He skillfully draws particular attention to the various details of their families. Many of them are seen as rooted in the traditions, customs, beliefs, and superstitions of their families. Thus every one of the important characters is given a recognizable identity and helped to come alive.
The first two novels of Narayan, Swami and Friends and the Bachelor of Arts illustrate this point:
The first two novels of Narayan, Swami and Friends and The Bachelor of Arts illustrate this point. The central theme of either novel is growth towards emotional maturity which involves a crisis involving relations with others and the growth is made possible largely by the stability, solidarity and security of their respective families.
There are certain close affinities between Swami and Friends and The Bachelor of Arts. Like several other novels of Narayan, they two are protagonistic. They have in common growing up for their main theme. Swami, the protagonist in Swami and Friends grows from boyhood towards early adolescence and Chandran of The Bachelor of Arts, who sometimes looks like a grown-up version of the boy Swami, grows from early youth to adulthood.
In either case, the protagonist goes through an emotional crisis involving his relations with some people. This makes the growth possible in him. The family provides the immediate context and background for the two heroes. The novelist presents them amidst a network of close familial relationships. They have a strong sense of kinship which binds to their families.
Thus they are not only rooted firmly in their respective families, but are seen growing up and becoming stable within their fold. Further, when they are jolted out of their sheltered existence by certain unexpected crises in their lives, it is their good fortune that they are able to return to the security of the care and affection of their parents who understand them with extreme sympathy. Thus the family theme is a secondary but significant theme in both the novels.
The Bachelor of Arts presents a few phases in the life of Chandran an undergraduate student of the Albert Mission College of Malgudi, who eventually becomes a Bachelor of Arts:
If Swami and Friends depicts the carefree buoyant world of a school boy, The Bachelor of Arts presents a few phases in the life of Chandran an undergraduate student of the Albert Mission College of Malgudi, who eventually becomes a Bachelor of Arts. It is mainly concerned with the emotional ups and downs of his life until he settles down as a married man. In some ways Chandran would appear to be young Swami grown up.
He seems to begin where the other leaves off. Like Swami, he too has to go through certain deflating experiences before he achieves a measure of emotional maturity and stability. Chandran has to cross “the shadow-line between carefree youth and responsible manhood.” In this process, his parents also play a significant role. Thus the theme of growing up is taken a stage further in The Bachelor of Arts. But the family is still a secondary theme in this novel, the focus being on Chandran’s growth.
The Bachelor of Arts is closely organized under four parts and each part presents a certain stage in the growth of the protagonist Chandran:
The novel is closely organized under four parts. Each part presents a certain stage in the growth of the protagonist Chandran as he leaves college as a graduate to face the odds of worldly life before he finally settles down as a happily married and contented man with a loving wife and a lucrative job. Part one is mainly concerned with Chandran’s college life and its comedy. It gently exposes his ambitions, vanities and snobbery.
It also shows him at home in the company of his parents and his younger brother Seenu. Parts Two and Four give a more detailed picture of his relationship with the different members of his family including his uncle, aunt and cousins at Madras. It is in these parts of the novel the family theme becomes an important strand of the narration.
At home Chandran leads a sheltered and complacent life:
At home Chandran is the darling of his parents, though he is not the only son. Exercising his privilege of an elder brother he bosses over his younger brother Seenu occasionally. His family is a compact and close-knit one with the members bound to each other by the silken bond of love and affection.
They are a well-to-do family so Chandran has no financial worry and has all the freedom he desires. But now and then he plays with the idea of asserting his independence over his father’s authority, regarding himself as an emancipated young man. But it is amusing to see him withdraw with a respectful awe towards his father, though he is anything but authoritarian.
Chandran leads a sheltered and complacent life. All his movements are between two secure points, his loving home and college. At college he is exposed to the mock-disturbances of the Debating Society and the baseless and short-lived fears of his teachers. It is only after he leaves college, he is unexpectedly jolted out of the security and complacency when he falls romantically in love with a girl named Malathi, whom he has seen only from a distance but has never talked to, and he is disappointed.
Chandran’s father is more like an affectionate, elderly understanding friend to him than a critical, strict father demanding unspoken obedience:
Parts two and three of the novel are concerned with the consequences of Chandran’s falling obsessively in love with the girl Malathi. This “love- at-first-sight trauma” marks a decisive turning point in his life. It creates tension in the family and brings him apparently into sharp conflict with his father and mother and with the long-established customs, convention, and beliefs of their clan.
It is in this context we are made to see the kind of relationship he has with his father and mother. It is significant that Chandran opens the topic of his marriage first with his father Venkatachalam Iyer rather than with his mother, although he feels much more free with her. Interestingly, he chooses a time when his mother is away from home to raise it with his father, though he has to gather all the courage at his command to approach him. The reason is obvious that Chandran’s father is more like an affectionate, elderly understanding friend to him than a critical, strict father demanding unspoken obedience.
