Essay on the R.K. Narayan’s Writing Style and Languages

Narayan said to Graham Green in a B.B.C. interview: “I was never aware that I was using a different, foreign language when I wrote in English, because it came to me very easily. I can’t explain how English is a very adaptable language. And it’s so transparent it can take the tint of any country.” The flexibility and adaptability of English fascinated him. He chose it as his medium of story-telling. In another statement he remarked:

English has proved that if a language has flexibility, any experience can be communicated through it, even it has to be paraphrased sometimes rather than conveyed, and even if the factual detail is partially understood. All that I am able to confirm after nearly thirty years of writing, is that it has served my purpose admirably, of conveying unambiguously the thoughts and acts of a set of personalities, who flourish in a small town located in a corner of South India.

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Narayan has remarkable command over English and used it as the medium of storytelling in a simple, natural, lucid and unaffected manner:

Narayan has remarkable command over English and used it as the medium of storytelling in a simple, natural, lucid and unaffected manner: The conversation of his characters never reads like a translation, while it is at the same time free from English colloquialisms which in the circumstances would ring false.

He manages to make his people speak, in fact, as they would speak if English were their language. Narayan’s English is free from the blemish of gimmicky and mannerism which characterize the English of Anand and Raja Rao. Mulk Raj Anand’s language and style, though vigorous, racy and clear, is overloaded with Indianisms, or more precisely Panjabism, in an attempt to produce a semblance of realism in an alien medium.

Anand’s literal translations of Panjabi swear words and phrases as “rape mother”, “rape daughter”, “the illegally begotten”, “eater of master’s salt” etc. direct presentation of Hindi words as ‘thappar”, “angrez lok” etc. create a jarring effect of realism and spoil the naturalness and spontaneity of expression. Raja Rao tries to adopt his English style to movement of Sanskrit sentence. His style is rich with images and metaphors; allusions and quotations not only from Sanskrit classics, but also from French literature.

As compared to Anand and Raja Rao whose styles are conspicuous by artifice and mannerisms, Narayan uses a style which is simple, easy, vigorous, racy, pointed and natural. It is conspicuous by its “unobtrusive quality”. William Walsh attributes “a strange degree of translucence” to his prose. Mahood finds a type of “luminosity” in his prose and remarks that Narayan’s works is as “pellucid as glass”. The Times Literary Supplement alludes to integral cohesiveness in Narayan’s style: His humor is woven into the texture of his prose. It never erupts in a detachable epigram or joke.

Narayan tries to inject the spirit and tempo of Tamilian idiom into English speech in a natural and unaffected manner:

Narayan tries to inject the spirit and tempo of Tamilian idiom into English speech in a natural and unaffected manner. His is not the public school English which other novelists like Manohar Malgonkar, Kamala Markandaya and Santha Rama Rao use in their novels. Study the following example from the Guide:

Raju:

We’ll go and enjoy ourselves on our own, without any engagement.

Rosie:

I don’t think it’s going to be possible until I fall sick or break my thigh bone (she said and giggled viciously). Do you know the bulls yoked to an oil-crusher—they keep going round and round in a circle, without a beginning to an end?

In the italicized portion Narayan has formed a trans-Indian idiom from a purely Tamilian one. The following quote from his latest novel The World of Nagaraj (1990) illustrates how the Tamil spirit of dialogue is woven into English expression which gains in credibility and also creates the necessary atmosphere. This device creates not only atmosphere but also reveals characters; for example:

“Nag, yes, this man claims to be able to stand on his head continuously for seventy two hours without food and wants get up to the Guinness Book”.

“What’s that?” Nagraj asked saying to himself “I don’t care whatever it is, if you do not” tell me in a few words about Gopu, I will turn round and go home. I am not keen on your company at the moment ….” The Talkative Man was elaborating on the subject of the Guinness Book, all of which fell on deaf years.

