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Book Review: Swami and Friends by R.K. Narayan

R.K. Narayan fittingly depicts the stories of relationships in his books. There may be one or more relationships which are taken for scrutiny and presentation. In ‘Swami and Friends’ and ‘The Dark Room’, for example, there is one major relationship each i.e. of Swami and Rajam and Savatri and Ramani which assumes significance.

Narayan’s first novel, Swami and Friends delineates Swami’s character as that of a pre-adolescent boy going through many misadventures. Swami and his four friends – Mani, Pea, Shankar and the newly admitted Rajam – the son of the Deputy Superintendent of the police, are the main characters in the novel. Thus, life for Swami means his friends and himself, his parents and himself, his teachers and himself, coping with everyone in an individual way. However the main concern is the Swami-Rajam relationship.

Rajam is Swami’s hero. While ‘nestling close to his granny, very snug and safe Swami narrates to her everything about Rajam and Mani, how Rajam’s father is “The master” of all the policemen of Malgudi, how he has a real police dress and how he killed a tiger when his father was once camping in a forest. By the fourth chapter in the novel, one finds Swami very much attached to Rajam and his friends start calling him a tail of Rajam. It hurts him.

The first blow that comes to Swami which pulls him away from Rajam is the 15th August 1930 incident. Swami pelts a stone or two at the panes of the headmaster’s ventilation and is unfortunately caught red-handed by the peon. Rajam is not able to appreciate Swami’s participation in the nationalist movement because his father, after all is a government servant, and Swami’s act has been anti-government. The headmaster enters the class to punish the culprits.

The parting scene between Swami and Rajam is quite emotional. Swami feels guilty for his doings and wants yet to make good his precious friendship for Rajam by offering him a small volume of Anderson’s fairy tales. Rajam takes the present and waves a farewell.

The theme of incompatibility of interests finds the best expression in the life of this young hero of Narayan’s. Even though he is too small to be thought of in such a serious context, the melancholy of his life comes from his incompatible relations with a friend, Rajam, whom he considers a great hero.


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