R K Narayan is one of the most celebrated names in the annals of Indian English writing. In fact at his prime, he was acknowledged as one of the best English writers outside the then core English speaking world.
R K Narayan was born in Chennai, India on 10 October 1906. He had a relatively comfortable childhood and was exposed to quality literature since a very early age. After working as a school teacher for a brief tenure, he decided to stay at home and write. The rest, as they say in classical terms, is history.
It was in 1930 that R K Narayan wrote his first novel Swami and Friends. It was rubbished by his near and dear ones along with publishers. But his persistence paid off when a friend at Oxford, UK found a publisher for him. The book was finally published in 1935.
Although it was commercially not a success, he definitely ruffled some feathers in the literary world. The best part of R K Narayan’s writing was his creation of the fictional town, Malgudi. It was the best gift of R K Narayan’s writing to the world.
In an extremely long public life, R K Narayan won many honours. The most popular of these were Sahitya Akademi Award 1958, Padma Bhushan 1964, Padma Vibhushan 2001 and the AC Benson Medal awarded by Royal British Society of Literature in 1980.
There was a typical humour in R K Narayan’s writing which was not the biting or in-your-face kind. But it was there and it added to the charm of his clear and deliberate writing. He wrote without deliberate intention of literary writing. Narayan was nominated for Literature Nobel many times but could not go on to win it.
He simply wrote about people, culture and society in the best way he understood and in a manner everyone understood. There was no sense of pride or deliberate snobbery in his writing anywhere. This made his writing extremely endearing to huge number of readers in India. R K Narayan also virtually became the writer to refer for people abroad. His writing was an honest glimpse of India and its way of life for the world.
R K Narayan last notable publication came out as late as 1994. After such a long and illustrious career he passed away in 2001. Narayan is perhaps the trendsetter and among the selected few who pioneered Indian writing in English.