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The day I met the creator of Malgudi – R K Narayan

posted 26 Jul 2013, 17:16 by Vinay Jalla   [ updated 27 Jul 2013, 02:35 ]
Vinay Jalla with R K Narayan
Vinay Jalla with R K Narayan, Chennai (1999)

It was the summer of 1999 when I met the great Indian novelist R K Narayan in his home in Chennai. The heat was unbearable but my heart fluttered with excitement; I was emotionally choked to meet my ‘literary god’. It was an experience that I’ll never forget.

Soon after meeting him, I wrote the magical experience in my diary.

___________________

4/5/99
It was in the evening when I decided to meet R K Narayan. The Madras heat was ‘eating’ me up. I’d waited for nearly eight months to meet him, ever since I read the opening paragraph of ‘The Guide’.

I hopped on the bus (number 5T), carrying a bag that contained my writings, cartoons, a portrait of R K Narayan that I’d drawn and my autograph book. I got down at the Alwarpet bus stop. There was a security guard at the entrance of the apartments where R K Narayan lived. The guard took no heed of me. The first house had another guard in the form of a dog (a dachshund?) His ferocious growl made me forget the Madras heat for a moment. Vocal lessons were conducted in another flat and I could hear musical ragas emanating from there.

I looked at the letter boxes. The first one on the right had the words “R.K. Narayan…” written on it. I waited outside the flat, which I thought was R K Narayan’s. The door was locked and the gate was closed. But wait. There were Hawaii slippers outside the door, so surely someone must be inside, I thought. While I was working out the mystery of the Hawaii slippers, a neighbour approached me.

I asked him, “This Mr R K Narayan’s flat?”

He said, “Do you have an appointment?”

“I had called up two months back…” I said meekly.

“Just ring the bell,” he advised.

I just stood there dumbfounded. He rang the bell for me and out came R K Narayan’s associate. The neighbour asked in Tamil, “Perayaru erkangla…yeru pathuno vandirkaru…”(Is the big man in? Somebody here has come to see him…). The neighbour then disappeared via the lift.

R K Narayan’s associate asked, “Yaaru neenge?” (May I know who you are?)

I replied quite softly in English, “I am a short story writer from Bangalore - J Vinay…” He asked for my card, but I didn’t have any. He told me to wait and came back after a few seconds and said, “Bathroom le erkaru. Konjo neerao avo” (He’s in the bathroom, it might be a while). I said, in Tamil, “Parveyela, enga dha kathit erpee” (Never mind, I’ll wait here).

I stood at the door, waiting to have a glimpse of R K Narayan. This time I was patient enough to wait till eternity, if need be.

The evening rays of the sun receded behind a looming guava tree. I looked at my feet and cursed myself for wearing dirty socks. An army of black ants was marching under my feet. I leaped aside to make way for the ‘tiny warriors’. I could hear the whizzing noise of the A/C. I imagined R K Narayan on the other side of the wall. I felt so close to him and yet so far…

The guava tree, with plenty of green fruit, was a treat to watch. The shade it would provide on a hot summer’s day and those lovely guavas… I pondered. A squirrel came jumping and hopping about, flapping its bushy tail. It snatched a guava from the topmost branch and ate greedily.

I’d waited for half-an-hour, but did not mind at all. I just observed the houses, walls and the busy neighbour who was using the lift quite regularly. Now he was eating cut-slices of mango.

I heard the sound of the gate-latch being opened. I stood at the door with attention. There he was. R K Narayan! We stood facing each other. My mind ruptured into a sea of emotions filled with utmost love and respect.

R K Narayan asked, “Who are you?”

I replied, “Vinay from Bangalore…Bangalore”

“Speak a bit louder, I can’t hear you.”

“Vinay, Sir.”

“I remember. You’ve been writing letters to me.”

I took out my art album and showed him his portrait. “Sir, I have drawn you. Please autograph.”

“Are you an artist?”

“Yes, Sir. And a short story writer.”

“But it doesn’t look like me,” he protested.

“This is...when you were young.”

“OK”

R K Narayan was dressed in white half-sleeved shirt and grey trousers. He was holding his three-stilt metal walking-stick. He had a black watch wrapped around his ripe wrist (mind you, he was 93 years old). He held the walking-stick quite firmly. He wore thick black spectacles with an even thicker lens. His hearing was not that great, but I spoke louder than normal. 

“Can you autograph here, Sir,” I repeated my request.

“Sorry, no time. I have to go.”

“Please, Sir,” I pleaded.

“You should have called me before coming.”

“Sir, the line got disconnected,” I made up an excuse.

He said, “I am going out, and what’s that bundle?”

I walked with R K Narayan for a few metres and felt a surge of exhilaration. Walking with the creator of Malgudi! How fortunate I was.

At the foot of the stairs was one of my cartoons (an illustration of Mother Teresa holding an infant in her arms). Probably, it had slipped off the album. R K Narayan pointed it out and asked, “Is it yours?” I picked it up reverently.

I was still pestering him for an autograph. But he was determined not to give me one. He asked, “Where are you staying?”

“In my aunt’s house, in Ashok Nagar,” I said.

“Quite far… Call me up tomorrow and fix an appointment.”

“What time, Sir”

“Ten.”

I knew this was my last chance. My mind raced and my hands took out the camera from my bag. I handed it to R K Narayan’s driver, who was waiting in the porch. He fumbled with the camera. Then I said, “Focus panitte, click panuno avladha” (You just have to focus and click, that’s all). I nudged closer to R K Narayan and did not care to wipe the sweat streaming down my face. I asked the driver to take another picture, just in case. R K Narayan also added, “Ennu orru eddie” (Take another one). While he was clicking away, I started a conversation with R K Narayan.

“Sir, I am planning to write a novel.”

“Uh?”

“Sir, do we have to chalk out the chapters first?”

“Write forward-back. Just keep writing daily,” he said, happily grinding an aromatic nut between his teeth. He seemed to relish the taste. “You have taken a photograph with me. Then why come tomorrow. It’s alright then.”

I smiled and said, “Thank you, Sir.”

He patted my back and said, “Go ahead. Just write.” He stepped into the white Fiat Uno that was waiting for him.

I just stood there and watched the car disappear round the bend. I was floating like a feather on cloud nine.

I slowly walked back to the bus stop and waited for the bus to take me back home.

___________________

Two years later, R K Narayan passed away, leaving his endearing Malgudi characters with us for company. Inspired by his words, I wrote my novel ‘Warp and Weft’, which is now available to readers all over the world. I knew the only way to thank R K Narayan was through words and writing words only.
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