R.K. Narayan A Writers Nightmare (Selected Essays 1958-1988)

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Item Code: IHL391
Author: R.K. Narayan
Publisher: Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 2010
ISBN: 9780140107913
Pages: 240
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 7.8 inch X 5.0 inch
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Book Description



R.K. Narayan was born in Madras, South India, and educated there and at Maharaja's College in Mysore. His first novel Swami and Friends (1935) and its successor The Bachelor of Arts (1937) are both set in the enchanting fictional territory of Malgudi. Other 'Malgudi' novels are The Dark Room (1938), The English Teacher (1945), Mr. Sampath (1949), The Financial Expert (1952), The Man-Eater of Malgudi (1961), The Vendor of Sweets (1967), The Painter of Signs (1977), A Tiger for Malgudi (1983), and Talkative Man (1986). His novel The Guide (1958) won him the National Prize of the Indian Literary Academy, his country's highest literary honour. He was awarded in 1980 the A.C. Benson Medal by the Royal Society of Literature and in 1981 he was made an Honorary Member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. As well as four collections of short stories, A Horse and Two Goats, An Astrologer's Day and Other Stories, Lawley Road and Malgudi Days, he has published two travel books My Dateless Diary and The Emerald Route, two collections of essays, Next Sunday and Reluctant Guru, and a volume of memoirs, My Days.



(Selected Essays 1958-1988)




. . . 7


Higher Mathematics


Fifteen Years




Horses and Others


The Vandal


To a Hindi Enthusiast


'No School Today'


The Non-Musical Man


On Humour


Reception at Six


In the Confessional


Bride-groom Bargains


The Scout


Gardening Without Tears


Private Faces


Coffee Worries


Looking One's Age


The Great Basket


Of Trains and Travellers


A Library Without Books


A Writer's Nightmare


Umbrella Devotee


Next Sunday


The Sycophant


The Maha




The Critical Faculty


Beauty and the Beast




Street Names


Reluctant Guru


My Educational Outlook




Better Late


The Winged Ants


Taxing Thoughts


Elephant in the Pit


The Lost Umbrella


The Newspaper Habit


Castes: Old and New




The Golden Age


Rambles in a Library


At an Auctioneers


Pride of Place


Houses, Houses


A Picture of Years



Sorry, no room


God and the Atheist


On Funny Encounters


The Testament of a Walker


Love and Lovers

... 174

A Matter of Statues


History is a Delicate Subject




Of Age and Birthdays






A Literary Alchemy


The Writerly Life


The Nobel Prize and all that


Misguided 'Guide'


Indira Gandhi


When India was a Colony


India and America



In my BA class (we had a three-year course, then) fifty years ago, we had a professor of English who perhaps could not stand the stare of 200 pairs of eyes from the gallery and so decreed, the moment he approached the dais, "Heads down, pencils busy", and started dictating notes right away, even before reaching his chair. He taught us Essays and Prose Selections and dictated practically the same notes every year, which began with the sentence 'Definitions of the Essay are Numerous and Positively Bewildering . . . ' The poor man suffered this bewilderment throughout his career.

When I began to write for a living later, I realized that definitions of the essay were neither numerous (as our teacher claimed) nor bewildering. I realized there were only two categories of essay—the personal and the impersonal or, in other words, the subjective and the objective.

First, let me talk about the objective essay. One may go through the impersonal essay for information, knowledge and illumination, perhaps, but not for enjoyment which is after all one of the purposes of literature. Unfortunately, I was compelled to read certain authors in the category of heavy essayists. My father was a fervent admirer of Carlyle, Macaulay, Froude and so on. He read Carlyle and company far into the night and felt I should also be reading them for my edification. I obeyed. To speak the truth, I found them unreadable but went through the pages as a matter of self-mortification and to show I was a dutiful son. I particularly recollect the hardship I experienced while plodding through 'The Times of Erasmus & Luther' by Henry Froude in his volume Short Studies On Great Subjects. Carlyle terrified me. So did Macaulay. I could only marvel at my father's capacity for enjoying tough writing unrelieved by any light moment. So much for the heavy essay. I felt my college professor was justified in using the phrase 'bewildering'. He also probably felt I have always been drawn to the personal essay in which you could see something of the author himself apart from the theme—a man like Charles Lamb, or more recently, E.V. Lucas or Robert Lynd (to mention some names at random) are good examples of discursive essayists. The personal essay was enjoyable because it had the writer's likes, dislikes, and his observations, always with a special flavour of humour, sympathy, aversion, style, charm, even oddity.

Unfortunately, this type of essay is not in vogue today. You see it sometimes here and there but generally it is almost extinct. Yes, we have feature writers in magazines and newspapers, astute political analysts, profound scholarly and historical writers in academic journals, earth-shaking editorials in newspapers, but not the discursive essayist. This is because the discursive essay can come not out of scholarship or research but only out of one's personality and style. The scope for such a composition is unlimited—the mood may be sombre, hilarious or satirical and the theme may range from what the author notices from his window, to what he sees in his waste-paper basket, to a world cataclysm.

I cannot claim that I fulfil all the grand conditions I have enumerated. I have written all the following essays because I had to. I had to write to meet a deadline every Thursday in order to fill half a column for the Sunday issue of the Hindu. I had rashly undertaken this task not (to be honest) for artistic reasons, but to earn a regular income. Three of my novels had already been published but they had brought me recognition rather than income. I had approached the editor of the Hindu for help, and he had immediately accepted my proposal for a weekly piece. I had not the ghost of an idea what I was going to do. As he had left me to do anything I wanted within my column I started writing, trusting to luck; somehow I managed to fill the column for nearly twenty years without a break. This selection is mainly made from the essays I wrote for the Hindu.

In conclusion I should say that the essays reproduced in the following pages should enable the reader to get a better sense of my idea of the 'discursive essay' than any theorizing I could do about it.

July 1987 R. K. Narayan

The pick of thirty years of essays from R.K. Narayan, India's greatest English language novelist.

R.K. Narayan is perhaps better known as a novelist, but his essays are as delightful and enchanting as his stories and novels. Introducing this selection of essays, Narayan writes, 'I have always been drawn to the personal essay in which you see something of the author himself apart from the theme . . . the scope for such a composition is unlimited—the mood may be sombre, hilarious or satirical and the theme may range from what the author notices from his window to what he sees in his waste-paper basket to a world cataclysm.' A Writer's Nightmare is the marvellous result of Narayan's liking for the personal essay. In the book he tackles subjects such as weddings, mathematics, coffee, umbrellas, teachers, newspapers, architecture, monkeys, the caste system, lovers—all sorts of topics, simple and not so simple, which reveal the very essence of India.

'Narayan wakes in me a spring of gratitude, for he has offered me a second home. Without him I could never have known what it is like to be Indian'—Graham Greene

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