My Days by R. K. Narayan


  The headman promised to have the dumps removed in due course, explaining that “the boys” must have been spilling manure and seeds around. I promised him in return that I hoped to build a little shrine on the topmost rock of my mini-mountain, gather the village children in its corridors on an evening and teach them reading and writing, and impart to them various lessons about the modern world. As I spoke I suddenly discovered a purpose in life. If every person who is educated adopted a little group and imparted to it whatever knowledge he possessed, the 500 million population of India could be transformed in five years. Alas, my own pattern of life has left little time to put any of this into practice yet.

  I lived in Mysore and, after leaving an agricultural expert on the spot to clear the land of stones and weeds and make it fit for cultivation, motored down off and on to watch his progress. He was a practical man, who knew all about soils and seeds and seasons. In due course my own maize plants stood four feet high, and I felt triumphant at the sight of them, but the field also teemed with trespassers. A well-worn foot-track cut diagonally across my land, connecting the highway with the villages beyond, and had been used by villagers from time immemorial. I had fenced my property with barbed wire strung across granite pillars but it did not affect the hoary practice; people just moved off a couple of pillars and pressed down the barbed wire, and there you were—the ancient passage continued. My agricultural expert explained that they weren’t trespassers, but only rural folk passing from south to north as they had been doing for centuries.

  “They won’t disturb anything,” said the man casually.

  “We must see when the corn ripens on the stalk,” I said full of misgivings. I did not like so much pedestrian traffic amidst my corn.

  “We should put an end to it gradually, otherwise, we are likely to embitter the public,” he said. I began to have a feeling that I was the real intruder here. While passage for others was so well established, I soon discovered that I’d no legal access to my own plot. I myself had to trespass to reach it, over another man’s ground. The man who had dumped manure on my ground owned all the land encircling mine! And he’d have no special reason to let me continue the use of the passage. My car had to be parked half a mile away on a stony track and I had to cross on foot through the man’s land, and he could always, if he pleased, refuse me passage. I began to feel anxious about various little matters connected with the land.

  Apart from all this, the economics of agriculture at first baffled me. Here was a world of completely inverted economic motives, as it seemed, where you spent more money and willingly obtained less in return. This fact was realized by me when the harvest was brought to me at the end of the year’s operations. During one of my periodic visits to my land, a bag was brought in and placed in the luggage boot of my car, a gunny sack half-filled with corn, garnered, salvaged, and sifted laboriously. When I reached home in Mysore and took it out proudly, I realized that its value in terms of money was about fifteen rupees. Eventually, when the accounts were to be settled, I had to meet a bill for four hundred and fifty rupees. When I asked my man, he explained, “Labour, the watchman, and the levelling of the ground—we can’t prepare the whole acre in a year, we’ll do it little by little, and that is a capital investment. In course of time, it’ll turn profitable.” The following year, it was the same story. A few further square yards of the ground were cleared of pebbles and levelled. I again got a half sackful of grain for nearly five hundred rupees. In the third year, there was nothing, as the rains had completely failed and all plants had wilted away to the roots. But the gradual levelling and clearing was still conducted, unaffected by considerations of debits and credits. I felt it might be cheaper to buy my needs in the market, but that is a wrong, and even irreverent, line of thinking. Agricultural operations have to be conducted in a spirit of give-and-take, in the teeth of hostile forces engendered by men, seasons, and pests, which must be overcome with non-violence and faith in one’s ultimate victory. The hustle of city life will not work in this area. Like the corn, agricultural problems must also be allowed to have their stages of rawness, ripeness, and withering away!

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  I am inclined to call this the last chapter, but how can an autobiography have a final chapter? At best it can only be a penultimate one; nor can it be given a rounded-off conclusion, as is possible in a work of fiction. The ending in a book of this sort must necessarily be arbitrary and abrupt.

  I would like to dwell for a little while in the present tense, but I realize that it may turn out to be rambling and fragmentary, as I try to compress the contemporary experience into a neat framework. The past, even the recent past, has an advantage of falling into well-defined boundaries, but the present constantly boils over and flows out in all directions.

  After remaining out of sight for many years, an old friend turned up at my house recently. He was an authority in economics, who had served in various academic and industrial bodies for three decades. I found him, though my contemporary, relatively more aged. He used to be a cheerful, lively person even in his fifties. But now I found that he was preoccupied with cholesterol, blood-pressure, and diabetes. He hesitated to accept any food or drink. No doctor had ever advised him to keep off this or that, but he imposed restrictions on himself after acquiring a lot of unwarranted medical information. He enquired how I felt about my health. When I answered, rather lightheartedly, that I was not giving it any thought yet, he looked disappointed, as if without cholesterol et cetera there was no common ground between us. I changed the subject, but I realized that whatever the subject, he liked to worry about it. He said, “After thirty years of active public service, won’t you agree that I am entitled to peace of mind?”

