Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. Juni 2006

9.6. Spreading the Word: Texts and the Text
Herausgeberin | Editor | Éditeur: Mihaela Irimia (University of Bucharest)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Creating and Re-creating Texts in R. K. Narayan’s Mr Sampath - the Printer of Malgudi

Ludmila Volná (IMAGER University Paris XII, Charles University Praha)



Indian Writing in English abounds in examples of the creation and reproduction of texts, and that in each period of its existence. R. K. Narayan, whose writing covers the period of almost fifty years, deals with the theme to a great extent and in numerous ways. The creators of texts in his novels include printers, poets, editors, a painter of signs and even an inventor-to-be of a story-writing machine. Mr Sampath - the Printer of Malgudi appears to be a novel particularly convenient for exploring the ways of creating and even re-creating texts, where these are inextricably bound to a power scheme. The structure of Mr Sampath falls into two parts: we will explore the character of the power relation between the two main heroes, Srinivas and Sampath, established in the first part as related to their respective and complementary-like creations of texts (by which, in fact, they contribute to the creation of one text). The power scheme becomes challenged and re-established in the second part, as directly related to the re-establishing also of the text(s)-(re-)creation structure. We will examine in which way and under what circumstances this happens, and what significance it has both for the personalities of the characters and for the issue of the novel. Finally, this analysis of ours reveals that Mr Sampath, this text created by Narayan, can in fact be considered a(nother) metaphoric re-creation of the text of the modern Indian history.


Indian Writing in English abounds in examples of creation and reproduction of texts, and that in each period of its existence. One reason can be found in what Frantz Fanon sees as a common feature of postcolonial native writers who attempt to create what can be called ‘a national culture’. At a certain (second) phase of the writer’s evolution, in Fanon’s words, "old legends will be reinterpreted in the light of a borrowed aestheticism and of a conception of the world which was discovered under other skies."(1) On the other hand, it is just ‘the very conception of the world discovered under Indian sky’, and more precisely the prevalent Hindu cosmological system, which is a reason none the less valid for the preoccupation of Indian writers with the re-creation of their culture’s myths and legends: those preserved as texts, or those orally transmitted. According to the notions of Hinduism, which are ingrained in every Hindu’s mind and influence to a great extent also the minds of the non-Hindu Indians, the only way to the perception of the ultimate reality (which represents salvation) is the experiential one and is best conveyed through myths, folktales, legends, stories, and parables, which are (still being) created and re-worked in numerous representations.(2)

The first phase of the Indian writing in English, the beginnings, manifests itself mainly through a simple re-creation of texts dealing with historical themes, both Indian and European, examples are Henry Derozio’s narrative poem The Fakir of Jungheera (1828), Michael Madhusudan Dutt’s poems Upsori, King Porus (between 1846 and 1856),(3) and The Captive Ladie (1849), or Romesh Chunder Dutt’s novel The Slave Girl of Agra (1909, translated from his original novel Madhabi Kankan, 1877). It is only later on, in about the 1930s, in the period of Indian writing in English that the authors, in Fanon words again, ‘decide to remember what they are’(4) and start to create a platform of writing which, as Raja Rao states, would refrain from simple imitation and at the same justify the usage of borrowed literary forms and language in the Indian context.(5) Since this period, in which also R. K. Narayan takes up writing, up to present, many varied forms of creation and re-creation of texts, in the majority of cases from a completely new point of view, can be found in the Indian Anglophone literature. All are put into the context of modern history of India and are dealing with the complexities of transition.

R. K. Narayan is a writer who presents us with an immense variety of forms of creation and re-creation of texts. Re-creation through re-interpretation of the ancient legends and myths in terms of modern history of India is one such form. Apart from examples such as Raja Rao’s novel Kanthapura (1938) and the one which is certainly most expressive, Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel (1989), it is represented in Narayan’s The Man-eater of Malgudi (1961) as the re-telling of the demon Bhasmasura story. Narayan’s The English Teacher (1945) can be rightly viewed as an example of the re-writing of notions of the Hindu cosmology texts and represents so another form of text re-creation. Other novels undertaking a similar task are Raja Rao’s The Serpent and the Rope (1960), or Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1981).(6)

Narayan’s works present a large variety of creators of texts: we find there printers (of whom Narayan seems to be really fond), poets, editors, a painter of signs, and even an inventor-to-be of a story-writing machine. The novel called Mr Sampath - the Printer ofMalgudi refers to one such character already in its title, and appears particularly convenient for analysis with regard to creating and re-creating texts because these activities go hand in hand with what is the main theme and issue of (not only) this novel of Narayan: aspiration of the main characters, simply said, for maturity, self-assertion, and identity in an environment changing due to the colonial presence. We will explore that in more detail now.

