Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Vendor of Sweets - R.K. Narayan

Another from RKN's wonderful collection of books. 'The Vendor of Sweets' is a delightful tale of a father and his strained, strange relationship with his son. It is set in Malgudi and the usual suspects do creep into the narrative every now and then, like Natraj the printer.
Penguin, Rs. 225, 151 p

Jagan owns one of the popular sweet shops in Malgudi. A man who loves making his sweets from the purest raw material, who is very Gandhian in his approach to life (he even went to jail in the freedom struggle), who loves reading his Gita and sharing his knowledge with all and sundry, Jagan has only one problem in life - his only son Mali. Jagan confides all his troubles to his cousin who comes everyday to the shop to listen to Jagan and to taste the day's sweets and savories and gets a lot of information about his son's activities from this cousin. A widower, Jagan, is not sure about his parenting capabilities. The son grows up into a sullen, reclusive and rebellious young man who gives up college to become a writer. Then he gives up writing and goes to the US to study writing. He comes back from the US with a Chinese looking girl who he claims is his wife and a scheme to manufacture story making machines. The son who would never speak much to his father suddenly starts talking to him because he wants Jagan to invest in his venture. Jagan gets more and more confused as he learns more details about the scheme, about his son and his 'wife', and after much trouble, finds peace for himself in the end.

The relationship between the father and the son, the progression of Jagan's peaceful life into one of turmoil and unhappiness, the way relationships sour and the way people use guilt to manipulate others is shown so well that it could have been a story out of contemporary India. The part about Jagan's flashback into his marriage seemed forced; there was no need except to educate the reader about Indian customs in marriages. But all in all, a fine story and one that will remain in my mind for the father-son relationship and the way it changes many shades.

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