Susheel Kumar/Order – Disorder – Order Again in R.K. Narayan’s The Vendor of Sweets

Susheel Kumar

Asstt. Prof. of English,

Govt. College Daulatpur Chowk (H.P.)

Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanswami (1906-2001) is one of the finest Indian authors of his generation, one of the internationally acclaimed Indian novelists to write in English who is popularly known as the creator of Malgudi society – his fictional world to express his creative power and imaginative insight. It is by virtue of his extraordinary brilliant delineation that he has impartially, perfectly and successfully highlighted the age-old typical south Indian middle class people. In his novels, remarkable characters come from the Middle class, whereas characters belonging to the lowest section of society are outside his range and so, they are seldom introduced. It is the quotidian life of this particular class – a class to which he himself belonged. The tensions, conflicts in human relations within the domestic circle of this class are thoroughly described in his novels and short-stories. R. K. Narayan has given Malgudi a definite identity of its own. It comes to life and lives in the pages of his novels; changing, growing and developing with each successive novel. All kinds of people live in this town, and by careful selection of details, Narayan has made Malgudi a symbol of India as a whole. What happens in Malgudi, happens all-over India in every town and village of this vast sub-continent. William Walsh has rightly said in this regard:

Malgudi, the locale of all his novels, is a symbol of India. Whatever happens in the one, happens in the other, and also the reader begins to believe whatever happens there happens everywhere. (156)

R.K. Narayan’s treatment of Malgudi is realistic and vivid so much so that many have taken the fictitious to be the real and have tried to identify the various geographical features and other landmarks. Malgudi  is a pure country of the mind, a dream country in which physical features of various places are so intimately known to the novelist which are fused , mingled , rearranged, modified and dignified.

R.K. Narayan is the originator of the whole range of portrait gallery of the immortal characters in English literature. A large number of figures move in and out of his novels to whom we can never forget. He writes of the Middle class, his own class, the members of which are neither too well off, nor too worried about money and position. His men are generally kind, polite and sensitive about themselves. The family occupies an important place next to the hero in his novels. Father- son, parents-son, brother-brother and a conflict between the people of second and third generations are his major topics to be studied and discussed.

The rhythmic pattern of Order-Disorder-Order Again dominates all the immortal creations ever-written by any writer in Indian writing in English. This pattern of order-disorder-order is a part of Narayan’s world-view. This world-view is typically Indian, as it owes to our traditional concepts of creation. The forces of evil, which from time to time appear in the world disturbing its peace and stability, are ultimately punished and destroyed by the incarnation. The normalcy returns with a renewed assertion of moral and spiritual values. In the same way, Narayan’s novels create and complete the path circular in the lives of Malgudians by going through various experiences, reaching at last the ordered world which was once at the beginning. This theme is commonly described in Narayan’s each novel with an astonishing degree of accuracy.

This theme is so popular and common that, perhaps, affects every society in India, its culture, traditions, customs, sets of rules and regulations. When someone reads this useful message conveyed by R.K. Narayan, he/she feels its resemblance in his/her own culture and traditions. Perhaps, there is any society in India that is not touched by this thematic unity. It is because of Narayan’s creative genius that he makes even the simplest stories very amusing and interesting. It is because of his untiring and relentless efforts that even such a small town like Malgudi is known world- wide like Thomas Hardy’s Wessex. In the fictional world of R.K.Narayan, Malgudi society remains unchanged. There is no change despite deviation from time to time by the deviants. Because the traditional Malgudi society has its sacred sets of rules and regulations which are bound to everyone. But when some deviants enter in the smooth functioning of the sacred society, peace ,harmony and normal  ways of life are not only disturbed for the time being but the conventions and existance of the mighty Malgudian social order are threatened. In such condition, orderly life is converted into disorderly.

The fond dreams of a deviant are driven by his animal instincts and urges. No doubt, he/she is born and brought up in the orthodox and traditional Malgudi society, yet he/she is captivated by his modernistic self. His actions and instincts embody his complete revolt against the society. But in the process, he falls into inharmonious and incongruous position. He oversteps his limits and forgets his status and station. He considers himself to be superior to the Malgudi society. But he does not know that he is living in fool’s paradise. He forgets that he is the normal member of the Malgudi society but cannot be considered above the Malgudi. Thus, under the impact of his personal ego and modern self, he violates and disturbs the placid and orthodox values of Malgudi milieu. Everyone feels that evil will get flourished whereas reality and truth will be vanished. But in the hours of helplessness, there comes a time when evil is punished who has to return to its original inhabitation without any remorse and regret. With the cyclic process of cause and effect operating from birth to rebirth, there is no place for alienation and disintegration. Rather characters seek the normal path and relief from suffocation and oppression where spiritual reunion is assured. Thus, evil comes back to home willingly after throwing the society topsy-turvy by his flip-flop behaviour. It is because of Narayan’s artistic talent that the same deviant who considers himself flourishing by making his society in webs, tries to dominate it. But such persons do not know that they are appearing to be funny, absurd and pathetic. After facing so many trials and tribulations, their ego and sense of deviation start ebbing away in the course of time. Moreover, there is no place and space for their whims and fancies. When the stage of ripeness is reached, they realize their mistake that they are responsible for the causing disturbance in Malgudi society. Now they are ready to submit their will in the will of the ‘Titanic’ society re-creating and re-establishing normalcy in Malgudi. Thus, the supreme moral order regains its supremacy over the evil, and normalcy is restored in the society and it paves the way for the continuity of life. Thus, R.K. Narayan’s vision ensures that normalcy and spiritual maturity can be achieved within the accepted religious and social set-up only. Inspite of reconciliation, the traditional and age-old values continue to live and affect the Malgudi life and the inhabitants of second and third generations continue to live and follow the orderly life as it was in the earlier time.

