Story of “The Bachelor of Arts” Novel by R. K. Narayan

His mother, very pious and efficient in managing the household is very much attached to her husband, Chandran and his younger brother Seenu who is studying in Albert Mission School but she sticks on to her orthodox customs and conventions and is very keen on maintaining their status. Chandran’s father is very favourably disposed towards him and is somewhat modern in his outlook but he hesitates to overrule his wife’s decision.

Chandran becomes the Prime Mover of the College Union Debate and becomes very popular:

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Chandran is a very good student at College and has a very close friend in Ramu who lives adjacent to his house. Chandran is asked to be the Prime Mover of the College Union Debate by the Secretary Natesan and move the topic that historians must be slaughtered first. Chandran is terribly upset to talk against the historians as he is himself a student of History and moreover he does not know how to face his Professor Ragavachar.

But the Union Secretary tells him that he will not invite his Professor and clinches the issue with finality that he cannot find a better speaker than Chandran for being the Prime Mover. The Principal Mr. Brown is invited to open the debate. Chandran makes a spirited plea for the annihilation of the historians. The Prime Opposer also presents his arguments for the preservation of the historians.

The House then by an overwhelming majority of votes for an early annihilation of the historians. Principal Brown, in his typical humorous way, speaks first for five minutes why the historians must be slaughtered and then for another five minutes he speaks why they should be deified. Chandran becomes happy with the outcome and celebrates his success by going to the cinema with his friend Ramu.

Professor Ragavachar asks Chandran to start the Historical Association in the college:

A few days later, Chandran’s Professor Ragavachar asks him to meet him after the class is over. Chandran speculates on the reason for the Professor summoning him. But when he meets Ragavachar later on, he asks Chandran to start the Historical Association in the college and names him the Secretary of the Association.

He further directs him to arrange for the inauguration of the Association at the earliest. Chandran seeks the help of Union Secretary, Natesan who has held various positions in various Associations of the college during earlier years of his career. At the suggestion of Natesan, he meets Principal Brown by cajoling his peon Aziz, and manages to get the Principal’s consent to inaugurate the Historical Association of the College. Chandran has to sacrifice his studies to get things done in connection with the inaugural function.

The inaugural function of the Historical Association becomes very colourful:

The inaugural function of the Historical Association becomes very colourful with a lot of students of the college and special invitees attending it. Professor Ragavachar on the chair while inviting Professor Brown, to deliver his inaugural address delivers a spirited lecture on the need of a Historical Association in the college for dispelling the dark notions in the minds of many about history and its significance in human life.

Professor Brown, with his characteristic humour and gentle irony in his address punctures the pride of Ragavachar. Chandran, then as the Secretary of the Historical Association, proposes a vote of thanks. He then sees the Principal and Ragavachar off. He manages to arrange subsequent meetings of the Association with the help of Natesan and other Secretaries of the college Unions. He comes in contact with Mohan, a poet during this period and they become very thick friends.

Chandran prepares hard for his final B.A. examination and becomes a Bachelor of Arts:

Time passes on swift wings with Chandran immersed in extra­curricular activities. Soon the month of November dawns. Chandran realises all of a sudden that he has wasted almost half of the session, and he must make good the last time by studying extra-hours during the remaining part of the session. He chalks out an elaborate study schedule and shows that to his father. He tells his mother that he is not to be disturbed in his studies in his room.

But a mystery shrouds with the strange disappearance of the flowers in their garden. So he has to sacrifice his morning study hours to help his father nab the culprit. Soon they find that the flower-thief enters at dawn and steals away the flowers intended for his mother’s morning worship at her prayer room. As the flower-thief turns out be a man in ochre dress with his funny explanations, his theft is condoned when he agrees to spare some flowers for mother’s worship too! However, Chandran studies hard and clears his B.A. final examinations and becomes a Bachelor of Arts.

Chandran’s plans to go to England for his higher studies but gets bogged by his infatuation for a young girl called Malathi:

Now that Chandran has finished his studies, his relatives and friends ask him about his future plans. Chandran becomes irritated at this and complains to his father. He tells him that it is natural for them to ask such questions to a relative or friend who has finished his graduation. He tells him that he can go and study in England if he likes.

He has asked his brother at Madras to collect details for sending Chandran to England. So Chandran tells his well-wishers that he intends going to England for pursuing his higher studies. Chandran plans to take a research degree there and return to his home and take a lectureship in some college. But his dreams to go to England receive a setback when he chances upon a young girl [Malathi] playing with her young companion on the sands of Sarayu one fine evening.

