The Dark Room by R. K. Narayan
Finished reading on November 5th, 2017
“The Dark Room” is a story of a family in Narayan’s created Maguldi.
There’s the head of the family – Ramani, secretary of an insurance company, who drives a car, goes to a club after work and expects things to be the way he wants them when he gets home to his family. There’s the dutiful wife – Savitri, who tries to please her husband and keep the household working. And the children – eldest boy Babu and girls Kamala and Sumati, and then there’re some household servants and a cook…
the story begins with the introduction of the family and their way of life and how Savitri would react to her husbands mean or angry moods – she would lie in bed in a dark room.
And then we meet a new addition to Ramani’s workplace – a young woman, who is starting work there. And Ramani goes on to be very “friendly” with his new colleague to the point where he at first just reaches home really late at night to where he only arrives at home in the early morning hours.
Savitri finds out, confronts Ramani and leaves home, only to return a few days later.
I think this is a really interesting story, as there is a certain amount of Jane Eyre like elements in the story. Sure, it lacks a romantic brooding Mr. Rochester, but in a way it’s Jane Eyre transposed to Malgudi as a mother of three children with a husband who has found another younger woman to spend his time with.
There are even whole sentences which have just a little bit missing from being Jane’s “I am no bird” speech when Savitri is looking for justice from her husband.
Ramani doesn’t see it though, and she leaves in the middle of the night, only to go through a similar, but noticeably shorter detour, during which she is saved from drowning by a helpful stranger, who in a way takes her in and helps her find a job, even though it’s for a short while – but it’s the elements of Jane Eyre’s story. The stranger doesn’t turn out to be her relative in any way though…
Savitri, as Jane Eyre, is determined to not accept charity, and to work for her food, as her husband had pointed out and as she herself feels, that she doesn’t own anything, everything has only ever been her father’s, her husband’s or her son’s. And she is happy when she gets to have rice that she has earned with work…
The end of the book is poignant though – Savitri has returned home, her husband has been in a good mood, but Savitri is still gloomy. The stranger who had helped her, goes past her street yelling out his services and she consider’s calling out to him, seeing as he looked hungry. But she doesn’t, as she feels that she doesn’t have anything to offer – everything is still only her husband’s.
It is a really short book, but it’s a powerful story and Narayan has brought out many opposing ideas -we have a family with the man being the dominating one, in Savitri’s and Ramani’s case. And one where the woman dominates in case of the stranger Mari who saves Savitri, and his wife Ponni. There is the idea that married women and prostitutes have a lot in common, with the difference being that married women don’t switch men… and then there’s Savitri’s understanding of how it’s really important that her daughters would get a better education than she did, so that they could earn a living on their own – I think that is the reason why Savitri returns home.