R.K. Narayan - The Vendor of Sweets

 R.K. Narayan - The Vendor of Sweets

Secretly, Jagan’s mind was bothered as to why there was always an invisible barrier between him and his son. He had never been harsh to the boy.
Yet, reading a sense into the boy’s actions was fatiguing, like the attempt to spell out a message in a half familiar script!

R.K. Narayan:

Every Indian is well acquainted with the portrayals of South Indian primitive village life by the great author R.K.Narayan, the creator of the fictional yet famous Malgudi.
His articles, fictional stories, retold epics and non-fictional work are pleasures for every reader, young or old. ‘Swami and Friends’ and ‘Malgudi days’ are his best known and widely read books even today.
‘The Vendor of Sweets’ is a delicious story by him and stands next after ‘Swami and Friends’ on my list of favourite books by R.K.N. It illustrates the communication and generation gap between a simple businessman and his ambitious son.


Jagan, a 55 year old sweets vendor, is an honest, hardworking and humble resident of Malgudi. He is a staunch believer in Gandhian ideologies of simple living. Despite owning a sweetmeat shop, he himself eats food without salt/sugar. His only son Mali is the apple of his eye. Jagan lost his wife when Mali was a little boy and ever since, has tried his best to keep his son happy and fulfill all his little desires. But the nervous father is faced with awkwardness and embarrassment while communicating with his teenage son. The Gandhian ideologies don’t seem to go well with the young blood. On the other hand, the sky-high ambitions of the son are beyond understanding of the father.
One fine day, Jagan is shocked to know that Mali is no more interested in studying and wants to start story-writing after quitting B.A. in college half way.
A glimpse of the awkward communication between father and son is:

Father: What are you writing now?
Son: A novel
Father: Oh wonderful! Where did you learn to write novels?
Son: Are you examining me?
Father: Oh no, I’m just interested, that’s all. What story are you writing?
Son: I can’t tell you now. It may turn out to be a poem after all. I don’t know.
Father: But don’t you know what you are going to write when you sit down to write?
Son: No! It’s not like frying sweets in your shop.

Jagan’s life is further thrown into turmoil when Mali expresses his desire to go to America to learn story- writing. Jagan is aghast that one should cross seven seas to learn the art of story-telling when any village granny should serve the purpose well! As usual, he lacks courage to confront his son on any matter and Mali eventually leaves for America. He periodically sends letters back home and Jagan’s initial bewilderment transforms into ecstasy and pride for his American son. His pride is short-lived and turns into embarrassment, since Mali returns after 3 years, a married man! His wife is an American cum Korean girl. Now, out of his story-writing mania, Mali expresses his desire to open a story-writing machine factory. However, as any other father would desire, Jagan wants his son to take up his sweets shop. This adds up to Mali’s disgust and frustration!

How will Jagan free himself from the coils of this complicated situation? How will Jagan understand his new daughter-in-law when his own son is beyond comprehension? Will the invisible barrier between father and son be prevalent for life?

My opinion:

Jagan’s character has been wonderfully portrayed and seems straight out of real life. The narrative is simple, humourous and depicts the South Indian life with utmost detail. The protagonist’s authoritative tone with his shop workers and cooks contrasts with his helplessness while dealing with his own son. A single parent’s tribulations and challenges while bringing up a son has been handled delicately, yet satirically such that there is no room for boredom throughout the book.

Initially, I felt the ending was a bit abrupt and hurried. But, on later thought looking at it from Jagan’s point of view, realized that it is most apt ending to the story!

The story itself is quite short, but there are many irrelevant side-tracks that contribute to lengthening the number of pages. A few of such incidents are Jagan diving into his reminiscences of childhood, interesting episodes of his youth, his freedom struggle as a Gandhi follower, etc. Although these do not provide much value to the main story narrative, they succeed in adding a new flavour to make the story ‘tastier’. I read out a couple of these episodes to my grandpa who thoroughly enjoyed it! This one’s definitely recommended for lovers of light fiction.

The Vendor of Sweets, R.K. Narayan
In `The Vendor of Sweets` of R. K. Narayan mainly illustrates the conflicts between two generations of father and son.

 `The vendor of sweets` is the story of a merchant, Jagan, who at the age of 60 still feels young at heart and makes good profit out of his sweet shop. Jagan is depicted as the vendor of sweets in this story. Some waves come to his life when his son, Mali, returns from America with his Korean wife. Jagan tries to cope up with the situation even with his conventional thoughts but finally fails to do so because of his son`s nature. The story thus well justified the title as it`s lucid language and description of the life of Jagan clearly entails the story.

R. K. Narayan is renowned to the present world as a successful short storyteller. But this success is not the result of one single day. He was not immediately successful in his writing career. He struggled for even a small amount of money in his life. He used to write stories and essays for various newspapers. But as soon as the famous British writer Graham Greene got manuscript of R. K. Narayan`s first creation `Swami and friends` the scenario changed. The book got published with the financial help of Graham Greene and from then onwards, the writer never looked back. `Swami and friends` is his first book based on a mythical town Malgudi. It was a make believe village which he created out of his imagination. In all of his novels he depicted the lives of common man is a very wonderful way. In all his stories he tries to mesmerize the readers with his lucid language and transparent description. People used to see the stories like celluloid after reading his books. He is still alive in his reader`s heart though he left the mortal coil on 2001.

R. K. Narayan`s books are always famous for wonderful details and intricate view of the South Indian world. `The Vendor Of Sweets` is not an exception. It also fits into this mould in a beautiful manner. In this novel the central character is Jagan. The story revolves around him, his ideologies, him sweet shop, his son Mali, his cousin Narasimha, etc. He is the vendor of sweets here. His trials and tribulations of his life are wonderfully captured in this story. There is clear description of his thoughts, his confusion about the next generation. And his confusion as well as conventional thought gets a huge jerks when his son Mali goes to America and return with his foreigner wife. Jagan starts feeling irritated all the time because of his son`s activity. But subsequently Jagan develops affection for his foreigner daughter-in-law. He notices that Mali, his son, is not paying full attention to his wife. Jagan gets scared as he did the same mistake with Mali`s mother because of his involvement in freedom struggle movement. Jagan tries to talk to Mali but he denies. Mali needs some money for his business but Jagan refused to lend him. As a result some friction takes place and Jagan starts living isolated in his own family. The story turns to an ending point when Jagan develops some urge to leave the worldly affairs and do some religious work. At that very moment he is informed that Mali is in police custody and also has left his wife. Jagan gets shuttered. He refuses to help his son but instructs Narsimha to help Mali`s wife to return to her homeland.

Being published by Viking Press, Penguin Classics, Indian thought Publication, penguin Books Ltd., Avon Books, and Heinemann `the vendor of sweets` reflects the ideas and ideals of the difference in two generations which really enthralled the readers and makes them to think of this bigger problem.

`The Vendor of Sweets` story revolves around the issues arises from this gap and finally the senior generation deserts his profession and his family concerns for a life of tranquility and meditation.

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