Penguin India has reissued four R.K. Narayan novels in its silver and white Modern Classics editions, making them perfect gifts for friends and family who have misplaced their old copies, or await introduction to the profound charm of one of the last century’s great literary artistes. Pico Iyer’s introduction for the series sounds like it was written for Western readers, but it has its moments of illumination.
In ‘The Vendor of Sweets’, an American daughter-in-law is just one illustration of the chasm of understanding that separates Jagan, the sweet vendor, from his son Mali. In ‘The Man-Eater of Malgudi’, a timid printer must stand up to the aggressive taxidermist who takes over his house and life. ‘The Guide’, made famous in Vijay Anand’s Bollywood adaptation, is about the discomfiting intersection of faith and deception. And ‘Waiting for the Mahatma’ is a tender comedy about idealism and the independence movement.
Waiting for the Mahatma: 200 pages, Rs225; The Vendor of Sweets: 151 pages, Rs225; The Man-eater of Malgudi: 194 pages, Rs225; The Guide: 224 pages, Rs225.
All four novels are reminders of how fundamentally Narayan and his Malgudi are part of our self-image and our imaginative landscapes. As Indian writing in English expands its canon, the reissues recall some of our quietest—and greatest —glories yet.