A Very Powerful Political Novel
Gandhi Comes To Malgudi
Indian Literature Posts
The Reading Life R. K. Narayan Project
I think it took a great deal of real courage to write and publish Waiting for Mahatma in 1955. The novel, set largely in his fictional city of Malgudi India, begins around 1939 and ends in 1947, just before the partitioning of India.
So far I have posted on 31 of Narayan's (1906 to 2001-India) short stories and four of his sixteen novels. (There is background information on him in my prior posts.) Waiting for Mahatma centers on a young man named Sriram who lives with his grandmother. He is in love with and wants to marry a young woman who is involved with Mahatma Gandhi's movement to achieve Indian independence and this draws him into becoming active himself.
Big news comes to Malgudi. Ghandi is coming for a speaking engagement. The town leaders are thrown into a frenzy of planning. It is decided that Ghandi will stay in the mansion of the wealthiest man in Malgudi. When Ghandi arrives, he decides that instead he wishes to stay in the home of a street sweeper. This produces great turmoil and debate but there is no going against the word of Ghandi, at least publically. One of the very interesting things in the novel was seeing that not every one revered Ghandi even though everyone is supposed to. Sriram's grandmother saw him just as someone who would get her grandson in trouble, and she was sure right on that. Others thought he was working behind the scenes with the British to get himself made the Emperor of India. It was a bit amazing and shocking when Ghandi appears as a character in the novel. Narayan makes seem human and more than human. Just the few speeches he makes show an almost transhuman wisdom. For example he told the Indians for them to become independent with their hearts full of bitterness to each other was worse than staying under the British. Narayan lets us feel we know a little bit like what it must have felt like to be in Ghand's presence.
There is just a huge amount in this novel. Reading it for sure deepened my meager understand of Indian history. Sriram ends up in prison and we endure this time with him. When he gets out of prison he does not know if WWII is over or if India has become independent (the time of his release is early 1947). Narayan ends the novel (he is brilliant at ending his fictions-not an easy thing to do) in just a shocking event that took so much sheer nerve to include in his book.
This novel is beautifully written. I was interested in and liked all the central characters. Maybe the character of the girl friend of Sriham could be a bit more filled out but maybe not. The grandmother is just a marvel. You can tell she is just one step away from calling Ghadhi a pompous fraud but she always catches herself.
This is a really good novel. I totally endorse it for all and see it as must reading for those into literature about the era of the British Raj and the struggle for Indian Indepence. Narayan brings cosmic events down to the streets and homes of Malgudi in a brilliant and loving fashion.
The next of his works I will read will be The Financial Expert.
Please share your experience with Narayan with us.