  “What’s spoiling it?”

  He looked puzzled and said, “I don’t know—I rebuilt my house so that my daughter and son-in-law may live in Comfort and also nearby, but you know it is very painful every morning to watch the girl bully her child to start for the school, and later about homework—it’s all painful.” He paused to consider what other irritations he might think of, and added, “And then my wife. Her shopping habit! When she goes into the market, it is hours before she can be seen again; and I sit in the car moping! If I engage a driver I know he will ruin the car. But where can one find a good driver nowadays?”

  At my age, encountering a contemporary is like looking into a mirror. After he left, I questioned myself, “Am I entitled to peace of mind or not? How much of it do I possess or deserve?” If I have to worry, it’s about things outside me, mostly not concerning me. I generally fret about municipal shortcomings; when I find the streets not properly lit, I bother the officials with telephone calls and letters. Every minute I find myself on the point of dashing off virulent letters to newspapers about corruption and inefficiency that may come to my notice. I have also taken upon myself the impossible task of protecting the thousands of trees of Mysore, and constantly appeal to the civic authorities to save them from goatherds and roadside vandals. The frangipani in front of my house, grown taller and wider than ever, is a perennial concern for me. For four months from October on, it sheds its leaves and produces thousands of pale yellow flowers, pleasingly charging the air with their perfume day and night. It attracts swarms of men, women, and children from the surrounding villages, who collect the flowers for the goddess in a little shrine at the Palace Port. I have to keep appealing across our fence, “Shake down the flowers, don’t snap the branches.” One of my major preoccupations today is how to save the Kukanahalli Tank, which meant so much to me in the days of my “Divine Music.” The tank’s surface is shrinking alarmingly, with water hyacinth sucking off all the moisture. And no one seems to care!

  After the morning coffee, I sit for a while in the verandah chair to discuss with my brother the state of the nation and of the world in general, after a perusal of the headlines in the morning paper which usually provokes gloomy speculations of all sorts—political, economic, and others, at the start of th
e day. Sometimes we discuss ways of mitigating disasters, or we take heart from an ancient mythological episode in which an all-powerful demon abducted the Earth and hid it in the bed of some Cosmic Ocean, and an avatar of Vishnu dug it out and set it on its course again, after destroying the demon. So there is hope. Or gradually we might also lose sight of the problems of survival in watching birds alight on a twisted log of teak* mounted upright amidst our crotons. A basin of water is kept at the base of the pillar, and most birds take a dip before flying off. The woodpecker, the woodcock, and the black warbler, which were noticeable when I was just building this house, are all still here, or their progeny perhaps; they live in the trees at the back yard—the mango, breadfruit, and “rose”-berry, little saplings planted years ago, with hardly any hope that they would grow into a wood.

  Accumulation of paper is a palpable token of one’s career, I suppose. In my four decades of writing a mountainous quantity of paper has accumulated around me—manuscripts at various stages, letters, documents, photographs, and mementoes, and the thought of it fills me with despair. I burn great piles of them from time to time, including manuscripts, but yet their level keeps rising in a black cabin trunk in which all papers are generally dumped. I am constantly planning to organize or destroy them once for all—but at the moment, I feel that I should let others decide their fate. My publisher and friend, Marshall Best, when he visited me in Mysore years ago, watched me while I searched for an important note, and suggested that I needed a curator rather than a secretary. It was a welcome hint.

  My life has fallen firmly into a professional pattern: books, agents, contracts, and plenty of letter-writing to known and unknown persons alike, and, of course, travel over and over again. But my personal life has become more interesting. Although my main address is in Mysore, I find every excuse to drive a hundred and twenty miles over a mountain road to visit my daughter and spend an unspecified number of days in her company; there I have a comfortable room for my use where I can sleep, study, or write undisturbed, and also enjoy my grandchildren’s company. My granddaughter would resent being called a grandchild now. When I was writing The Man-Eater of Malgudi, she was at the stage of squeezing herself beside me in my chair and carrying on an undertone conversation with her doll all the time I was writing; but today she is a high-school girl (till recently), interested in Enid Blyton, film music over the radio, and Malgudi tales. Some months ago; she set up a model of Malgudi, with miniature streets and buildings, during the Navarathri festival of dolls; she helps me nowadays by taking dictation and typing my letters. My grandson is eleven years old, an exact copy of Swami in Swami and Friends, at the same stage I was in if you turn back in this book to pages 47–48. He is a very busy grandson, totally absorbed in his school politics, homework, cricket team, cycling, and ping-pong. Whenever he feels he is neglecting art, he picks up his bamboo flute and practises music or plays on his drum. Three years ago, when he was convalescing after an appendix operation, he was interested in writing. I lent him my portable typewriter, and he sat up in bed and typed away all day with two fingers. Sometimes he copied from a storybook, and sometimes spun out an original story. One such was called “Grand” (he would not explain why), and I give it below:

