Biography of R. K. Narayan

R. K. Narayan, whose full name is Rasipuram Krishnaswami Narayan (originally, Rasipuram Krishnaswami Narayanswami), was born on October 10, 1906, in Madras (now known as Chennai), India. He is known as one of India's greatest English-language novelists, alongside Mulk Raj Anand and Raja Rao. His father was a provincial headmaster and he had many siblings. He spent part of his childhood under the care of his maternal grandmother, who taught him arithmetic, classical Indian music, mythology, and Sanskrit. Narayan did not particularly like school, but he did love reading English literature, including Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, and Arthur Conan Doyle. When he was 12 years old, he participated in a pro-independence march, for which he was reprimanded by his family. After initially failing the entrance exams, he entered university but decided against pursuing the Master of Arts, realizing that more schooling was not what he wanted. Instead, he took odd jobs such as writing for small journals and freelance literary work. Pieces he submitted to publishers in England were not accepted and he described the response as “cold, callous rejection slips, impersonal and mocking.”

Narayan’s breakthrough was with his first novel. Scholar Nandan Datta describes the process: “Swami and Friends was completed and sent to publishers. It repeatedly returned. Narayan dispatched it yet another time and gave the return address as one of his friends in London. He wrote to the friend requesting the manuscript be tied to a brick and thrown into the Thames if it came back. It did. But the friend took it to his acquaintance Graham Greene, who was already an established author. Narayan received a telegram soon thereafter: ‘Novel taken. Graham Greene responsible.’” Narayan met Greene only once, in 1964, but the two of them corresponded for decades and became very close friends. It was at Greene’s advice that Narayan shortened his name.

In 1956, Narayan won a travel grant from the Rockefeller Foundation and said of his experience, “Finally I did break out of the triangular boundary of Madras, Mysore and Coimbatore and left for the United States, in October 1956.” He visited New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, and the Grand Canyon, and met Aldous Huxley, John Gunther, Greta Garbo, and more.

His first novel Swami and Friends (1935) and his second, The Bachelor of Arts (1937), are both set in Malgudi, a fictional town on the border between Mysore and Madras. Others set there include The Dark Room (1938), The English Teacher (1945), Mr. Sampath (1949), The Financial Expert (1952), The Guide (1958), The Man Eater of Malgudi (1961), The Vendor of Sweets (1967), The Painter of Signs (1977), A Tiger for Malgudi (1983), and Talkative Man (1986). He has also written five collections of short stories, including Malgudi Days, as well as multiple collections of essays, commentaries on the Indian epics, and a memoir, My Days.

Narayan was awarded the A.C. Benson Medal by the Royal Society of Literature in 1980. In 1981, he was made an Honorary Member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Narayan died on May 13, 2001.

Study Guides on Works by R. K. Narayan

Published in 1958, The Guide is a novel by Indian author R.K. Narayan set in his fictional South Indian town of Malgudi. It follows the life of an Indian man, Raju, as he evolves throughout his life to become one of the most prominent holy men in...

Malgudi Days is a short-story collection by Indian writer R. K. Narayan. The book was initially published in 1943 in India by Indian Thought Publications. It was republished internationally by Penguin Classics in 1982.

The book follows the lives...

Swami and Friends is an Indian book written in English published in 1935. The work was the first novel ever published by the famous Indian author R. K. Narayan. Narayan's friend, Graham Greene, recommended his manuscript to a publisher, and it was...