To say that I went into this book with zero expectations wouldn’t be completely untrue. Titled ‘Waiting for the Mahatma’ this book didn’t really boast of a great plot. However, what intrigued me was why then was this chosen by Goodreads as one of RK Narayan’s best work. There is a flavour to his writing which I hoped would see me through what otherwise seems like a plain old story – a coming of age story of a boy who is fascinated by a girl, during the freedom struggle era, complete with Mahatma Gandhi actually appearing in the novel as a significant character and not just an imaginary idol.
Like I said, there is a style of writing that I expected from RK Narayan that would see me through this novel. A la ‘swami and his friends’ mode where you blissfully follow their tales in the land of Malgudi.
Treat this book like you would a new writer’s and you’d be able to see the beauty in its simplicity. The absolute truth that it represents. The real scenario of the impact of India’s freedom struggle on the common man. Common folk who led otherwise normal lives far removed from the play of politics at the centre. For whom The British were just another king who ruled their lands. One they did not see, but whose rules they lived by.
And that probably must have been the reality of hundreds of villages in our country during those times.
Set in the backdrop of such a village is our protagonist – Sriram, who though old enough, is not really mature or serious about life. Then comes in Bharati, a freedom fighter working in Gandhi’s camp, a girl who captures his attention and then begins our story. How he slowly understands Mahatma Gandhi’s words and becomes involved in the freedom movement, all in the effort to impress her forms the rest of the story.
The base plot is cliché. But somewhere behind this story, RK Narayan has drawn out a picture of the other side of India. The unexpected undertones of characters is what you begin to take note of. It is the Indian Sarpanch who takes advantage of the simple village folk whereas a British landowner who has been living in India all his life is the one providing for employment to thousands of people in his plantation. Shopkeepers who sell English biscuits don’t see anything wrong it since it is afterall only a commodity, while people carrying on the fight are often thought to be nuisances who disrupt every gathering with their speeches.
I guess India is too large a country for each and everyone to be influenced by the need to fight for his own freedom.
And yes, Mahatma Gandhi DOES appear. As a central character. Who the lovers consult with. Whose orders they follow. The real speaking leader. Which I found amusing.
If you can get past the beginning of the novel (which incidentally took me 2 weeks a lot of determination), you will not be disappointed. It isn’t his best work, but RK Narayan definitely doesn’t disappoint.
Photos: Remya Nair