Do you know who the other lion of Mysore is?
One made Mysore the international capital of ashtanga yoga, the other gave the city a pseudonym and put it on India’s literary map. Pattabhi Jois and R.K. Narayan, lions in their respective fields; and Mysore, I thought, would bear their signature.
Despite this introduction, Ghosh barely talks about Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and Ashtanga yoga, and when he does, he’s a little dismissive of the whole Ashtanga thang:
Jois’ Mysore was indoor: chiselled Western bodies striking difficult yoga postures in unison in a gloomy hall.
Gloomy? I haven’t been to AYRI, but the photos of the old and the new shala and the film footage I’ve seen don’t seem to depict gloominess. Then again, who would post gloomy photos of AYRI? No one likes gloomy.
Anyways, Ghosh continues:
“There, on the left,” the friend stopped the car and pointed out, “that’s where Pattabhi Jois used to live.” The door of the house still bears a small signboard: Vidwan Pattabhi Jois. The house looked too simple to have been the world’s biggest export centre of ashtanga yoga. Jois now lives in a more upmarket neighbourhood, Gokulam. He charges Rs 27,900 for the first month of training (doesn’t include food and lodging) and Rs 17,900 for each month thereafter. Little wonder that almost all his students are Westerners.
That’s it about Guruji.
So who is R.K. Narayan? He was a writer and if you’re curious about the community and people of Mysore and southern India, maybe R.K. Narayan’s books will interest you. R.K. Narayan wrote about ordinary people in a fictional small town called Malgudi. Mysore, the (formerly) small town where he lived for most of his life, was the inspiration for his stories. Narayan lived from 1906-2001, which means that this year, he would have been 100 years old.
Ghosh traces Narayan’s steps through old Mysore, noting the changes the city’s undergoing and tries to experience some of the Mysore that Narayan loved. (Ghosh actually quotes the same Deccan Herald article about Mysore we did in a prior post, Brand Mysore.)
Narayan’s books not only capture the people and feel of Mysore – it seems they make for a good read regardless of one’s interest in Mysore:
Setting aside his plentiful and remarkable novels, Narayan firmly occupies a seat in the pantheon of 19th- and 20th-century short-story geniuses, a group that includes Chekhov, O. Henry, Frank O’Connor, and Flannery O’Connor.
The concentration of Narayan’s prose is astonishing. While other writers rely on paragraphs and pages to get their points across, Narayan extracts the full capacity of each sentence, so much so that his stories seem bound by an invisible yet essential mechanism, similar to the metrical and quantitative constraints of poetry. – Jhumpa Lahiri, Boston Review.
Because of Lahiri’s essay, I plan to read Malgudi Days, a collection of short stories, which is also the best-selling Narayan book on Amazon.
Malgudi is dead. Long live Mysore. Today you might have to spend a crore to buy an acre in Mysore. But to buy the whole of Malgudi, you need only Rs 80; and it is available at your nearest bookshop. – Bishwanath Ghosh, desicritics.org
I got super interested in R.K. Narayan from following the links at the bottom of Wikipedia entry on R.K. Narayan.
Has anyone read R.K. Narayan? If so, how did it affect your experience of Mysore?