Author: R. K. Narayan
Publisher: Penguin Books India
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RK Narayan is best known for his work based on the quaint South Indian town of Malgudi. In Waiting for the Mahatma, he manages to combine the magic of Malgudi with the heady atmosphere of the Indian freedom movement and what results is a truly novel novel (pun intended).
The place is Malgudi and the time is somewhere in the 1940s. Narayan takes us through the story of a spoilt youngster called Sriram, who is an orphan being taken care of by his grandmother. His life proceeds in a lethargic and aimless manner till an assertive young girl, Bharati, accosts him for a donation. She turns out to be a worker in Gandhi’s camp, as discovered by Sriram when he follows her.
Here’s where the twist comes in- the hitherto unfocused young man quickly becomes motivated to become a staunch Gandhian and begins to think about interests other than his own. Whether the fancy of youth is enough to uphold the strength of a freedom fighter, and how their lives are affected when history takes its well-known course form the remainder of the story.
As in any RK Narayan story, even the minor characters have their own unique charms. There are quite a few of them here- the photographer who turns into a revolutionary, the inmates of Sriram’s prison cell and Gorpad, the serious young man who is all about sacrificing himself for the cause. Bharati, the confident young woman who is sure about her ideals and goals makes for a wonderful role model. But what of, arguably the biggest character of them all, the Mahatma?
Gandhi is portrayed as compassionate, straightforward and very perceptive. True to how history books speak of him, he is seen championing the cause of the untouchables (or Harijans), not being attached to material possessions and following a strict diet and schedule. The famous spinning wheel makes various appearances as a symbol of self-reliance, and has its own role to play in the love story.
The climax of the novel is where its title comes from. Bharati and Sriram fight their way through the typical phases of a relationship, but the bigger struggle in the background lends a different tone to the drama. It is tough to think of Mahatma Gandhi as much besides a valiant fighter for the cause of Indian freedom because of the overreaching impact he had on Indian politics. ‘Waiting for the Mahatma’ makes the reader do just that- think of M.K. Gandhi as a human being first, and a freedom fighter next.
Goodreads author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1305302.R_K_Narayan
Link to timeline of Independence movement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_independence_movement
Info about the spinning wheel: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spinning_wheel