By : Vignesh (LTHE, Faridabad)
A young boy in his first form ‘A’ section was asked by his father to solve a simple arithmetic sum that involved a seller, buyer and few mangoes. He refused citing insufficient data. The data he wanted was what kind of a personality the seller and buyer were and wanted to know whether the mangoes were ripe or not. According to him that is the key to solving the problem. If you are wondering who it could be, may I introduce W.S. Swaminathan…. ring no bells? Well, he is better known as Swami..still no? Ok..He lives in Malgudi, South India, Asia. Now , surely you must have got him. For he is one of the central characters of RK Narayan’s most famous “Malgudi Days”. But the book that I am reviewing today is where swami had his origin: Swami and Friends.
The book starts about Swami’s mundane Monday which turns into a nightmare and an introduction to his classmates and teacher through his eyes. He meets the “new guy” Rajam and is instrumental in bringing the two strongmen-Rajam and “good for nothing” Mani-together in an awesome powerful alliance in the class. He is introduced to child birth when he gets a little brother. His grandmother is the listener and story teller as per swami’s whims. He is terrified of his father and almost all his actions invariably revolve around escaping his wrath. He is also the feared fast bowler-Tate and founder member of MCC (Malgudi Cricket Club) and participates in Quit India movement. That’s a strong repo. Isn’t it?
What is most striking is the simple narrative that goes through the book. The characters are everyday people we come across. The events seem to be taken out of our own childhoods. Swami is not extra-ordinary. He is one amongst us. At some point of time in our childhood we would have gone through the same agitations that Swami goes through. For instance, when he is trying to escape scolding from his father; many of us would have gone through this trepidation-like when we were told not to do something, still go ahead and do it and then face the music? Today we share a hearty laugh over it. Even may be miss it. Perhaps the thrill of childhood is in that, isn’t it? RKN in this eternal gem takes us through this world gone by.
Swami is the quintessential observer kid. He observes his surroundings and marvels at his observation, like when he is made to stand up on the bench as a punishment; he ends up counting how many hats are there in the classroom and classifying them based on colours. It is a journey that we, as kids, would have gone through.
Therefore, my simple advice would be: read it again and again just to bring that swami out of you amidst the gloom and trappings of elderliness and soak yourself in that childlike innocence and simplicity-an era that remains etched in each of our memory forever.