Monday, November 03, 2008

Waiting for the Mahatma

RK Narayan is best known for putting life into the small town that is Malgudi. And within its perimeters he is a master.He could dissect the daily details to nuanced perfection and (if you are a South Indian) you are transported right into the small household on Kabir street. Such is his narration and attention to (otherwise neglected) details. But, that is when he is talking about Swami and his friends. Or say about small town people and their daily chores.

Here, the canvas he has chosen is much wider. The characters he tries to sketch are itching to take a form much larger than routine. The circumstances are such. The backdrop is political. And he tries to set a love story in it. There are quite a few tracks which RKN tries to weave in this story.

1. The protagonists characterization - his coming of age, love for the woman and his inner emotional and moral tribunals
2. The woman - strong-headed, in love and totally dedicated her life to the service of Mahatma, and hence the people
3. The various events in the late pre-independence era

And, this is where he loses touch. His narration style is stuck to Malgudi whereas the protagonist here is no Swami. RKN, though, treats him none too differently. The character is brought out by reading his thoughts aloud. He is a child sitting by the window struggling to come to terms with the world. And he has fallen in love - with the first woman he has come in conversation with. This woman is level headed. Knows what she is doing. He worships her for what she is. And she leads him unto Mahatma Gandhi. She likes him too - but would not nod till the Mahatma gives the go ahead. He is awed and then on the tale revolves around his meanderings amidst the political turmoil. His emotions and state of mind are ventedout as actions. He becomes utterly vulnerable. He fights to find his balance while being shoved around by a revolutionary. There is a fight that is taking place between his ego and his sense of duty. He is blinded in this fight and ends up in jail. Every moment his inner turmoil is marked by reactions to his woman's (imagined) actions. The day he is released he leaves for her and finds her in Delhi. The climax, though predictable, has been well written. As you read the final pages - you know what exactly is going to happen - and hence doesn't punch you hard enough.

The narration is not tight - and at places slackens in both pace and coherence. The power of the plot lies in the character sketch of the protagonist. That comes across quite well. Politics does not look like RKNs playground. Or maybe it wasn't his intention to bring in politics in the least. Either ways - its fleeting presence does not deliver the goods. The socio-economic sketch that the reader envisions has not been given enough verbose backing. The plot doesn't hold you - it flows a bit easily - like the stories set in Malgudi. But here somehow, the style does not suit me. The plot, if it had been much tighter say in like say 'Train to Pakistan' the novel would have risen notches.

All said, this is a very good read - especially for fans of RKN. All those who are in for a dose of light pre-Independence set-up, pick this up.

'Once the wait was over; he bade us good-bye!'


Daneshia said...

And the last line is from the book?

Abinav Kumar said...

No...! [:)] How did you even guess it wasn't?!