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A flood of fond memories

R. K. RAMACHANDRAN is the younger brother of R. K. Narayan, and elder to R. K. Lakshman. The "not-so-famous" brother (as he refers to himself with a 'gene-fed' humour) opted for a career in film editing after a short stint in a bank. His first break was in 1945 in the Editing Department at the Gemini Studio when "Miss Malini" was under production (R. K. Narayan wrote the screen play). He worked on several other productions as well. He went on to become Regional Officer of Film Censoring at Madras and after retirement made documentaries and was connected with film festivals and film production.

In conversation with RANDOR GUY...

What are your early recollections of your brother R. K. Narayan?

He was 12 years older than me. Though I was also born in our family house in Vellala Street, Purasawalkam, the family moved to Mysore where father was headmaster of a school. Narayan studied in the Lutheran Mission School, Purasawalkam.

The headmaster, at that time, was Vedanayakam. Years later, when Narayan became famous, he was invited to visit the school. There, an interesting sight caught his eye.

On a door, he noticed the name 'Vedanayakam' in a fading, but still legible scrawl. Some fond pupil had written it years ago and it had not been erased for decades.

Narayan himself was a teacher, wasn't he?

Yes... for a short while. My father felt writing was not a secure or paying profession and so, with his contacts, got Narayan a teaching job.

He was posted to a school in Chennapatna, near Mysore. But, one day he was shocked when the headmaster asked him to substitute an absent PT master. Narayan protested but the headmaster told him that under the rules he had to perform any duty that he was asked to. Even as the boys waited for the drillmaster on the field, Narayan resigned his job and returned to Mysore. That was the first and last job he ever held.

How did his writing career begin?

He always wanted to be a writer and was more interested in the characters than the plot. In the early days, he wrote a play "Home of Thunder." But, as he was not satisfied with the work it was neither performed nor published.

What about his early writings? Who published them?

There was a magazine in Mysore called 'The Rationalist' brought out by one of my father's friends.

Though he did publish a few pieces, he felt Narayan's style was too plain and advised him to write in Victorian prose. But Narayan did not listen and his stories and articles appeared in a magazine "Treasure Chest." He sent his work to anybody and everybody, even to The Hindu, which offered to publish them as 'Letters to the Editor.'

I think Vasan gave him a good break in his "Merry Magazine."

Mr. Gopalrathnam, who also wrote for MM, gave me some issues in the late Fifties in which I read Narayan's short stories, under the name 'R. K. Narayanaswamy.'

Yes, that was his name. He changed it to 'Narayan' on the advice of Graham Greene. You know, the British publishers Hamish Hamilton brought out an edition of his book under the name 'R. J. Narayan!' It was a printer's error that somehow escaped every eye at Hamilton. Later, such copies became collector's items.

When were his short stories published abroad?

He wrote a story built around the Freedom Movement and Gandhiji titled, "Gandhi's Appeal.' He sent it to England and the "The Spectator" published it. A great thing for an Indian writer in those days. As far as I know, that short story did not appear in any of his collections. The Government of India acquired it for publication and insisted on changing the title to "Mahatma Gandhi's Appeal." But, I am not sure if it was published.

Politicisation of R. K. Narayan!...Now about "Miss Malini." How did the film originate?

Narayan wrote the story...

Was it based on any published work of his?

No, It was written for the screen. The book "Mr. Sampath" came later.

What inspired "Miss Malini"?

As I told you my brother was more interested in characters. There was a man... Sathashivayya I think, in Mysore, who exploited young women singers and artistes under the guise of promoting them. This inspired the character 'Sampath' in the film.

How did the Sampath earn the nickname 'Bit Notice'in the movie? It was popular at that time and whenever Kothamangalam Subbu, who played the role, passed by the Kapali temple in Mylapore, children would shout out the nickname. He told me he enjoyed it.

Yes. The role brought him fame. Subbu who wrote the screenplay and directed the film, coined the name.

Do you remember the film marked the debut of matinee idol Gemini Ganesh? His name appeared as R.G. in the credits.

Yes. I did some editing for that film. It was my entry into cinema too.

Did Narayan write for any other Tamil films at that time?

He wrote a story for Jupiter Pictures, Coimbatore, but it was never produced.

Any other work for Vasan? The writer Ashokamitran tells me that Narayan wrote a film treatment for R.Nagendra Rao's "Moondru Pillaigal" which was made at Gemini studio, with Vasan funding it. I hear he also did some work on Vasan's "Avvaiyar."

Yes... Many writers worked on "Avvaiyar" and Narayan was one among them. But, I have no idea how much of his work Vasan used.

What about "Guide" that Dev Anand filmed in Hindi and English?

My brother was far from happy... Narayan wrote a review of the English version in "Life"magazine.. He called it "The Misguided Guide!" Dev Anand complained that the review affected the box office!

Did Narayan ever write in Tamil?

No... one of our uncle's published a Tamil magazine "Kala Nilayam." Though he advised Narayan to write in Tamil, Narayan preferred to do so in English, a language he was more at home with.

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