P.S. Spoilers Ahead – But this couldn’t be done without those parts. I’ve tried to keep the details out, as far as possible.
R K Narayan is the reason I started storytelling. His way of storytelling is so smooth that you are a part of the story without even knowing about it. His writing style is devoid of any floral decorations in terms of the detailing of the sets and stuff. I remember I read this in his ‘Dateless Diary’, he skips the unnecessary details while writing, the same way he skips them while reading. More on R K Narayan later. This is about his two books – The English Teacher: a fiction, and My Days: the autobiography.
The English Teacher is the third and final part of his series, the other two include ‘Swami and Friends’, and ‘The Bachelor of Arts’. These three books are autobiographical in nature, naturally. The way the details have been drawn in the books are so simple yet connect. The books, also, are a recognition of the times they were set in, despite not boring anyone with the movement of independence. The books involved the times with reference, like in Swami and Friends, and the cap scene.
The English Teacher talks about the story of Krishna, an English teacher and a lecturer at Albert Mission School. He, despite being married, is living a bachelor life, until his wife Susila and daughter Leela join him in Malgudi. The life changes, emotions start entering, never too loud but always in the guise of the story. Susila gets ill, and unfortunately dies, and Krishna discovers a school where learning is different and moral based when he meets the Headmaster, where Leela goes to study. He, meanwhile, starts having messages from his late wife Susila. What’s the truth?
I did not believe the story to be true until I read more about R K Narayan (I call him Sir, but to be clear to others, I’ll refer by the name here). I had a struggle to find his autobiography ‘My Days’. It took days to search it all over the shops (online books were limited to bestsellers in those days). One fine day, I went in every shop in Nai Sarak. I found the book, bought it immediately. And then it dawned.
Either R K Narayan is so great a storyteller that his autobiography is also a fiction, or he felt those spiritual experiences in his life. My Days is all about those experiences, and more. What comes out, though, is that he loved his wife so much that he never moved ahead. We are talking of 1940s, men were not even given mourning time and remarried. Especially with a young daughter, he would have remarried. He did not. The respect for the man stays, and these books, although beautiful stories and greatly told, tell us of the emotions of the man in 1940s, who fell in love with his wife through arranged married, and eventually lost her, to find her again.