I emphasized upon the aptness of R.K. Narayan’s novels in my previous review. I have always felt that he cleverly gives a hint of what to expect in the novel in the title itself. More often than not, title signifies the name or dominating trait or the profession of the protagonist or the antagonist as in ‘Man Eater of Malgudi‘ or in ‘Bachelor of Arts‘. In short, Narayan loves to work within a specified framework, and his stories are usually a celebration of the ordinariness, with little or no surprises.
However, as I began reading the present novel ‘Talkative Man’, I found my earlier understanding of Narayan’s strategy a bit insufficient. Here, I expected the novel to be based on a man, well versed in art of oratory and story telling, who would be the center character of a delightful novel. But, to my utter surprise, I found that the Talkative Man hardly had the chance to talk! More often than not, he was relegated to the background, while the hero and heroine of the novel (if, indeed, I can take liberty to use such words for the characters of diplomatic, democratic Narayan) do all the talking. So, in a way, I found the title to be a little misleading.
But, as I continued reading, I discovered that I have faltered in my estimation of Narayan’s expertise. The title is quite apt and it follows the spirit of the novel. The ambiguous title is the beginning of deception, intrigue and ironic suspense of this unique novel. Most of the story is heard and spoken on the basis of rumors, with little effort made to ensure the genuineness of the rumor mill. Be it the career, background or name, Dr. Rann is as complex a character as there ever can be. No one could put down his theory of Futurology and no one can really blame him for his enchanting success with women.
In the present novel, the writer has experimented with a new technique. Here, he tells the story through Madhu, a rich man living in Kabir Lane, who takes pride in talking and fancies himself as a free lance journalist, and makes a great show about contributing to City Newspaper. Though, it is quite another matter that his news is least worthy and is at the most used as a last minute space filler. But, in the present novel, surprisingly, it is his news item that creates uproar and tumbles Malgudi upside down.
The story begings with the Talkative Man’s (TM in short) rendezvous with a diminutive yet assertive man from Timbuctoo, who alights on the train station and authoritatively occupies the Waiting Room. His name is Dr. Rann, has curly hair and green eyes, and looks more like a foreigner than a fellow Indian, and indeed he carries himself with dignity of a man who has seen the world.
But, as TM finds out later, Dr. Rann is actually a humble origined Indian, and is involved in some project with United Nations. The man has settled himself in the station waiting room, much to the anguish of station master. As TM is considered a man of influence in Malgudi, he is requested to get the uninvited guest out of the waiting room. TM tries very hard to find a suitable accommodation for the distinguished guest, but, has to at last invite Rann into his own house.
In the meanwhile, TM is inspired to do a piece of writing on the appearance of a man from Timbuctoo in Malgudi. The article is published in the paper with a surreptitious photograph of Timbuctoo Man. Little did TM know that he has unknowingly created a storm, as the article brings a large woman to Malgudi, who claims to be Dr. Rann’s wife. The fresh information has an eclectic effect on TM’s thinking. He hardly knows the background of Dr. Rann, or his motive in coming to a small town like Malgudi. Is he really a project officer of UN or is he a scoundrel in disguise? As TM tries hard to find out answers for his well meaning queries, Narayan pens an excellent story running 112 pages, giving me a chance to read an amusing and intriguing tale.
I have already talked about the different nature of the title of the present novel. But, it is just one aspect. The novel is a first in many more ways. For starters, it is the shortest novel ever written by Narayan. The writer believed in achieving a limit of at least 200 pages or so, to make his novels economically viable. But, in the present novel, as the author himself confessed in the post script, he just could not stretch beyond 116 pages ( though, in the present edition, it hardly goes beyond 112 pages). But, as they say, great things come in small packages, Talkative Man is a study of excellence in brief. The novel is humorous, intriguing, maintains suspense till the very last page and is very engaging.
I just loved the excesses, Narayan exhibited in Talkative Man. He has given full flow to his creativity and has sketched Dr. Rann in a very colorful way. He appears to be a scholar, who is committed to weed out the wild grass which may prove to be dangerous for humanity, but is at the same time, a deserter, who can not stay at one place or be focused on one project for a long time. He appears to be reserved and shy, but is able to charm woman with his wonderful stories. He claims to be an orator for the theory of Futurology, but is in reality, himself akin to the wild grass, ready to overtake the world.
Another intriguing feature of Talkative Man is that Narayan has given a very prominent role to Sarasa, the self acclaimed wife of Dr. Rann. In fact, she is the one who provides all the missing links and adds chutzpah to the narrative. I have seldom noted such a prominent woman character in Narayan’s novels. More often than not, he voices only man’s emotions, be it Swami, Chandran, Mali or Raju, all his protagonists are males. Though, he did include Rangi as an important character in The Man Eater of Malgudi and Rosy in Guide, but, their roles were limited, and not as central as that of Sarasa in Talkative Man.
Another interesting feature is the addition of a Post Script by Narayan, where he sort of gives an explanation for the short length of the novel. But, as I said before, I am hardly affected by the number of pages. While reading Talkative Man, I got as much satisfaction, as I got while reading Anna Karenina. I would like to place it in the category of Malancha and Chaturanga by Tagore, short yet full of life. Indeed, a good read!