CAMPAIGN: The Life in a Day of R.K. Narayan

R.S. KRISHNASWAMY writes: R. K. Narayan was never an early riser. He was up and about only at 8. He could afford to do it as he had total control over his time because (except for an unhappy week in the 1930s) he was never employed and never had to report to a Boss. He was his own master.

After his ablutions and chanting the 108 Gayathri mantras, he was ready for his daily ‘Walk the Talk’ at 10. Dressed in a white shirt and white panche and carrying his legendary kode, he would slowly walk down Seshadri Iyer Road in Lakshmipuram, never briskly, always talking to everybody on the road.

As he approached the 100 Feet Road he had to pass about 20 or 30 houses which opened right into the road. He loved that small stretch because sometimes he could gaze into those houses and conjecture about each family. Their joys, tribulations, activities, etc (raw material for a short story!!). He spent nearly fifteen minutes on this lap.

Turning into 100 Feet Road, his first port of call would be Krishna & Co, a bookshop runs by its Gandhian proprietor, Mr. Subramanian. Till today very few people know what books he stored and sold, and to whom. But it had some regular visitors like RKN, who sat there to chat for maybe half an hour.

From there, RKN went down 100” road and turned left into Sayyaji Rao Road.

Some days he would go up into the Palace Offices to “delightfully disturb Seenu” (as be used to say). Seenu was R.K. Srinivasan, my father and RKN’s brother, who was the under secretary to the Maharaja of Mysore.

If he was in no mood to delightfully disturb Seenu, the next “Call Centre” was Srinivasa Stores to chat with the proprietor, another Subramaniam. At SS, he checked out on the arrival of the next consignment of adike, lavanga, yellaki.

From Srinivasa Stores, RKN would walk up Sayyaji Rao Road, halt for a while at R. Krishnaswamy & Sons, again chat for a few minutes, and replenish his stationery, which was not much, usually foolscape white sheets and Ink. He always wrote in “bad longhand”, never in a straight line, and with repeated corrections.

He would then saunter up to the City Power Press, chat a bit with Mr. Chaluvaiengar (alias ‘Mr. Sampath’), correct proofs if needed, and at 1 o’ clock, he would begin his trek back home with his kode unfurled, just in time for a lunch at two.

A almost daily walk of around 12 km for the better part of the 1950s and ‘60s.

RKN never slept in the afternoon, but wrote almost non-stop from 3 pm to 6 pm. He had a six-foot-tall typist called Laxminarasimhan, who was the only human who could decipher the terrible hand Narayan wrote and he typed this in those 3 hours. In these sessions were created some of the greatest works of Indian writing in English.

The evening “Walk the Talk” sessions with my father Srinivasan, was much shorter, during which he would unfold to his hero-worshipping sibling, the next sequence of a novel or a short story. In these sessions were created some of his greatest fictional characters: the Raju of ‘Guide’, Margayya of ‘Financial Expert’, and so on.

After dinner, RKN would lounge around with his mother, brother, sister-in-law, nephews, etc, and gossip. Yes, gossip. For the great RKN, gossip was the greatest food for thought and never bad.