Swami of Malgudi… The quintessential Indian kid conceived R K Narayan
Few days ago we celebrated the 108th birth anniversary of RK Narayan (1906 – 2001), an English language novelist from India. While his brother R K Laxman was well known cartoonist who created the iconic character of Common Man of India, Rasipuram Krishnaswami Narayanswami a.k.a RK Narayan got his due recognition in India after the immense popularity of TV series Malgudi Days in 1980’s.
Ta na na tana nana na… Ta na na tana nana na… and we were clued on to the television for the next half an hour every week. Malgudi Days introduced us to the naughty, lovable kid Swami, myself and millions of people across India also got introduced to the genius RK Narayan. The TV series was directed by Kannada actor and director, Shankar Nag. The child actor Master Manjunath brought to life the fictional character of Swami. The popularity of Malgudi Days, and more specifically Swami, ensured that even bigger success of the TV Series Swami which followed Malgudi Days, based on the RK Narayan’s Swami and Friends.
The unforgettable title track of the TV series was created by Carnatic musician L. Vaidyanathan. R. K Narayan’s brother and acclaimed cartoonist R. K. Laxman created the amazing sketches for each story/ episode, part of the title roll outs and integral part of our viewing experience. The original series was produced by T. S. Narasimhan with Anant Nag as the lead actor in 1986. In 2004, the project was revived and the new series was telecast from April 26, 2006 on Doordarshan.
Originally, Malgudi Days is a collection of short stories in English by RK Narayan, first published in 1943 in India and republished first time outside India in 1982. The book includes 19 stories, all set in the fictional town of Malgudi, located in South India. Each of the stories portrays a facet of life in Malgudi. The New York Times described the virtue of the book as “everyone in the book seems to have a capacity for responding to the quality of his particular hour. It’s an art we need to study and revive.”
The stories in the TV series were from a number RK Narayan books – Malgudi Days, A Horse and Two Goats, The Vendor of Sweets and Swami and Friends. Swami and Friends is the first of a trilogy of novels written by RK Narayan. The story, is set in British India in a fictional town called Malgudi, the second and third books in the trilogy are The Bachelor of Arts and The English Teacher. Malgudi Schooldays is a slightly abridged version of Swami and Friends, and includes two additional stories featuring Swami from Malgudi Days and Under the Banyan Tree.
- Albert Mission School friends
- Swaminathan: A ten-year-old boy studying at Albert Mission School, Malgudi. He lives in Vinayaka Mudali Street. He is later transferred to Board High School. Friend of Rajam and Mani
- Mani: Swami’s classmate at Albert Mission School, lives in Abu Lane, he is known as Mighty good for nothing.
- Rajam: Swami’s classmate at Albert Mission School, lives in Lawley Extension. His father is the Deputy Police Superintendent of Malgudi. He previously studied at an English Boys’ School, Madras. He is also the Captain of Malgudi Cricket Club (Victory Union Eleven). His father gets transferred to Trichinopoly.
- Somu : monitor of 1st Form A Section, lives in Kabeer Street. He fails in 1st Form and “automatically excluded from the group”.
- Sankar: Swami’s classmate in 1st Form A Section. His father gets transferred at the end of the term. He is the most brilliant boy of the class.
- Samuel ‘The Pea’: Swami’s classmate in 1st Form A Section. He is known as ‘The Pea’ because of his height.
- Albert Mission School Staff members
- Headmaster of the school
- Vedanayagam: Class-teacher of 1st Form A Section, teaches English and Arithmetic
- D P Pillai: History teacher at Albert Mission School
- Ebenezer: Scripture master at Albert Mission School
- Singaram: Peon at Albert Mission School
- Swami’s household
- WT Srinivasan: Swami’s father, a lawyer
- Lakshmi: Swami’s mother, Housewife
- Swami’s grandmother
- Swami’s late grandfather (a Sub-Magistrate)
- Swami’s little brother
- Minor Characters
- Gauri Sankar: a Congress leader of Bombay
- Ranga: A tailor in Malgudi
- Hentel: The mill manager
- Krishnan: Executive Engineer
- Retty: Rice mill owner
- Karuppan: Bullock cart driving boy from Sethur
- Akbar Ali: Swami’s classmate in 2nd Form, C Section at Board High School
- Rama Rao: Geography teacher at Board High School
- T. Kesavan: Physician at LM & S Sri Krishna Dispensary
- Mohideen: A batsman in Young Men’s Union
- Shanmugam: A bowler in Young Men’s Union
- MPS Nair: District Forest Officer
- Ranga: The bullock-cart man
Each episode consisted of a single story, focused around a unique character of Malgudi, centered around the everyday life of 10 year old naughty boy Swaminathan, or Swami as he is known by other characters and his friends, family, teachers, neighbors and other people that he encounters in his life. Swami portrays the growing up pangs of a boy who despises school, as he makes excuses and roams around Malgudi with his friends. Swami’s father is lawyer and mother is a housewife and he also has a dotting grandmother, with whom he generally shares all his adventures. She calls him “Chamy” and saves him from punishments of his father. Swami also has two close friends: poor but strong and self-confident Mani and Rajam, a rich boy, son of the Police Chief Superintendent.
