Friday, October 26, 2018

The Dark Room - R. K. Narayan

A short, quick read of 162 pages. We are transported back to the familiar landscape of Malgudi to meet Ramani, secretary of an insurance company and his family comprising of wife Savitri, children Babu (cricket loving older son), Sumati and Kamala. They are well off, with cooks and servants and are comfortable.

Ramani is a complete tyrant and ill-treats his wife and children. But that must have been how things were those days. Savitri hides in a dark room when he upsets her a little more than she can handle. The entry of a new woman trainee, the progressive Shanta bai, derails Ramani off the straight track and he starts spending time with her. One day Savitri confronts him and in a fit of anger walks off and jumps into the river. She is saved by a passing locksmith/handyman who takes her home. A few days of life on her own and she returns. One day she sees the handyman selling his services on the road and wonders if she should call him. But she doesn't.

A nice little twist in the end. Also, it serves as a reminder to how families were then - with fathers behaving like complete tyrants and treating women like dirt. But it's rather incomplete. Shanta bai gets dumped in the middle of the story. Savitri's midnight departure does not seem to bother anyone. Malgudi only appears in its name and otherwise fades. The characters are always at one another's throats, which seemed like an obvious way to create conflict. It never drew me into the story nor into the lives of the characters and once again seemed like the great RKN was extending the Malgudi brand. His heart was not in the story. Avoidable. 

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