I don’t recall exactly, but I was either in class six or seven when we had to study an excerpt from Swami and Friends by R.K. Narayan.

The lesson began in a way that was different from other lessons. There wasn’t a long introduction to Swami. The story simply began, assuming that the reader was Swami's classmate who knew what kind of a boy he was. I liked that. As the story progressed, I looked around at my classmates, wondering who resembled Swami the most.

The passage was too short to understand Swami's personality, so I picked up the book from the library. While flipping through the pages, I realised that I didn’t have to read this book from the first page.

I could start from anywhere. I was beginning to like this R.K. Narayan fellow. I turned to a story in the middle and settled down to read. It was about Swami’s father getting him to finish his maths homework.

I held my breath. If Swami was a Maths genius, it would be a little hard for me to keep turning the pages. A paragraph later, I let out my breath in relief and glee: Swami hated Maths! In fact, the description of his utter confusion and disdain over these slippery numbers was something that I could relate to.

I read a few more chapters and closed the book. I looked at the back cover; there was a photo of the author. The sparkle in his eyes brimmed over his imposing, black spectacles.

I read more about him in an encyclopaedia, and found out that his life story was full of surprises. He had failed the entrance exam for his B.A.

He took a year more than usual to complete his degree. I couldn’t believe it. He had written his first novel, Swami and Friends, the year he graduated!

I’ve read some of his other books and short stories, but I keep coming back to his first book.

Over the years, whenever I read his stories, I close my eyes and say a little thank you to R.K. Narayan, for not taking his failures to heart and for bringing my friend Swami to life.

Courtesy: Book Lovers Program for Schools

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