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R. K. Narayan

R. K. Narayan (October 10, 1906 - May 13, 2001), born Rasipuram Krishnaswami Ayyar Narayanaswami, is among the best known and most widely read Indian novelists writing in English.

Most of Narayan's work, starting with his first novel Swami and Friends (1935), captures many Indian traits while retaining a unique identity of its own. He was sometimes compared to the American writer William Faulkner, whose novels were also grounded in a compassionate humanism and celebrated the humour and energy of ordinary life

Narayan lived till age of ninety-four, writing for more than fifty years, and publishing until he was eighty seven. He wrote fourteen novels, five volumes of short stories, a number of travelogues and collections of non-fiction, condensed versions of Indian epics in English, and the memoir My Days.

Writing career

His writing career began with Swami and Friends. At first, he could not get the novel published. Eventually, the draft was shown to Graham Greene by a mutual friend, Purna. Greene liked it so much that he arranged for its publication; Greene was to remain a close friend and admirer of his. After that, he published a continuous stream of novels, all set in Malgudi and each dealing with different characters in that fictional place. Autobiographical content forms a significant part of some of his novels. For example, the events surrounding the death of his young wife and how he coped with the loss form the basis of The English Teacher. Mr. Narayan became his own publisher when World War II cut him off from Britain.

Writing Style

Narayan's novels are characterised by Chekhovian simplicity and gentle humour. He told stories of simple folks trying to live their simple lives in a changing world. The characters in his novels were very ordinary, down-to-earth Indians trying to blend tradition with modernisation, often resulting in tragi-comic situations. His writing style was simple, unpretentious and witty, with a unique flavour as if he were writing in the native tongue. Many of Narayan's works are rooted in everyday life, though he is not shy of invoking Hindu tales or traditional Indian folklore to emphasize a point. His easy-going outlook on life has sometimes been criticized, though in general he is viewed as an accomplished, sensitive and reasonably prolific writer.

Awards and Recognition

Mr. Narayan won numerous awards and honours for his works. He won the National Prize of the Sahitya Akademi, the Indian literary academy, for The Guide in 1958. He was honoured with the Padma Bhushan, a coveted Indian award, for distinguished service to literature in 1964. In 1980, R. K. Narayan was awarded the AC Benson Medal by the Royal Society of Literature. He was an honorary member of the society. He was elected an honorary member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1982 and nominated to the Rajya Sabha the upper house of the Parliament of India in 1989. In addition, the University of Mysore, Delhi University and the University of Leeds conferred honorary doctorates on him. He was awarded Padma Vibhushan in 2000.

* R.K. Narayan was short listed for the Nobel Prize in Literature several times but never won. Literary circles often joke that the Nobel Committee ignored his works, mistaking them instead for self-help books due to their curious titles (The English Teacher, The Painter of Signs, etc.).

His works were translated into every European language as well as Hebrew.

* His admirers included Somerset Maugham, John Updike and Graham Greene, who called him the "novelist I admire most in the English language."
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