A Novel of Malgudi

January 28, 2007

narayan.jpg
After an awful work week – several days of some kind of stomach flu that had me wishing only for sleep, and then a dreaded presentation to “upper management” at the office- I was ready this weekend for a relaxing read. I received another eBay purchase in the mail, The Vendor of Sweets, by R.K. Narayan. At under 200 pages, it was perfect for a one sitting reading, and it would be the third completion in the “Reading Across the Borders” challenge.

The story takes place in an imaginary city in India, Malgudi- according to the frontflap is a city that Narayan has used in other novels. It focuses on a loving father and his son struggling with cultural differences and change. The son leaves India and college for America, in hopes of becoming a writer. He soon returns to India with a woman and a dream (a story-writing machine no less) that would require a burdensome investment from father- and the stuggle begins.

Narayan doesn’t take the subject matter too seriously, there are many comic moments throughout the book. Jagan, the father, contemplating death –

“If I do not perish in the water, I shall perish of pneumonia. In my next life, I’d like to be born “… His mind ran through various choices. Pet dog? Predatory cat? Street-corner donkey? Maharajah on an elephant? Anything but a money-making sweet-maker with a spoilt son.

Jagan is also chastised by his sister for having a “beef-eating Christian girl for a daughter-in-law…no one can blame Mali for having a father like you.” And when Mali is jailed for having half a bottle of alcohol in his car, the blame falls to, well, the car – “It’s the motor car that creates all sorts of notions in a young fellow.”

One of the things that can make reading so interesting is learning about a different culture or different time. This book was published in the 1960’s, so it is easy to think that things have changed significantly since then. They have, but it is still a very different culture than what we know here in the US. India is growing rapidly and a lot of companies from around the world are locating manufacturing facilities there. The typical construction site in the US is converged upon with pickup trucks are various makes and models each morning throughout the building process. In India, whole families move to the constuction site and live in makeshift homes until the project is complete, and then move on to the next site.
India workers

I sometimes wonder if writers in more affluent countries are at a disadvantage. It seems that in other cultures, people just seem somehow closer to life. I then watch the news, or think about my son on the way to Baghdad again, or Bloglily facing a month of radiation treatments, and realize that no matter who we are or where we are, we all struggle with life.

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