AD's English Literature : Brief Analysis of R.K Narayan’s ‘Engine Trouble’: Greater Simplicity of Plot and Language, even as it Develops a Greater Complexity of Meaning to Exhibit the Domain of India

Brief Analysis of R.K Narayan’s ‘Engine Trouble’: Greater Simplicity of Plot and Language, even as it Develops a Greater Complexity of Meaning to Exhibit the Domain of India

 Malgudi Days fits neatly into R.K Narayan's literary evolution. According to the author himself, each of his stories displays a greater simplicity of plot and language, even as they develop a greater complexity of meaning to exhibit the domain of India. By the time Narayan wrote Malgudi Days the crowded action of his early fantasies was replaced by introspections of Indianness   stripped to its essence and resonant with meaning.


Engine Trouble by R.K Narayan is truly an Indian story of unlucky draw. The meaning is developed through the characters, especially the narrator, who may be Narayan's own unflattering self-portrait. Like Narayan, the narrator is a middle class man struggling to rise above his origins. Although the narrator wants to adapt to the dominant middle class culture, he remains profoundly attached to his own family sentiment.

Narayan has a love for describing carnivals, fairs, and the expo. Story after story we find in his Malgudi Days being set in such an environment if not then we at least has a market scene. Engine Trouble starts at a fair with the protagonist winning an engine; Emden goes through the hustle and bustle of a market place for his evening walk. An Astrologer’s Day is set in a bazaar and so is the Trail of the Green Blazer which is set in a bazaar. It seems Narayan situated most of the Malgudi stories on Malgudi’s public landmarks. 

Engine Trouble is beautifully written, but in a way that rarely calls attention to itself. Engine Trouble starts with a line of breezy description of past Malgudi which continues to carry the story forward. Narayan never dresses up the narrative of his characters. While perfectly natural, the narrative manages to convey the character's attitudes with remarkable authenticity, such as the narrator's cheeky insecurity or   pettiness.

This subtle precision is a major concern of Narayan, who likens it to the craftsmanship valued by his workingman ancestors. Just as the carpenter notices a wall that is a fraction of an inch out of plumb, the literary craftsman is sensitive to the slightest misuse of language, although in either case no one else might realize there is anything wrong.

This is a story by Narayan which begins on an ironic note of how a prize won by a man proves to be an expensive headache. A showman comes to Malgudi and brings with him his Gaiety land. The Gymkhana grounds are used for the festivities and the whole town pours in to see the show. Our protagonist wins a road engine at a show, people gather around him looking at him as if he is some curious animal. Now the problem that rises is how to take the prize back home. The driver of the engine is an expensive one and the suggestion of bringing in the municipality is not a good idea. Its decided that the engine can stay on the Gymkhana grounds till the end of the season but the cost of maintaining it on those grounds prove to be expensive for our protagonist.

A cattle show comes to town and he is given 24 hours’ time to remove it, so a temple elephant and 50 coolies are hired to take it to a nearby field owned by a friend. Joseph, a dismissed bus driver comes in to help steer the engine. Hell breaks loose resulting in undue expenditures.

Narayan introduces a Swamiji who performs various impossible feats and insists on having a road engine run over his chest. The municipality does not know how to arrange for one. Our protagonist becomes the hero of the hour by lending his engine for the feat. And in return it would be driven wherever he wanted it to. It is Narayan’s ability to bring forth the comic elements present in the most grave situations which is commendable the figure of Swamiji who wants to spread his master’s word through his feat is brought under the light of humour to show how such things are still rampant in our country and how people’s psyche is taken advantage of by such people.

Unfortunately in the story, the law comes in between and the feat cannot be performed, through the figure of a police inspector, the legality of doing such acts has been brought forward by Narayan where the inspector says that Swamiji can do anything except have potassium cyanide or have a rail engine run over him.

It is a natural calamity that comes as a stroke of luck for our protagonist and solves all his problems. Again Narayan shows the irony of how a calamity that claimed several towns bears good tidings for the owner of the engine. Read this story to find out how that calamity proves fortunate for the protagonist. An interesting comparison can be drawn with another story Lawley Road where the protagonist comes to own a British general’s statue and the troubles he has to go through to move the statue. In both the stories one sees Narayan commentary on the plight of his heroes is neither comic nor tragic when his heroes sink to despair. It is probably Narayan’s answer to how to go about with your life when you live in India.

Malgudi Days shows Narayan learning one of an author's most valuable and difficult lessons: what he can get by without saying. By every measure, the story is a giant step beyond the relative expanse to Indian atmosphere. The best example of Narayan's success is his ability to combine simple language and a few neutral things—feathers and dust, a noise in the attic—to generate the tense, fairyland atmosphere that dominates Engine Trouble.


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