Waiting for the Mahatma
by R K Narayan
Sriram is twenty. As a mark of his coming of age his grandmother allows his the pass-book to his savigns in the local bank, but Sriram is growing up in other ways, too, and an enchanting and unpredictable girl leads him into the encourage of Mahatma Gandhi.
These are the opening events in R K Narayan’s novel. It is the finest thing he has yet achieved, and his story of the triumphs and tragedies of a raw young zealot in the service of Gandhi is distinguished for its warmth, its humour, its lack of sentimentality and the stamp of absolute truth.
Sriram’s evolution into manhood is, for him, strange and bewildering process. Bharati, the girl he worship, is witty, infuriating, capable and, wonder of wonders, condescending to the moonstruck Sriram. Her first loyalty though, is to the Mahatma, a saint blessed with disconcerting common sense, a man whose tragedy is tat he is so much greater than his followers. Most of them accept his ideas enthusiastically, and without realizing it, pervert them to suit their coarser personalities. Sriram is inspired by Gandhi, but he is too easily influenced by glamorous patriots of the type of Jagadish, a terrorist.
It is a tale of remarkable insight into the upsrge of Indian nationalism as witnessed through the eyes and hearts of Sriram and Bharati, and told with the all genius and compassion we have come to expect from R K Narayan.
About The Author
R. K. Narayan (10 October 1906 13 May 2001), full name Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanaswami, was an Indian writer, best known for his works set in the fictional South Indian town of Malgudi. He was a leading author of early Indian literature in English, along with Mulk Raj Anand and Raja Rao.
Narayan’s mentor and friend, Graham Greene was instrumental in getting publishers for Narayan’s first four books, including the semi-autobiographical trilogy of Swami and Friends, The Bachelor of Arts and The English Teacher. The fictional town of Malgudi, was first introduced in Swami and Friends. Narayan’s The Financial Expert, was hailed as one of the most original works of 1951, and Sahitya Akademi Award winner The Guide, was adapted for film and for Broadway.After The English Teacher, Narayan’s writings took a more imaginative and creative external style compared to the semi-autobiographical tone of the earlier novels.
His next effort, Mr. Sampath, was the first book exhibiting this modified approach. However, it still draws from some of his own experiences, particularly the aspect of starting his own journal; he also makes a marked movement away from his earlier novels by intermixing biographical events. Soon after, he published The Financial Expert, considered to be his masterpiece and hailed as one of the most original works of fiction in 1951.
The inspiration for the novel was a true story about a financial genius, Margayya, related to him by his brother. The next novel, Waiting for the Mahatma, loosely based on a fictional visit to Malgudi by Mahatma Gandhi, deals with the protagonist’s romantic feelings for a woman, when he attends the discourses of the visiting Mahatma. The woman, named Bharti, is a loose parody of Bharati, the personification of India and the focus of Gandhi’s discourses. While the novel includes significant references to the Indian independence movement, the focus is on the life of the ordinary individual, narrated with Narayan’s usual dose of irony.