Swami and Friends — a delicious read!

Swami and Friends makes you wonder if R K Narayan actually managed to lease space in a 10 yr old boy’s head. So many sharp observations.

Swami is 10 and lives in the fictitious town of Malgudi. He lives with his disciplinarian father, a mother who fusses over his eating, a grandmother who acts as his sounding board and a younger sibling who makes his first appearance halfway through the novel. Swami hates school.

The story is set in pre-independent India and below is a jumble of the thoughts on it:

Caning is common in schools/ The father-son relationship is devoid of any emotional quotient —very different from the ‘I’m actively parenting’ fathers of today/ No school translates to free, outdoor play/ Movement is unrestricted — Swami is outdoors a lot of time unsupervised (quite possibly different for girls of that time)

Eleven year old Swami however is not a big surprise. He is insecure about his friendships, finds school monotonous, hates being told off. Not very different from today’s 10 yr olds one thinks!

My favourite part is Swami’s conversations with his Grandmother. Swami feels appalled at her ignorance in matters that he considers pivotal in his life. for eg. cricket. Swami like other pre-teens has a compelling urge to share everything about his school and friends, and to Grandmother’s credit, she is always a willing listener. Also, everyone in Swami’s household seems rather occupied with their lives, so it does seem natural for Swami and his Grandmother to seek company in each other. There is also a scene where Swami’s father, carrying the younger child, butts in on a conversation between Swami and his Grandmother. Grandmother extends her arms inviting the baby but the Father brushes her off saying he needs to spend time with his child. There is no mention of how the Grandmother feels about it, but it is a scene that quite poignantly captures an elderly person’s prime but often understated need — that of companionship and conversations.

Somewhere close to the end, there is a mention of the sound of soft and gentle curds falling on a heap of rice. Interestingly, the author himself was a big fan of curd rice and called this particular sound the ’loveliest sound in the world’ !

Malgudi may be fictional, but as the story draws to a close, you cannot help but think that Swami and Friends is something R K Narayan intimately knew and quite possibly, experienced!

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