At the beginning of the novel we make acquaintance with Srinivas who is on the point of starting the edition of a journal in Malgudi. What we get to know about him is that he has just arrived from his native Talapur where he, at the age of thirty seven, was living with his wife and a little son, still in the house of his elder brother, without carrying on any professional activity. That he tried agriculture, apprenticeship in a bank, teaching, and law, and that he married like the others but all that without any feeling of interior satisfaction. Oppressed, he complains: "Man has no significance except as a wage-earner, as an economic unit, as a receptacle of responsibilities. But what can I do? I have a different notion of human beings."(7)

At a loss, he turns to what constitutes a basis of the culture in which he grew up and which formed him, more specifically to reading of Upanishads, philosophic-religious texts created within the Hindu tradition,(8) in which ‘search’ is a means of getting knowledge.(9) Reading of "...Knowing the self as without body among the embodied, the abiding among the transitory, great and all-pervading ..."(10) makes him contemplate: "...Who am I? This is a far more serious problem than any I have known before. It is a big problem and I have to face it. Till I know who I am, how can I know what I should do?"(11)

The realization of the necessity to solve the problem of identity and ‘knowing the self’, which is mediated to Srinivas by the ancient texts, seems to be always on his mind even after his arrival to Malgudi and setting up his journal. The resolution will not be easy if we are to believe Narayan’s allusion just at the beginning of the novel: ‘the Market Road, the life-line of Malgudi has a tendency to take abrupt turns and disrupts itself into side-streets, which wove a network of crazy lanes ... you might reach the Kabir Lane - and Srinivas’ office, the goal of your journey - if you took an inadvertent turn off the Market Road, or you might not if you intended to reach it...’(12)

As this metaphorical allusion clearly anticipates Srinivas’ life search, search for identity and self-assertion coincides with his work. The work is no easy task in itself, because he, editor in the first place, writes all the articles for his newspaper called The Banner himself, and that in fields as varied as politics, the everyday life of the town, or culture. Srinivas undertakes his work with the utmost sincerity and is concerned, we are informed, with nothing less than ‘setting the world right’: "From the garret of The Banner the world did not appear to be a common place. There always seemed to be something drastic to be done about it. It had all the appearance of a structure, half raised - and the other half might either go up or not at all. ... There was a considerable amount of demolition to be done, and a new way to be indicated. The possibilities of perfection seemed infinite, though mysterious, and yet there was a terrible kind of pig-headedness in people that prevented their going the right way. The Banner thus had twin work to do: on the one hand, attacking ruthlessly pig-headedness wherever found, and on the other prodding humanity into pursuing an ever-receding perfection. ..."(13)

Srinivas creates his texts with a great deal of both practical thinking and contemplation on the life itself and its sense. In order ‘to set the world right’ it is necessary, Srinivas assumes, to be "concerned with the war that is always going on - between man’s inside and outside. Till the forces are equalized the struggle will always go on."(14) Search for identity and the improvement of the conditions of life are the raison d’être of the texts of The Banner. The journal includes then, for example, a regular feature called ‘Open Window’ attacking the existence of slums and congestion, which results in the improvements being put into reality, articles such as ‘Vision on the Shelf’ speaking for the development of the town, or finally a series entitled ‘Life’s Background,’ an attempt to apply the thoughts mediated by Upanishads to the ways of modern life.(15)

However, it is not just Srinivas himself who is responsible for the apparition of the journal: he has a collaborator who puts the texts into print. The printer seems to be of great practical help to Srinivas and that is why the latter is extremely thankful to him. Nevertheless, the printer’s identity remains blurred for Srinivas, as well as for the reader, and it is only reluctantly, step by step, that it starts to be unveiled. Significantly also, the printer’s name is not made known to the reader before the end of the first part of the novel. His identity is not to be immediately grasped and understood.

