Autobiographical Elements in R.K. Narayan’s Novel

Life at college was structured around a faculty that comprised several British as well as Indian professors. At the top stood Professor J.C. Rollo, the college Principal and an outstanding teacher of English.

In the opening chapters of The Bachelor of Arts, the gentle world of Maharaja’s College is evoked through the eyes of Chandran, a final year student of history:

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In the opening chapters of The Bachelor of Arts, the gentle world of Maharaja’s College is evoked through the eyes of Chandran, a final year student of history. In his fictionalized portrait of college life, Narayan introduces, behind new names, several figures from his own experience. Professor Rollo becomes Professor Brown, a distinguished scholar whose drama classes are acclaimed and who is endowed with ‘with a first-rate sense of humour’. Elements of Narayan’s history professors, Krishna and Venkateswara Iyer, combine to surface in Professor Ragavachar— formidable in his glasses, turban and long black cloak.

Ramu and Seenu in the novel are modelled after Narayan’s friend Ramachandra Rao and his younger brother Seenu:

Chandran has an inseparable friend called, Ramu, whose company and humour-rich running commentary bring vitality to any excursion, be it a night- show visit to the cinema or a stroll along the river. This Ramu is a fictionalized portrait of Narayan’s constant friend at college by name Ramachandra Rao who was called “Ramu”. He was a short young man with thick lenses and a ‘gift of laughter’ with whom he would attend classes, smoke, drink afternoon coffee, and take long walks. Chandran’s younger brother Seenu in the novel is a fictionalized portrait of Narayan’s young brother Seenu who assisted Narayan and Ramu during their ‘joint study’ experiment for preparing together for their approaching final examinations.

Similarities and dissimilarities between Chandran and Narayan:

Unlike Chandran, the protagonist of The Bachelor of Arts who is hard­working and who has passed his B.A. Examination in the first attempt, Narayan was an average student at college and failed in his B.A. Examination in the first attempt and had to complete it in the subsequent attempt. He was not a debater and did not participate in extra-curricular activities at College like Chandran.

But he sat on the steps of the Union with his friend Ramu and talked about the day to day happenings at college. Unlike Chandran’s father who is very kind, warm and considerate Narayan’s father, R.V. Krishnaswami Iyer was very strict and formal. Of course, Chandran’s father H.C. Venkatachalam Iyer shares his intellectuality with Narayan’s father. Chandran’s mother in her piety, orthodoxy and abiding warmth for her son takes after Narayan’s mother, Gnanambal. The congenial family relationship in which Chandran finds himself was similar to that of Narayan’s life with his parents and brothers.

The problems posed by horoscopes in Chandran’s life were similar to that of Narayan:

Chandran undergoes trials in his marriage with Malathi on account of the lack of agreement of the horoscopes of his and that of the bride-to be. The evil aspect of Mars in Chandran’s horoscope hinders his prospect of marrying Malathi.

Malathi’s father D.W. Krishna Iyer is not willing to risk the life of his daughter by marrying her to Chandran with an adverse aspect of Mars in the Seventh House of his horoscope. In the same way Narayan had to undergo difficulties in marrying ‘Rajam’ the girl whom he loved at first sight and wanted to marry. Narayan married Rajam in the conventional manner. At the age of twenty eight he saw a charming girl of eighteen, who was ‘tall and slim’ and had classical features; her face had the finish and perfection of a sculpture.

He instantly fell in love with her. Narayan himself approached the girl’s parents who were outraged at the unconventionality of his love. After some pressure from his family, Rajam’s parents consulted their astrologer who immediately declared that his horoscope showed that he would either be a polygamist or a widower. But he kept on persuading. Narayan humorously narrates the event how he married Rajam:

I found another astrologer who went into ecstasies at the sight of rupees. He was an accomplished debater and defeated the other pundit, and Rajam’s parents, realizing that I was from a good and large family, and that whatever happened to me, she would always be taken care of, gave in to the marriage.

Then Narayan married ‘Rajam’ and his was a very happy married life but a short-lived one at that. Rajam delivered their baby girl, ‘Hema’ and shortly after she died of typhoid. A number of women characters bear close resemblance to her character and personality. Thank God, Chandran does not marry Malathi and so no calamity ensues either for Chandran or Malathi. Malathi marries her cousin and lives happily. Chandran latter on marries ‘Susila’ and leads a happy life. Incidentally, ‘Susila’ of the novel bears a close resemblance to Rajam’s character and personality. The argument between the Srouthigal and D.W. Krishna Iyer about evil aspect of Mars in Chandran’s horoscope can be traced to Narayan’s humorous account of how he married Rajam.

Narayan’s 1934-35 experience as a Mysore city reported for a tight- fisted newspaper, (The Justice) finds expression in The Bachelor of Arts:

Narayan’s 1934-35 experience as a Mysore city reporter for a tight- fisted newspaper; The Justice finds expression in The Bachelor of Arts. Chandran, the hero of the novel, has a friend, Mohan the poet, who is obliged to support himself by becoming the Malgudi correspondent of a Madras-based newspaper, The Daily Messenger.

Much of his day is devoted to news-hunting, leaving little time for his versifying. His remuneration, like Narayan’s, is three and a half rupees per column of twenty-one inches. But in practice, the process of pruning reduces this to paltry sums. ‘Are you making money?’ Chandran asks his friend who answers: ‘Sometimes fifty, sometimes ten. It all depends on those rascals, mad fellows. Sometimes they cut everything I send.’

Like Narayan, Mohan is indifferent to matters of editorial policy. When an activist political friend says jeeringly, ‘It is a moderate paper,’ the reporter’s defence is: ‘I am not concerned with policy.’ However, Mohan, whose character bears no relation to Narayan’s and who lives alone in an unfurnished room, eventually finds himself prospering as a hack. The Daily Messenger’s circulation soars unlike that of The Justice.


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