The Bachelor of Arts
-R K Narayan
The protagonist of the story is Chandran, a student of History. He lives quite a stereotypical life with a loving family (mother, father and a brother) and trusting friend Ramu. His college life is full of pre-exam anxiety, friendly banter and hotly contested debates. However, college friendships often last only till one graduates and the same happens with Chandran. He graduates college and is primed to join the professional life designed in the of mold post colonial India fighting to find balance between a chaotic past, uncharted present and an uncertain future.
He hails from Tamil Nadu and has lived a life as per the traditions and conventions of his place and time. However, his education has kindled a desire within him to break the chains of conservatism and look for an escape into the freedom of the world.
This change is triggered by heart burn, a loss.
Chandran is lovesick for a girl named Malathi who he meets at the village river. He falls hopelessly in love with her and spends all his time immersed in her thoughts. The situation becomes apparent to his parents and they try to surrender to his wishes.
Vivified by a burning desire to wed the girl Chandran impels them to go to Malathi’s house and approach her parents. However, the stars in their horoscopes are crossed and his marriage proposal is declined. Malathi is married off to another suitor soon.
Chandran feels hurt and helpless in the hand of fate. Dazed by such heart ache, he decides to cede control and throw caution to the wind. He leaves his home in a spirit of rebellion reaches Madras. Residing in a hotel at first he quickly weans off a unique path.
Ultimately, he decides to commit to a life of ascetism and cuts off his hair. During his travels he acquires fame as an accomplished sage.
His defiance lasts for nearly eight months and then it starts to wear off. He feels guilty about deserting his family and parents. The toil and aimlessness of life as a hermit dawns over Chandran and soon he returns to the mundane life as a householder. He gets a job in publishing and marries according to his parents’ bidding. He is still afflicted by the memory and lost life with Malathi and still pines when looking at her pictures.
Finally, his father finds a young Brahmin girl named Susila for him. He is still gripped with uncertainty and initially refuses to marry her. However, fate turns a circle and he ends up falling in love with Susila on his visit to her house. One glance at her he is imprisoned by the same desire and yearning he had long forgotten.
Interestingly, she comes laden with considerable dowry too. Surrendering his spirit of adventure he finds peace and tranquility in the domesticated life and returns to his roots and social function as prescribed by his Brahiminical society.
The youth and itinerant whims of young man finally find restitution in the domestic responsibilities and familial relationships.
Set in the backdrop of South India, the story is autobiographical in nature with Narayan heavily utilizing his own experience in the sketch of Chandran. The tale successfully enmeshes the post colonial mix of traditional and modern life values and thoughts.
Narayan depicts the strands of suffering and humor in a beautiful tapestry of Malgudi and its vibrant characters.
The story is part of a Malgudi based trilogy staring with Swami and Friends and ending with The English Teacher.