He wrote as he lived

Sir, - When you are too close to a person, you realise that you cannot say on him anything credible or sensible because you are overwhelmed by emotion. Whatever you say is bound to sound either too true or too false to believe. That is why I never wrote anything on R.K. Narayan when he was alive. I had known him for 40 and more friendly years. I first met him in 1959 in Mysore, when as the new Editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India, I wanted him to continue to write for the magazine. It was love at first sight. I never thought that Narayan, the man, could be as charming as Narayan, the writer. When I was face to face with him, I could not distinguish the two Narayans. I need not have asked him to continue his association with The Weekly, because he spontaneously assured me: ``Raman, The Hindu and The Weekly are my Rukmini and Satyabhama. How can I displease Satyabhama? I can take Rukmini for granted. But not Satyabhama.''

Once I asked him: ``RK, critics and serious readers complain that your books have no message.'' Reacting with natural grace and charm, he said: ``Ah, the message! I leave it to better writers. I will be happy if I am left free to go on with my old- fashioned story-telling.'' On another occasion I asked: ``RK, what do you think of the new writing in English by Indians who are paid millions in dollars and pounds sterling as advance?'' He said: ``Honestly, I don't read them. Even if I do, I would not understand. I am a simple man, I like simple things. Easy to relate to.'' To the question, ``Why don't your books read as well when translated into an Indian language?'' his predictable reaction was: ``Because my English is already as Indian as any Indian language.''

Once I met Graham Greene at a luncheon hosted by the Archbishop of Bombay, Cardinal Gracias. Greene was seated next to me. For three hours we did not exchange a word. I knew he had nothing but contempt for the media. The party was over and we were about to leave. Earlier, before the lunch, when the Archbishop introduced me to Greene, I had requested the celebrated British author: ``How about visiting my office briefly after the luncheon?'' His rude reply was: ``No chance. Don't embarrass me. I never go to newspaper offices.'' Now at the time of farewell suddenly I remembered his weakness for Narayan and his cartoonist brother Laxman. Giving myself the last chance, I said: ``Sir, Laxman is my colleague. Don't you want to meet him?'' Immediately, breaking into a broad, warm smile, he asked: ``Really? Let us go. I can't wait.'' Later, Laxman, Greene and I spent three long, nostalgic hours in my chamber, discussing Narayan all the time. Narayan wrote with utterly disarming charm, clarity, cheerfulness and conviction - he wrote exactly as he lived. His philosophy can be best summed up in just four word: No tensions, no pretensions.

A.S. Raman,


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Sir, - Your Editorial on R.K. Narayan (May 16) touched me. You have correctly noted, ``Unlike many other writers, Narayan was no follower of literary mores, was no retailer of exoticism and wrote in a manner that seemed to come straight from the heart.'' This is what endeared him to many.

R. Ramamurthy,

Chidambaram, TN

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Sir, - There is an aspect of R.K. Narayan that is not well known. At a seminar, ``R.K. Narayan and Commonwealth fiction'' at the University of Mysore some years ago, he sat listening to essays praising or criticising him, showing his appreciation or otherwise through lines on his forehead or a smile or scowl on his lips. After three hours, he got up holding his umbrella in his hand and murmured in the ears of the host: ``You critics have yet to understand the many-sided creation.'' Whatever may be the significance of the statement, Narayan shared with Shakespeare, the serene belief that the divine powers in their good time, set all to rights and inspire chaste and sober writing.

Prof. H.H. Anniah Gowda,