Just imagine this. You are a little boy in second grade with a penchant for the imaginary, who's alone and just depressed because of a variety of reasons. Too young to know what depression means, you have no outlet for the dreams you seem to always dream up, the stories that flit through your brain. You desperately need companionship and a place to escape to. You could always take a visit to the idyllic town of Malgudi, where you shall be welcomed by a little boy called Swaminathan, in his shirt and dhoti, who's about the same age as you. He can be quite friendly. He was, to me in second grade.
Sadly, Malgudi can't really be found in any map. Hidden within the pages of R.K.Naraynan's timeless classic, "Swami And Friends", it is filled with the mundane in an extraordinary manner.
You can't help but get drawn into the struggles and passions of a boy from First form, A section (The first class that one attends school, something out of an old form of British English)
You get to visit a town where astrologers fib to escape attempted murder, where the sprawling walls of Albert Mission School welcome you into the First Form A section, with Ebenezar's fanatic scripture class, 'fire eyed' Vedanayagam's math class, and get to feel Samuel's kindness when you seek his wrath. You get to be friends with the son of the Police Superintendent, and the strongest boy in the world.
Moreover, you get to join the most exclusive cricket club in the world- The MCC, Malgudi Cricket Club, and play with the best bats in the whole wide world, Junior Williard Bats.
The book is brought alive with the cartoons of RK Laxman, and draw you back into a time when things were simple and the worst thing that could happen to you was math homework on addition.
It was Monday morning. Swaminathan was reluctant to open his eyes. He considered Monday specially unpleasant in the calendar. After the delicious freedom of Saturday and Sunday, it was difficult to get into the Monday mood of work and discipline. He shuddered at the very thought of school: that dismal yellow building; the fire-eyed Vedanayagam, his class-teacher; and the Head Master with his thin long cane....
These lines, beginning with such innocent intentions, and hard realism (from the view of a second grade kid) had me hooked as the second grade boy in me was curious enough to find what Swami would do.
His ardent admiration of his 'posh' friend Rajam, complete belief that his friend, Mani with his club was the strongest person in the world, was mirrored by my own beliefs and convictions, that an adult, or even an older kid could hardly ever hope to understand.
The most surprising thing about this book is that it was actually written by R.K.Narayan when was an adult. To be able to peer into the workings of a little mind when not so little yourself, and reproduce it in such a manner shows the depth of the skill with which Narayan plies his craft.
This is not a review, per se. You could call it a nostalgic recalling of simple times, caused by the fact that many people I know, unless they are bookworms, have not even heard of this book. There is Harry Potter, and there is Percy Jackson, no denying that. But the letter to Hogwarts comes when you are 11. Why not take time to experience Swami's world meanwhile?
P.s. If you are not a bookworm, just ask your parents. They might remember a television series by the name of 'Malgudi Days' that aired on Doordarshan in 1986. I've seen a few episodes myself, and you can't have a television series that has captured the essence of a book more.