The printer is not there just to do his business of printing, as it appears. He decides not only in technical matters concerning printing but starts to give advice to Srinivas for his writing, till the relationship reaches such a state when, for all Srinivas’ writing and re-writing, it is "always the printer’s call that decided the final shape,"(16) and all this, while he himself safeguards jealously his intimate space around the press by a curtain and nobody is allowed to step in. The employer-employee relation is reversed throughout the first part of the novel so that Srinivas, who accomplishes the essential, creative part of the work, that is, who writes the texts for The Banner, is under the dictate of the printer whose work is supposed to consist just of fulfilling the mechanical part of putting the text down on paper. The printer is the one who exerts power and takes decisions, as he says to Srinivas: "Well, you think, The Banner is yours. It isn’t. I view it as my own."(17) In other words, Srinivas is creating and re-creating his texts but the journal as a creation in its entirety could never come into existence without an almost god-like fiat of the printer.

That the printer’s shop bears the name ‘Truth Printing Works’ is obviously just a pretension, and is in a counter position to the authorial statement made of the seat of The Banner, which is "the home of truth and vision, though you might take time to accept the claim."(18) Srinivas needs time to acquire ‘truth and vision’ and we have already tried to indicate that it is his truthful identity and self-assertion, his real self, he strives to find. This can certainly be called ‘truth’ also in the Gandhian sense, and because Srinivas is not a particularly religious person (he does not pray, for example) this ‘truth’ could correspond to the so called ‘relative truth,’ upon which Gandhi relied to achieve what he called the ‘Absolute Truth.’(19) This ‘relative truth’ is the understanding of the Indian condition as based on ancient wisdom: e.g. the inappropriateness of the foreign rule, the equality of all human beings, or the principle of the non-violence.(20) Tradition is important for Gandhi and it is no less so for Srinivas. The latter turns towards it for help: first, we have already seen him to read through the texts of Upanishads to find guidance. Further on, we are also informed and throughout the novel repeatedly reminded that he cherishes a little statuette of Nataraj. Nataraj is a representation, common in southern India, of the god Shiva pressing a demon under his feet, where the god Shiva is immersed in a cosmic dance which represents the infinite process of creation, maintaining, and destruction of the universe. As such it expresses the perfect balance of existence: that between life and death. Nataraj’s dance is considered a ‘prototype of cosmic creative activity’. The defeated creature at his feet is Apasmara, the demon of ignorance and forgetfulness.(21)

Things go as mentioned earlier between Srinivas and the printer till the moment when Srinivas starts to symbolically ‘defeat the demon of ignorance’ concerning their relations, which starts with the realization of the disproportion in them, the ‘lack of balance.’ This certainly happens due to much contemplation done by Srinivas while creating his texts (which can be viewed as a sort of psychotherapy). Once he announces a substantial change for The Banner under the heading ‘Balance of Power’ things really start to change dramatically but in a way different from that imagined by Srinivas. The printer removes his blessing and arranges for The Banner to be stopped. It is at this point that Narayan closes the first part of the novel; the alleged ‘sharpness’ or abruptness of this transition is critisized by William Walsh.(22) No doubt Narayan wants to emphasize the opposing positions of the two counterparts, Srinivas and Sampath, the printer, and to indicate the necessity to acquire a balance including the way towards it. Yes, it is only now that the name of the printer is mentioned for the first time and it is from then on that his identity starts to be revealed in a more pronounced way.

