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The RKN I knew...

He was a literary genius and a simple man. A personal tribute to R.K. Narayan, who passed away on May 13, a year ago.

A YEAR has passed since R.K. Narayan passed away on May 13, 2001. My earliest memory of the legendary writer is of him waiting for The Hindu sitting in the verandah of my uncle's home.

RKN's sister was married to my maternal uncle, who lived in Coimbatore. He used to go to Coimbatore during the winter months and that's where I saw a lot of him as a boy.

Later on, I used to take care of his daughter Hema, while he was busy with his writing and correspondence. Quite often, both of us would go on long walks in the evenings — from the street of the then extension to Palm Grove Road via Sastri Road, on to Avinashi Road and return to Ramanagar through Jail Road. Mercifully, in the 1940s, the traffic was not too heavy. We would often share a cup of coffee and a cigarette. RKN was a simply dressed man... in a dhoti, shirt and coat.

I remember those enlivening evening sessions with his brothers and other relatives. His brother Seenu, who worked with the Mysore royal family and Sir Charles Todhunter, would recount interesting tales.

I lost touch with RKN when I came to Madras to study, except for brief meetings at relatives' homes. I met him again in the 1960s when we travelled to Calcutta to meet Prof. P. Lall of the Calcutta University.

One incident he often recalled was how his sister and my mother chose his life partner for him. RKN always observed people keenly, and often they would appear in his stories later. A voracious reader, he spent hours reading the classics and other literary magazines available in his father's school library.

He was a connoisseur of Carnatic music and used to play the veena along with his siblings. His favourite ragas included Nattai Kurinji, Darbar, Nayaki, Todi and Bhairavi.

My ties with RKN grew stronger when he moved to Madras in the early 1990s. I was a regular visitor to his home and often discussed several issues, literary or otherwise, with him.

He would give me his latest book, which I would promptly read and get back to him with my impressions.

During one of the last conversations with me, he told me that he would like to donate some money to a well-run old age home. He was also keen on publishing yet another work of his. But it was not to be.


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