R.K Narayan started his prolific writing career with this novel Swami and Friends written in 1935. It is full of humor and irony. Narayan started writing this novel with the words “It was Monday morning…” to the auspicious time his grandmother chose for him. Like many of his fictional grandmothers, he was close to his grandmother who was well versed with astrology. Despite this it took time for the budding writer to be acknowledged as an author. Fortunately for him, he had helped from many quarters, such as the well-established author British author Graham Green. He called Swami and Friends a work of “remarkable maturity, and of the finest promise…and is the boldest gamble a novelist can take. If he allows himself to take sides, moralise, propaganda, he can easily achieve an extra-literary interest, but if he follows Mr. Narayan’s method, he stakes all on his creative power.”
The novel is set in pre-independence days in India, in a fictional town – Malgudi, which has almost become a real place in India today, due to the wide recognition and popularity of Narayan’s many novels. His novels are known for their ‘deftly etched characters, his uniquely stylized language and his wry sense of humor. Swami and Friends is the story of a 10-year-old boy, growing up during this particular time, his innocence, wonder, mischief and growing pains. Swami is a student of Albert Mission School. He is quite happy at school despite the tyranny of the teachers and also despite the fact that he is not a good student and not at all interested in his studies. His happiness results from the fact that he has got four fast friends, who were Somu, Mani, Shankar and Samuel, the Pea. Later on, he gets another friend Rajam. In the company of these friends he cuts jokes, plays pranks and also sometimes is engaged in friendly quarrels with Mani & Rajam his relations are personal and human, these three (Swami, Mani & Rajam) constitute a sort of an inner circle. Swami’s relations with other Somu, Shankar and Pea are scholastic and impersonal.
Swami is not a good student but his life at school is not entirely unhappy for hehas four good friends. One of them is Somu, the monitor of the class. He was set about his business, whatever it was, with absolute confidence and calmness. He was known to be chummy even with the teachers. No teacher ever putto him a question in the class. Then, there is Mani, the mighty good for nothing. He towers head and shoulders above the other boys of the class and is feared and admired by all. He is a sort of bully. The third friend is Sankar, the most brilliant boy of the class. He gets marks as high as ninety percent and can answer any questions that are put to him. Swami’s fourth friend is Samuel, called the Pea, because of his small size. There is nothing uncommon about him, he is neither a good student nor physically remarkable.
Later, Swami came in bad terms with his earlier friends after his friendship with Rajam. Not only Mani but most of the students in the class disliked him. Swami admired Sankar’s intelligence and relied on him for guidance at school. But Sankar eventually leaves Malgudi when his father is transferred to a new town, and although he writes to Rajam and his friends intend to reply, they fall out of touch after realizing that they don’t have Sankar’s new address.
Swami and Friends presents a universal picture of a child gradually getting groomed to the complex ways of life. Narayan, through Swami, Mani, Shankar and Rajam, describes the innocent world o children in such an objective way. that they become universal characters. When Swami steps up from childhood to adulthood he needs to be first initialed into working of this world; he needs he first feel of ‘some natural sorrow, loss or pain’. In the pangs of separation from his friend, Swami moves away from the simple pleasures of his childhood years and comes one step closure to maturity.
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