A Study of the theme of nationalism in R.K. Narayan’s novel Waiting for Mahatma
Nationalism is not a physical identity which can be seen in any particular form or shape. It is a spirit of belonging and our mutual feeling of togetherness, love and pride for our country regardless of our different cast, class with different religious and political preferences. Nationalism is showing our loyalty towards our nation by working towards the welfare of the nation and its people because without nation the existence of the notion of nationality is also not possible.Nation and nationality both are complimentary and inseparable part of each other because the nation without nationalism is incomplete and the soul of the idea of nationalism is Nation. Nationalism is the glimmer of the devoted feelings and beliefs of the people towards their own country.
Literature is one of the most creative flair which by using the apparatus of language can express the human outlook, emotions, sufferings as well as joy. Literature has always been the most influential utensil for preserving as well as revitalizing the ideal change needed for the country. It played a very significant role in explaining as well as presenting the real ideology of nationalism and its various approaches.
Nationalism got its full view through literature because literature reflects the true as well as different standpoints and emotions of the people of country. Literature acts as mirror for the society.
Rashipuram Krishnaswami Narayanswami Iyer, frequently known as R.K. Narayan is a celebrated Sahitya Academy Award winner Indian post colonial writer best known for works like The Guide, Waiting for the Mahatma, Under The Banyan Tree, The Bachelor of Arts, The English Teacher and many more remarkable works.
Naryan gave the Indian literature in English a completely new dimension by touching the various themes depicting the real Indian society through his well known imaginary fictional town Malgudi with its various aspects ranging from social to political. His works enabled the readers to experience the social and spiritual depths of Indian culture. With his various novels he presents all shades and slices of life as he sees it.
He has incorporated the theme of nationalism also in his various works and his significant novel Waiting for Mahatma is one of those novels which has described the concept of nationalism as a major theme and depicted the problems with identity and journey of India as a nation towards independence during the British colonial rule. Through his social and historical settings in the novel in relation with various characters depicted in this work, Naryan tried to present the events of British colonialism and Indian independence struggle in relation with the nationalistic sentiments attached to it in a larger context.
The story of the novel Waiting for Mahatma is set in the fictional town of Malgudi against the backdrop of freedom struggle and it tells the story of the two young people Sriram and Bharti. Sriram who is also the protagonist of this novel is an orphan young man brought up by his loving and caring grandmother whom he calls granny. On his twentieth birthday he gets a generous amount of money from his granny as gift which she had kept in her account. This money was the pension from sriram’s father, who had been killed in the war.
Meanwhile Sriram comes across a girl named Bharti who was making collection to help the freedom struggle movement, and falls in love at first sight with her. She was brought up by the Sevak Sangh as foster daughter to Gandhi because when she was infant Bharti’s father had been shot dead while he was taking part in Satyagraha against the British government during the first non-cooperation movement.
The love of Sriram and Bharti flowers in the background of freedom struggle which was launched by Mahatma Gandhi. Sriram who was only a self-indulgence man earlier gets completely changed filled with sentiments of nationalism becomes a freedom fighter and true follower of Mahatma Gandhi. Later he gets imprisoned for several years as penalty for derailing a train but he gets freed from prison after independence. He goes to attend the prayer meeting of Gandhi with Bharti where a young man shots Gandhi dead.
In Waiting for Mahatma through the character sketch of the protagonist Sriram , Narayan has tried to explain that the sense of nationalism or nationalistic approach comes and get its true core value with the realisation or consciousness of our own identity and sense of belongingness to our own country. After falling in love with Bharti, a dedicated disciple of Mahatma Gandhi his true growth starts with the devoted nationalistic feelings towards his nation and from a lazy young man who was only interested in his own self centred life he transforms into a new patriotic and committed activist of Indian independence movement. Out of his nationalistic feelings he becomes an anti British terrorist also for a short period of time. But at the end dedicates him completely to Gandhian doctrines.
To present his nationalistic viewpoints Narayan has introduced Gandhi as a character in his novel Waiting for Mahatma. Though Gandhi who himself was epitome of nationalism was presented as a character in background but his philosophy of freedom against colonial rule always dominated as a major theme of the novel. His novel upholds the sturdy opinion of nationalism especially Gandhian views and given it shape with the clay of love and non violence.
