To what extent would you agree that style would be valued more highly than plot in the work you have chosen to explore? R. K. Narayan is one such modern writer whose novels are set in the colonial and post-colonial periods of India. In his works, he created the imaginary town of Malgudi, which was in the state of Tamil Nadu in South India, where realistic characters in a typically Indian setting lived amid unpredictable events. The book ‘Waiting for the Mahatma’ written by Narayan begins in latter part of the colonial era, in the 1940’s, when the Quit India movement is taking place.
Though a greater part of this book is set in Malgudi and its surrounding villages, some scenes take place in other parts of the country like Delhi. Style in literature is the result of a successful blending of form with content. In ‘Waiting for the Mahatma’ it is the content which is the main attraction. The form of the book is basic, and the language is simple, straightforward and informal throughout the book. The book is divided into five parts, and this division is purely based on the events. R. K. Narayan does not go back in time by using tools such as flashbacks.
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Nor does he change the place and setting abruptly as the novel progresses, except when the events take the protagonist to another place. Hence, the novel is coherent and continuous in both time and geography. The plot of this book is its highlight. Beautiful in its simplicity and gentle narration, this book is a slow meandering of events. There are two simultaneous stories being told in this book. The main story is that of Sriram, the protagonist. Sriram, a lonely adolescent, is an orphan who has lived with his Granny since childhood.
His mother had died while giving birth to him, and his father was killed fighting for the British in Mesopotamia. The grandmother received a monthly military pension for the boy ever since. She saved every paisa in an account set up for Sriram, and now that he is twenty years-old, she signs the account over to him. When he is twenty years-old, she signs the account over to him. Feeling wealthy and quite independent, he strolls around town until he is stopped by a beautiful girl, asking for a contribution.
He immediately falls in love with this girl, who is a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, and this changes the life of the protagonist. At this point of time, the second story begins, the story of the final phase of India’s struggle for independence led by Mahatma Gandhi. The fictional appearance of Mahatma Gandhi has been handled brilliantly by the author. The conversations and episodes with Gandhiji reflect a keen and minute understanding of not only the man and his actions, but also his impact on the thousands of people that he met and how the freedom struggles were conducted at individual levels.
More interestingly, the book describes how the common man is affected by the freedom movement and how they perceive Mahatma Gandhi. While many participated and supported the freedom struggle, many villagers were disinterested in it, and continued to live a self-centred existence. This is evident from the following lines which Sriram plans to write to Mahatma Gandhi when he is in a village not far from Malgudi:- “They don’t seem to deserve anything we may do for them. They sell and eat foreign biscuits…. They will thank us for leaving them alone, rather than telling them how to win Swaraj .
They simply don’t care. At this very moment I find them preparing for a loyalists’ meeting. ” Apart from this, the author has also brought out how the idealistic thoughts and opinions of Mahatma Gandhi are put to practical uses by common people, including Sriram, to fulfil their own motives. For example when the Mahatma had visited Malgudi, and was addressing people not to have bitterness towards the British and instead love them, he thinks (about Bharati): “Oh, revered Mahatmaji, have no doubt that my heart is pure and without bitterness.
How can I have bitterness in my heart for a creature who looks so divine? ” On a broader perspective, the entire story can be an example of this ??? Sriram becomes a follower of Gandhi and his noble ideas only to fulfil his desire to marry Bharati. The story of Sriram is the story that a greater part of the book is devoted to though the larger story keeps taking place in the background. When Sriram learns that Bharati is a disciple of the Mahatma, he also becomes one. He learns to spin cloth using the charkha, and his job is to spread the message of Quit India throughout the villages surrounding Malgudi.
When Gandhi is jailed, Sriram begins to drift away from his non-violent methods and under the guidance of Jagadish, an extremist freedom fighter, derails trains and plants crude bombs in government buildings. When Sriram returns to his house in Malgudi, where his grandmother is dying (and comes back to life on the funeral pyre in an extremely comic incident), the police arrest him and he is sent to jail. He remains in jail for a few months after India attains independence, and is then released, and walks out into a new, free India.
On finding out that Bharati is in Delhi with the Mahatma, he goes to Delhi to ask her to marry him. But Bharati would not marry him till she had got Gandhiji’s consent, and the Mahatma was so busy in the politics, riots and atrocities taking place after independence that she had not got the opportunity to ask him this question. That is why the title ‘Waiting for the Mahatma’ is appropriate, as Sriram has been waiting for the Mahatma to give Bharati the permission to marry him for almost the entire book.
Finally, Gandhiji does grant them permission to marry, but he is assassinated a few minutes later, and is unable to witness their marriage. In the plot of this book, the transformation of the protagonist due to his meeting and falling in love with Bharati is significant. The path of the protagonist’s progress has been from a state of isolated individualism to a state of involvement with others and issues that transcend the self such as love and nationalism.
The novel clearly shows how personal life of people is affected by political events. Sriram and Bharati cannot consummate their relationship until India is independent. Even the scope of romantic love is severely crippled under British colonialism. According to Walsh, this novel is “a straightforward realistic narrative” in which “the spiritual (referring to Gandhi and his influence on the story), the tragic, the comic are consistent with one another; and fable, theme, history and documentary fit together with the naturalness of life. (Walsh, Narayan, 94). To bring about these themes while portraying the flavour of ordinary Indian life during the colonial and post-colonial period is successfully done with the help of the plot of the book ??? it is the sequence of events that does this. It can therefore be concluded that plot should be valued more highly than style in the book ‘Waiting for the Mahatma’ by R. K. Narayan.