Being British I have grown up exposed a great deal to multiculturalism, where I am from in sub-urban London that is mainly in the form of an Asian community. I have been fortunate to have friends who were born in Britain to Indian parents, and also to have known students from India who have come to Britain to study. I have also been able to watch and enjoy a great amount of Bollywood films. I indicate all of this at the start because it is important to my understanding of the writings of R. K. Narayan (I will skip a brief biography as it is easy to find in the link for those interested) who is an Indian author who writes in English, and has added a great many new chapters to my understanding of India and its people, history and culture.
It is fair to say that the stories I have heard previously had always been told for some sort of reason, and often the sotry would be something I could not essentially grasp. I would understand what it had to do with the person/people telling it but not how it fit into the jigsaws that make up my thoughts. This was often true with Bollywood films which are unashamedly made for middle class India, and this has asmuch to do with my financial/social standing as it does my understanding of Indian culture and society.
Therefore, reading Narayan’s books was eye opening, his prose exposed me to an India I had only previously seen in glimpses or phrases, and with Narayan came full novels and a set of short stories. All dealing with an India which feels much more accesible to the casual reader. It cannot hurt that the texts are written in English forgoeing any problems of translation. Narayan’s India stretches from the rich to the poor and untouchables. In several cases it deals with the future and tradtion of India. ‘The vendor of sweets’ is just such an example in which the owner of a local sweet store (in the Indian sense of sweets) sends his son to America as that is what the son wishes. upon the son’s return he desses and talks like and American and even brings a wife who is not Indian. Through the father and son we see two generations ‘butting heads’ not because they do not like one another but because they do not and can not understand one another.
Perhaps though what is most accessible is the feeling of timlessness to these stories. I am sure that if I was better acquainted with india I would be able to discern a time period for the stories. This however is not necessary, as the stories are not historical chronicle they are instead commentary on the life people live, in this case Indians, and how this can bring about conflict and humour, while at the same time trying to discuss meaning and importance in life, which can not help but cross over into the readers own thoughts, even if they are not Indian. I hesitate here to say that they are ‘universal’ stories and narratives. That is not the case, but neither is it the case that they are inpenetrable if you are not Indian.