In praise of RKN

Jabberwock has some nice things to say about RKN (and, I am quoting the relevant sections of the post in full because it is that quote-worthy):

One myth about Narayan should be quickly dispelled: that his writing is “simple” in the sense that you can just pick up one of his books and race through them. This notion has been perpetuated by some of today’s mass-market writers who seek to validate their own non-literariness through association. For example, Chetan Bhagat has admitted to being influenced by Narayan’s no-flourishes style, which might create the misleading impression that Narayan can be read in the same way that you can read a Bhagat novel (it took me barely an hour to finish Five Point Someone). Certainly there is a basic directness in Narayan’s prose – an emphasis on narrative rather than “style” – but sentence by sentence, his best work has the refinement, the carefulness, the knack for observation and description, that you expect in good literary fiction. There’s little that’s casual about it.

Consider this early passage from The Vendor of Sweets:

The bathroom was a shack, roofed with corrugated sheets; the wooden frame was warped and the door never shut flush, but always left a gap through which one obtained a partial glimpse of anyone bathing. But it had been a house practice, for generations, for its members not to look through […] A very tall coconut tree loomed over the bath, shedding enormous withered fronds and other horticultural odds and ends on the corrugated roof with a resounding thud. Everything in this home had the sanctity of usage, which was the reason why no improvement was possible. Jagan’s father, as everyone knew, had lived at first in a thatched hut at the very back of this ground. Jagan remembered playing in a sand heap outside the hut; the floor of the hut was paved with cool clay and one could put one’s cheek to it on a warm day and feel heavenly.

The prose here is functional, but it’s also assured and humorous, and commands the reader’s full attention (the passage is randomly selected, by the way; you can open the book almost anywhere and find another like it). One also senses a pioneering Indian writer in English trying to create a visual picture of his world for the foreign readership that he knows his books will reach – it’s ironical that many people take jingoistic pride in the idea that Narayan was a provincial man who never wrote for the West.

Aye! Aye! Sir!!

2 Responses to “In praise of RKN”

  1. raj Says:

    A simple non-flowery style of writing is often described as ‘pedestrian prose’ by the likes of Tharoor. Sad. Jabberwock has done justice to RKN, I think.

    • Guru Says:

      Raj:

      It is not just Tharoor. I have also heard Sashi Deshpande once for about 20 minutes berating RKN at IISc. Harold Bloom, somewhere, argues that writers are the most afraid of those other writers who they want to emulate, or, something to that effect. I think there are lots of people who would love to be the RKN of the current generation, and that is what these comments imply!

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