Waiting for the Mahatma (1955)

by R. K. Narayan

Though Waiting for the Mahatma ends in a tragic death, it is a gentle, low-key, and often comic novel with compassion for India’s people and hope for the country’s future as it achieves independence from Britain.

Sriram, an orphan living with his grandmother in the fictional Indian town of Malgudi in the 1940s, joins Gandhi’s anti-British Quit India movement because he’s attracted to a girl who is active in it. He operates in the Indian countryside and is incited by a radical freedom fighter to commit violent acts of which Gandhi himself would not approve. Sriram is arrested, jailed for several years, freed after Indian independence, and finally united with his love.

Around this straightforward story told in simple language, Narayan builds a deep understanding of the ordinary people who were inspired by Gandhi to take part in the freedom struggle. Bharati, the girl Sriram loves, is the passionate devotee. Sriram is less idealistic, more of an ordinary, unassured person whose isolation gives way under the force of political events. When Gandhi himself appears, his beliefs and actions are clear, and there is even some humor.

Waiting for the Mahatma is a book for anyone interested in Gandhi or India — or just in a good book with an unpretentious writing style. R. K. Narayan (1906–2001) is regarded as one of India’s greatest English-language novelists.


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