But Narayan’s approach is entirely different. Narayan’s plots do not form any standard formula, because Narayan starts with an idea of character and situation and the plot progresses on the line he conceives to be the logical development of the idea. It may mean no marriage, no happy ending and no hero of standardized stature. Even his early novel The Dark Room ends almost tragically with no regard to poetic justice, so dear to the novelist. Savitri whose husband was following another attractive lady, Shanta Bai leaves her home, tries to commit suicide and at last returns to look after her children while Ramani, her husband follows his usual amorous pursuits.
In The English Teacher, the hero is a college lecturer, neither romantic nor brave. The hero of Swami and Friends is just a young boy doing nothing brave or noble or adventurous. The financial expert, Margayya and Mr. Sampath are lovable rogues. The hero of The Bachelor of Arts, Chandran is an ordinary college student. The heroes of Narayan do not approach the conventional heroic type.
Since the action of the stories of Narayan logically springs from characters, the usual stock-in-trade of the novelist, such as accidence, coincidence, sudden reversal of fortune have no place in the plot of Narayan. Narayan’s are the first novels which set out to give a picture of life unaffected by any desire for dramatic efforts. His stories are conditioned entirely by the logical demands of the situation or character. In this point, Narayan follows the examples of Henry James, H.G. Wells and Arnold Bennett. In Narayan, the Indo-Anglican novel structurally comes of age.
The spirit of the novel also receives maturity in Narayan’s novels. The earlier novels were designed to be entertainment for the middle class and English serving-class public in India. Their subject matter, therefore, was confined to only those phase of life, which could be part of such an entertainment. Consequently, impersonal and intellectual side of life was neglected. Intellectual points, if at all they crept in those novels, were not relevant to the story of which they formed part.
They gave setting to the drama of life in those novels, but did not modify characters. In Narayan, contrary is the case. Characters and incidents act and react and the plot moves on a logical sequence. Scholars and scamps jostle with each other in Narayan’s novels and Narayan’s wider intellectual interests have led him to portray human life in those deeper and more general aspects of life. The English Teacher, for example, does not give a gripping plot; but it shows in soft contours the sweet felicity of conjugal life, and even the life beyond.
The World of the Middle-Class Citizen:
The choice of his subject matter shows that Narayan is a creative artist. He begins his novels with confidence and engages our attention from the very first page; so that we settle down to watch him build his world. It is not a small world. But it has its own limitations. Like most writers, Narayan could create only from the world of his personal experience—the lower middle-class citizens of the South.
Chandran belongs to a middle-class family. Editor Srinivas is also bothered with the idea of earning his bread and butter. Mr. Sampath’s whole life is centred on the problem of making money and Raju, the guide is not always beyond monetary cares. These human beings are of the usual sort of prudish, cunning and prosaic ones.
The plots of Narayan are built of material and incidents that are neither extra-ordinary nor heroic. The tone of his novels is quiet and subdued. Narayan selects day-to-day incidents that happen to almost every one of us one time or the other. If we take the life of a school boy like Swami, we find nothing extraordinary or strange happening to him. Similarly, Mr. Sampath, Chandran, Raju, Rosie, Savitri, Ramani and others live, love and suffer in a maze of incidents, which are just commonplace.
But Narayan so weaves his incidents and presents his plot before us that under the magic influence of his imagination, its undramatic even flow of the plot becomes highly interesting and captures the attention of the readers. His imagination has no fringes; it has no capricious flights of fancy.
The world of his creation is not full of volcanic conflagrations or tragic ups and down. Even then it is a big world full of smile and tears and thoughts and drama, fusing them into a level, harmonious, artistic vision. It does require a very great artist to make interesting story out of very ordinary day-to-day incidents of life. But as we have noted earlier, Narayan starts with an idea and the thought develops as a logical consequence of that idea.
Ironic and Harmonious Story Teller:
The key note of Narayan’s interest is his very minute observation and subtle ironic harmonious way of telling his story. There is, in his novels, ‘scarcely audible laughter’ shot through all the incidents. Swami’s cricket eleven in search of a regular or even an irregular playground is a masterpiece of narration that is equally humorous. The very creation of the character of Mr. Sampath is full of subtle irony. The concerns of Prof. Gajapathy and Principal Brown over dropping the letter ‘u’, in the spelling of ‘honour’ is presented to us by Narayan with a light smile and with no comments.
The rise and the fall of the fortunes of Raju, the guide, have an undercurrent of humour, which endears Raju permanently to us. Mr. Sampath, bluffing his customers, riding confidently on the wave of success and at last falling under the debris of the financial crash and yet maintaining his confidence is blood brother to Raju, the guide, who got maximum from the tourists and rose to success on the dancing engagement of Rosie to fall at last and end as a martyr to superstition and dogma.
