India Uncut

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Friday, August 04, 2006

The drama of Malgudi

Jhumpa Lahiri writes in the Boston Review about how she decided, in the midst of days that were "intensely brief and full," to read RK Narayan's Malgudi Days one chapter a day, thus going through the 32 chapters in about a month. Then see what happens:
With an infant in my lap and a toddler at my knee, I read the first story, “An Astrologer’s Day.” I turned the page once, then just once more—already, white space was signaling the finish. How could this be? I wondered. We’re just getting started. I anticipated a sketch, a vignette at best. But in spite of their signature shortness there is nothing scant about Narayan’s stories, no sense of having been deprived as we feel these days on airplanes, when we are handed Lilliputian meals in the name of dinner. In the course of four and a half pages, “An Astrologer’s Day” erects, complicates, and alters a life, and this is the difference between mere description and drama.
It's a lovely essay, read the full thing. (And Lahiri can whip out a pretty mean short story herself: "A Temporary Matter" in Interpreter of Maladies is one of my favourite stories.) As for Narayan, well, much as one of the marks of genius is simplicity, it is also true that the simplicity can then disguise that genius, even make it seem commonplace. I wonder if that is why Narayan isn't rated as high as he deserves to be in world literature. Give me a Narayan short any day over the linguistic pyrotechnics of a Rushdie or a Roy.

(Link via email from Quizman.)
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