R.K Narayan’s The Vendor of Sweets (1967) like his other books is composed in simple, lucid English that can be read and undestood without turning and returning the pages after a single read. The compositional language is no doubt, plain– to such an extent that even a young school child’s vocabulary will be able to comprehend the sense of the tale. Nevertheless, the message that is being sent to the readers is delivered in the best possible manner.
The story deals with Jagan, the primary protagonist of the story. Jagan plays the role of the father of the household which houses his only son, Mali, and memories of his late wife. The story revolves around the life, deeds, confusions, policies and beliefs of the protagonist and his final, ultimate decision to dislodge himself from the material world and live a life of recluse and isolation.
Mali, his son, is portrayed as a character having ambitions that can be regarded unique or perhaps at odds with his father’s expectations, is a young chap ready to leave his homeland in order to learn the art of novel writing. He comes across as a revolutionary, returning to India along with a foreigner-woman whom he declares to be his beloved wife in the initial days, but later on reveals about the non-occurrence of the marriage ceremony. Although, on a superficial level, he comes across as someone who is opposed to the conservative ideals and values represented by his father Jagan; although further contemplation dawns upon us that Mali is not really opposed to, but in line with his father’s temper.
Jagan’s earlier life (when he was a part of the freedom struggle and supported Mahatma) is a revelation of his aggressive spirit. A spirit that does not fear the walls of a prison chamber, reiterated in his son’s similar stance in the concluding part of the novel, when he is arrested and sent to prison on account of achohol found in his car.
The relationship between the father and the son is hashed, based on mechanical exercises and utilitarian expectations from the son by the father. There is little or no warmth in their relation and there is no attempt to develop one such, especially on part of Mali. Jagan is shown to be inquisitive about the strain in their relation but is also burdened by the guilt conscience when he recalls the fact that Mali had stopped talking to him on the very day when his mother expired on account of Jagan’s refusal to provide her with antibiotics. Since one cannot change the past, Jagan ultimately accepts his position as a money lender for his son, with no other duties or responsibilities.
Grace, the woman who Mali has ‘supposedly’ married, is a woman of duty, responsibility and sensibility. She is the one who is charred by the Indian traditions, finds it fascinating and makes every effort to bide by the customs and traditions, at times , even more than the Indians themselves. She promptly wins Jagan’s (her father-in-law) heart with her extreme sweetness and rational temper. She soon becomes a medium of conversation between Jagan and Mali from being looked as an averred foreigner when she stepped on the platform of Malgudi for the first time.
The book is a must read for all fiction lovers and Malgudi fans.