Book review: The World of Malgudi

August 1, 2009

Title: The World of Malgudi
Author: R. K. Narayan
Pages: 600

You should never leave your husband’s side, whatever happens. Make yourself comfortable. Don’t drive nails into the wall; I don’t like it.

The World of Malgudi is a collection of four novels by R. K. Narayan:

  1. Mr. Sampath : The Printer of Malgudi
  2. The Financial Expert
  3. The Painter of Signs
  4. A Tiger for Malgudi

All of the novels are set in the fictional town of Malgudi. The novels are quite different from each other (you’d be surprised how many authors write strikingly similar books) although they all cover simple life in a medium-sized Indian town.

My favourite was The Financial Expert, it tells the story of Margayya, a man who sits under a banyan tree outside a bank and teaches villagers how to extract loans. Margayya’s wife gave birth to a child late in life and their son is pampered until he turns into a spoiled little demon. After being rebuked by the Secretary of the bank Margayya decides that the only way to earn the respect of people is by becoming wealthy. Eventually he becomes an extremely wealthy money-lender/banker. Unfortunately all his money can’t make his son (already irrevocably spoiled) study hard and pass his Xth standard exams. It’s a touching story that has many morals: exploiting people is wrong, don’t pamper your child, etc.

Sadly, I did not find the other three novels as satisfying. However, A tiger for Malgudi was quite interesting; it follows the life of a tiger who is captured and then trained to perform tricks at a circus. The tiger gets frustrated after being ill-treated and runs away after decapitating his trainer. He wanders into Malgudi and causes great panic. A wandering sanyasi (a Hindu religious mendicant) saves the tiger from being shot and gives him the ability to think and reason. Apparently it was inspired by a true story of a sanyasi who roamed with a tiger he treated as a friend.

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