“You must tell me in six words what has happened instead of keeping me on tenterhooks. I am not interested if someone stands upside-down for a whole life time. In a sense, most people manage their lives upside down: Trisanku inherited a whole haven which was upside down, himself permanently suspended at this angle through eternity. But was Narad when all this happened?”

Here is also a suggestion of inbuilt comic irony in the mention of Guinness Book and the Trisanku myth. Narayan’s style is extraordinary in its ordinariness and simplicity.

Narayan’s style is so uniformly simple that the most ludicrous as well as the most serious events are described in the same vein:

Narayan’s style is so uniformly simple that the most ludicrous as well as the most serious events are described in the same vein. Simplicity of language and style imparts pointedness to his comic irony. Nagraj tells Gopu, his elder brother, that he is not able to sleep continuously these days. At this the following word, full of irony and humour, are exchanged between the two brothers:

“It is natural. You are not a youth to fall asleep like a dog … but if you worked in the fields as I do, then it’s different. You would sleep as if doped.”

“The king slept too soundly, and Macbeth finished off in his sleep …” He suddenly thought of the line ‘Macbeth shall sleep no more …’ but he had the self control to say aloud ‘sleep is important, of course, and what about the proposal from Delhi which you were mentioning.

In order to impart naturalness and simplicity Narayan uses popular Tamil and Sanskrit words freely in his novels:

In order to impart naturalness and simplicity Narayan uses popular Tamil and Sanskrit words freely in his novels; for example: “almirah”, “asura”, “banian”, “ bonda” (a savory), “dhoti”, “jibba”(tunic), “junglee”, “jutka” (two-wheeled cart drawn by horse), “khaddar”, “kama”, “krodha”, “lobh”, “moh”, “puja”, “pundit”, “purana’, “pyol” (raised platform), “rasam”( a spiced and watery sauce), “sambar” (sauce of dal, vegetables and spices), “rishi”, “sadhu”, “sanyasi”, “satyagraha” , “shastra” and ‘Veena”.

In fact, Narayan’s language belongs to the everyday world of ordinary people. It is the language in which the average Malgudians dream, love and indulge in their small wars, laugh and lament. His style givesthe distinct impression of a small South Indian Community confined to particular temporal and special setting, their manners and musings, conversations and thoughts, and instinctive reaction to things.

In spite of raciness and simplicity, Narayan’s style is rich in evocativeness and suggestiveness:

In spite of raciness and simplicity, Narayan’s style is rich in evocativeness and suggestiveness. The novelist describes with great imagination and suggestiveness the concluding scene of Swami and Friends. In the chapter “The Day of the Match” the fear crazed mind of Swamy has been described with unusual skill and imagination. The concluding scene of the novel has the elements of pathos and poetry, and ends on a note of suggestive ambiguity. Swami’s “parting present” to Rajam carries with it a poignant emotion, and the scene becomes intensely moving in Swaminathan’s anxiety to know if his present has won over his estranged friend. Mani’s assurance leaves him in doubt:

Swaminathan looked up and gazed on Mani’s face to find out whether Mani was joking or was in earnest. But for once Mani’s face had become inscrutable.

In the Bachelor of Arts Chandran’s affair with Malathi has been imaginatively conceived and skilfully executed episode revealing the author’s narrative art with a notable economy of detail and suavity of tone. In The English Teacher the simplicity of style acquires quality of picturesqueness and lyrical eloquence in the scenes which describe Krishna’s ardour for his wife:

“The fresh sun, morning light, the breeze, and my wife’s presence who looked so lovely—even an unearthly loveliness—her tall form, dusky complexion, and the small diamond earrings—Jasmine, Jasmine ….”

In this flickering light the image acquired strange shadow and seemed to stir, and make a movement to bless—I watched my wife. She opened her eyes for a moment. They caught the light of the camphor flame, and shone with an unearthly brilliance.

