Old Man of the Temple by R.K. Narayan
In Old Man of the Temple by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of connection, acceptance, tradition, faith and dedication. Taken from his Under the Banyan Tree and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by the Talkative man and after reading the story the reader realises that Narayan may be exploring the theme of connection. The old man has spent five hundred years at the temple. It is as though his life is committed to pray and he sometimes wonders why others have never come to the temple. This may be important for two reasons. Firstly Narayan may be suggesting that a tradition that is so strong to the old man is not necessarily strong to those who live near the temple. Also the temple is in ruin and the old man may not necessarily be seen by others. He does after all have to possess Doss’ body in order to communicate with the protagonist. If anything the way that the old man has died may leave some readers to suggest that the old man has not passed through from this world to the next. Something that really only occurs when the protagonist helps the old man with the transition from the here and now to the afterlife.
It is also interesting that the old man finds in difficult to accept that he is dead. It is something that he feels is inconceivable. However on telling his story to the protagonist it becomes clear to both the protagonist and the old man that he is indeed dead. As to why the old man remained at the temple and nowhere else is also clear to the reader. The old man built the temple and it has become a large part of his life. This may be important as it highlights the fact that the old man not only has faith but that he is dedicated to his religion too. Unlike others who with the passing of time have lived a more modern life and do not see religion as necessarily being part of their life. It might also be important that the old man at times is defensive when it comes to the protagonist as Narayan may be suggesting that the old man is suspicious of the protagonist. The protagonist does not know who the King is for example. Though it might be important to remember that the King is no longer alive and has passed away just as the old man has passed away.
In reality the old man is in a difficult situation. He is stuck between two places. The earth and the run down temple in which he is the only visitor. Though this is clear to the protagonist. It confuses the old man because for the old man everything is real. The fact that the old man is able to take over Doss’ body and mind is also interesting as it highlights to the reader the powers that the old man has. Powers that would not usually be associated with somebody who is alive. This too could be important as Narayan may be suggesting that with death comes special powers. Powers that are unimaginable to the living. Though the old man may be considered to be grumpy. It is more likely that he is frustrated with the fact that nobody visits the temple which is in ruins and five hundred years old. Though still nonetheless must be accepted to be a temple. A place of worship which it has been to the old man for five hundred years.
There is also a sense that the old man has never been able to find his way home over the last five hundred years. Firstly he hasn’t accepted that he is dead and secondly he had nowhere to go to. His wife is dead and there is no mention of children. It is as though the old man has been stuck in limbo not knowing which direction he can take. However Narayan does ensure for a happy ending at the end of the story by uniting the old man with his wife. Which gives the old man purpose and a reason to leave the temple. Similarly the neighbours by the temple are no longer disturbed by the strange noises at their door. If anything the old man has finally found peace with the assistance of the protagonist. The only real casualty at the end of the story is Doss who has had to have a force alien to him possess his body and mind. Though this might have been the only way that the old man would have managed to a find a resolution to his difficulties. Difficulties brought on by the fact that he was killed so many years ago but did not ascend to heaven. It took five hundred years for the old man to finally unite with his wife in heaven.