The day I met the creator of Malgudi – R K Narayan

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Vinay Jalla with R K Narayan

Vinay Jalla with R K Narayan, Chennai (1999)

It was the summer of 1999 when I met the great Indian novelist R K Narayan in his home in Chennai. The heat was unbearable but my heart fluttered with excitement; I was emotionally choked to meet my ‘literary god’. It was an experience that I’ll never forget.

Soon after meeting him, I wrote the magical experience in my diary.

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4/5/99
It was in the evening when I decided to meet R K Narayan. The Madras heat was ‘eating’ me up. I’d waited for nearly eight months to meet him, ever since I read the opening paragraph of ‘The Guide’.

I hopped on the bus (number 5T), carrying a bag that contained my writings, cartoons, a portrait of R K Narayan that I’d drawn and my autograph book. I got down at the Alwarpet bus stop. There was a security guard at the entrance of the apartments where R K Narayan lived. The guard took no heed of me. The first house had another guard in the form of a dog (a dachshund?) His ferocious growl made me forget the Madras heat for a moment. Vocal lessons were conducted in another flat and I could hear musical ragas emanating from there.

I looked at the letter boxes. The first one on the right had the words “R.K. Narayan…” written on it. I waited outside the flat, which I thought was R K Narayan’s. The door was locked and the gate was closed. But wait. There were Hawaii slippers outside the door, so surely someone must be inside, I thought. While I was working out the mystery of the Hawaii slippers, a neighbour approached me.

I asked him, “This Mr R K Narayan’s flat?”

He said, “Do you have an appointment?”

“I had called up two months back…” I said meekly.

“Just ring the bell,” he advised.

I just stood there dumbfounded. He rang the bell for me and out came R K Narayan’s associate. The neighbour asked in Tamil, “Perayaru erkangla…yeru pathuno vandirkaru…”(Is the big man in? Somebody here has come to see him…). The neighbour then disappeared via the lift.

R K Narayan’s associate asked, “Yaaru neenge?” (May I know who you are?)

I replied quite softly in English, “I am a short story writer from Bangalore – J Vinay…” He asked for my card, but I didn’t have any. He told me to wait and came back after a few seconds and said, “Bathroom le erkaru. Konjo neerao avo” (He’s in the bathroom, it might be a while). I said, in Tamil, “Parveyela, enga dha kathit erpee” (Never mind, I’ll wait here).

I stood at the door, waiting to have a glimpse of R K Narayan. This time I was patient enough to wait till eternity, if need be.

The evening rays of the sun receded behind a looming guava tree. I looked at my feet and cursed myself for wearing dirty socks. An army of black ants was marching under my feet. I leaped aside to make way for the ‘tiny warriors’. I could hear the whizzing noise of the A/C. I imagined R K Narayan on the other side of the wall. I felt so close to him and yet so far…

The guava tree, with plenty of green fruit, was a treat to watch. The shade it would provide on a hot summer’s day and those lovely guavas… I pondered. A squirrel came jumping and hopping about, flapping its bushy tail. It snatched a guava from the topmost branch and ate greedily.

I’d waited for half-an-hour, but did not mind at all. I just observed the houses, walls and the busy neighbour who was using the lift quite regularly. Now he was eating cut-slices of mango.

I heard the sound of the gate-latch being opened. I stood at the door with attention. There he was. R K Narayan! We stood facing each other. My mind ruptured into a sea of emotions filled with utmost love and respect.

R K Narayan asked, “Who are you?”

I replied, “Vinay from Bangalore…Bangalore”

“Speak a bit louder, I can’t hear you.”

“Vinay, Sir.”

“I remember. You’ve been writing letters to me.”

I took out my art album and showed him his portrait. “Sir, I have drawn you. Please autograph.”

“Are you an artist?”

“Yes, Sir. And a short story writer.”

“But it doesn’t look like me,” he protested.

“This is…when you were young.”

“OK”

R K Narayan was dressed in white half-sleeved shirt and grey trousers. He was holding his three-stilt metal walking-stick. He had a black watch wrapped around his ripe wrist (mind you, he was 93 years old). He held the walking-stick quite firmly. He wore thick black spectacles with an even thicker lens. His hearing was not that great, but I spoke louder than normal. 