Chandran’s mother does not love her son less but the family traditions and name more but she compromises her stand for the sake of her son:
Chandran’s mother conforms to a conventional image of a mother. She is pious, orthodox and considers herself to be the custodian of the family’s fair name, status and tradition. To her home is the whole world. She is a loving mother and her son’s happiness is closer to her heart. It is when he wants to marry the daughter of D.W. Krishna Iyer, a mere Head Clerk that tension builds between mother and son. Venkatachalam Iyer is not able to override his wife’s objection because his own attitude to custom is ambivalent.
In spite of their differences of opinion, Chandran’s parents love their son so deeply that they cannot bear to see him unhappy and miserable. For the sake of their son they are ready to sidestep the age-old customs and initiate negotiations with D.W. Krishna Iyer with the help of their family match-maker, Ganapathi Sastrigal. But after considerable hope, expectation, and suspense, Chandran is upset, because of unmatchable horoscopes.
The disappointment of his parents, more so for his father, is no less acute, for the sake of their son. At the desperate appeal of his son, Chandran’s father summons Srouthigal and makes him interact with D.W. Krishna Iyer who sticks to his guns that the marriage of his daughter with Chandran will be laden with grave danger. Narayan deliberately plays down the sharpness of it by presenting, in a comic light the detailed though vain astrological discussions between Srouthigal and Krishna Iyer.
Disappointed in his love for Malathi, Chandran becomes a mendicant sanyasi but decides to return home on realizing the fraud that he is practising on others as well as himself:
As Chandran becomes heartbroken at the collapse of his efforts to marry Malathi, his health breaks down. As soon as he recovers, he wishes to be out of Malgudi and insists on his father to send him to Madras. On reaching Madras, he impulsively decides against going to his uncle’s house with the cousin waiting to receive him at the railway station. He becomes a drifter and becomes a mendicant sanyasi. Part Three of the novel is concerned with this phase of Chandran’s life.
The inexperienced young man becomes a wandering holy man only as “a revenge on society, circumstances, and perhaps, too, on destiny.” After some months of wandering living on the charity of trusting and innocent people who take him for a real sanyasi, Chandran realizes that he has been cheating through life.
He thinks of his parents and is filled with great remorse that he has caused them so much agony because of his “silly infatuation” for Malathi: “He had deserted his parents, who had spent on him all their love, care, and savings. He told himself that he had surely done this to spite his parents, who probably had died of anxiety by now. This was all his return for their love and for all that they had done for him.” After such introspection, he decides .o put an end to this life of a deserter and counterfeit and return home. He “takes an important step towards maturity when he realizes the moral futility of deception.”
Part Four of the novel is all about Chandran’s return home and his rehabilitation throwing light on the parental anxiety and concern over him:
Part Four of the novel is all about Chandran’s return home and his rehabilitation. The way the different members receive him on his return reveals their attitude to him as well as their own nature. Both his father and mother are careworn. With anxiety and prayer, they wait for the return of their son, languishing for eight full months.
But his mother justifiably is not able to contain herself as she looks at his emaciated person: “You are looking like a corpse. How your bones stick out! What sunken cheeks! What were you all these days?” His father exhibits remarkable restraint and asks him apparently harmless questions: “Did you travel much? What were the places you visited?” His brother Seenu, who is a cricket enthusiast like Swami, asks him about the Junior Willard (cricket bat) he had asked to buy for him from Binns, Madras.
Chandran’s parents not only desist from asking unnecessary questions relating to his long absence but also play down the anxiety and suspense they suffered during his absence. There is a blend of pathos and humour in each pointing to the other as the more anxious and worried of the two.
Chandran understands the pathetic condition of his parents and their concern for him during his absence:
Chandran is deeply touched to find that his room has been kept spick and span in his absence by his mother as it is a sacred place. The garden untended, overgrown with grass and weeds, reveals Chandran’s father’s condition in his absence. When asked about it, he gives only evasive answer. Chandran’s uncle, aunt and cousin at Madras when he visits them during his second trip do not feel the same delicacy while talking to him, although their affection for him is not in doubt. It is his uncle who helps him acquire the agency of The Daily Messenger.
Without fussing over Chandran, his father by his quiet and restrained concern helps him to regain his composure:
Without fussing over Chandran, his father by his quiet and restrained concern helps him to regain his composure. In a mood of restlessness Chandran thinks that he has wasted a lot of his time irresponsibly, and been still leeching on his father. Without further delay he wants to get employed to be of support to his family.
His father not only assures him that there has been no waste of time at all on his part, but attributes the delay in his schooling and to his falling ill with typhoid as a boy. Some discussion with and persuasion by his friend Mohan enables him to decide in favour of marriage. There is mild and humorous irony in his belief that only please his parents he would marry. Five days hence, Chandran and his mother go to Talapur to see the prospective bride. Before long, he is a married man.
That he voluntarily and gladly accepts the bride chosen by his parents, settles down to a conventional life, and finds himself completely devoted to his wife, is a measure of the strength of the family ties. His final return to the family fold is “symbolic of the strength and sustenance of the traditional family”.