From my bookcase: R K Narayan: The Painter of Signs

Sort of visual pun, tee hee!

A few days ago I said I would select books from my bookcases at random, but at that point my bookcases were in total disarray so I couldn’t have found a book on purpose if I’d set out to. Since then you will be pleased to hear that I have re-alphabetised my library and you know, I feel so much better for it.

I have also found my Sisters By Chance, Friends By Choice wooden coaster. I foolishly made mention of this coaster in an old post (Being a Beastly Sister) stating that it was one of my most treasured possessions. On re-reading the post for some reason I realised – it’s a sinking feeling that becomes more and more familiar as you get older – that actually I had no idea where this treasured possession was. Then I felt like an Even Beastlier Sister.

I had to find it. I can’t not look for things once I realise they are lost, and since I have a tendency to ‘file’ small objects I don’t want to lose but don’t quite know what to do with – such as bookmarks, letters and coasters – between books in my bookcase, I decided to spend an afternoon playing a simultaneous game of ‘sort the books’ and ‘hunt the special coaster’.

Now that the books are in alpha order, it’s difficult to avoid an element of selection, so I’ve decided to just hop about a bit, from one writer-nationality and writing style to another. They say variety is the spice of life and I suppose it might be true. My life has been quite varied, I suppose, but I seem to have missed out on the spice.

So, R K Narayan: The Painter of Signs (1977). Quoting from the back cover again:

Raman is considering giving up sign painting when he meets Daisy of the Family Planning Centre. Slender, high-minded, thrillingly independent, Daisy has made up her mind to be modern and is now dedicated to bringing birth control to the people.

In such circumstances Raman’s mounting, insistent passion, coupled with Daisy’s determination to disregard the messy, wayward concerns of the heart, can lead only to conflict. R K Narayan’s magical creation, the city of Malgudi, provides the setting for this comic, bittersweet story of love getting in the way of progress.

R K Narayan (1906 – 2001) whose full name was (cut-and-paste here) Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanaswami, was an Indian writer known for his stories set in the fictional South Indian town of Malgudi. He was born in Madras (now Chennai) and was a leading author of early Indian literature in English. He lived till he was 94.

I think I probably started collecting R K Narayan novels and short stories out of a fascination with language in general. It may have been around the time I was working through an Open University linguistics unit. Until then it had not really dawned on me that my own beloved English language was metamorphosing into series of entirely new languages in many parts of the world. To begin with there is English as she is spoken in England, and a slightly different version in America, say, or India.

But at some point in the future the all these new ‘Englishes’ may become as hard for a speaker of the original language to understand as Dutch or Old English are today. The inexorable passing of time, and the distance of people from one another… everything changes, nothing stays the same. One day Shakespeare will have become genuinely incomprehensible, not merely to English schoolchildren but to English professors of English Literature too, unless they have a translation.

Although, of course, the internet may now be acting as a force in the opposite direction, with a tendency to steer all the Englishes back to a shared centre ground. Anyway, most of us have not travelled that far from each other, linguistically, yet. We can still revel in Indian English as spoken and written on the Subcontinent, it’s intricacy, its formality, its musicality, its subtle differences and its joyful quirkiness:

‘The very man I was looking for,’ said the lawyer, holding him up. He had undergone a correspondence course in law. ‘I must give you the happy news just received: I have passed the law, and I want your help to get my nameboard done immediately.’

‘Certainly, I’m at your service,’ said Raman.

‘I knew you would help me,’ said the lawyer. ‘I want it before eleven a.m. on Thursday.’

‘Impossible,’ said Raman. ‘I want at least five days – drying takes time…’. He felt desperate, having to explain to man after man how one had to allow time for paint to dry. No one understood the importance of this.

I won’t go on. Coffee and biscuits beckon, and the washing machine has finished its chunterings and started to whistle from the kitchen. So far we have roamed from a bleak 1950s vision of a futuristic America, to a little novel of 1950s academic England, to a fictional city in southern India in the 1970s.

Where might our bookcase time- and space-travellings take us next?

IMG_20170814_080144_kindlephoto-768197

The tiger’s name is Kevin, by the way. He has lived with me for a long time

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