In The Vendor of Sweets (1967), Jagan is presented as a sweets-seller, a staunch follower of Gandhian philosophy and an orthodox Hindu who reads Bhagwat Gita everyday and also believes in other Hindu scriptures. He runs his shop in the Market Road, a crowded locality of Malgudi. He is a widower in his late 50s. He has a son by the name of Mali to whom he loves very much. Since the death of his wife, Ambika, he didn’t even make up his mind to get married again fearing that his step mother would not tolerate Mali. He has authored a book on “Nature Cure and Natural Diet” which he has given to Natraj, who is the owner of Truth Printing Press but which never gets printed. He is a committed naturalist, and is opposed to the use of tooth-brush as he believes that the brushes are made of the hair from the pig’s tail. He wears clothes made of material spun with his own hands and sandals made out of the leather of an animal which had died of old age. Jagan is a shrewd man who knows how to make maximum profit out of the sweets he sells. He believes in the philosophy of “Conquer taste and you will have conquered the self” (1).

His organization and management of sweets business is very systematic. He goes to the shop at the right time early in the morning and remains there till 7:30 pm. When it is dark and day’s business is completed he feels satisfied. Being a semi-literate old man, he makes rupees one thousand per day by selling his sweets. It is this peaceful life which he has been leading for a long time but it is disturbed by his son, Mali. He has been both a mother and a father to him since Mali’s mother died long ago. Mali is an apple of his father’s eyes. This has pampered him in true sense of meaning. After ten years of his marriage with Ambika, when they didn’t have any issue, they waited passionately and then went on a pilgrimage at Temple Sanatan Krishna, and, as a result of the blessings of God, Mali was born. Thus, Jagan was very proud of the fine figure of Mali. One day he declares it to cousin that Mali is very lucky because Jagan cares him both like his mother and father:

I was hoping that he would be a graduate and that is the basic qualification one should have, don’t you think so. If I had passed the B.A., I could have done so many other things. (21)

Both Mali and Jagan exchange only a few short words every day. Their routine and timings are different from each other. One day, Mali tells his father that he need not cook for him any longer as he has taken his lunch at Ananda Bhavan Restaurant. Since then, Jagan places his breakfast on the table and a five rupees note beneath it for his lunch and his other expenses. A serious blow comes to him when one day he comes to know from cousin that Mail has no  more interest in his studies. Then cousin tells him like this “College, college and of course college. The very word drives him crazy, although you like it so much, he hates his lessons, he hates his syllabus and all his books” (19). Jagan receives a bitter shock when the cousin tells him that Mali has decided to go to America to learn novel writing. Jagan is pained for Mali who has neither sought his permission nor his help. He becomes frustrated when he sees that his ten thousand rupees have been stolen. Heaven falls on his head when he receives a letter from his son from U.S.A in which Mali has declared:

I have taken to eating beef, and I don’t think I am any the worse for it. Now I want to suggest why not you people start eating beef. It will solve the problem of useless cattle in our country and we won’t have to beg food from America. I sometimes feel ashamed when India asks for American aid. Instead of that, why not slaughter useless cows which wander in the streets and block the traffic. (42)

This very behaviour and approach of Mali brings them in a state of conflict. In nut shell, Jagan’s shastras do not  allow him even to think of such things. One day, Jagan receives a cable from Mali telling him that he is returning to India with another person. After some time, he arrives with grace to whom he introduces as his wife and starts living with her.

Indian superstitious, religious beliefs and ceremonies are freely depicted by R.K. Narayan to create a flavour of Indian life. In the present novel, Jagan feels outcast after the arrival of Grace, a half- Korean and half- American. When people as well as  Jagan comes to know that Mali and Grace are not husband-wife, Jagan barricades his house into two parts. He never uses the front door. Since the arrival of Grace, Mali keeps on demanding more and more money. When Jagan refuses to give him the amount of money, he demanded, Mali frankly tells him that Grace is not married to him and she will now be returning to American as there is no use of her staying in India. Jagan can not accept their sinful life in his house. So, he decides to reduce the prices of his sweets to one fourth of the current price. All his money is of no good to him. Now he has decided that he will go to Vanprastha Ashram and will rest there for rest of his life and will experience  spiritualism, the highest form of life. In the mean while, the teachings of the Hindu scriptures and Gandhi Ji will be followed there quite peacefully. Jagan realizes “We are blinded by our attachments. Every attachment creates its delusion and we are carried away by it” (111).