The last scene is redolent with the fragrance of jasmine and of love consummation on a transcendental plane:

Her complexion had a golden yellow, her eyes sparkled with new light, her saree shimmered with blue interwoven with Might’ as she had termed …There was an overwhelming fragrance of jasmine surrounding her … We stood at the window, gazing on a slender, red streak over the eastern rim over the earth. A cool breeze lapped our faces. The boundaries of our personalities suddenly dissolved. It was a moment of rare, immutable joy—a moment for which one feels grateful to Life and Death.

Narayan’s style attains lyrical qualities in his description of the wedded life of Krishna Susila and his description of Rosie:

The story of the wedded life of Krishna and Susila “is a prose lyric on which Narayan has lavished his best gifts as a writer. Narayan’s style assumes lyrical quality in the description of Rosie in The Guide:

She was not very glamorous, if that is what you expect, but she did have a figure, a slight and slender one beautifully fashioned eyes that sparkled, a complexion, not white but dusky, which made her only half visible as if you saw her through film of tender coconut juice…. When she indicated the lotus with her fingers, you could almost hear the ripple of water around it.

Narayan’s style retains its characteristic reticence even in the use of figures of speech as exampled from the quotes given below:

“She appeared at the kitchen doorway, like a vision, clad in her indigo saree ….” [The English Teacher]

“Money was like a gem which radiated subdued light all around.” [The Financial Expert]

“Sriram went toward it like a charmed moth.”

“She has the lightning like motion of a dancer”. [Waiting for the Mahatma]

Narayan is a master of irony:

Narayan’s irony dissembles in humor, and the reader realizes only when hit. Here is a sample of Narayan’s irony from his novel, The Bachelor of Arts. Study the conversation between the hero Chandran and Kailas who forces his friendship on Chandran at Madras.

“Excuse me. I made a vow never to touch alcohol in my life, before my mother,” said Chandran.

This affected Kailas profoundly. He remained solemn for a moment and said: “Then don’t. Mother is a sacred object. It is a commodity whose value we don’t realize as long as it is with us. One must lose it to know what a precious possession it is. If I had my mother I should have studied in a college and become a respectable person. You wouldn’t find me here. After this where do you think I’m going?”

“I don’t know.”

“To the house of a prostitute.”

He remained reflective for a moment and said with a sigh:

“As long as my mother lived she said every minute don’t do that.’ And I remained a good son to her. The moment she died I changed. It is a rare commodity, sir. Mother is a rare commodity’.”

Like Sudhin Ghose, Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao and other Indian English novelists, Narayan too employs deftly the stylistic device of using myths:

Like Sudhin Ghose, Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao and other Indian English novelists, Narayan too employs deftly the stylistic device of using myths. He has imparted a definite sustained mythical structure to his famous novel, The Man Eater of Malgudi. In this context, S. Krishnan remarks:

If Narayan’s narrative powers owe something to his familiarity with traditional Indian story-telling, the universal significance he sees in many of the Indian myths gives strength and substance to his plots and characters. Narayan’s own exercise of myth making, namely the portrait of Gandhi in Waiting for the Mahatma, makes a special appeal to his American audience….

It is the prose of the plains, not the prose of the gushing Ganga of the Himalayas as found in Mulk Raj Anand or Raja Rao:

Narayan’s simple style of narrations holds up a mirror to the simple, occasionally ambitious, and the relaxed way of living of the Malgudians. Commenting on Narayan’s style Uma Paramaeswaran observes:

His prose is clear and correct but lacks poetry. It is the prose of the plains, not the prose of the gushing Ganga of the Himalayas as found in Mulk Raj Anand or Raja Rao. It is the prose of the Southern plains in April when the rivers are stream less standing still in the torrid blaze of the tropical sun, appreciated by the passerby not so much for what they contain as for what they represent, not much for their meager beauty but the sheer fact that they are there, still surviving under the summer sun. The same metaphor might be applied to Narayan’s early work in general. It is appreciated for the sheer fact of its existence at a time and place when the literary clime was dry and barren.

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