by Fakrul Alam
Tuesday, 10 th October 2006
The R. K. Narayan centenary conference begins fifteen minutes late (subcontinental standard conference opening time!). On stage for the inaugural session in the very impressive auditorium of the Mysore wing of the Central Institute for Indian Languages (CIIL) are representatives of the three organizers of the conference: Mr. S. Jithendra Nath of the Bangalore branch of the Sahitya Akademi, Professor Harish Trivedi, Chairperson of the Indian Association of Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (ACLALS); and Mr. B. Mallikarjun, the Assistant Director of CIIL. Mr. Nath is brief and punctilious in making his points as is Mr. Malliakarajun, both of whom are here by default, standing in for others who could not show up. Also absent is someone we were all looking forward to hearing: Keki N. Daruwalla, member of the Sahitya Akademi, representing no doubt its English language interests, and identified pithily in the conference brochure as “Eminent Poet”. It is left to Harish Trivedi to explain that he has not been well and thus could not be present. But the absentees don’t matter: Harish makes up for their inability to come and the succinctness of the other speakers— not by being long-winded (he is incapable of that!) but by giving us the perspective necessary to begin proceedings: this is R. K. Narayan’s hundredth birthday (he, died, we remember, on 13 May, 2001); Mysore, the place he has immortalized as Malgudi in his fiction is the right setting for the occasion; and his achievement is so great that it was fitting that the Akademi, ACLALS, and CIIL should have got together to organize a conference bringing together a relatively small group of Narayan devotees/scholars from all over the world and across India for a three-day conference. Harish is witty and gracious; in the course of his speech his charm seemed to have wafted to the almost ineffable allure of Narayan’s work to set participants in the right mood for all subsequent sessions.