Now Jagan has completely understands that it is because of Mali’s ill-behaviour that he is sent to jail for having a bottle of wine in his car. Jagan says, “A dose of prison life is not a bad thing. It may be just what he needs now” (151). He issues a cheque to meet the charges for Mali’s bail and assures the Cousin that he will not shirk his duty to Grace also. If she ever wishes to return to Ameica, he will buy a ticket because she is a good girl. Even in renunciation, Jagan carries not only his Charkha but his cheque book also. It is Narayan’s creative talent that he does not give long time to all the deviants to get flourished over the good persons. R.K. Narayan’s characters do not forget their original status and take no time to accept reality without any hesitation.

No doubt, Mali is born and brought up in the typical Malgudi society; even then, he turns out to be a deviant who disturbs the placid atmosphere of Malgudi. Actually, Mali has the inkling that his father’s theory of ‘Natural Care’ has killed his mother to whom he loves more than his father. Since then, Mali starts keeping himself aloof from his father. This first stage of difference in opinions grows awfully fast, though in silence mode. Jagan feels that the boy is still young and some extra-care should be showered on him so that he may not feel the absence of his mother in  life. Mali being an apple of his eyes, Jagan pampers him in every respect. Whenever he reaches home, he becomes obsessed with the idea that he is sole and well-wisher of Mali but when he reaches his shop, he completely forgets about him for the simple reason that he is a professional sweets seller. Thus, there is nobody to whom with Mali could share his feelings, emotions, ideas, aims and aspirations. That’s why, he loves to escape form that particular life which his father has been leading. And, a time comes when we find both Mali and Jagan are standing at the North and the South poles. Now, it becomes inevitable that both father and son will come under the impact of secluded life from each other directly or indirectly. Thus, father remains busy in his profession and orthodox living whereas Mali, firstly avoids his studies; secondly steals ten thousand rupees from his father’s safe; thirdly goes to America without seeking his permission, gets married with Grace in U.S.A. to whom he brings India at his own level and starts living with her like her husband in the ancestral home in Malgudi. Thus, Mali becomes both the insider and outsider. His deviation does not stop here. Once more, he tries to dominate the household by demanding rupees two lakh for establishing novel writing machine. But Jagan who is on the verge of experiencing metaphysical bliss, can never tolerate such type of disorderly life for a single second. It is too much for him to experience such conflicting life. Actually, he has been waiting and watching everything patiently, softly and carefully for a long time that Mali will understand the true ways of orthodox and traditional Malgudi society. But his expectations from Mali’s side bring him frustration and disappointment. Thus, he decides to reduce the prices of one fourth of his sweets. Because he knows that his love and money have pampered Mali. And if he has earned the money from the people, which has resulted into his disorderly life, then it will become his duty to return it to them in the form of reduction in prices of his sweets he sells. It may be his repentance. On the other hand, Jagan is now shown angry against Mali for the first time. All his hopes and aspirations seem to be vanished. That’s why when Mali is caught red- handed for having a bottle of wine in his car, and police arrests him, Jagan simply says that he should be punished for creating topsy-turvy atmosphere in the quotidian life of Malgudi society. He decides to seek and experience peace of mind, tension-free life and spiritual bliss in Vanprastha Ashram, a symbol of orderly life.

Thus, the usual order of life is disturbed for the time being because of the arrival of the outsider into the sacred world of Malgudi or by some deviants who deviate from the traditional path which has been followed by their ancestors for a long time. But it is R.K. Narayan’s creativity that he does never let the evil to be flourished for a long time because the forces of check and balances operate the universe. The deviants return to the usual place after paying a price for their sin. They accept life as it is and this is the measure of their spiritual maturity. By the end of the novel, they do what the society demands from them. Same the case is with Mali who is a proved deviant who subsequently becomes responsible for Jagan’s Sanyasa in Vanprsatha Ashram.


Works Cited

Kumar, Raman. “Dialectic of Being and Becoming: A Study of R.K. Narayan’s Select  Novels.” Diss H.P.U. Shimla, 2003-2004.

Narasimhaiah, C.D. The Swan and the Eagle. Shimla. Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1969.

Narayan, R.K. The Vendor of Sweets (1967). Jalandhar: S.N. Publishers, 2010.

Raizada, Harish. R.K. Narayan: A Critical Study of His Works. New Delhi: Young Asia Publications, 1969.

Ramteke, S.R. R.K. Narayan and His Social Perspective. New Delhi: Atlantic Publication, 1998.

Walsh, William. Literature and Humanity: A Human Idiom. London, 1964.



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