My Prior Posts on R. K. Narayan
I encountered the story today in his collection of short stories, Malgudi Days. The collection, with a very interesting introduction by Jhumpa Lahiri, has stories from two of his collections and a number of new stories not previously anthologized. There are seventeen stories from An Astrologer's Day and Other Stories, I have already posted all of these stories. There are sixteen other stories in the collection I have not yet read. I have also read a number of Narayan's thirteen novels and will be reading two more soon, The Guide and The Sign Painter. I love the work of Narayan and was happy to see Jhumpa Lahari classified him along with just a few other writers as one of the geniuses of the short story. (There is some background information in my prior posts on him.)
This story reminded me a lot of Narayan's story "A Horse and Two Goats", one of my personal favorites. In this story an affluent American tourist and a local goat herder have a conversation in which neither understands what the other is saying but both leave the conversation quite happy.
In 1976 India was awash in the unwashed of the west. I think it was Jack Kerouac who coined the term "Dharma Bums" to describe western young people traveling through India looking for spiritual enlightenment.
This story is just so great. (I hope Narayan was well paid to class up Playboy.) A western man, referred in the story as a "hippy" (the word did not have just negative connotations in 1976 as it does now, I think) comes upon a man besides the road who repairs old shoes for a living. They can converse a bit in English. The hippy thinks the cobbler has found enlightenment in his simple work and sees his work on the shoes as a holy exercise of some kind. The cobbler things the hippy may be a god in disguise sent to test him so he is very cautious in everything he says to him. The fun and power in this story is the absurd ways that the two men interpret what the conversation is about and how they size up each other.
This is a very good story beautifully told in the simplest of language. I suspect the beauty of the women depicted in Playboy thirty five years ago have long since faded but that of Narayan's story still shines through. I wonder if any of the readers of the magazine went on to read more Narayan!
I am glad to be reading and posting on Narayan once again. Narayan is not just a curousity read, not just an Indian writer. He is one of the great writers of the 20th century and he is a lot more fun to read than many of the other great writers!