Chandran’s optic-communion with Malathi last for quite some time:

Chandran falls in love with her at his very first sight. He has not even fully seen her nor spoken to her or anything like that. He sees her from a manageable distance and finds that she has a good figure. But as her head is bent, he is not able to see her face properly. He assumes that she must possess a beautiful face too.

The girl comes daily to the river sands every evening with her little companion and Chandran too comes to have a look at her. This optic-communion lasts for quite some time. At times he wishes that he goes near her and look at her straight. But the presence of other people in the beach and the impropriety of staring a young girl from close quarters prevent him to have a close look at the object of his admiration and love. He then realizes that if he goes on like this, he will have to spend the rest of his life on the sands of Sarayu without any positive outcome.

Chandran learns about Malathi and her family through his friend Mohan living opposite her house:

So Chandran follows her one evening when she returns home. She finds her entering her house in Mill Street. He notices that her house is just opposite to Modern Indian Lodge where his friend Mohan lives in Room No. 14. So he visits Mohan in his room and tries to collect all information regarding the girl. He learns that the girl’s name is Malathi, she is unmarried and her father is Mr. D.W. Krishna Iyer, Head Clerk in the Executive Engineer’s office. Chandran feels happy that the girl’s father is an Iyer so that he can move further in this affair.

Chandran expresses his desire for marrying Malathi to his father who initiates the process through their family astrologer:

After one or two attempts, Chandran opens the topic of his intention to marry Malathi, the daughter of Krishna Iyer to his father. He asks information about the girl and her father and Chandran tells him whatever he knows in the matter. Though his father takes a lenient view of this issue, he passes on the information to his wife for further decision. Chandran’s mother at first makes much fuss about entering into an alliance below their status. She tells Chandran that they cannot proceed in this matter abruptly.

They have to see that the horoscopes of the boy and the girl tally. And then there is the question of dowry and other things to consider. Chandran becomes dispirited and brooding when his mother throws cold water on his dreams of marrying Malathi. On finding their Chandran’s pathetic condition, his parents tell him that they are ready to consider the proposal if the girl’s parents send the horoscope of their girl and seek that of Chandran for comparison. They summon their family astrologer, Sri Ganapathi Sastrigal and ask him to contact Mr. Krishna Iyer and advise him to seek an alliance with them by sending the girl’s horoscope.

Malathi’s father informs Chandran’s father that the horoscopes of Chandran and Malathi do not tally and so he is compelled to drop the alliance:

Soon Chandran’s parents receive the girl’s horoscope from Mr. Krishna Iyer and they in return send Chandran’s horoscope to him as is the convention. When Chandran thinks that things are moving in the proper course, he is shocked to learn from Mr. Krishna Iyer saying that the horoscope of Chandran does not tally with that of his daughter and so he expresses his regret at his inability to have an alliance with such a noble family as that of Sri Venkatachala Iyer. Chandran appeals to his father to do something to set right things.

He brings in a Srouthigal [a learned astrologer] to study the horoscopes of Chandran and Malathi by calling in Mr. Krishna Iyer to his house. The Srouthigal suggests by overruling the objections raised by the bride-side astrologer that the marriage can be solemnized as the evil aspect of Mars in Chandran’s horoscope gets nullified with Chandran now attaining the age twenty.

But Mr. Krishna Iyer who himself knows astrology is not ready to buy the argument of the Srouthigal and does not want to risk the life of his daughter. So the talks fail and Chandran becomes terribly disgusted with customs and conventions; caste and status; horoscopes and almanacs standing in the way of marrying the girl of his liking.

Chandran goes to Madras and takes a room at a lodge opposite People’s Park:

When Chandran visits the room of Mohan next, he finds the wedding- notice for Malathi is being observed with traditional music and all. This is the last straw that breaks the camel’s back. Chandran falls ill and develops fever. He is confined to his bed for a few days. His father and mother become worried and visit him every now and then to see if he is improving. Even his younger brother Seenu becomes much upset at his brother’s illness and visits him. On his recovery, Chandran desires a change of place and tells his father about it.

He asks him to go to Madras to his uncle’s house and gives him fifty rupees. He wires to his brother there to receive Chandran at Egmore. He asks Chandran to write to him if he wants more money. When Chandran reaches Egmore, he finds his uncle’s son waiting to receive him at the platform. As he does not want to go to his uncle’s house, he avoids his cousin, engages a jutka and moves to a lodge opposite People’s Park.

Chandran’s acquaintance with Kailas at the lodge proves bitter and he runs away:

At the lodge, a middle-aged gentleman by name Kailas forces his friendship on Chandran. He takes Chandran round the city by bus, tramcar and all available modes of conveyance and lavishes his hospitality on him. Then he goes to a hotel-bar and asks Chandran to drink liquor with him. Chandran tells him that he has promised to his mother that he will not touch liquor. Kailas tells him that he must respect his promise to his mother.

