R.K. Narayan’s short stories are invariably getting longer. As I reached his sixth story, Selvi, it is almost 20 pages long, and is quite heavy in import, characterization as well as content.
Strangely, I found Selvi, to be strikingly similar to Rosie in Guide. Though, Selvi, unlike Rosie does not suffer from marital discord, nor does she run away from her husband. Rather Selvi’s husband is her manager, mentor, lover all rolled in one. But, still, I found Selvi to be suffering silently as did Rosie, her artistic talent, which makes her famous, somehow seclude her from her own relatives. The names of characters differed, but their characteristics were eerily identical.
Selvi is the story of a female singer, who reels under the dominating influence of her husband, Mohan, who, just like Raju Guide, controls Selvi’s life overzealously. To ensure his domination, he even goes to the extent of alienating Selvi from her mother and siblings. He feels that he has sacrificed a lot in marrying an ugly duckling, working incessantly on improving her looks with imported makeup, polishing her diction, even honing her natural talent of singing, by giving her prominence as a stage performer. And now, he must reap the fruits of his labor and sacrifice by milking her for the rest of her life. But, will Mohan be able to control a free bird by imprisoning her in a golden cage? Will she die a silent death in there or will she at last be able to spread her wings and fly away?
Well, the story with its deep rooted psychological nuances and rhythmical alliterations can be enjoyed by first hand reading only, so I will not divulge any more of the story, which has a beautiful plot and small sudden surprises.
However, I would definitely like to talk a little about Narayan’s style here. I have never read any other author with such a strong preference for his make believe world. He treats Malgudi as real, and uses it so frequently in his novels and stories, that his characters no longer remain virtual. They have acquired a life of their own and stroll through Narayan’s works, donning thier colorful garbs. It is particularly true of Selvi, where I found Verma, the owner of Boardless Restaurant in TM, in a fascinating avatar. If earlier, he was just a passing reference, here he plays the role of the biggest fan of Selvi, indulging in gossips and heresy, reflecting upon her reticent life in picturesque words.
As I said in the beginning, I found Selvi, a reincarnation of Guide, with inputs from Narayan’s other writings. However, Rosie in Guide was kept in background, her thoughts and views were subdued. The novel was written solely from the point of view of Raju. But, Selvi is written as a woman centric story. Here Selvi’s thoughts, her desires, her frustration are given much more weightage than of her paramour/husband. When I had read Guide, I felt that the novel was predominantly male oriented, as are most of Narayan’s works. Probably, Narayan thought that way too, and he has come up with a more just portrayal of the female protagonist, with Selvi taking center stage, in title as well as in story.
So, in short, Selvi is a story, rich in women emancipation and free thoughts, written in the inimitable affable style of Narayan!