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In his usual winning, humorous style, R. K. Narayan shares his life story, beginning in his grandmother's garden in Madras with his ferocious pet peacock. As a young boy with no interest in school, he trains grasshoppers, scouts, and generally takes part in life's excitements. Against the advice of all, especially his commanding headmaster father, the dreaming Narayan takes to writing fiction, and one of his pieces is accepted by Punch magazine (his "first prestige publication"). Soon his life includes bumbling ...
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In his usual winning, humorous style, R. K. Narayan shares his life story, beginning in his grandmother's garden in Madras with his ferocious pet peacock. As a young boy with no interest in school, he trains grasshoppers, scouts, and generally takes part in life's excitements. Against the advice of all, especially his commanding headmaster father, the dreaming Narayan takes to writing fiction, and one of his pieces is accepted by Punch magazine (his "first prestige publication"). Soon his life includes bumbling British diplomats, curious movie moguls, evasive Indian officials, eccentric journalists, and "the blind urge" to fall in love. R. K. Narayan's larger-than-life perception of the human comedy is at once acute and forgiving, and always true to it.
All day long, I sat half buried in sand piled in a corner of our garden, raising castles and mountain-ranges, unaware of the fierce Madras sun overhead. I had a peacock and a monkey for company. The monkey was chained to a post, on top of which a little cabin was available for his shelter, but he preferred to sit on the roof of his home, hanging down his tail. He responded to the name Rama by baring his teeth, and kept a wary eye on the peacock, which was perpetually, engaged in scratching the mud and looking for edible insects. I cannot say exactly when they came into my life, but they seemed to have been always there with me. In an early photo of myself, when I was four years old, I am set on a miniature bamboo chair flanked by the peacock and the monkey. My uncle (Mother's brother), who brought me up, must have been one of the earliest amateur photographers in India. He kept his head, on most bright afternoons, under a black hood enveloping an enormous camera on a tripod. He posed me constantly against the flowers in the garden, in the company of my pets. I had to remain rigid, unblinking, and immobile whenever he photographed us, and it was a feat to keep the monkey and the peacock still. I enjoyed these sessions, although my grandmother declared from time to time that a photograph was likely to shorten the subject's life. I was proud of the group in the picture and hoped that others would see a resemblance between me and Rama. When I sought confirmation on this point, my grandmother was horrified and said, "What a fool to want to look like a monkey! You are in bad company. You must send away that creature. Wanting to look like a monkey when God has endowed you with such large eyes and all those curls falling down to your cheeks!" She was so fond of my curls that she never let a barber come near me, which meant that I had constantly to part the veil of hair with my fingers when I wished to look at anyone.
The peacock was not fully grown yet, but he bore his three-foot tail haughtily, and enjoyed the freedom of he house, pecking away every ant that had the ill luck to come within the range of his vision. Most afternoons, when I was tired of the sand dump, I moved to the threshold of the door opening on Purasawalkam High Road and watched the traffic, which consisted of cyclists and horse- or bullockdrawn carriages. A caravan of corporation carts passed along, stuffed to the brim with garbage, with the top layer blowing off in the high wind coming from the sea at this hour. The last few carriages forming the rear of the caravan were waggons, tar-painted and scaled, filled with night soil; the entire column moved westward and was soon lost in the dusty glare of the evening sun, but it left an odorous trail which made me jump up and rush in crying, "Rubbish carts are passing." This announcement was directed at Grandmother, who would thereby understand that it was time to begin her evening operations, namely, the watering of over fifty flower beds and pots. (She knew a potter who made special giant-size pots for her, a size I have never seen anywhere before or since, each one being capable of bearing a tree.) She reared in her garden over twenty hibiscus families, blue, grey, purple, double-row petals, and several kinds of jasmine, each scattering its special fragrance into the night air - numerous exotic flowers in all shapes and sizes. A corner of her garden was reserved for nurturing certain delicate plants which gasped for breath. She acquired geronia, geranium, lavender, and violet, which could flourish only at an altitude of three thousand feet in Bangalore, and stubbornly tried to cultivate them in the salty air of Madras. When the plants wilted she shed tears and cursed the Madras climate. Even after the plants had perished in their boxes, she tended them hopefully for a few days before throwing them over the wall, to be ultimately gathered into the corporation caravan going westward.
Filling up a bronze water-pot, a bucket, and a wateringcan by turns, my grandmother transported water from a tap at the back yard impartially to all her plants, and finally through a brass syringe shot into the air a grand column of water which would descend like a gift from the heavens on the whole garden, dampening down the mud and stirring up an earthy smell (which tempted one to taste the mud), the foliage glittering in the sun like finely cut diamonds as water dripped off their edges. The peacock busily kept pace with us as we moved up and down bearing the water-pots. When a shower of water descended, the peacock fanned out its tail, parading its colours. At this moment, one could hear Rama rattle his chain, since he always felt uneasy when the peacock preened itself thus, and demonstrated his protest by clanking his chain and tumbling around on the roof of his own cabin. As the evening grew dim, I drove the peacock under a bamboo coop in a corner of the livingroom. Rama would be fed with rice and driven into his cabin. He became purblind and bemused at dusk and one could push him hither and thither as one pleased.
Excerpted from My Days by R. K. Narayan Copyright © 1990 by R. K. Narayan. Excerpted by permission.
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