He too avoided liquor as advised by his mother as long as she lived. But now that she is no more, he is free to drink. He tells Chandran that he has made a lot of money in Malaya and then settled down in his old village and lives happily with his two wives. Now and then he comes to Madras to have a good time. Kailas consumes plenty of liquor and proceeds to the house of a prostitute taking Chandran along with him. Even as he is being accosted by a middle-aged prostitute, Chandran runs away from the place. He does not even go to the lodge to collect his luggage.

With the help of a barber at Kapaleeswarar Temple tank, Chandran becomes a sanyasi:

Chandran sleeps on the platform and early next morning, he catches a train bound for Bezwada. But suddenly he gets a dislike for the name of the place with the letter ‘z’. So he throws the yellow ticket down through the window and gets down from the train. He then boards a tramcar bound for Mylapore. He gets down at the terminus and walks towards Kapaleeswarar Temple. He finds a barber at the steps of the temple tank.

He seeks the help of the barber to shave his head and get him a pair of ochre-dyed loin cloths and upper cloths for him. The barber advises him against becoming a sanyasi at a very young age as his. But Chandran promises him to gift his present dress and enough money for his services. The barber obliges him and Chandran becomes a sanyasi.

He goes from place to place and from district to district on foot, and he is able to get food as people respect a sanyasi and are too willing to feed him. Whenever he becomes tired, he gets a free lift on a cart or a bus. He stops shaving his head and face and so he grows long hair and beard.

Chandran decides to give up his fake-self as sanyasi and return to his parents:

After eight months of wandering, he reaches Koopal village in Sainad district. He is treated with respect by the villagers and offered gifts of fruits and food to him. Chandran begins to feel that he is exploiting the faith of the simple villagers and cheating them with his ochre cloths. He is different from other sanyasis who practice renunciation.

He has become a sanyasi as an alternative to suicide. His action is vindictive against his parents and society which smothered his love for Malathi. He decides that this won’t do. He decides to give up his mask and return to his parents to whom he has caused a lot of anxiety. He catches a bus and reaches a place called Maduram.

There he meets a post-master and tells him his entire story. With his help he gives a wire to his father asking him to send him twenty five rupees. His father at once sends him fifty rupees. He has his head shaved and puts on an old shirt and a white dhoti of the postmaster. He discards his ochre dress for good. He then leaves for Malgudi by train.

Chandran’s parents are very happy to see him back and he becomes the Malgudi agent for The Daily Messenger through his father’s support:

Chandran’s parents are very happy to see him back. Though his father says that his mother was very much worried about his long absence, he himself is not free from nagging worries about his missing son. The very neglect of the garden tells Chandran how much his father must have felt worried about him. His brother Seenu also tells him that he has missed him all these days. Chandran finds that his room is kept by his mother the same way he has left it.

He is moved by his mother’s concern for him. Soon Chandran rallies round and decides to work and earn without being a parasite on his father. He also tells his father that he does not want to waste his money by going to England. He seeks his father’s help to get the Malgudi agency for The Daily Messenger which has fallen vacant. His father asks his brother at Madras to help Chandran secure the agency. Chandran goes to Madras and meets the concerned people of the daily with his uncle’s friend and secures the agency.

Chandran sets up his office in the Market Road and by his publicity tactics manages to improve the circulation of The Daily Messenger at Malgudi significantly:

Chandran sets up his office in the Market Road and by his publicity tactics manages to improve the circulation of The Daily Messenger at Malgudi significantly. His friend Mohan who is a correspondent of the daily for Malgudi is of immense help to him in the promotion of the sales of the daily. Chandran’s father one day comes to his office and tells him that a good alliance for him has come from one Jayarama Iyer, a leading lawyer of Talapur for his daughter.

At first, chandran says no to the proposal and his father does not want to press him further. But on the advice of his friend Mohan, Chandran decides to accept the offer of marriage. He goes to Talapur with his mother and sees the girl, Susila. He is impressed with her beauty and her attainments. He feels sorry for having doted on Malathi whose very name is tongue-twisting and whose beauty cannot stand comparison with Susila who is ‘divine’. Soon Chandran marries Susila and describes her merits to Mohan in poetic terms.

As she is still studying her final year schooling, she stays with her parents. Chandran writes to her regularly and gets replies from her equally regularly. But as he does not get any letter from her for the past few days, he becomes worried and rushes to see her asking Mohan to look after the agency of The Daily Messenger till he returns.

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