Pros: Excellent short stories about an imaginary small town in India.
Malgudi Days is a collection of 32 short stories written by R.K. Narayan. The stories are set in the imaginary small town of Malgudi situated on the banks of river Sarayu. On the location of this mythical town, the author has the following to say in the introduction of the book:
I have named this volume Malgudi Days in order to give it a plausible geographical status. I am often asked, Where is Malgudi? All I can say is that it is imaginary and not to be found on any map (although the University of Chicago Press has published a literary atlas with a map of India indicating the location of Malgudi). If I explain that Malgudi is a small town in South India I shall only be expressing a half-truth, for the characteristics of Malgudi seem to me universal.
I have to add that even the towns in India have changed a lot since the days Narayan seem to be describing in the book. I can see that the book was first published in 1983 and some of the stories have a feel of an earlier era. They give you a feel of the times when people mingle with each-other, communities and neighborhoods mattered and the pace of life was more relaxed.
Out of the 32 I try to pick up ten short stories that I liked best, though it is a tough task. I actually liked them all.
10. Attila: Attila is a small pup in a family who is bought with the expectation that he will grow up to fierce and protector of the house, after all he has the right pedigree. He turns out to be the friendliest dog in the world and when a thief enters the house he turns protector in most unexpected fashion.
9. The Martyrs Corner: Rama sells food on a street corner that is strategically located. The business is good and husband and wife live in perfect harmony. He has a steady clientele but one day riots erupt in his corner of the world and change the life for him and his wife forever.
8. Leelas Friend:Sidda works as a domestic help in an affluent household. His main task is to play with the daughter of the household Leela who is just a small girl. Leela is very fond of Sidda. One day her gold chain goes missing and Sidda is accused and handed over to the police. The chain is found in later but it does nothing to the prejudice of the people.
7. An Astrologers Day: The Astrologer sits in a market corner of Malgudi and tells the fortune of different people keeping it sufficiently general and yet satisfying. In reality, he is no astrologer. Though, one day he has a tough customer for whom the generalities will not do. Will the astrologer be able to save the day?
6. Iswaran: In India, we seem to have very little tolerance for failure and Iswaran flunks his 12th board examinations more than once. He seems not to care and develops a tough exterior but is it for real? This story is rings true for many Indian youngsters even today.
5. Lawely Road: Lawely Road pokes gentle fun on the fixation of changing names of everything British after India got independence. In this story, the municipality wants to pull down a statue of Sir. F. Lawely with hilarious consequences.
4. Hungary Child: Hungary child is the story of a lonely adult and a naughty child out to have fun in a town festivity. The adult builds a happy world for a few hours with the happy child but in the end he has to face his demons on his own.
3. Gatemans Gift: Govind Singh retired from the service as a watchman to an office. He goes there now only to collect his pension. But in retired life he finds that he has a talent of making amazing toys out of clay and sawdust. But it has such unexpected consequences for our simple man that it nearly cost him his sanity.
2. Engine Trouble: What if you won a road roller in a lucky draw? The life becomes very difficult for one man in Malgudi when he wins the same. Try as he might he cannot get rid of it nor does he has any use of it. Well, some good does come out in the end, if we may call it so.
1. Fathers Help: Swami (a small child studying in first standard) develops an headache in the morning just before school. Father is adamant that Swami has to attend school. Swami tells tales to father that his class teacher Samuel has a fascination of skinning people alive. Father writes a strong letter to the Headmaster of the school and Swami has to deliver it. The throe of dilemma Swami then faces makes this story my number one choice in the collection.
Malgudi Days is an immensely enjoyable collection of short stories. The language of the author is simple but quite eloquent and words paint the world of Malgudi right in front of our eyes. The place where it was the most prominent for me is when author describes the ruins of Mantapam:
The Mantapam was an ancient pillared structure, with all its masonry cracking and crumbling down the tank bund. the muddy smell of the place, the sky seen through the cracking arches and the far off hillocks.
There are many other instances of such beauty in the book like describing a garden, a hut, marketplace, a cinema hall, or a wayward railway station. The characterization in short stories is appropriate to the medium and we get a good glimpse into the lives of the people Narayan decides to talk about. He draws a very vivid picture of the lives of those involved, be it a snake charmer, a domestic help, a celebrity singer, people traveling together in a railway coach or a pickpocket.
Malgudi Days is an extremely good collection of short stories about the life of people living in India, though it has a feel of an earlier era. I will recommend it wholeheartedly. I consider it a very good example of talking about mystical India without putting a derogatory slant to it.
By the same author: Swami and Friends
My take on it: http://www.epinions.com/content_180923960964