  “Once upon a time there was a man and his father. They were so poor. No one to help them. One day his father’s birthday came. Then that man became very rich. Then his son became poor. Then another day his uncle came. His father’s son’s birthday came. Then his uncle became so rich. Give me the monies, said the man. Then the uncle became so poor. Then his father told uncle, Go to R. K. Narayan and take some monies. Then he will be so poor.”

  I liked the story for the ease with which it conveys in one sweep the complexities, muddles, and demands of kinship, and the ups and downs of man’s fortunes—enough substance to fill a novel; above all my name involved in it afforded me a refreshingly objective view of myself. Recently I confronted my grandson with his composition. (Not easy to get his attention nowadays even for a few minutes, but I caught him in the passage as he came in from school and before he could run out to play.) He glanced through it indifferently and shook his head disapprovingly: “I wrote it so long ago! I was young then. Throw it away, please.” I explained that I couldn’t. He remained thoughtful for a moment, and said, “That uncle is not a real uncle, but only a next-house man. They all spent their monies too much on birthday parties, buying hundreds of ice-creams, sweets, and what not, and so had no money at the end. They should not ask you for money. They should ask others. Put in these corrections. . . .” He freed himself and ran off to his friends waiting at the gate, only pausing for a second to turn around and explain to me; “We have started a cricket club and named it ‘C.C.C.’—Cosmic Cricket Club.”

  About the Author

  R. K. NARAYAN, an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, is Known Worldwide for his “Malgudi” novels, short stories, essays, and travel books. His short story collection, The Grandmother’s Tale and Selected Stories, is available from Ecco.

  Visit www.AuthorTracker.com for exclusive information on your favorite HarperCollins authors.

  Also by R. K. Narayan

  NOVELS OF MALGUDI

  Swami and Friends

  The Bachelor of Arts

  The Dark Room

  The English Teacher

  Mr Sampath—The Printer of Malgudi

  The Financial Expert

  Waiting for the Mahatma

  The Guide

  The Man-Eater of Malgudi

  The Vendor of Sweets

  The Painter of Signs

  Talkative Man

  A Tiger for Malgudi

  The World of Nagaraj

  RETOLD LEGENDS

  Gods, Demons and Others

  The Ramayana

  The Mahabharata

  STORIES

  A Horse and Two Goats

  An Astrologer’s Day and Other Stories

  Lawley Road

  Malgudi Days

  Under the Banyan Tree and Other Stories

  The Grandmother’s Tale and Selected Stories

  TRAVEL

  My Dateless Diary

  The Emerald Route

  ESSAYS

  Next Sunday

  Reluctant Guru

  Copyright

  Copyright © 1973, 1974 by R. K. Narayan

  MY DAYS. Copyright © 1973, 1974 by R. K. Narayan. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the nonexclusive, nontransferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse-engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.

  Published simultaneously in Canada by

  Publishers Group West, Inc., Toronto, Ontario

  Printed in the United States of America

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Narayan, R. K., 1906-

  My days: a memoir / by R. K. Narayan.

  p. cm.

  ISBN 0-88001-625-6

  EPub Edition August 2013 ISBN 9780062307378

  1. Narayan, R. K., 1906-–Biography.2. Novelists, India –20th century–Biography.3. India–Intellectual life –20th century.

  I. Title

  PR9499.3.N3Z521999

  823–dc21

  [B]98-14082

  CIP

  9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  FIRST ECCO EDITION 1999

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  * An ancient Tamil poetess.

  * Known as Siddhis in Sanskrit. There are eight of them, such as walking on fire, water, ability to transmute, to attain invisibility and all kinds of controls over the elements.

  * A pure freak from the forests, where some primeval hurricane, sweeping through, seems to have lashed together as in an irrevocable deadlock or wedlock two neighbouring teakwood saplings and left them to grow up spirally.

 


 

  R. K. Narayan, My Days

 


 

 
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