Swami and friends…
I never get tired of reading RK Narayan’s ” Swamy and Friends “, I pick it up several times in a year and enjoy reading Swami and Friends over and over. Narayan, a master story-teller describes the fictitious town of Malgudi in a manner where one well and truly believes in its existence. There is a belief that Narayan coined Malgudi by combining the two popular suburbs of Bangalore, Maleswaram and Basvanguddi. If there remains a child in all of us, we are bound to enjoy this masterpiece.But, what I have remained more fascinated with is Narayan’s simple style of narration of Swami and Friends. Swami and Friends was published way back in 1935 and Narayan’s close friend Graham Greene helped him with this publication. Graham Greene went on to describe this novel as a ” novel in ten thousand “Swami and Friends is a quintessential school boy story where Swami’s time with his friends Mani, Rajam,the Pea , Sankar is rapturously described by Narayan. Reading this story takes one back in time and more importantly an instantaneous bonding is developed with the boys.
Swami is best described as an average student who is infectiously innocent yet defiant with childlike worries gnawing him all the time. We were probably like Swami when we were his age ( ten ), worrying about the company we kept in school and at times succumbing to the big bullies without wanting to be seen as a coward. Swami’s relationship with his grandmother is endearing and an absolute delight. Swami speaks to her as if he is addressing a child and commands her into listening to his daily musings of his time in school especially with his important friend Rajam. Like all of us who have at some stage in our life given in to exaggeration, Swami does so with equal splendor. He convinces his Grandmother of Rajam’s ability to hunt Tiger’s and gets irritated with her absent-mindedness when she fails to recollect important bits and pieces of Rajam’s heroics.Swami loves his time in the sun, prancing around the banks of the river Sarayu, floating paper boats on its swriling waters with its passenger being a harmless ant sandwiched in between some twigs and Swami conducting a funeral ritual for the deceased ant after it meets it’s premature end in the gushing waters of Sarayu or in a whirlpool in the drain.
Rajam is the all important friend whose father is the Inspector of Malgudi. Rajam enjoys throwing his weight around especially with his servant’s at his sprawling bungalow in order to showcase his might with Swami and his friends. When the servant’s fail to pay heed to Rajam’s authority he is perceived to be rather weak in front of the eager spectators. Mani,is an epitome of strength and valor who rises to the defence of little Swami. Known to be a bully in the Albert Mission School where the boys study, he is popular for emptying ink bottles on boy’s Nehru caps. Nallapa’s grove is the famous meeting point for Swami and his friends to plot and plan else they would sit on the banks of the river Sarayu on hot summer days with their legs dangling in the tepid waters aimlessly watching brown rotting leaves from the overhead peepul tree fall into the Sarayu’s muddy waters.
Swami’s thinking is quite remarkable. As he would sit to do his Geography homework, he would open up his atlas and gaze at the political map of Europe. He would wonder how people managed to live in some of the crooked countries of Europe and what the shape of the people might be where the outline narrowed as in a cape and how they managed to escape being strangled by the contour of their land. A rather cute list of requirements is drawn up by Swami prior to his examinations. It looked like this –
Unruled white paper – 20 sheets
Ink 2 bottles
Swamy is said to be disappointed with the list as he concludes that his needs were so few.
Here is a clipping of Swami and Friends that was telecast on DD -
My recap – The underlying reason for my love of Narayan’s work is simplicty.RK Narayan’s stories are a masterpiece, a work of utmost clarity. When I read Malgudi days, I imagine the river Sarayu that flows through the sleepy fictitious town of Malgudi where simple people lived, leading simple lives. Narayan’s Malgudi days was brilliantly re-created as a television series on DD by the late Shankar Nag in 1986. Who can forget the title track of L.Vaidyanthan, once again it was a simple tune yet soulful and one that has left its mark.No wonder Narayan’s work “The guide” which he wrote in 1958 was made into a movie in 1965, starring the graceful Waheeda Rehman and the dashing Dev Anand. This movie is a classic example of providing limitless expressionism while dealing with invigorating relationships. The movie dealt with a very delicate subject and if it were not for the power of simplicity and realistically portraying it as a relationship between two individuals who simply understood each other despite the myriad of issues that they each had to deal with, it would not be remembered today. Simplicity can be woven even in a labyrinth of complex issues.
Then we have simplicity in work, which need not necessarily be made or produced by “simple” individuals but by even those who have led lives of flamboyance and style. But when the end result is simple, it remains endearing. It could be a simple narrative, a simple painting , a simple drama , a simple song or a simple movie. But what is the true meaning of simple? Some known definitions vary from – not complex; not infolded or entangled; uncombined; not compounded; not blended with something else and so on. When we say, ” lets keep it simple”, we are trying to imply ” we need to be clear so that there is clarity in our understanding”. It is easier said and done. Our minds dwell on a million things and does simplicity need to be dug from the dungeons? If all of us just lived on air, water and fruits without the influence of the internet , i phones , our jobs , relationships, everything would be simple? Probably not.