Both of them are rogues, but the type of rogues we love and like and take to our heart. Sriram, the patriot, who follows the Mahatma and plunges into the revolutionary movements, does all this not out of patriotic motive, but out of his love for Bharati. This entirely changes the aspect of his activities from heroic to humorous. That indeed is a typical Narayan trick.
Narayan’s novels are straightforward realistic pictures undisturbed by fantasy. The intellectual interest is the main spring of his inspiration and that is the angle from which he approaches all the aspects of his subject matter. The result is that he analyses actions and diagnoses motives. All these lead to subtle undercurrent of humorous remarks. He has not to find humorous incidents to make his readers laugh.
The very way in which he narrates his story creates its own humour; for example, Mr. Sampath says, “My dear Sir, I don’t know what you think of me, but I treat this bridge opening as my own business. When a customer steps over this threshold all his business becomes mine; if you have trust in Sampath, you will be free from many unnecessary worries.”
Narayan is a writer of Social Comic Novels:
Narayan is a writer of social novels, which are more or less comic novels. Light in their approach to life, these novels do not claim to stir deep human emotions or to reach tragic heights. Those are meant for Mulk Raj Anand or Kamala Markandeya; Narayan sees to it that his novels keep a level uniform quiet tone. His backgrounds are absolutely realistic; almost photographic in their realism.
Every event is described with precision and care, so that the details are correct and the event is psychologically convincing. The old landlord who refuses to give his tenants one more water-tap is a masterpiece of realistic portrayal. His social life is full of college boys, college teachers, school masters, merchants, municipal members, tourist guides, taxi drivers and most of other full blooded Characters, which from lower middle and poor classes of Malgudi. It, in a way, limits the range of Narayan’s society. Princes of blood, commercial magnates and rich people rolling in wealth have no fascination for Narayan and the poor and the down-trodden class of workers does not inspire Narayan with imagination. Narayan steers the middle course and does not go beyond the people he has seen and lived with.
Narain’s Realism in his depiction of characters:
If Narayan’s heroes are not impressive figures, he compensates for this by giving us perhaps the most realistic novels in the Indo-Anglian field. The life that he describes is put before us with a wealth of details and accuracy that might do justice to a research scholar. In his novel, The Guide, he treats the life of a tourist guide with perfect realism. He also gives all the details of the trade of a tourist guide and also analyses the attitude of guides to his customers. If his events include a film production as they do in Mr. Sampath, he gives vivid details, which are as interesting as they are realistic.
If he describes the life of a professor of English as in The English Teacher, he not only describes the students, the class room, but also gives a period in which the professor discusses the most dramatic passage from King Lear’s Storm Scene. If he describes the wave of patriotism as in Waiting for the Mahatma, he is not satisfied with the movement alone, brings Mahatma Gandhi on the scene and makes him stay in the Harijan Colony near the river. Narayan’s realism is psychologically convincing as it is accurate in detail.
He makes his readers probe through the thought-currents of his characters and watches them from at a distance. Over and above these features, the plots of Narayan are very simply constructed. Some of his novels start on autobiographical lines and the main character of the novel tell his or her own story analyzing, narrating, the incidents and characters.
Narayan’s Plots are suffused with Intellectual Light:
Such stories of Narayan are The Guide and The English Teacher. In other stories, he becomes more objective, and tells the story of the rise and fall of his heroes with dispassionate objectivity. But whichever method he uses, we find the piercing light of his intellect which suffuses the whole plot with interest. His canvas has a limited range. Sub-plots and interludes are few and far between in the novels of Narayan. His plots normally move from one incident to another, leading up to the final crisis.
For example, the story of Mr. Sampath starts with his printing press career, describes his film production adventure and ends with the final crash. In the same way, The English Teacher describes the married life of Krishnan, the death of his wife and Krishnan’s absorption in spiritual pursuits. The Financial Expert deals with the various stages in the life of Margayya, the money lender till he is dislodged from his occupation. All these novels are straight forward stories told by highly intellectual mind; as such their interest is fundamentally intellectual. They appeal more to the head than to the heart.
Limitations of Narayan:
Narayan is a short story writer and novelist, has his limitations too. He is an intellectual who has known the middle class life of South India at close quarters. But depths of pathos that move the very inner fibre are beyond the range of Narayan. He is good at undertones but bold and dramatic flashes are not for him. The dregs of poverty, the crushing loads of misery cannot be found in the pages of Narayan. But within his limited range, Narayan is an exquisite master of the art of story-telling.