Lions of Mysore: Pattabhi Jois and Guess Who?

Do you know who the other lion of Mysore is?

According to Bishwanath Ghosh in an article on Desicritics.org, it is writer, R.K. Narayan.

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:

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Gloomy!
courtesy Govinda Kai

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.

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R.K. Narayan

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.

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Malgudi or Mysore?
courtesy Suyog Gaidhani

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

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The Whole of Malgudi, an illustration from Malgudi Days by Dr. James M. Fennelly

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?

4 Comments »

  1. KC said,

    November 16, 2006 at 12:36 pm

    1. Yes, the old shala was gloomy. Esp. during load-shedding.

    2. F–k Amazon. Start with Narayan’s most famous (and best) book, The Guide. If you’re strapped for cash get it from the library. If you have both money and time, buy it from your local bookseller.

  2. joan isbell said,

    November 16, 2006 at 1:47 pm

    I love his books. I love them even more when I am reading them in Mysore.

  3. Bishwanath Ghosh said,

    November 17, 2006 at 11:14 am

    Dear Tracy,

    You might also be interested in this article, also written by me: http://bishwanathghosh.blogspot.com/2006/08/confessions-of-aspiring-yogi.html

    Thanks

  4. tracy said,

    November 17, 2006 at 12:09 pm

    Hi back!

    From Bishwanath’s article:

    “The Ashtanga version of sun salutation, as taught by Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, is ruthless: even one round can require the strength of Superman. And mind you, the Ashtanga school prescribes two versions of it: Sun Salutation A and Sun Salutation B.”

    Hee hee.

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