MUST READ: Ved Mehta on R.K. Narayan’s day

First published in the New Yorker, September 15, 1962 in an essay titled ‘The train had just arrived at Malgudi Station’

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R.K. Narayan told me about his Mysore day. It begins with a three- or four-hour stroll. He considers his morning walk his office hours, because he stops and talks to people, many of whom chat with him freely about their doings or their troubles, or give him advice about renting his house (empty houses bring bad luck) or about making profits on his books, which they cannot read. Only a few ask him for practical help, probably because they know him to be a mere writer; most demand his ear and his sympathy.

“If, on his promenade, Narayan sees three or four men in a huddle, he observes their ways closely. In his many years of living in Mysore, he has made friends among artisans, businessmen, lawyers, teachers—the man and women of his novels. After lunch, he may do an hour or two of writing—his limit for a day’s serious work. He composes fast, and two thousand words in a couple of hours is not an unusual achievement for him.

“I am an inattentive, quick writer who has little sense of style,” he said candidly. Once he has written the first few pages of a novel, he seldom retouches a sentence, believing that writing is “a dovetailing process,” by which he means that a novel well begun writes itself.

“After his writing, he meditates, and his barren room is especially suited to that. He begins his exercises by reading a little bit of the puranas, or Sanskrit sacred poems, after which he repeatedly recites to himself the Gayatri Mantra, a prayer to the light that illuminates the sun to illuminate all minds. After he has had a short rest, the late afternoon finds him at his family’s house; he dines, then makes the rounds of his intimate friends, and goes home to bed.”

India-born Ved Mehta was a staff writer of the New Yorker from 1961 to 1994, and has authored two-dozen books.

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Also see: The life in a day of R.K. Narayan