Nationalism is not only showing our love and dedication towards our country but it also resides in realising with acceptance the problems and delusions present in our country and R. K. Narayan has very brilliantly raised those issues such as caste and class system especially the issue of Untouchability. He has described that how to eliminate this evil of inequality on the name of caste Gandhi himself lived with the scavengers in their colony situated on the bank of a river. He identifies himself as a scavenger and a member of their family and he further asks to the orthodox Hindu people of Malgudi to realise and repent for their impertinent and inhuman behavior and deeds towards the untouchables.
In his public meetings and gatherings also Gandhi addresses about caste and Untouchability issues and requests to eliminate these orthodox evils present in the society. Earlier The weavers and the profession of weaving was considered for untouchables but Gandhi always tried to change this wrong attitude and notion of discrimination against them in the minds of other upper caste and class people. Through his ideology and views Gandhi always tried to teach them the strength and power of nationalism and the sentiments of unity and brotherhood attached to it.
Naryan was fully aware of the fact that education plays a very significant role in deciding the growth and development of the country. Education acts as a guided medium for the people of country especially youths making them realise about their capabilities and channelizing their creativity and talent with an unbiased viewpoint of their own. A major role of education system is to fertilize the idea of nationalism and to illuminate the hearts of the people of country with the nationalistic sentiments.
In his well known work the English Teacher Narayan bluntly puts forward his honest concern regarding the regrettable condition of the education system of our country. He states:
This education has reduced us to a nation of morons; we were strangers to our own culture and camp followers of another culture, feeding on leavings and garbage…what about our own roots?… i am up against the system, the whole method and approach of a system of education which makes us morons, cultural morons, but efficient clerks for all your business and administration offices.
The magnificence of the Narayan’s variety of works lies in the fact that the realistic views and pictures of the every section of our country whether it is social or political presented in his works are still relevant to the status and condition of our modern developing India. Narayan’s concern regarding our education system is very much pertinent even today also. Though we cannot deny the positive contribution of our education system which has equipped us with great technologies and vast sea of knowledge regarding all course of life but at the same time we are getting away from our glorious social and cultural heritage which is full of great wisdom and knowledge. Modern education system is making us self centred and mechanical human being devoid of any emotion and love for our society and country.
Narayan’s nationalistic views get reflected in various ways in his novels. Respecting our mother tongue is also an important aspect of nationalism. His respect for our national tongue Hindi as well as for our regional languages is also evident in his works with the reflection of Indianness in the diction used by him. In his novel A Tiger for Malgudi, Narayan includes the theme of national importance; and talks about the use and importance of different languages used in our country like our national language, regional language and English. Narayan used plenty of Hindi and Indian words in his works and made it popular across the globe. His nationalistic feelings and his love for his mother land and mother tongue led him to deliberately use the words of Indian origin, especially Hindi words.
The concept of nationalism changes different contour according to the social and political system of the time. In modern India the definition of nationalism is completely different from as it was during independence struggle. Today the present modern India, with its diverse features and dimensions is growing with massive speed. In each and every sector whether it is social, political or economic India is creating new milestones with its nationalistic progressive approach. With its continuous growing infrastructure, and new and innovative inventions taking place day by day, India has secured its positions in the front row with other countries of the world. Although at the one hand it is progressing, but on the other hand, due to this massive growth it has created a kind of division also specially the economic division in the Indian society. This unequal social and economic division between the people of India makes the Indian nationalism more complex. Due to these differences diverse sects of people see the idea of nation and nationalism with different lens of thought.
The works of R. K. Narayan fanned the nationalistic feelings among the Indian people. The stumpy standards of the Indian education system, the epidemic of corruption, the centralisation of the economic powers mostly in the hands of the influential people which played a decisive role in shaping the time molded definition of nationalism in India, all these themes remained major theme in R.K. Narayan’s various works.
His works poured the nationalistic sentiments among the hearts of Indians. The theme of nationalism always occupied a dominant position in his major works and the journey of various characters depicted in his works discerns the true spirit of the nationalism present in the heart and soul of India and its people.