R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi Schooldays

Book Review

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.

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I had purchased this book from Amazon; you too can grab a copy for yourself through this direct Amazon link –  Malgudi Schooldays

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.’

            ‘Why?’

            ‘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)


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At My Book Store – (Fiction)

I offered the book and attractively looked at him, today was a sun-drenched day and he appeared the sunniest …

MY book store in the manic street of a crowded market with its old allure veins in elegance, with an immense timber door and a timber flanked glass peripheral wall at its facade. It smells of wood, vintage and fresh books – the gargantuan bookshelves abounding with books almost touches the ceiling of the store and mounds of books lay on the counter in front of these stows.  

 In the lethargic late afternoon of an overcast rainy day, I was ardently reading a novel – lying flat on my belly on the vacant space girded by the bookshelf and the counter. “Is someone here?” I heard an unexpected gallant voice; I instantaneously rose to kneel on the floor and observed through the gaps amid the heaped row of books.

 He was attired in a drenched slicker, tall and lean with streaks of hair casing his eyebrows. My heartbeat raced, I immediately tied my wavy and short black hair into a messy plait. “Yes”, I fared to reply; as I stood up I bumped a stacked row of books which scattered near my feet. Trying to ignore the chaos, vertical at the doorway of the store, noticing me attentively he falteringly asked me, “Do you have the new novel from the writer Rohan Das?” I hesitated for a second before answering, “The consignment of his new novel will arrive tomorrow morning”. “I will be here tomorrow, thank you”, he replied with a silly grin and ambled into the vivacity of the heavy shower.

The next day, I impatiently stirred from one corner of the store to another – judiciously overhearing every tone of a male voice approaching from the outdoor. Finally, he arrived – the thump of his footsteps enhanced my heartbeats. “Hey, Good Afternoon, may I get the book”, he asked. I offered the book and attractively looked at him, today was a sun-drenched day and he appeared the sunniest. “Do you recognize me?” he shrewdly questioned me. I trembled at his query and reacted in astonishment, “No, you are new to this place, isn’t it?” “I am Henry”, he answered gazing intensely at me.

 A quick flashback awakened me – he was my childhood infatuation. He, a timid thin boy would accompany his uncle to the store during the monsoons and I, a boisterous petite girl would try to terrify him by appearing outrageously from the space interior of the bookshelf and the counter – to spray red ink on him … and he would shriek pretentiously  to hear my infectious laughter.

 “Why don’t you join me for breakfast tomorrow morning at the tea estate?” he asked in a hesitant tone. My heart yelled in happiness at his request but I demurely responded, “Yes, I’ll try”. He waved me bye with a subtle smile.

The next morning, I sat anxiously on a couch opposite of a fire place in the bungalow at the tea estate.  He arrived late … along with a woman. Astonished at the sight … I calmly thought, “She must be his cousin”. “Hi, She is Anu, my wife”, he cautiously confirmed. “Hi, I am his childhood friend, Rani”, I specified with an exaggerated smile to disguise a crumpled heart. “Excuse me, I need to hurry to the store, a consignment is to arrive”, I despondently reacted and raced out. 

 

“Is someone here?” I heard a bold voice at my book store … I am in my twenties and in quest of a love alliance, here’s my next chance.

 

End