Swami and Friends is the first novel written by R.K. Narayan, the classic Indian English writer. The novel is set in pre-independence era and revolves around a ten year old kid, Swaminathan, living in Malgudi. This is the first novel in the trilogy of novels written by Narayan, the next two novels in the series being, The Bachelor of Arts and The English Teacher. The trilogy beautifully describes the three stages of life- childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
Swami and Friends is written in episodic form, with daily adventures of the naughty,hyper active Swami and his four friends – Somu, the Monitor, who carried himself with such an easy air; Mani the mighty Good-For-Nothing; Sankar, the most brilliant boy of the class and Samuel who was known as the Pea, who had nothing outstanding about him, like Swami, but they were united in their ability to laugh at everything. Swami’s relationships with each of these friends were different, but he cherished them all.
This harmonious existence is threatened with the arrival of Rajam. Rajam is the colonial superpower that Narayan introduces.He has developed the proverbial ‘English stiff upper lip.’ Swami was greatly impressed by Rajam and wanted to be friends with him. And when he finally does so, this friendship initially creates friction between his earlier friends.Swami’s efforts at solidifying his friendship with Rajam are quite novel and hilarious. he even tries to mimic cat and dog to win his favour and become a butt of jokes.
Swami has a penchant for exaggeration and is embarrassed many times for this habit. He wants to do something good and unique to increase his worth among friends and even gets accidentally involved in Non Cooperation Movement. He is expelled from the Mission school because of his rebellious nature and is pressurized by his father to join the local school.
At this juncture, swami and his friends form a cricket club and are anxiously waiting to defeat the other local team. However, the late timings of Swami’s school create problems in Practice session. Narayan has very convincingly portrayed the efforts made by Swami and his friends to solve this problem, ranging from fake medical certificate to Rajam’s direct dialogue with Principal.
Swami and Friends culminates with swami’s escape from Malgudi resulting in the cricket match being lost and a break in friendship between Swami and Rajam which is only partly forged at the parting scene at railway station.
The book is written in a very simple manner and yet has a universal appeal, as Narayan has exhibited swami as an ordinary child who considers going school as such a big problem that he fervently prays for an earthquake to demolish the school building. Every small problem is a big obstacle in his limited world and he tries to deal with them in his own signature style, creating even more problems in the bargain.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It brought back memories of Malgudi Days, I used to watch in my childhood. Essence of childish innocence painted by the master creator Narayan in a vivid manner!