"The Watchman" (1947, 5 pages)
"The Tiger Claw" (5 pages, 1947)
The Reading Life R. K. Narayan Project
All of the three stories I will talk about today are from his 1947 collection, The Astrologer's Day and Other Stories. Most of the stories included were first published in The Hindu. The nine stories I have read so far by Narayan all focus on life in an imaginary community he crneated and set his stories in, Malgudi. Just liked Sherwood Anderson in Winesburg, Ohio Narayan writes about ordinary people in a way that lets us see we think they are ordinary only if that is all we ourselves are. They are also sort of stories about people who feel they did not get the credit they deserve for a large moment in their lives. One of the themes of Narayan seems to be how life can change in the blink of an eye. This was no doubt very clear in 1947 in India, the year of the Partition.
"Fellow Feeling" is set in the third class section of a train. It really made me in just a few sentences feel I was in a compartment on one of the trains. The story also lets us see the very real resentment most people had of the higher caste, normally richer Brahmins. We also see the hatred people have for strangers who seem of a different caste than they are. The action of the story takes place in a train compartment. A Brahmin comes in the compartment and he tells a drowsy traveler to move to make more space for him. Then an argument breaks out over the claim of one of the other passengers that Brahmins (whose traditions are vegetarian) have taken to eating meat and have driven the price so high others can barely afford it. I have read a couple of articles on Narayan who say the spoken language of his characters "feels wrong". To me his dialogue is part of his genius. The people in the compartment all have a language besides English as their basic language but they need to speak to each other in English. It may be because this is the only language they share or it maybe a class matter in that speaking English well marks you out as upper class. The spoken English is slang free learned in school style English. A great near fight breaks out in the compartment. You can read the story to find out what happens. The ending was so brilliant I also most felt like applauding.
"The Watchman" begins when a young woman approaches the station of a night watchman. She tells him she intends to kill herself. This story is so compressed and so good I do not feel inclined to summarize it. One thing I admired in this story was how Narayan made me accept that years had gone by in just a few pages. The ending leaves us wondering. Narayan knows how to end a story.
"The Tiger's Claw" deals with something that was a serious problem in the Malgudi area, man eating tigers. A fear of being eaten by a tiger was part of daily life. Maybe this is hard of us to relate to but it was a frequent occurrence in India in 1947. "The Tiger's Claw" is about a man who claims he fought off a tiger. This would be an incredible feet and people are very skeptical of his story. I do not want to spoil any of the fun of this story.
Narayan's stories have a very visual cinematic quality. I felt like I was on the train, that I was a lonely night watchman or that I was telling my story about fighting off a tiger to those who see me as either deluded or just a telling a story to impress.
I have links to 22 more short Stories by Narayan and own two of his novels. I hope to post on all of them this year as part of The Reading Life R. K. Narayan Project.
I am, in conjunction with Kals of Pemberley-Life Between Pages parts of my readings of South Asian short stories will be subsumed in a permanent project A Passage to the British Raj (there is information on this project on the link above). Any one who is interested is very welcome to join in. My interest in the South Asian Short story is permanent.
There is background information on Narayan in my prior posts.
All of The Astrologer's Day and Other Stories (30 short stories) can be read HERE
If you have a favorite Narayan, Tagore or South Asian short story please leave a comment.