“It was evident that he was not going to wait for others to pay him compliments. He showered handfuls of them on himself.”- R. K. Narayan, The Man-Eater of Malgudi.
“It would be boring to be steadfastly good night and day.” - R. K. Narayan, The Man-Eater of Malgudi.
The Man-Eater of Malgudi by R. K. Narayan is a chaotic book, with a simple but quick paced plot lacing the story with a subtle humor. Not unlike his other fictional works, The Man-Eater of Malgudi is the set in the fictional, south Indian village of ‘Malgudi’, whose residents are dramatic and exaggerated.
The Man-Eater of Malgudi is the story of Nataraj and Vasu, the protagonist and the antagonist respectively. Nataraj is the owner of and runs a printing press, whose parlour is always open to anyone who desires the company (mostly ‘the poet’ and Sen). Nataraj is passive and scared, with mild symptoms of the Stockholm syndrome.
When Vasu, a taxidermist by profession and an overbearing, rude bully by nature decides to stay in the small village of Malgudi in order to exploit the forests of neighboring Mempi village, the order and sanctity of Nataraj’s life is disturbed. Vasu’s relations with Nataraj begin with a business order but soon he takes over nearly every aspect of Nataraj’s life. Vasu sneaks underneath Nataraj’s skin like a parasite and refuses to let go. He is the metaphorical man-eater mentioned in the title of the book. We see Nataraj making half hearted efforts to get rid of Vasu but they backfire and leave the pair of them at worse terms. Theirs is an on again, off again relationship that leaves Nataraj with anxiety and internal monologues.
News of Vasu’s reign of terror reaches Mempi and soon Nataraj finds solace in Kumar (the elephant), Muthu (Eager to please and talkative) and a forest ranger (pompous and scared). The last one third of the book showcases the celebration of the poet’s new book, while takes up a lot of Nataraj’s time and energy. Other characters include Sastri (logical, excited and moralistic), Rangi (the prostitute), Dr. Joshi (Vet) and the lawyer. Most characters are flat and caricatured, build around a single characteristic and yet not unrealistically so.
The plot is straight forward and the storyline is extremely linear, each event based on the previous actions and responses of the characters. This makes it very difficult to explain the plot without giving anything away. I will however say that it is simply and brilliantly written. The ending is unbeliavable yet satisfactory and logical, only adding to the comic element of the story. Several dialogues hint towards the ending, creating a suspense whose effect is prominent after finishing the book. The language and narrative is in first person from Nataraj’s point of view. The sentences are delightfully peppered with phrases from south India.
The story itself is interesting and keeps you hooked. It is short and can be read in two or three sittings. R. K. Narayan has created a vibrant oddball story that would be ideal for bedtime. I would recommend this book for any between the age 8 and 15.