Destination: Southern India
Book: The Writerly Life by R.K.Narayan, ed. by S. Krishnan
A GUEST POST BY MS. KIRAN KESWANI
If you would like a glimpse into India and its people, reading the writings of R.K.Narayan is a wonderful way to do it. He is a writer who wrote as if he were enveloped in quietitude, situated in an Indian setting which could have been everything but quiet! He seemed to have read deep into the minds of people in his family, in his street, in his town and in his country. He did this in a way that made every moment and the happening that belonged to it seem like it had a meaning and a purpose.
The Writerly Life is a collection of several essays and R.K.Narayan’s travelogue, My Dateless Diary, which uncovers an Indian mind as it discovers uncharted territories in America.The collection represents his non-fiction writing from the 1930s to the 1990s.
R.K.Narayan is one of my favourite Indian writers writing about India. With his acute sense of observation, he must have seen also the darker sides of India, but he did not write about that. He chose instead to dwell on simple people and their simple ways. In ‘The Crowd’, he writes, “Any crowd interests me: I always feel that it is a thing that deserves precedence over any other engagement. I always tell myself that an engagement can wait, but not the crowd.”
It is true that Narayan’s writings are based mainly in South India but it is a large part of the Indian sub-continent. For me, this was a great way to learn and love a part of India that I had known little about till I moved there with my husband, who belonged there and found it best to initiate his North-Indian wife into his culture through Narayan’s beautiful depiction of it.
Eventually, I became addicted to the South Indian coffee, because in a South Indian household, the day starts with the aroma of coffee wafting through the whole house.
I read R. K. Narayan’s essay on ‘Coffee’ many times over the years and found it delightful every single time! He says he never tired of writing about coffee. He was planning a noble work on coffee running to two hundred thousand words, that would be called a Study of Coffee. The first part would describe the philosophy of Bababuden, a Muslim saint who brought coffee to India and prove that the origin of coffee was saintly.
He writes, “A few observations will be necessary on the question of coffee temperature. This section will be called Thermodynamics of Coffee. In this section we shall strive to decide the right temperature at which coffee may be sipped. It must be understood that the temperature has to vary according to the occasion; the hot cup you may demand at home may not be suitable when you have to gulp down a mouthful and run back to your seat in a train whose engine has just whistled and just started moving.”
The Writerly Life also includes essays such as “Noise,” “Of Trains and Travellers,” “Toasted English,” “Bridegroom Bargains,” and “Reluctant Guru”. Narayan always said that he wrote all these essays only because he had to meet a deadline every Thursday in order to fill half a column for the Sunday issue of The Hindu and he somehow managed to do that for nearly twenty years without a break.
R. K. Narayan (1906-2001) was born in Madras and studied at Maharajah`s College in Mysore. His work includes numerous novels, five collections of short stories, two travel books,and other writing. He is well-known for his novels, Malgudi Days and The Guide, which was also made into a film. In 1980, he was awarded the A. C. Benson medal by the Royal Society of Literature. Narayan was also made Honorary Member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
My deepest gratitude to Ms.Kiran Keswani ,who is an architect based in Bangalore, India, for writing this guest post AND providing the pictures. Kiran is currently researching the traditional bazaars of India. I met her through the Lonely Planet Blog Sherpa program. Her photo-filled, colorful blog has been featured on Lonely Planet.com.
Please do not use the photos without the consent of Ms. Keswani. Thanks.