Narayan’s Treatment of the Generation Gap in ‘Nitya’
R.K. Narayan is one of the very few Indo-Anglian writers who has been placed in America among the country’s distinguished realists and modernists, as is recorded in ‘My Dateless Diary’ by Narayan himself. He writes about issues in day to day life in the middle class Indian household, but his intention is not didactic like his contemporaries Mulk Raj Anand or Raja Rao. Narayan’s stories, deal with themes of common life and simple people. They are not of newsworthy interest and rarely does Narayan deal with the world-shaking events of the 1930s and 1940s or the political and social upheavals in India during and since independence. Narayan excels in selecting incidents and people that reveal the human comedy. In his novels Narayan shows himself a clever manipulator of plot and character. He is an artist whose main interest lies in presenting, through the fluent flow of his narrative and an attitude towards life which is amused but, non-condescending.
One of the issues that recur in Narayan’s short stories is the issue of generation gap. Narayan writes during a period of various social reforms. The writer himself is ahead of age old Hindu customs and married a woman despite several obstacles. However, the said issue crops us very subtly in his stories. In the short story ‘Nitya’, the issue is introduced in the very first line when Nitya’s father declares their journey to the temple. Narayan summarizes the class between Nitya’s parents’ generation and his own in a single sentence- “Nitya very well knew how much he was involved in their plans.” Tonsure is an important custom in the South Indian society in which one sacrifices his hair to the Lord, known as ‘Saranagathi’. Tonsure is a symbolic act of total surrender to God. Nitya a college student of twenty years shows his unwillingness to offer his hair to fulfill a vow made by his parents. Nitya’s parents want sacrifice his hair because of a promise they made twenty years ago in which they vowed to sacrifice Nitya’s hair when he would recover from the disease of whooping cough and convulsions. Nitya’s difference of opinion from his parents regarding the tonsure leads to a serious conflict in the family eventually.
The promise of sacrificing Nitya’s hair was made when he was only two years old but the parents forgot to fulfill it. A promise is made about an individual during his infancy, a state where one’s opinions are not formed. Nitya gives many arguments to his parents – “It doesn’t concern me, your twenty-year-old promise. You had no business to pawn my scalp without consulting me.” Narayan doesn’t believe in painting an ideal portrait of his characters. His characters are realistic and lively. They are natural and are present in our surroundings. At six on Friday morning Nitya notices a preparation at home for the trip. His Mother packs lunch for three and fills a basket with coconut, flowers and incense for worship at the temple. Father searches the record of their promise to God. Mother too, remembers knotted coin in a piece of cloth as a reminder. Prior to this, Narayan mentions the fact that the family was going through a legal battle over a dispute in their property. The case continued long enough to transform the once ‘scintillating youth of promise’, which is their lawyer, into a ‘toothless character in a frayed gown’, as mentioned in the story. The lawyer is symbolic of the passage of time. One generation decides to offer their son’s hair to the Lord but forgets it with time. The now grown up son, in a whole new generation, in a time period afresh, is adamant on not giving into his parents’ blind superstitions and argues rationally. Nitya’s final attempt to avoid the journey is to puckishly utter the words “Did I ask for it?”, but is disarmed when his mother starts sobbing. The older generation’s victory is noticeable in Nitya’s father’s triumphant look with his son by his side on the bus to the temple.
On their way, the urban Nitya is tossed and jolted in the jerking bus to his great discomfort, contrasting to the relaxed chatting and joking of his co-passengers. Nitya’s father calls up the headman after reaching the temple and asks the priest to open it. Nitya’s father tells him that they have to leave by the evening bus to which the latter proposes to spend the night at the rest house. But again, Nitya objects to this. His parents try to calm him. After sometime the priest comes and sends a boy to call upon the barber, Raghavan, but his house is locked. At this, the priest suggests, as a compromise, that one lock of Nitya’s hair can also be sacrificed and the vow will be fulfilled. Nitya agrees to give four inches of his front lock. But after no time the barber himself comes, ruining whatever little hopes he had. He says, “I agreed to give four inches of hair; it was up to you to have taken it now. You have lost the opportunity, which must be seized by the forelock.”
The priest asks him not to hurt his parent’s feelings and requests to move on the platform where the barber is ready. Nitya retorts to the priest and says,”Have you no logic or reason?”- a naked truth which the young Nitya doesn’t believe in sugarcoating. Nitya’s mother and father cry at the same time not to talk to the priest like that in his own temple. Nitya is angry and hungry too, as his parents do not let him touch even one plantain out of the dozens offered by the villagers under the tree. Nitya abruptly leaves the place saying that he will wait for both of them at the bus stop, while his parents stare helplessly at him.
The story comes to an end without a definite solution to the tonsure problem. Maybe this indicates that the issue of generation gap will remain insoluble for an indefinite period of time. Narayan’s stories present situations which are relevant not only during Narayan’s period of time but also in the present day scenario. His ‘Indianness’ has a distinctive character of his own, as what he writes are experiences through which he has lived through. Moreover, themes like generation gap is universal and caters to interests which are not necessarily Indian, but global.
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