I remember reading abbreviated versions of all RKN books but recently, after reading his autobiography, I got inspired and picked up most of his major novels. 'The Financial Expert' is the first I have read in this series and it is such a pleasure to read RKN. He draws you beautifully into the story with well etched characters, their lives, fears, joys and idiosyncrasies, the smells and sounds of Malgudi and keeps it all bubbling over with great underlying humour all through. They are not funny books because they deal with human lives, small lives, their hopes and tragedies, but he makes them all so real without resorting to excessive use of drama. Maybe it is better put if I say that I was always wanting to get back to the book to know what was going to happen to the characters - which is not something one can say for many stories.
'The Financial Expert' is the story of Margayya, a pompous man who is a self-appointed financial expert to the innocent villagers in and around Malgudi. He has great love for money and its mechanism, though he does not have much of it: whatever he knows, he uses it well on the villagers. He sits under a banyan tree outside the local co-operative bank and teach the villagers how to get more loans, how to leverage their assets etc. Most of them would not understand what he told them but since they all came to Margayya when there was no other way of raising money, they listened to him. Margayya works hard, trying to make money so he could raise his young infant son in luxury.
Margayya's existence is hard. He just about manages to survive despite all this business. He shares his house with his estranged brother and his family but they never speak, mainly because the wives do not get along. That relationship, typical of many Indian households, is explained very well when he says 'that it was a relationship that thrived on crisis'. How true it is for so many relationships! His son is pampered and grows up into a naughty little kid. One day the kid throws away the book of accounts that Margayya keeps, throwing his business out of gear. As things would have it the cooperative bank secretary also throws him out of the compound. In such dire times Margayya finds solace in the temple preist who tells him to to please Goddess Lakshmi, a complicated puja of forty days with ingredients with as cow ghee, lotus leaves etc. Focussed on pleasing the Goddess of wealth, Margayya goes to find the lotus and runs into the eccentric academic Dr. Pal. Now this Pal, who claims to be a sociologist, has actually written a book called the 'Bed of Life' about the bedroom secrets that will lead to a happy marriage. This manuscript he says is worth millions since it will save every marriage and sells it to Margayya for twenty five rupees. Margayya takes the book home, hidden from other eyes for its dangerous content and starts a deal with a local publisher. They publish the book under the title 'Domestic Harmony' in partnership which however turns out to be a loss. Tired of being a loss-making publisher, Margayya offers to buy the book off his partner and when he refuses, sells him his share for whatever the publisher cares to pay him and moves on with some fresh capital for his next business.
His second business venture over, Margayya returns to financial consulting. This time he grows - a small office thanks to Dr. Pal, clients known to Dr. Pal, opportunism during the days of the war - and becomes one of the richest men in Malgudi. His son however turns out into a complete dud who does nothing and rebels against the father and runs away when admonished. The family gets over that but soon they receive a letter that says their son is dead.Margayya reluctantly leaves his business, goes to Madras and finds him with some luck. He gets the son married and sets him up with a house while he busies himself in accumulating more and more money. The son falls into bad company, the chief of them being the original author of 'Domestic Harmony' Dr. Pal. Margayya's life comes a full circle in circumstances that follow.
'The Financial Expert' is a delightful read and leaves one with the scent of India, a time that one yearns to be in. Now onward to more RKN of which I have 'A Tiger for Malgudi' as the next target..