Salient Features of R.K. Narayan’s Prose Style in “The Bachelor of Arts”

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 story telling in a simple, natural, lucid and unaffected manner:

Narayan has remarkable command over English and used it as the medium of story telling 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, 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. Manhood 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 the conversation between Natesan, the Union Secretary and Chandran from The Bachelor of Arts:

“I will tell you a secret,” the secretary said. “If I had kept clear of the Union elections, I should have saved nearly seventy rupees.”

“What do you mean?”

“Every vote was purchased with coffee and tiffin, and, in the election month, the restaurant bill came to seventy. My father wrote to me from the village asking if 1 thought that rupees lay scattered in our village street.”

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. Take for example the following excerpts from The Bachelor of Arts’.

i) The cook said: “Please call your mother. She is waiting for you.” “All right. Bring me first rice and curd.”

He then gave a shout, “Mother!” which reached her as she sat in the back Veranda, turning the prayer beads in her hand, looking at the coconut trees at the far end of the compound. As she turned the beads, her lips uttered the holy name of Sri Rama, part of her mind busied itself with thoughts of her husband, home, children, and relatives, and her eyes took in the delicate beauty of coconut trees waving against a starlit sky.

ii) The household was up by this time. His father was in the garden, minutely examining the plants for evidence of any miracle that might have happened overnight.

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 The Bachelor of Arts’, for example: puja, dhoti, jutka (two-wheeled cart drawn by horse), sanyasi, 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 gives the 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 The Bachelor of Arts Chandran’s affair with Malathi has been imaginatively conceived and skillfully executed episode revealing the author’s narrative art with a notable economy of detail and suavity of tone:

i) Chandran saw her at the river bank next evening. She was wearing a green sari, and playing with her little companion. Chandran saw her from a distance and went towards her as if drawn by a rope. But on approaching her, his courage failed him, and he walked away in the opposite direction … He hoped that she had observed him. He hoped that she had noted his coat. He stood there and debated with himself whether she had seen him or not.

ii) Encouraged by this conclusion, he wondered if he should not stop her and talk to her when she rose to go home. He might even accompany her to her house. That might become a beautiful habit. What wonderful things he would to say to her. When the traffic of the town had died, they could walk together, under the moon or in magic starlight. He would stop a few yards from her house. What a parting of sweetness and pain!

Then we have Narayan’s description of Chandran’s feelings on his return journey to Malgudi from Talapur after girl-seeing his prospective wife ‘Susila’:

i) For the rest of the journey the music of the word “Susila” rang in his ears. Susila. Susila, Susila. Her name, music, figure, face, and everything about her was divine. Susila, Susila—Malathi, not a spot beside Susila; it was tongue-twister; he wondered why people liked that name.

And then we have Narayan’s excellent poetic description of Chandran who returns after his wedding with Susila from Talapur:

ii) Chandran returned a new man, his mind full of Susila, the fragrance of jasmine and sandal paste, the smokiness of the Sacred Fire, of brilliant lights, music, gaiety, and laughter.

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:

i) “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, ‘Do this 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.”

Again we have another master-stroke of Narayan’s irony when Narayan describes drunken Kailas who wrongly lands in the house of some other prostitute instead his favourite Kokilam:

i) The taxi drove away.

“Whose house is this?” asked Chandran.

“My girl’s house,” said Kailas. He surveyed the house up and down and said doubtfully: “It looks different today. Never mind.” He climbed the steps and asked somebody at the door: “Is this Kokilam’s house?”

“What does that matter?” You are welcome to my poor abode, Sir.” It was a middle-aged woman.

“You are right,” said Kailas, greatly pleased.

Narayan’s style is simple, pure and racy:

Narayan is a master of simple, pure and racy style. He has the apt word for the apt occasion. He is facile in his description of the serious and the comic and sometimes mingling both. Study for example his description of Veerasamy, the friend of Chandran at college:

i) Veerasamy bristled with prejudices and violence. Imperialism was his favourite demon. He believed in smuggling arms into the country, and, on a given day, shooting all the Englishmen. He assured Chandran that he was preparing for that great work. His education, sleep, contacts, and everything, were a preparation…In regard to sickness he believed that the British encouraged it in order to provide a permanent market for the British drug manufacturers. He was going to defeat that plan by propagating the nature-cure idea.

Narayan’s style is capable of evoking the pathos:

Narayan’s style is capable of evoking the pathos. Study for example his description of the last day of Chandran and his friends at college having their Class Socials and their feeling sad and sentimental at their parting:

They had their Class Socials that evening. A group photo, with the Principal sitting in the centre, was taken. A large lunch was eaten and coffee drunk. Songs were sung, speeches were made, everybody wished everybody else success in the examination; professors shook hands with the students, and students shook hand with each other. Everybody was soft and sentimental. They did everything short of shedding tears at the parting.