While Srinivas realizes and excuses himself to Sampath for his negligent behaviour in the financial affairs concerning The Banner, Sampath has already engaged himself in a showy world of film making because fame, stage, money, and success appeal to him most. It is this time Sampath who as the ‘director of productions’ of The Sunrise Pictures engages Srinivas because the film studio needs a scenario for their first film. They (the founders of the studio) need a ‘story’, they say, and so Srinivas puts his creative capabilities and pen to work again. Because the welfare of people is always on his mind, as it was and proved useful in the period of The Banner, the text he first creates is a story of a Gandhian fight against the evils of Indian society; however it is swiftly brushed away by all the members of the studio committee (which includes Mr. Somu, the owner of the studio, Sampath, and a certain De Mello of Hollywood, an expensive film specialist). There follows a flood of miniature ‘texts’ of ancient mythological stories procured by Somu of which finally ‘The Burning of Kama’(23) is chosen by the committee and Srinivas starts to work on it with great enthusiasm. But as time passes and Srinivas’ work progresses the reception of his creation proves most unsatisfactory. In fact it shows that they just need a ‘text’ at the writing of which they would all like to participate without having the capability. They suggest highly irrelevant elements, such as dance or the comic elements to be put into the scenario; on the other hand they strip the text of what Srinivas considers the main achievement of his creative imagination - the sort of ‘sublimation’ of Love (suggested by the extinguishing of the physical existence of Kama).

The dynamics of power becomes reversed when Srinivas starts to miss his journal because he feels that "his ideas arranged themselves properly and attained perspective only when he was writing in The Banner"(24) and decides to become completely detached from what the studio committee make of the text of the scenario he wrote.(25) On the other hand Sampath becomes still more and more entangled in his deceitful ways in order to attain more and more importance, money, and success, and he finally falls into a trap of a destructive love affair, which is contrary to the issue formerly suggested by Srinivas for the Kama story (‘sublimation’ of love which becomes ‘cleared away of all its grossness and contrary elements so that only its essence remains’).(26) At the moment at which Sampath’s greed and ambition attain the utmost the story of the god Shiva producing the physical destruction of Kama (with the god Kama representing here the elements of the love counterpart to its ‘sublimation’ aspects) turns into a tragic parody of Sampath who in the guise of Shiva is playing his (Shiva’s) part into his own (Sampath’s) destruction. What remains of Sampath in the end is just a shadow deprived both of what he was and had before and of what he strove so much to acquire: not only has he not achieved fame, success, and much money, but he lost his honesty, home, family, other close human relationships, and his job, and he appears without a slightest chance to be capable of participating in the process of creating anything, either of any kind of text or anything else. He becomes a representation of destruction.

The texts created in Mr Sampath have themselves a creative character. In the first part the texts of the journal brings about the improvement of the material conditions of the Malgudi inhabitants, the Malgudi part of India, which is Srinivas’ direct intention. They have also a beneficial effect upon Srinivas himself in terms of his personality growth and self-realization. He is in search for it without realizing it completely and intends his written contemplations rather for his readers, which, in the due course, brings its fruits too. The text of the Shiva-Kama story of the second part have the potential to be beneficial for both Sampath and Srinivas as both are put to face the danger of being dragged into destruction, the symbol of which becomes the sexual passion as a counterpart to ‘the cleared essence of love.’

Contrary to Sampath Srinivas fully realizes the danger and manages to resist it. At the end of the novel he achieves maturity and self-assertion. Through creating and re-creating texts, The Banner articles and the scenario, he arrives at a satisfactory resolution of the riddle of his identity. He receives a flash of ‘enlightenment,’ when, significantly, at a prison gate of the police station he is made to face the inspector’s regrets (i. e. through the Other) concerning the non-existence of The Banner: "Srinivas stood arrested like a man recovering a lost memory."(27) He now realizes fully that his inner peace and satisfaction, his ‘being true to himself,’(28) is to be found in writing again for The Banner, in ‘re-creating’ the journal texts, and he successfully accomplishes this task (he finds a decent printer and learns also how to manage the financial affairs). One of the first texts in the renewed journal is the analysis of his studio experience: values of commerce as a mask of pretended adulthood.

