisconsin in Madison he was taken to lunch by Helen White, then chairperson of the English Department, and three of her colleagues. The conversation moved along somewhat cautiously, and whether his hosts had actually read any of his books was questionable. They seemed a bit defensive, fearful of being caught out. Narayan analyzes their discomfort with characteristic wry humor: English studies work on the basis that a dead author is a good author. He is passive and still while you explain and analyze him in the classroom; having a living author on hand may be like having a live lobster on your plate. Since those distant days, Narayan's fame has expanded steadily. He has been elected an honorary member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. A definitive edition of Narayan's books (three volumes a year) is now being published by Heinemann with a general introduction by Graham Greene. Greene, a long-time friend, has said that Narayan wakes in him "a spring of gratitude for he has offered me a second home. Without him I would never have known what it is like to be an Indian." Nor perhaps would we if Greene had not been instrumental in helping to get Narayan's first book, Swami and Friends, published in 1935. In his memoir, My Days, Narayan says about that period of his life: "I had got used to getting back my manuscript with unfailing regularity once every six weeks—two weeks outward journey, two weeks sojourn on a publisher's desk, and two weeks The Missouri Review · 225 homeward journey with a rejection slip pinned to it; all in all it provided me with six weeks of hope." In fact he was so weary of not placing his manuscript, he instructed a friend in London "to weight the manuscript with a stone and drown it in the Thames." Instead Purna cabled: "Novel taken. Graham Greene responsible." Narayan is now read more widely than any other Indian novelist. Recently I paid him a visit in his home in Mysore, about eighty-five miles south of Bangalore in Karnataka, South India. Traveling to Mysore becomes at the same time an excursion to Malgudi, the fictional world of Narayan's eleven novels and several times eleven short stories. At seventy-five Narayan appears much younger than his years. Dressed in Western style clothes (slacks, shortsleeved shirt and sandals), he greets me just outside the door to a many-windowed upstairs room in his large, middle-class home on Vivekananda Road. This room has the pleasing simplicity of a child's tree house and is the one in which he writes—or at least he writes here more than in any other room: "I am supposed to work here," Narayan says. "Sometimes I am in here. Sometimes I go out there and can't write. Because if the view is good. . . ." And the view is very good indeed on this warm south Indian winter day. From a verandah I look out toward the city over a view of palm trees and a hill topped by a small white mosque. Chamundi Hill can be seen rising above various domes and spires. From a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 123-138
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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