In Search of Malgudi at RK Narayan’s House in Mysore
The house of the creator of the quaint and charming town, Malgudi and the book Malgudi Days, that can be described as common man’s autobiography, is situated at Yadavagiri Mysore where the writer spent three decades of his creative life after shifting here from his previous house at Laxmipuram. This house built during 1948 to 1952 went into oblivion and abandonment after Narayan shifted to Chennai in the 90s till the Mysore Municipal Corporation took the commendable initiative of renovating the house in the form of a museum showcasing some of his material belongings and literary legacies for his readers. Lot many of them visit this white two storeyed house in the upper middle class colony of Yadavagiri in Mysore, on the way to the Brindavan Gardens from the city, in search of their favourite writer’s footprints and thumbprints.
It was in the 80s during the glorious days of Doordarshan the serial ‘MALGUDI DAYS’ kept me glued to television like millions and took me to the incredible world of Malgudi created by Narayan. Shankar Nag, the genius from Udupi whose sudden demise in a road accident leaving an irrecoverable loss in the creative firmament, gave his master stroke in bringing the life, surroundings and characters into impeccable details on screen shows a rare literary tradition of meaningful adaptation of the written into the visual. The episode based on the story ‘A Horse and Two Goats’ in which the Gujarati actor Kanti Madia and Shankar Nag’s wife Arundhati Nag played an old and poor couple was one of my favourites. The incongruous conversation between Muni and the English man is not only a classic example of humour but it immensely carries the undercurrents of post-colonial elements. Malgudi, like many post-colonial responses, challenges the rigid territories of colonization.
In the article ‘Misguided Guide’ Narayan reminisces the days of meetings and discussions with Bollywood actor Dev Anand at this house in Yadavagiri. I recollected the description of the South Indian breakfast of idli and other delicacies that Narayan had with Dev Anand in the dining room of this eventful house. Those were the days of his initial discussions with the film maker who wanted to adapt it on big screen. But later when the film released in 1960s, it disappointed Narayan and many more for toppling the ideological undercurrents and political significance of the novel. It was a pathetic sight and example of filmy formulas insensitively devouring the significance of a literary work. This unhealthy trend is so rife these days where history and literary works are adapted uprooting them from their cultural, social and political context. It is here artists like Shankar Nag proves to be the significant voice of cultural resistance.
My enthusiasm to visit Rasipuram Krishnaswamy Narayan’s house multiplied when by some astonishing coincidence the driver who picked me from Siddhartha Lay out on his auto rickshaw turned out to be another Krishnaswamy. He too couldn’t hide his pride when I disclosed it.
Exactly at 10 am, Netravati Amma, the caretaker, opened the gates and warmly welcomed me to the world of Narayan. The house has lush green surroundings with a huge Neem tree canopying the front yard, the bougainvillea with pink and orange blooms and the frangipani tree (frequently mentioned by Narayan in his autobiography) spreading fragrance and shadow for the visitors and passersby. The little verandah takes you to a hall where you find an empty arm chair conspicuous in its literary and metaphorical connotations. The walls are adorned with moments captured from the writer’s life at various phases and also the honours he was lavished with. The shelves are stacked with books by Narayan and also by others. His autobiography, ‘My Days’ is one among them. A black and white photo of Narayan with his wife, Rajam, took me at once to the painful depiction of her unexpected death in his autobiographical novel, ‘The English Teacher’. He poignantly conveys the loneliness and dejection he went through when their conjugal union of merely six years came to an abrupt end in 1939 by her death due to typhoid at their house in Laxmipuram. He writes in the novel, “A profound and unmitigated loneliness is the only truth of life, all else is false”. Destiny had more ordeals in store for him when his daughter passed away due to cancer. But Narayan’s Malgudi is not a bleak world of gloomy people or dreary episodes, it is vibrant with the day to day life and trials of common man, the marginalized section of vendors, farmers and their cultural resistance dipped in his characteristic humour.
The other two rooms in the ground floor of this house, that witnessed the highs and sighs of the writer and his mundane and literary life, we can find some of the clothes used by Narayan and the tributes paid to the writer by esteemed men like Graham Greene, N Ram, Khushwant Singh etc. from various walks of life.
Many souvenirs from Narayan’s personal and creative life could be seen in the three rooms on the second floor. The location stills during the shooting of ‘Malgudi Days’ are displayed on the walls. In the bookshelves, a Malayalam and Punjabi translation of the novel ‘Swami and Friends’ published by National Book Trust and a dissertation in French on the writings of Narayan caught my attention. The spacious balcony provides a wide view of the front yard and the colony.
This house may feed the romantic appetite of a reader’s search for a writer’s worldly presence and belongings but it may not be sufficient enough to quench the thirst of an avid academic scholar who would love to delve deep into the nostalgic and homely world of Narayan’s Malgudi. The genuine search for a writer’s address and imprints leads one to his/her books. On those pages of fertile imagination alone one finds the ink footprints and indelible imprints of the writer, eternally alive. On that rich scape of infinite possibilities, the characters and episodes barely remain single faceted and predictable.
They grow and outgrow in new forms each time in the imagination of the readers. Let us hope that ventures like these are the initial steps to the world of a writer, his/ her ideological and political space in the world, to the issues raised and praised, to the world beyond the words on the pages. Let us hope that this house in future develops into an academic research centre serving as a true ‘guide’ to many literary enthusiasts.
For me, Malgudi cannot be confined to this house, or a place or structure. In Krishnaswamy who spent all those hours with me showing great enthusiasm and curiosity in going through the memorabilia of Narayan; in Panduranga, who sits on the sidewalks of the road leading to Jagmoohan Palace Art gallery finding his livelihood typing documents on his old Godrej typewriter and in the vendors on the streets that smell of road apples, I found Malgudi vigorously and dynamically alive. They keep saying, the writer is not far inside the house but here in the world outside. Seek him here.