But Srinivas becomes the only true creator in the novel not only in the sense that he is re-visiting and re-creating his own personal history. That he feels a strong commitment for the welfare of other people and India as a whole has become apparent already through the themes he undertook for his writing, but also when he speaks to Shilling, the British representative of The Englandia Banking Corporation (significantly the colonizer is associated with the world of money): "This is not the India of East India Company days, remember, when you were looked upon as a sahib ... Nowadays you have to give and take at ordinary human levels, do you understand? Forget for ever that God created Indians in order to provide clerks for the East India Company or their successors."(29) This urge to re-write the national history becomes fulfilled when Srinivas, confronted to chants and primitive rhythms of traditional healing, finally ‘recollects the memory’ of Indian history: he has a vision of the history of the part of India which is now Malgudi since the birth of its civilization, he sees the great mythological and real characters, bearers of tradition, but also invaders and colonizers who enslaved the country. In the end Srinivas constitutes ‘his meaning’(30) of existence because India "...always had its rebirth and growth" while its ‘...madness is to be shaken off and true identity realized...’ Yes, in the long run ‘existence, persistent and inescapable, asserts itself.’(31)

The writers and their characters who have to face the colonial and postcolonial condition put a lot of emphasis on tradition, but as the imperatives of the colonial and postcolonial condition dictate, ‘it is impossible to return to an idealized pure pre-colonial cultural condition’(32) either for the society or for its characters. Re-visiting and re-writing of both personal and national history is necessary and Narayan’s Mr Sampath is a highly illustrative example of these activities. Not only Narayan, in creating of Srinivas’ and Sampath’s story, re-creates the national history but he also makes Srinivas do it, and that through Srinivas’ re-visiting of his own personal history.

It took time before The Banner has finally become ‘the home of truth and vision’ (as stated in the opening passage), because it takes time for the ‘existence to assert itself’. In his understanding Srinivas nevertheless returns to the ancient notions of cosmology, which he is urged to transfer to the sphere of text creation: contemplating the title of his next article dealing, of course, with his experience, he is constantly repeating the word ‘cosmic.’ This echoes again Gandhi’s ‘relative truth,’ in fact understanding of the Indian condition as based on the ancient wisdom viewed from the standpoint of contemporary experience (colonial and postcolonial condition).

As the presence of the statuette of Nataraj requires, Narayan establishes the necessary balance and harmony within the text of his novel: Srinivas is re-created and so is his journal whereas Sampath undergoes a personality destruction. Let us hope for him that it is temporary and that later on, in the long run, perhaps in another novel, he will also acquire maturity and harmony together with the rest of the characters of Mr Sampath. Let us accompany Srinivas who Narayan finally makes return home, to the old house which has been renewed and modernized, where he belongs: "He raised his hand, flourished a final farewell, and set his face homeward."(33)

© Ludmila Volná (IMAGER University Paris XII, Charles University Praha)


(1) Frantz Fanon, ‘On National Culture,’ 40, 41.

(2) Sudhir Kakar, Intimate Relations: Exploring Indian Sexuality, pp. 2 , 3.

(3) It is sometimes impossible to trace the exact date of publication for works appearing in the period of the beginnings.

(4) Frantz Fanon, ‘On National Culture,’ 40, 41.

(5) Raja Rao, ‘Preface’ to Kanthapura.

(6) Ludmila Volná, ‘Myth in the Indian Novel in English: Midnight’s Children’s Call for Plurality and Tolerance.’

(7) R. K. Narayan, Mr Sampath, p. 10.

(8) The texts of Upanishads are supposed to have been completed by about 500 B.C. It is one of the most difficult tasks of Indian studies to give at least an approximate idea of the time when the ancient texts were created. Dušan Zbavitel and Jaroslav Vacek, Průvodce dějinami staroindické literatury, p. 69.

(9) Dušan Zbavitel and Jaroslav Vacek, Průvodce dějinami staroindické literatury, p. 60.

(10) R. K. Narayan, Mr Sampath, p. 12.

(11) R. K. Narayan, Mr Sampath, p. 13.

(12) R. K. Narayan, Mr Sampath, p. 5.

(13) R. K. Narayan, Mr Sampath, p. 6.

(14) R. K. Narayan, Mr Sampath, p. 6.

(15) R. K. Narayan, Mr Sampath, p. 6, 29, 30.

(16) R. K. Narayan, Mr Sampath, p. 27.

(17) R. K. Narayan, Mr Sampath, p. 21.

(18) R. K. Narayan, Mr Sampath, p. 5.