- A Hero: Swami lives with his parents and grandmother. Once while reading the newspaper, his father reads an article about the bravery shown by an 8-year old boy and feels that Swami should do something similar. Swami has the habit of sleeping with his grandmother and every night he sleeps only after listening to a story told by her. This irritates Swami’s father who things that Swami has grown old enough to discard these kiddish habits. He challenges/ forces Swami to sleep along in the room which is used as his office. When Swami tells his friends of the ordeal, his friends warn him about a ghost living nearby. When Swami sleeps in his father’s office he has nightmares about the ghost and wakes up with a start. At the same time, Swami spots an intruder breaking into the office. Mistaking him for the ghost, Swami grabs the intruder’s leg and yells for help. The members of the house rush inside the office and catch the intruder. The police tell Swami that the intruder was a thief wanted by the police and congratulate him. The incident is published in the Malgudi Times but little Swami is so scared after the incident that he starts sleeping with his grandmother again.
- A Horse and Two Goats: Muni is a very poor man living in Malgudi with his wife. Every day, he takes his two goats to graze near an old statue of a horse outside. One day Muni’s wife requests him to buy some food but Muni doesn’t have any money. He goes to the grocer only to get kicked out because he had not settled previous debts. The same night, his wife tells him about a body found near the well and is afraid to go out for fear of the police. The next day, when Muni takes his goats out to graze, he spots a motor car. Out of the car comes a white man from New York who starts talking with Muni but he does not understand a word of it. He thinks that he is a policeman who has come for the body and starts telling his suspicions about other people. The conversation carries on with both persons not understanding each other. The tourist then examines the statue of the horse and makes an offer to buy it. Muni misunderstands it as an offer for his goats and is reluctant but when the American offers a hundred rupees, Muni relents. When he gets home he surprises his wife with the money and tells her that he sold off the goats. When they hear the bleating of their goats outside they find the goats are in their yard but the statue has gone.
- Thanappa – The Mailman: Thannapa is the village mailman who knows everyone and knows everyone’s business by virtue of reading out to the recipients the mail he delivers. Over the years he becomes good friends with Ramanujam and his family. He watches Ramanujam’s daughter Kamashi grow up. When Kamakshi comes of age, Thanappa helps the family find a suitable match by telling them about a failed matchmaking attempt involving another family in Malgudi. The young suitor and Kamakshi are compatible and the wedding is arranged for the 20th, the last day before the young man leaves for two years of training. If the wedding isn’t held by that date, it won’t take place at all. Two days before the wedding, Thanappa is given an urgent letter to deliver to Ramanujam informing him of his brother’s serious illness. Thanappa goes to the house, but amidst the gaiety of the wedding preparation, decides not to deliver the letter. The next day a telegram arrives informing Ramanujam of his brother’s death. Thanappa again delays delivering the message. The wedding proceeds. Two days later Thanappa delivers the bad news to Ramanujam, with his sincere apologies.
- The Vendor of Sweets: Charu is the village miser who cares more about money than his own family. He never spends a rupee when he doesn’t have to. One day in an indulgent mood he decides to take his grandson to see a movie. He won’t spend money on sweets, telling the boy they are not good for him. While Gopinath finds the movie entertaining, the boy is bored and finally sneaks out of the theater and sets off to meet his friends to play cricket. Gopinath eventually realizes the boy is missing and goes in search of him. Suddenly his money is of no benefit, as he searches fruitlessly for the boy. He buys a packet of sweets for the boy, and even pays homage to the gods, promising to offer a whole coconut if the boy is found. When darkness falls, he makes his way back to his daughter’s house, and struggles to find the words to explain the situation to her. Just as he is about to admit his mistake, his grandson comes bouncing into the house joyous at having won his gulli danda match.
