Shashi Tharoor on RK Narayan

It must be fairly obvious to some who have seen my profile that RKN is a favourite of mine. Well, I was hunting for an RKN book on the net when I stumbled upon a blog by Amardeep Singh. That blog linked on to Tilo. Both dealt with RKN, Shashi Tharoor and what Tharoor had to say about RKN in a Hindu article.

By this time most of India would have heard about S Tharoor, Well, Shashi is his name and Tharoor is a village close to Pallavur, the place I write about, now and then. That is about all I have to do with this chap, but I was surprised at what Shashi had to say in the Hindu article on RKN’s writings (Pretty old -a 2001 article I am afraid). Now I must admit I have not read Tharoor’s novels, but I have read most RKN’s books, though regretfully not all (I aim to).

There are some who pick up a book and read it as a critic, with a purpose. Many a Mallu does that; they have to form their opinion. I don’t, I select a book or an author on a whim, on a recommendation, or a review. I do not read a book with a motive or purpose, I just read it, soak in it for a while, the good parts remain in the memory and I move on. As you read, the prose runs like a film in your mind, you picture the characters and you give them forms, forms based on the description by the author and forms taken by other people you have seen in life. You can call me shallow, casual, whatever. I do not intend to derive anything other than pleasure from the reading process and like others; I wish to connect somehow with the characters.

Others read it as critics, dissect it, get into the authors mind, imagine what the author may or may not have meant, measure with a scale, the depth or lack of it, see the possible socio economic impact or lack of it. Ah! Well my tirade will go on, so I will stop for now. Others have talked at length on this S T article already…

ST talks of English prose, vocabulary and its correctness; now tell me how many people read that kind of prose? RKN wrote as a non-sophisticate and endeared himself to us in the process. RKN was a good storyteller, period and that is why more of the world likes him and his simple prose. ST probably lives life to leave a legacy, makes measured statements, whereas RKN may not have planned all that.

Tharoor is a village not dissimilar to RKN’s Malgudi, a village ST may never be able to describe in words, like RKN. Read any RKN book and then read this otherwise lucid Tharoor article. Tell me if you get the same fond feelings, I don’t.

Comments

Reshmi said…
Went thru ST's article on RKN from the link that u have given..N found it queer..

RKN is a master story teller who held the world intrigued with his depiction of an imaginary south indian town Malgudi..N who showed us the streets, tea shops, n people of malgudi thru the camera he made of his words..He is one writer whom I admire the most..

I should say it is a well researched article..:)
maddy said…
hiya reshmi,
thank u..
now look at it this way, when did u hear the best stories? when u were small willing listener, when an elderly person - e.g. ur granny told it to you with her own add ons, exaggerations. with the right facial and tonal expressions, eyes opening wide and all that. correct?
how much of your shakespeare or history text do you remember (they are perfect prose!!)
RKN's writings flowed like a granny's tale..
Reshmi said…
perfectly agree with u..:)
hotboy said…
Hi Maddy, very well put essay on RK. I wonder why SHASHI THAROOR is so hellbent on "richness of language". For me, i dream of being able to write at least a paragraph in RK's style. Thanks for the article. Siva.
Maitreyi said…
Hi Maddy,
Just my luck I ran into this forum so late… but I thought I had to comment on it. I must confess I haven’t read too much of R.K.N myself (though a sizeable number of his works have been lying unattended in my mothers collection for years. Will take a dig immediately. A tad tardy, but better than never). But I found ST’s brushing him off so brusquely extremely condescending. I have read a couple of his books and though they ooze exhaustive research, and display his smartness, they are little more than that- an exhibit of his smartness. It becomes apparent to a seasoned reader that it looks like the work of a school boy, writing a smart essay to gain the attention of his teacher. If he were a character of the Asterix comics, his name would be ‘Hubrix’.
psmith said…
Hi Maddy,
Just my luck I ran into this forum so late… but I thought I had to comment on it. I must confess I haven’t read too much of R.K.N myself (though a sizeable number of his works have been lying unattended in my mothers collection for years. Will take a dig immediately. A tad tardy, but better than never). But I found ST’s brushing him off so brusquely extremely condescending. I have read a couple of his books and though they ooze exhaustive research, and display his smartness, they are little more than that- an exhibit of his smartness. It becomes apparent to a seasoned reader that it looks like the work of a school boy, writing a smart essay to gain the attention of his teacher. If he were a character of the Asterix comics, his name would be ‘Hubrix’.
Maddy said…
maitreyi, psmith (woodhouse inspiration?)
First - your mom has good taste.
thanks for your comment, you are right..you know how it is in a college debate, some guys are told, you will be speaking against the motion, much to their dismay. In the beginning I thought it was one of those tharoor essays created so, but then i saw that the guy has an ego to boot.

nevertheless, i felt sad when he lost the UN SG election, he would have done better than most others.
psmith said…
Hi Maddy,
The Psmith is inspired by the Wodehouse character, yes. I forgot I’d sent in the comment with my real name and it was awaiting moderation and went ahead and resent it. So much for anonymity!
I feel likewise about Tharoor losing out on the coveted position. He was the only person who’d worked for the UN all his life while the other contenders had served their own governments. It was rather graceful of him however, to refrain from ‘mooning over’ his loss- no pun intended ;-) and pledge his support to his more luminous opponent. Always the true diplomat.
Anonymous said…
Good to read but whats a mallu. i didnt get that
Maddy said…
Mallu is short for Malayali - people from Kerala
Anonymous said…
It becomes a fashion nowadays for every leftist leaning writer like Shashi Tharoor and Arundhati Roy to criticize anything traditional or conservative in the country. Actually R.k.Narayan worte very deep novels and shallow Shashi's cannot fathom that.
Anonymous said…
I have read Tharoor's two novels 'The great Indian novel' and 'showtime' and almost all of Narayan's books. Despite his 'excellent' English, Tharoor isn't fit to clean Narayan's shoes, as indeed none of us are.

Tharoor is a sophisticate. He is clever with words, but you soon tire of it. Cleverness cannot sustain you, but Narayan's masterful story-telling, his characters and their foibles, they are of enduring interest.

Narayan is the greatest. Anybody who doesn't see this is a damn fool, in my humble opinion.
litterateuse said…
Hmm. RKN & his work are very close to my heart. I need to read up more on what exactly Tharoor meant - and for that matter what he said in its entirety before commenting. Else I'd be taking his words out of context.

Besides, there are so many threads to this, what I ave to say will take up over page, or one whole afternoon. Nevertheless, you've given me some interesting food for thought.

g
Soorya said…
Thank you, Maddy for The Hindu archive link. I came here searching for the same thing to show it to a frnd :) I remember I had wept when I read Swami & Friends.. when they have a reunion at the rlwy station. And I also remember my anger knew no bounds when I read the ST column in the Hindu magazine when RKN passed away. I totally agree with what you have mentioned in this post!

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