Visiting R.K Narayan’s house in Mysuru, which is now a museum.
This story first appeared in Mint on May 18, 2017 in the section ‘Weekend Vacations’.
R.K. Narayan’s house.
The sun glinted off the chassis of the YP 2511 that stood on a short strip of railway track. As I stood looking at it, my father’s stories about the thrilling train journeys of his childhood echoed in my mind—he is a keen trainspotter. Steam locomotives, such as the one standing in front of me, played a starring role in many of his adventures.
I was at the Rail Museum in Mysuru.
Amid the railway memorabilia, my mind travelled to a city legend—and one of my favourite authors—R.K. Narayan. On this trip, my main interest lay in the RK Narayan Museum which opened last year. In The Guide, one of his most famous novels, the lead character Raju graduates from railroad station food vendor to tourist guide. It’s a story that has stayed with me. And I was keen to see where he had lived.
Leaving Bengaluru at noon, I had driven down to Karnataka’s cultural capital for the weekend. Mysuru is the starting point for several weekend getaways from Bengaluru, like Coorg, Masinagudi and Ooty, which I had already travelled to. Strangely, Mysuru itself had been off the radar.
I started my trip to the city with a visit to the Rail Museum, later taking a leisurely stroll around the century-old Devaraja Market, which has shops selling flowers, spices, fresh produce, incense and souvenirs. The rest of the day zipped past, with sightseeing stops at the Mysuru and Jaganmohan Palaces.
Next morning, I found myself in front of Narayan’s old residence in the Yadavagiri area—the house in which he wrote many of his memorable stories. There was something comforting about the bungalow. The big trees outside, the bay windows, the red oxide floor of the portico, the rounded edges of the house, an old handpump—all these seemed strangely familiar. It was like visiting a favourite uncle’s house after a long time.
But then Narayan had been a favourite author of mine.
The house has showcases displaying Narayan’s certificates, mementos and awards. His armchair and a low wooden table are placed in front of a window. There are framed photographs of the writer and his family members hanging on one wall. The sepia-toned photographs show Narayan in some of his most candid moments. Keeping wickets at a game of cricket, standing with his wife and baby, resting on a chair, a wide grin on his face—telling glimpses of the man behind the famous writer.
Elsewhere, his favourite clothes, fountain pen, notebooks, umbrella and spectacles find pride of place. Framed accounts of his life are mounted on the walls, chronicling the rise of the journalist-turned-author. The surprise element is an account of their friendship by the late Khushwant Singh, who described Narayan as “deceptively humble and very lovable”.
Upstairs, Narayan’s study has tall windows overlooking the street. Along one side of this room is a bookshelf holding several of his best-sellers. Framed stills from the TV series Malgudi Days, based on the book of the same name, grace another wall.
The museum is unpretentious, much like the man and his writing.
On my way out, I lingered on the porch. In his memoirs, Narayan talks of spending hours there, chatting with visitors or observing the general humdrum of life outside—all of it grist for his charming stories. I asked the museum caretaker a few questions about the writer; his reply, a crusty “I don’t know.” I found it amusing that he should be ignorant of the life of the person whose memories he was supposedly safeguarding.
Narayan would have appreciated the irony.