R. K. Narayan (1906 to 2001,India) is a great master of the short story and is the author of thirteen wonderful novels. Almost all of his work is set in an imaginary town in South India, Malgudi. Older readers may recall the many TV shows based on his stories. Consistently for years my posts on his work have been among the most viewed items. I am proud that my posts on his work have been endorsed by The Econmic Times of India. In her introduction to a collection of his short stories, Malgudi Days, Jhumpa Lahari speaks of his beautiful deceptively simple prose and groups him with the great short story writers of the last century. I strongly urge anyone into the short story begin reading Narayan's work.
"Hungry Child" first appeared, as did much of Narayan's work, in The Hindu Times, Lahari has kindly included this not previously anthologized story in Malgudi Days. A man is at a giant festival and hears a loud speaker announcement saying a seven year old boy has been separated from his patents and is at the command center. On an impulse the unmarried childless sign painter with an on but mostly off relationship with a woman who advocates stringent birth control as a way of helping Indian society decides to claim the boy as his son. The boy seems hungry so he gets him some food. He begins to wonder if the boy was abandoned and starts to imagine himself as the father of the boy. Intermingled with this he cannot help think about his girl friend Daisy, the birth control advocate. He tells himself if she had more old fashioned attitudes they would be married and he would already have at least two children. He has been not working hard at his sign business lately but he tells himself that he must get serious if he is to adopt the boy. They wander through the massive crowd and the boy keeps wanting more food. Then he yells out "Dad" and runs up to a couple. The man cuffs his ear and tells the boy "you have made us sick with worry". His mother hugs him. The man's fantasy is shattered.
In just a few masterful pages Narayan lets us see deeply into the man, his loneliness and cravings.