(19) The Absolute Truth for Gandhi is ‘the Eternal Principal, that is God with all his innumerable manifestations’, and what he wants to achieve "... is self-realization, to see God face to face, to attain Moksha." - Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, The Story of my Experiments with Truth: an Autobiography, p. 4-6. Moksha, simply said, is self-realization, salvation, final liberation, the goal of human existence, fusion with the Absolute.

(20) Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, The Story of my Experiments with Truth: an Autobiography, p. 4-6.

(21) Jan Filipský, Encyklopedie indické mytologie: Postavy indických bájí a letopisů, p. 117; Dušan Zbavitel et al., Bohové s lotosovýma očima: hinduistické mýty v indické literatuře tří tisíciletí, p. 332-334.

(22) William Walsh, R. K. Narayan: A Critical Appreciation, p. 62, 63.

(23) The story is, simply said, about the god Shiva who does not want to be distracted in his meditation. Parvathi comes to serve him and when Shiva feels the passion waking up inside him, he looks around and finds Kama, the god of love, aiming his shaft at him. Shiva opens his third eye and burns Kama to ashes (destroying thus just his visible existence). Nevertheless, Shiva finishes by marrying Parvathi anyway.

(24) R. K. Narayan, Mr Sampath, p. 108.

(25) R. K. Narayan, Mr Sampath, p. 178.

(26) R. K. Narayan, Mr Sampath, p. 103.

(27) R. K. Narayan, Mr Sampath, p. 196.

(28) R. K. Narayan, Mr Sampath, p. 109.

(29) R. K. Narayan, Mr Sampath, p. 107.

(30) R. K. Narayan, Mr Sampath, p. 196.

(31) R. K. Narayan, Mr Sampath, p. 205-209.

(32) Bill Ashcroft et al., Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-colonial Literatures, p. 109, 110.

(33) R. K. Narayan, Mr Sampath, p. 219.


Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffith and Helen Tiffin. The Empire WritesBack: Theory and Practice in Post-colonial Literatures. London and New York: Routledge 2001 [1989].

Fanon, Frantz. ‘On National Culture.’ In Williams, Patrick, and Laura Chrisman, eds. Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory: A Reader. New York: Columbia University Press 1994.

Filipský, Jan, Encyklopedie indické mytologie: Postavy indických bájí a letopisů (Encyclopaedia of Indian Mythology: Figures of Indian Legends and Annals). Praha: Nakladatelství LIBRI 1998.

Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand. The Story of my Experiments with Truth: an Autobiography. Ahmedabad: Navajivan Press 1940 [1925]. Translated from Gujarati by Mahadev Desai.

Kakar, Sudhir. Intimate Relations: Exploring Indian Sexuality. Penguin Books. New Delhi-Calcutta: 1990 [1989].

Rao, Raja. Kanthapura. New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation 1963 [1938].

Narayan, R. K. Mr Sampath - the Printer of Malgudi. London: Vintage 2000 [1949].

Narayan, R. K. The Man-eater of Malgudi. London: Penguin Books 1983 [1961].

Volná, Ludmila. ‘Myth in the Indian Novel in English: Midnight’s Children’s Call for Plurality and Tolerance,’ preprint.

Walsh, William. R. K. Narayan: A Critical Appreciation. The University of Chicago Press. Chicago: 1982.

Williams, Patrick, and Laura Chrisman, eds. Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory: A Reader. New York: Columbia University Press 1994.

Zbavitel, Dušan, Eliška Merhautová a Jan Filipský. Bohové s lotosovýma očima: hinduistické mýty v indické literatuře tří tisíciletí(Gods with Lotus-like Eyes: Hindu Myths in Indian Literature of Three Millenniums). Praha: Vyšehrad 1997

Zbavitel, Dušan and Jaroslav Vacek. Průvodce dějinami staroindické literatury (A Guide to History of Ancient Indian Literature). Třebíč: Arca JiMfa 1996.

9.6. Spreading the Word: Texts and the Text

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For quotation purposes:
Ludmila Volná (IMAGER University Paris XII, Charles University Praha): Creating and Re-creating Texts in R. K. Narayan’s Mr Sampath - the Printer of Malgudi
. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW: ../../../index.htmtrans/16Nr/09_6/volna16.htm

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