- The Jug Spirit: Seth is a merchant and a grocer who also owns a boarding house filled with tenants who constantly complain about his tight-fisted ways. One of his tenants, an exorcist makes a living by removing evil spells and spirits from afflicted individuals. Merchandise is disappearing from Seth’s shop, and while Seth suspects a thief, the trap he sets up reveals that the shop is overrun with rats. The exorcist suggests that Seth get a cat to stop the thievery. One night Seth is wakes up from his sleep by a tremendous racket caused by a brass jug flying around the shop. Seth pleads with the exorcist for help. When the exorcist diagnoses a jug spirit as the source for the problems and enters the darkened shop to rid it of the demon, he is struck by the jug, which lands on the floor and releases a cat that was caught inside. As the cat and the exorcist emerge from the shop, Seth ridicules the exorcist that only a cat was in the jug. The exorcist acknowledges that a cat was in the jug, but then asks, “But what was in the cat?”
- Missing Necklace: Leela’s mother Kamala works hard around the home. When she complains to her husband to find domestic help, Sidda overhears it and offers to work as their servant. Leela instantly takes a liking for Sidda and begs her parents to hire him. He works hard and becomes a favorite of Leela. One day Kamala sends Sidda to the market, and Leela begs to go along. When they return, Kamala notices that Leela’s necklace is missing. She questions Sidda, who does not answer her accusations but instead leaves the home. Kamala tells her husband, who reports the incident to the police. The police locate Sidda and take him to Leela’s house, where Kamala and her husband again confront him. Sidda maintains his innocence, but is taken away by the police for questioning. Later, Kamala finds the necklace in a jar in the kitchen. Leela’s father decides that Leela must not be given any more jewelry to wear, and decides to let the police know about the discovery the next day. Meanwhile, the police continue to beat up Sidda to extract a confession.
- Old man of the temple: This story introduces the talkative man. He joins his friends at the town square and begins to talk about the local driver Daas. While everyone seems to agree that Daas is certainly a wonderful driver and handyman, the talkative man insists that despite this he has a tale which will show good old Daas in a bizarre light. To prove his point he begins narrating a story of when he used to work in Kumbum – a town near Malgudi. On his way back from there he says he had used Daas as the driver. He was fast asleep when Daas swerved through a mud path and almost rammed the car near an old and abandoned temple. On waking up and inquiring about the incident Daas started telling the talkative man about how he was trying to avoid hitting the old man. On looking around the talkative man found no one in sight. Just as they were about to leave the place a relatively young Daas undergoes a weird transformation. He starts to talk and walk about like an old man who he claims was the builder of the temple they are at. He even starts to call himself Krishna Battar. This scares the talkative man a little but he keeps his wits about him. He continues to humor Daas (now in the old man’s personality) and extracts information on how he died 500 years ago while crossing across the forest one night. To get the old man’s spirit out of Daas the talkative man reminds him about his wife Seeta, whom he loved dearly, and convinces him to leave Daas and go back to her. As the old man’s spirit leaves Daas, the talkative man helps Daas back with help from people living nearby. The story ends with the talkative man trying hard to convince his listeners about how, even without a drop of alcohol on him, Daas was sounding so weird and absurd that night. Suddenly they all spot Daas walking in the distance and to test his theory the talkative man yells out ‘Krishna Battar! O Krishna Battar!’ to which Daas does not respond. The talkative man turns around to his listeners and says ‘See?’
Swami and Friends – A Novel bv RK Narayan (inspiration for the TV series Swami)
- Monday Morning
- Rajam and Mani
- Swami’s Grandmother
- What is a Tail?
- Father’s Room
- A Friend in Need
- A New Arrival
- Before the Examinations
- School Breaks Up
- The Coachman’s Son
- In Father’s Presence
- Broken Panes
- The M. C. C.
- Granny Shows Her Ignorance
- Before the Match
- Swami Disappears
- The Day of the Match
- The Return
- Parting Present