Malgudi Schooldays is a slightly abridged version of R.K. Narayan’s classic novel Swami and Friends published in the year 1935; and includes two more stories featuring Swami.
This is a story of a boy who is in threshold to teen-age and sees absurdities and incongruities in the most trival and unnoticeable things; set in the background of the period when the British still ruled India and Gandhiji was fighting for India’s independence, and rooted in a fictional small town of Malgudi in South India.
Malgudi Schooldays is all about the antics of Swaminathan aka Swami — his curious outlook at religion and education; his raw interactions with his family members – especially gossips with his doting grandmother, and his bittersweet relationship with his strict but thoughtful father; his lethargic attitude towards studies and dislike for school; his nasty involvement in an agitated procession; his boisterous friendship with Mani and Rajam; and his spontaneous interest in cricket — is narrated with subtle humour and engrosses for a very entertaining read for both adults and teenagers.
A few excerpts:
‘What is Lisbon famous for?’ said the teacher.
Swaminathan hestitated and ventured, ‘For being the capital of Spain.’
The teacher bit his moustache and fired a second question, ‘What do you know about Indian climate?’
‘It is hot in summer and cold in winter.’
‘Stand up on the bench!’ roared the teacher. And Swaminathan stood up without a protest. He was glad that he was given this supposedly degrading punishment instead of the cane. (pg. 18)
Swaminathan read at the top of his voice the poem about a woolly sheep. His father fussed about a little for his tiny silver snuff-box and the spotted handkerchief, which was the most unwashed thing in that house. He hooked his umbrella on his arm. This was really the last signal for starting. Swaminathan had almost closed the book and risen. His father had almost gone out of the room. But – Swaminathan stamped his foot under the table. Mother stopped Father and said: ‘By the way, I want some change. The tailor is coming today. He has been pestering me for the last four days.’ (pg. 28)
Samuel was reading the red text, the portion describing Vasco da Gama’s arrival in India. The boys listened in half-languor. Swaminathan suddenly asked at the top of his voice, ‘Why did not Columbus come to India, sir?’
‘He lost his way.’
‘I can’t believe it; it is unbelievable, sir.’
‘Such a great man. Would he have not known the way?’
‘Don’t shout. I can hear you quite well.’
‘I am not shouting, sir; this is my ordinary voice, which God has given me. How can I help it?’
‘Shut up and sit down.’
Swaminathan sat down, feeling slightly happy at his success. The teacher threw a puzzled , suspicious glance at him and resumed his lessons.
His next chance occurred when Sankar of the first bench got up and asked, ‘Sir, was Vasco da Gama the very first person to come to India?’
Before the teacher could answer, Swaminathan shouted from the back bench, ‘That’s what they say.’ (pg. 116-117)
‘You think you are wiser than the newspaper?’ Father sneered. ‘A man may have the strength of an elephant and yet be a coward: whereas another may have the strength of a straw, but if he has courage he can do anything. Courage is everything, strength and age are not important.’
Swami disputed the theory. ‘How can it be, Father? Suppose I have all the courage, what can I do if a tiger should attack me?’
‘Leave alone strength, can you prove you have courage? Let me see if you can sleep alone tonight in my office room.’
A frightful proposition, Swaminathan thought. He had always slept beside his Granny, and any change in this arrangement kept him trembling and awake all night. He hoped at first that his father was only joking. He mumbled weakly, ‘Yes,’ and tried to change the subject; he said very loudly and with a great deal of enthusiasm, ‘We are going to admit even elders in our cricket club hereafter. We are buying brand-new bats and balls. Our captain has asked me to tell you …’ (pg. 164)
‘Sir, can’t you permit him to go home after four-thirty?’
The Headmaster sank back in his chair and remained silent.
Rajam asked again, ‘What do you say, sir, won’t you do it?’
‘Are you the Headmaster of this school or am I?’
‘Of course you are the Headmaster, sir. In Albert Mission they don’t keep us a minute longer than four-thirty. And we are exempted from Drill if we play games.’
‘Here, I am not prepared to listen to your rhapsodies on the pariah school. Get out.’
Mani, who had been waiting outside, finding his friends gone too long, and having his own fears, now came into the Headmaster’s room. (pg.178)