Under the Banyan Tree by R.K. Narayan
In Under the Banyan Tree by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of story-telling, isolation, hardship, escape, fear, failure, loyalty and selfishness. Taken from his An Astrologer’s Day and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Narayan may be exploring the theme of isolation. Somal is isolated from the world around it. The nearest bus stop is ten miles away and the town is sparsely populated with less than three hundred people. The fact that the population of Somal is so small may be important as Narayan may be suggesting that the village is a difficult place to live in. With no real amenities at hand. If anything the centre of attention is Nambi and his ability to tell stories. Nambi’s ability to tell a story is interesting as it may be a case that the people in Somal listen to Nambi’s stories in order to escape from the hardships that surround them. It is easier for them to listen to Nambi telling his stories than it is to face the realities of living in Somal. It is also possible that Narayan is exploring the theme of fear and failure. When Nambi loses the ability to tell a story he begins to get afraid. Blaming his age on the fact that he is unable to tell a story.
However the reality may be very different for Nambi. As with writers who go through a period without being able to write (writer’s block) Nambi too may be going through a period of being unable to tell a story. However rather than persevering or giving himself time. Nambi chooses to remain silent and stop telling stories altogether. It is as though his well has finally run dry. It is also interesting that many of the people in the village lack the patience to wait for Nambi to return to telling stories. When he continually stumbles in a story many of the people in the village decide to walk away. It is as though their means of escape is no longer. It is also interesting that only Mari shows Nambi any type of loyalty. He is the only person in the village who shows not only loyalty to Nambi but patience too. Everybody else in the village walks away from Nambi. It is as though he is no longer of any use to anybody in the village because he can’t tell a story like he used to be able to do.
It is also possible that Narayan is suggesting that everybody has a purpose and for Nambi his purpose was to tell stories. However when he lost the ability to tell stories he was no longer useful to people. Which may suggest a certain selfishness in society (or in Somal). When a person is no longer useful they are forgotten about. Even Mari’s polite words to Nambi cannot hide the fact that Nambi is no longer of any use to people in Somal. He has served his purpose and old age has gotten the better of Nambi with his inability to remember a story. It might also be significant that Nambi is not the only one who is suffering. The people of Somal no longer have an avenue of escape now that Nambi is silent. The hardships that they incur daily will be even more real for them. Which may be the point that Narayan is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that everybody, regardless of who they may be, is reliant on each other. Just as Nambi needs an audience to tell his stories to so too do the people in Somal have a need to hear the stories that Nambi tells them.
It might also be a case that Narayan is focusing on the art of story-telling. When Nambi told a story he never used the same character twice. It is possible that Narayan is highlighting just how difficult the art of story-telling really is and how frustrated a story-teller may get when they lose the ability to tell a story. Not only does the story-teller fear never being able to tell a story again but they also fear failure. Which is the case with Nambi. It is as though story-telling was Nambi’s life and now that he is unable to tell a story he has decided to remain silent. Which some critics may suggest is an extreme measure. Rather than giving himself time Nambi gives up on story-telling believing that it is the will of the great Mother. Whether the reader believes this is another thing as each individual reader will interpret the story differently. Some will suggest that Nambi gave up story-telling too soon and should have been a little more patient. While others will agree with Nambi and suggest that the reason Nambi is unable to tell a story is because of the will of the great Mother.