As they passed and went home, Chandran was aware that he had passed the very last moments in his college life, which had filled the major portion of his waking hours for the last four years. There would be no more college for him from tomorrow. He would return to it a fortnight hence for the examination and (hoping for the best) pass it, and pass out into the world, forever out of Albert College. He felt tender and depressed.

Narayan straightaway takes his readers to the hustle bustle of the college where his hero, Chandran is doing his final year B.A. in History:

Narayan straightaway takes his readers to the hustle bustle of the college where his hero, Chandran is doing his final year B.A. in History. Characteristically enough, the novel opens in a humorous note with Natesan, the Secretary of the College Union asking Chandran to be the Prime Mover for the debate the following evening and move the topic that the historians should be slaughtered first. Chandran being a student of history is in a fit to move a topic debunking historians and earn the displeasure of his history professor, Ragavachar.

But Natesan, the Secretary assures him that he will not invite his professor. Chandran goes to the college Library but finds volumes and volumes of history but nothing concerned with slaughtering the historians. In his worry to prepare for the topic, he does not even pay attention to his lecture classes. Finally, he manages to muster some points and a humorous anecdote as footage for his speech. His speech is received very well. Even Principal Brown is said to have enjoyed his speech. At the end, the House with a majority of votes decides in favour of the proposal and Chandran feels quiet happy at the outcome.

Narayan gives a realistic and humorous account of college election through the Secretary, Natesan:

When he returns home with the Secretary, Natesan we learn that he bought the votes during the election by bribing the voters with tiffin and coffee. This is both a realistic and humorous touch of Narayan about college elections. Chandran runs down Natesan and others for making much of Professor Brown’s sense of humour. Chandran hopes that Natesan will make some observation about his speech that evening. As he does not do it, Chandran asks Natesan about it.

When Chandran learns that it was very good and appreciated even by Professor Brown, he is happy about it. He quickly withdraws his harsh comments on both Natesan and Professor Brown and says that he meant nothing serious about his personal remarks about him and observes that Professor Brown is a great scholar with a nice sense of humour.

Narayan gives us an ironic picture of Assistant Professor of English Mr. Gajapathi who is both unpopular with his students and his colleagues:

Narayan gives us an ironic picture of Assistant Professor of English Mr. Gajapathi who is both unpopular with his students and his colleagues.

He is unpopular with his students because of his teaching and unpopular with his colleagues because of his conceit. He is self-righteous, arrogant and conceited. He considers himself to be the custodian of English language and especially its punctuation. He has notion of his knowledge of Shakespeare so much so he runs down celebrated critics like Dowden and Bradley. He has the audacity to correct the English of Fowler. No wonder, he is hated by his colleagues.

Though Chandran attends Professor Gajapathi’s lectures on Othello, his mind is not in the class. Further Chandran finds that it is not Shakespeare’s Othello but it is Gajapathi’s Othello with his self-conceit and academic arrogance. Without taking lecture notes, he draws the image of an elephant with spectacles on to represent Gajapathi, the elephant master! When Gajapathi later wants to see his lecture notes, Chandran tells him that he has not taken any notes and excuses himself saying that he has an appointment with Professor Ragavachar just then.

Professor Brown’s sarcastically humorous rejoinder to Professor Raghavacliar during the Inaugural of the Historical Association is enjoyed by every one:

Narayan depicts the picture of Professor Brown and Chairman, Professor Ragavachar life-like with their mannerisms intact. Though Ragavachar says that he will not take more than a few minutes, he takes a full forty minutes! Narayan is at his ironical best in describing the speech of Ragavachar trying to dispel the darkness of majority people with respect to Indian History by bringing light through his Historical Association in the college as well as the sarcastically humorous rejoinder to his speech by the downright debunking of History by Professor Brown. Narayan provides an excellent fare of humour through the intellectual fencing between Ragavachar and Brown.

The episode of the flower thief is replete with rib-tickling humour has a picaresque touch:

The episode of the flower thief is replete with rib-tickling humour has a picaresque touch. Chandran makes a decision to prepare seriously for his impending final examination by getting at four-thirty next morning. Man proposes but God disposes. His father unable to bear the smarts of his wife decides to catch the flower thief and lay him at her feet, alive or dead. The minor tiff between Chandran’s mother and his father over preventing the theft of flowers in the garden is given a mock-epic touch by Narayan. In his ardour for catching the thief, he is like a Knight Templar fighting a dragon for the cause of his ladylove.

Narayan’s humour is part and parcel of the fabric of his novel:

We have given here only a few samples revealing the various shades of Narayan’s rich humour. Pages after pages of the novel keep the reader entertained with a rich fare of Narayan’s humour. And another thing, the best way to enjoy the humour will be to enjoy in the context where it occurs. To isolate them out of the text may be an interesting academic exercise but not real enjoyment. This is because Narayan’s humour in its widest application is part and parcel of the fabric of the novel enriching its liveliness and sparkle.

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 streamless 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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