Time is a strange teacher. It makes you act contrary to all your judgements, beliefs and desires. It is a great leveler too, as only it can make sure that whatever has happened would be rectified in due course.
‘The Vendor of Sweets’ by R.K. Narayan, the master creator of ‘Swami and Friends’ exhibits this fact very convincingly.
Vendor of Sweets is centered around an old orthodox Brahmin, Jagan, who runs a sweet-meat shop in Malgudi and has never ever stepped out of his hometown. Gita forms the staple of his life. He tries to act on the principles described in the great epic. Naturopathy forms the pivotal of his life and he even desires to publish his natural way of living in the form of a book, but obviously it is a futile dream as the draft has been gathering dust in the publisher’s office for the last five years.
Apart from his love for Bhagwadgita and naturopathy, the only important goal of Jagan’s life is to provide the best education to his son Mali and make him a successful man. Since jagan’s wife is not alive, he becomes over obsessive about his son Mali. However Mali considers his father’s reliance on naturopathy instead of proper medical help, the main cause for his mother’s early death. Thus, he avoids his father and does not include him in his everyday life.
A turning point comes in the story when Mali abandons his studies to become a writer. Jagan accepts this sudden change in his son’s ambitions with fatherly love and even starts hoping that his son would become a much better writer than himself. But, he is shocked to know that his son has changed tracks again and now wants to go to America. Mali has got his passport and tickets ready without even informing Jagan about his plans.
But, the old man accepts even this diversion with good heart and treasures every letter received from Mali and proudly exhibits it to anyone who cares to listen. Narayan has very convincingly portrayed the numerous soliloquies, the old man has with himself, ranting about his bottled up conflicts and tussles. He has the best concern for his son and is heartbroken when Mali returns from America with a foreign wife, Grace. after initial awkwardness, he makes peace with Grace as well and once again tries to bridge the gap between himself and his son, with Grace acting as a common link.
However, the situation worsens, when Mali asks for financial help from his father and jagan refuses to do so. Mali leaves home in a jiffy,leaving behind the poor old man to fend for himself. Towards the climax, jagan’s heart undergoes change and he let Mali suffer for his drinking habits and favors Grace instead.
The book revolves around the theme of generation gap. The more the vendor tries to fill the gap, the more prominent it becomes. The father has difficulties in adjusting to the changing attitude and life style of his son, while the son considers his father’s Gandhian lifestyle redundant and boring and does not care to understand him.
R.k. Narayan is famous for his Malgudi Days and I especially liked his Swami and Friends which was written in a very simple manner suitable for children book. But, after reading this novel, Narayan’s maturity in handling sensitive issues comes into picture. He is one of the most reliable writers, who can be expected to give a beautiful treatment to this common but seldom touched upon subject.
I was touched while reading about the old Vendor of Sweets, who is punished for no fault of his, in fact his love and innocence becomes his nemesis. The vendor, who is deeply religious, believes in caste system and considers crossing sea as a grave sin for Hindus, is made to undergo all those events which shake his beliefs in age-old wisdom and jerks him to accept the changing reality with a brave heart.
All in all, Vendor of Sweets is a very absorbing book which depicts life as a challenging ocean, which can be only crossed on the boat of time with patience and endurance acting as oars.