Meet Swami (good name Swaminathan). A character animated by the legendary writer and the most prominent storyteller of India, R. K. Narayan, Swami became profoundly loved character on Indian landscape since the time it got its life in print through the heart (and award) winning story “Swami and Friends”. To savor this piece of literary creation, all you need to do is to get inside the story and just follow Swami. He will take you to his place, Malgudi, a fictional stead of South India. You can keep walking down the tracks with him to his school, riverside, playgrounds, and other familiar settings which will leave you nostalgic.
Swami’s daily routine involves back and forth transits between home and school, hangouts with Mani at riverside, chattings with his granny, and occasional tutoring by his father. At home, Swami is surrounded with a) his father whom Swami wishes never to see inside the house so there is no hindrance to boy’s wantonness and vagrancy, b) his granny who is always patient enough to reciprocate Swami’s trivial imaginary stories with equal enthusiasm, c) his mother who always acts as his savior coming to rescue from his father’s tyranny (‘tyranny’ as Swami viewes it), and d) his newly born brother whom Swami considers a cute little creature who snatches a major portion of his mother’s attention.
At school, his early friend circle included all peculiar personalities of the class – calm and confident Somu, the highest 90% scorer Shankar, the most congenial Samuel aka Pea (the nick name was devised in consideration of the person’s size), and the good-for-nothing Mani whose only hobby is to bully anyone coming across his way. The list of friends is destined to change when Rajam, the son of the Superintendent of Police, sets his foot in Malgudi. Swami is bewitched not only by his opulent appearance but also by his academic competency and brave attitude. Rajam soon proves himself a tough completion to Shankar for academic scores and to Mani for peevishness.
“He was the only boy in the class who wore socks and shoes, a fur cap and a tie, and a wonderful coat and knickers. He came to the school in car….” “Many of his class-mates could not trust themselves to speak to him, their fund of broken English being small.” Such efficacy Rajam exudes.
Within no time, Rajam becomes ‘the new power in the class’ in Swami’s eyes. Like scaling popularity, Rajam’s bitterness with Mani is also reaching height. After enduring a slew of altercations, they both finally decide to settle their score on the bank of Sarayu. However the fine day rather proves to be the start of their peerless friendship leaving all sorts of enmity behind. By now, Swami has transitioned himself into a new friend circle – Mani, Rajam, and himself. On the other hand, Swami is attracting twits from his old golden friend circle. To commemorate Swami’s rupture, his old circle rewards him an unsolicited farewell; a title of “TAIL”. The incidence puts Swami in awkwardness and chagrin. Later, this bridge between them is filled with Rajam’s efforts.
Amidst these events, Swami has forgotten something; the much awaited and coveted cricket match. A match which is more important for Rajam than for Swami. Swami’s missing the match is a mistake that Rajam cannot forgive, not even to himself. The thought of losing team’s Tate as well as the winning trophy has always dreaded Rajam since the beginning. In his mind, this eerie thought takes precedence over the thought of losing a friend. Consequently, he developes an indifference towards Swami. It is quite apparent when he does not give a heed to the news of Swami’s return.
As the story reaches towards the end, your heart will start soaking into the gloomy cloud. Rajam and his family are leaving Malgudi for good. The sad part of this is that Swami is given account of this fact by Mani not by Rajam himself. The last time when Swami had a talk with his friend was the day when he had ran away from his school. Swami is feeling nothing but sad on receiving this news. Rajam’s disappointment could not convince himself to approach Swami ever again. Swami makes another, perhaps the last, attempt to meet Rajam and gift him a goodbye gift.
Will Swami be able to meet his old friend ever? Will Rajam acknowledge him? What happened to their cricket match? Well, turn the pages of the supreme tale to satiate your curiosities.
Swami’s innocent acts are extraordinarily adorable, whether be it the instance of uttering mournful prayer for the dying ant (“…Swaminathan ran frantically to the spot to see if he could atleast save the ant. He peered long into the water, but there was no sign of the ant. The boat and its cargo were wrecked beyond recovery. He took a pinch of earth, uttered a prayer for the soul of the ant, and dropped it into the gutter.”); coming up with inveracity to protect his partial knowledge (“I also wrote only half a page.” even when he just wrote a line), or troubling his father with nonsensical questions in a delusion that the answer to his question holds the essence of his maths numerical (“father , are the mangoes ripe or unripe?” is Swami’s question when he is given to find the price of mangoes). One of my favourite narrations of the book is when Swami and friends struggle with composing a letter for a sports retailer requesting cricket equipment. Their discussions on choosing the correct word (‘dear sir’ vs ‘sir’), trying to find out the meaning of ‘obliged’ in the response letter, and figuring out any sense with the sentence ‘he would kindly remit 25 per cent with the order and the balance could be paid against the VPP of the railway receipt’ will send you in a laughter riot.
With this story, Swami secured a place in everyone’s heart and Malgudi virtually secured a place in geographical map. The characters, lead and secondary both, are endowed with all due characteristics of juvenility – vivaciousness, liveliness, innocency, trickery, gullibility, nonchalance, emotions, defiance, fear of those in authority, I-know-it-all, and parents-and-teachers-are-my-enemy attitude. Other characters of the story are also sharply defined and each persona has got its own work to do in the most convincing way.
The story is rife with amusing anecdotes with a rhythm which keeps you engrossed till the end. The sentences and phrases are framed in simple yet belletrist fashion. The mightiness of sublime incidences would draw various shades of your emotion. Swami’s banal excuses are relatable . It will take you to your school days where abhorrence of school assignments, devising excuses for not completing the home works, contriving to escape from under the nose of parents to spend time with friends, and getting hurt on trivial matters were commonplace activities. Swami is portrayed like any other normal child, like you and me in our childhood, who just struggles to keep everyone happy around him and simultaneously finding a way to do what he wants so he is not imposed with a gush of cane stick, exhausting hours of exam preparations, or loss of his dear friends’ affection.
Whether Swami lived in Malgudi or lives in Malgudi, he stays and will stay in our heart forever!
Shweta Kumari Sharma
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