Waiting for Mahatma
University of Chicago Press, Oct 15, 1981 - Fiction - 256 pages
"R.K. Narayan . . . has been compared to Gogol in England, where he has acquired a well-deserved reputation. The comparison is apt, for Narayan, an Indian, is a writer of Gogol's stature, with the same gift for creating a provincial atmosphere in a time of change. . . . One is convincingly involved in this alien world without ever being aware of the technical devices Narayan so brilliantly employs."—Anthony West, The New Yorker
"The experience of reading one of his novels is . . . comparable to one's first reaction to the great Russian novels: the fresh realization of the common humanity of all peoples, underlain by a simultaneous sense of strangeness—like one's own reflection seen in a green twilight."—Margaret Parton, New Herald Tribune Book Review
"The hardest of all things for a novelist to communicate is the extraordinary ordinariness of most human happiness. . . . Jane Austen, Soseki, Chekhov: a few bring it off. Narayan is one of them."—Francis King, Spectator
"The novels of R.K. Narayan are the best I have read in any language for a long time."—Amit Roy, Daily Telegraph
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Mahatma Gandhi has become a God in the minds of millions, has become larger than life, that a lot of times it is easy to simply put him on a pedestal and revere him, without any obligation to actually follow all that he did. In his auto-biography, Gandhiji writes as nothing but a fiercely honest man and that revealed to me (and many others I am sure) that he was born a human being like you and me, but transcended certain mundane boundaries through sheer dogged adamant loyalty to his core principles of truth and non-violence. How easy it has become to turn his philosophy into cheesy cliches, and yet how innately loyal he was to them.
'Waiting for Mahatma' follows the same dogged adamant loyalty to the truth. Truth about Gandhiji's ways of thinking and of living. And add to it the unique flavor of RK Narayan. No one writes innocence and naivete with as much honesty as Narayan does. The novel succeeds in throwing light on lofty principles better than 100 other preachy ones put together. What was interesting to me was the faint understanding of how mass people movements begin - that it is not because everyone is driven by the same ideology, or share the same passion levels. At the grass roots level, motivations to be part of a movement are much more mundane, it is to be with a certain girl, or to be with a group of friends, or to appear cool. It takes a good leader to tap into these inclinations, build on them to inculcate respect for core values and turn the whole thing into a successful and sustained forum. I am once again awed at the leadership skills of Gandhiji!!
RK Narayan manages to once again tap into a part of your heart that you become aware of only when you are with him. What a novelist.
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