R.K. Narayan: Short Stories Background

R.K. Narayan: Short Stories Background

If R.K. Narayan was to go by his given name, then the cover would be an appealing hodge-podge of letters; born Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanswami in 1906, Narayan quickly became one of India's most internationally-revered writers and was at the forefront of early Indian literature written in English. Most of his work is set in his Malgudi, a fictional town in Southern India - in fact, all but one of his fifteen novels take place there, and the majority of his short stories as well. Malgudi is a microcosm of the entirety of India, specifically, British colonial India, and was founded by a fictional British officer called Sir Frederick Lawley, who simply created a "join" between several smaller villages and declared the larger location to be a town. Sir Frederick is thought to have been based on Arthur Lawley, the Sixth Baron Wenlock, who served as the Governor of Madras after distinguished service in both Australia and Africa. He became Governor of Madras in 1905 and remained in his post for six years, reforming the Madras Legislative Council and impressing with his administrative zeal and efficiency.

Given the likely historical basis for Narayan's key character, and despite the author's own insistence that Malgudi is entirely fictional, readers remain convinced that it is actually based on Coimbatore, one of the main cities in the state of Tamil Nadu, with its river and forest borders and a grid system of roads and buildings remarkably similar to those described in Narayan's works. The town was introduced to his readers in his first book, Swami and Friends, the first in a semi-autobiographical trilogy which was only published in the first place thanks to the diligent efforts of Narayan's mentor Grahame Greene, who tirelessly lobbied his publisher friends to consider Narayan's work.

Many of Narayan's short stories were adapted for television; the series, Malgudi Days, was produced by actor-director Shankar Nag, adaptations which greatly pleased Narayan because of their close adherence to the original. In all, six versions of Narayan's short story collections were published.

Narayan was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature many times, but was never awarded the honor. He was, though, honored with a slew of honorary degrees, the Royal Society of Literature AC Benson Medal and honorary membership into the American Academy of Arts and Literature.

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