I opened the rickety wooden gate. On the veranda stood a man wearing a white shirt and white lungi. ‘My name is Natwar Singh. I am looking for R.K. Narayan.’ ‘You are looking at him.’ Thus began a friendship that lasted 46 years.
In 1955, I was on a Bharat darshan jaunt along with my IFS colleagues. In Mysore, I decided to seek the author of Swami and Friends and The Bachelor of Arts. He was then not a household name. With some difficulty I learnt that he lived at Yadavagiri road, a few miles from the city. I took a taxi, looking for Narayan’s house. It was easily found, being the only house on Yadavagiri road at the time.
I opened the rickety wooden gate. On the veranda stood a man wearing a white shirt and white lungi. “My name is Natwar Singh. I am looking for Shri R.K. Narayan.” “You are looking at him. Are you Khushwant Singh’s brother?” I told him I was not. “All Sikhs are Singhs but all Singhs are not Sikhs.” I enlightened him.
Thus began a friendship that lasted for 46 years.
I reproduce a letter he wrote to me on 25 October 1978. Even after 42 years it makes refreshing reading.
25 October 1978
My dear Natwar,
I am delighted to hear from you after all these months of silence. But I was in touch with Sharada Prasad (information adviser to Mrs Indira Gandhi at the time) and he kept me informed of your welfare. When you are in this country next, please let me know so that we may meet. I note that Hem and children are now here. When I go to Delhi next, I will try to telephone to her.
Many thanks for accepting Anthony Curtis’s (Editor of the Financial Times, London) assignment. I shall look forward to your piece. Don’t spare me. It is very pleasant for me to see my earlier works reprinted by Heinemann methodically within two or three years. My handicap all along has been my agency in London, which handled my manuscripts since 1937 but functioned like a government office in a routine manner without any push or initiative. Graham Greene pleaded with me to change my agents, which I have done now, and I hope my British contacts will improve with all new work, although the earlier books are still with the old agency.
What am I writing now? Good question, but I am unable to answer it coherently. I suspect I have lost the patience to write a novel, which may tie me up for months and months. My inclination is to write short stories, long and short ones: the possibility of variety in themes and economy in the writing appeals to my mind, and I am plodding on in the afternoons writing a few hundred words as I have always done, but God alone can have a knowledge of what it will all turn out to be! I am reading plenty of worthless American novels, in quantity and contents all alike! America has ruined the world of letters through its commercial expertise and best-seller ‘syndrome’ and computerized formula fiction with its million sales.
I read your article on Rajaji with great pleasure. Very readable and interesting indeed. SWARAJYA is struggling to revive—but lacks capital, writers, editorial aim, and competence. When these handicaps are overcome it may find enough readers to support it. I find it very amateurish and A.S.R’s (A.S. Raman, then Editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India) or Sadasivam (Husband of classic singer M.S. Subbulakshmi), who are my good friends.
Where is Bhagwat (Bhagwat Singh, my elder brother)? Please give him my warmest remembrance when you write to him next. I greatly look forward to seeing him when I am in US next spring. I have an invitation to visit Berkeley for one month as a ‘Regent’ lecturer. It is some chair, I think; and I am looking forward to it.
Please keep in touch,
President Trump will arrive in New Delhi in two weeks’ time. He will be in a triumphant mood, having easily survived impeachment by the Senate. His behaviour and that of the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, at the end of his address to the nation were not only unseemly, but shocking. The President did not shake the outstretched hand of Speaker Pelosi. She tore up his speech while he was still on the podium. How low can the mighty fall!