R.K. Narayan, one of the most famous Indian writers in English, wrote his first book, Swami and Friends in 1935, and Malgudi Schooldays is its edited version. This book describes many incidents from the life of Swami or Swaminathan, a ten-year old boy who lives in a small town called Malgudi.
Swami hates Monday mornings! School is bearable only because he can gaze out of the windows at children playing, or at the train trundling past. He is punished often, for being inattentive, or cheeky. But even while standing on the bench he can enjoy the assorted caps and hairstyles of his classmates!
Swami has four good friends to share life’s little thrills; the good-natured class-monitor Somu, the strong, good-for-nothing Mani, the clever Sankar and the fun loving, pint-sized Samuel, known as the ‘Pea’. The arrival of the new boy Rajam upsets the delicate harmony shared by the friends. Rajam is clever, confident and cool. Swami wants to be his friend, but earns the title of ‘tail’ from his other friends. Soon, Rajam takes control as the leader of the group, and life runs smoothly once more – until the next upheaval.
Swami’s life is full of little, lively incidents. He has fits of patriotism. He enjoys the opportunity to break the windowpanes of his headmaster’s office. He struggles to escape from arithmetic on weekends. He captures a thief in the most unexpected fashion. He yearns for a hoop to roll along. But at one time, Swami is unable to cope with the problems in his life. He runs away just when there is an important match coming up.
He gets lost, and when he is finally found, he realizes that he has missed the match. The MCC (Malgudi Cricket Club) have lost the match, and Swami loses Rajam’s friendship. Soon, Rajam is leaving Malgudi, and before Swami can express his feelings for his dear friend, the train chugs away.
Malgudi Schooldays is a book that can be enjoyed by growing children, wherever they might live. Swami has no toys or books or TV or videogames, but he is a child anyone can relate to. The little incidents in his life are described with gentle humour. This is the author’s special mark. He shows us Swami’s world as it is.
R.K. Narayan wrote many other books after Swami and Friends. Malgudi, the imaginary town that is Swami’s home, forms an important part of all of them.