“Can you autograph here, Sir,” I repeated my request.

“Sorry, no time. I have to go.”

“Please, Sir,” I pleaded.

“You should have called me before coming.”

“Sir, the line got disconnected,” I made up an excuse.

He said, “I am going out, and what’s that bundle?”

I walked with R K Narayan for a few metres and felt a surge of exhilaration. Walking with the creator of Malgudi! How fortunate I was.

At the foot of the stairs was one of my cartoons (an illustration of Mother Teresa holding an infant in her arms). Probably, it had slipped off the album. R K Narayan pointed it out and asked, “Is it yours?” I picked it up reverently.

I was still pestering him for an autograph. But he was determined not to give me one. He asked, “Where are you staying?”

“In my aunt’s house, in Ashok Nagar,” I said.

“Quite far… Call me up tomorrow and fix an appointment.”

“What time, Sir”

“Ten.”

I knew this was my last chance. My mind raced and my hands took out the camera from my bag. I handed it to R K Narayan’s driver, who was waiting in the porch. He fumbled with the camera. Then I said, “Focus panitte, click panuno avladha” (You just have to focus and click, that’s all). I nudged closer to R K Narayan and did not care to wipe the sweat streaming down my face. I asked the driver to take another picture, just in case. R K Narayan also added, “Ennu orru eddie” (Take another one). While he was clicking away, I started a conversation with R K Narayan.

“Sir, I am planning to write a novel.”

“Uh?”

“Sir, do we have to chalk out the chapters first?”

“Write forward-back. Just keep writing daily,” he said, happily grinding an aromatic nut between his teeth. He seemed to relish the taste. “You have taken a photograph with me. Then why come tomorrow. It’s alright then.”

I smiled and said, “Thank you, Sir.”

He patted my back and said, “Go ahead. Just write.” He stepped into the white Fiat Uno that was waiting for him.

I just stood there and watched the car disappear round the bend. I was floating like a feather on cloud nine.

I slowly walked back to the bus stop and waited for the bus to take me back home.

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Two years later, R K Narayan passed away, leaving his endearing Malgudi characters with us for company. Inspired by his words, I wrote my novel ‘Warp and Weft’, which is now available to readers all over the world. I knew the only way to thank R K Narayan was through words and writing words only.

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6 tips to cure writer’s block

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The success of my latest novel Warp and Weft has generated a lot of interest from readers all over the world and also a few potential writers. I’ve been asked to provide a few writing tips.

Writers don’t need an excuse not to write. If you want to write, you will. I still don’t understand why this thing called writer’s block is hyped up unnecessarily. Here are some simple tips on how you can motivate yourself to write.

1. A deadline pushes you to write. As a writer, I’ve always needed inspiration to get up and write on a blank sheet of paper or type words on a blank screen on my laptop. The inspiration would only come if there was a deadline to meet. It’s easy with non-fiction because you ususally have some sort of factual data to begin with.

2. Writing in small chunks – Writing can be laborious, as it’s a creative process. I’ve found that by strictly following a discipline of writing 1000 words a day (without editing whatsoever) helped me complete my first novel. I would write about 200-250 words as soon as I woke up. After breakfast, I would wander to the park or sit at a quiet corner in the public library, and start penning about 400-600 words. Back at home in the evening I would lazily write another 200 words, sitting on a couch or even watching television.

This way, I achieved my daily quota and wouldn’t fret too much if I missed a day’s work. It was a satisfying experience once I’d finished about 120,000 words in about four months. The second phase was less painful because all I had to do was just edit and refine paragraphs and dialogues. I throughly enjoyed the whole process.

3. Read your favourite books to get more inspiration. When you enjoy reading your favourite authors, it fills you up with confidence and urges you to start thinking about your writing.

4. Listen to your favourite music to connect with yourself and feel the emotion when you actually sit down to write. Music transports your mind and opens up new positive possibilities.

5. Rest all your fears about whether it’s going to be published or rejected. Be positive and say to yourself that somebody will definitely like what you’ve written. All you need is a bit of patience and perseverance. Don’t let anything or anybody dampen your spirits. Meanwhile, keep writing other stuff you like.

6. Finally, just drop this thought in your mind: I’m a writer and I enjoy writing. Wear a smile and get your favourite pen and sit down to write.