Malgudi is a fictitious town in India created by R.K. Narayan in his novels and short stories. It forms the setting for most of Narayan's works. Starting with his first novel, Swami and Friends, all but one of his fifteen novels and most of his short stories take place here. Narayan has successfully portrayed Malgudi as a microcosm of India. Malgudi was created, as mentioned in Malgudi Days, by Sir Fredrick Lawley, a fictional British officer in the 19th century by combining and developing a few villages. The character of Sir Fredrick Lawley may have been based on Arthur Lawley, the Governor of Madras in 1905.
Narayan has often asserted that Malgudi is a fictional town. However, this has never deterred fans from speculating about its actual location. It is certain that it is located in South India, for Narayan himself says in an interview:
The exact location, however, is a matter of speculation. Many are of the opinion [weasel words] that it may be Coimbatore, with a river on one side, forest on the other, and many similar buildings and lanes as Malgudi like Lawley road, Variety Hall, Bombay Anand Bhavan, etc. It is also speculated that it may be Lalgudi on the river Kaveri, or Yadavgiri in the erstwhile state of Mysore. But as per one of the writings in RK Narayans book, he loved Malleshwaram and Basavanagudi, two prominent and old areas of Bangalore and used the first few letters from Malleshwaram (Mal) and last few letters of Basavanagudi(gudi) to create Malgudi.
Localities and Landmarks
The Sarayu River
Malgudi is located on the banks of the river Sarayu. In Swami and Friends, Swami, Mani and Rajam spend most of their evenings playing or chatting by the river. In The Guide, holy-man Raju fasts on the banks of the dry river Sarayu, praying for the rains to come. When Mahatma Gandhi visits Malgudi, the meetings and speeches are held right on the banks of river Sarayu.
Streets and Neighborhoods
Market Street is the central street of Malgudi, the location of several big shops including Bombay Anand Bhavan and Truth Printing Works. Kabir Street is the residence of the elite of Malgudi, while Lawley Extension is a new upcoming lane housing the rich and the influential. Ellammn Street, home to the oil-mongers, is the last street and beyond it lies the river Sarayu. Other streets include Grove Street, Kalighat Lane and Vinayak Mudali Street.
Palace Talkies was built in 1935 to replace the old Variety Hall. Albert Mission School and Albert Mission College are the more popular educational institutions. There is also the board school and the town elementary schools.
Malgudi has a small railway station. The main hospital of Malgudi is Malgudi Medical Centre (MMC). The statue of Sir Lawley, seated on a horse, forms another major landmark. Another important place is The Boardless, a small restaurant without any board. Boardless is a centre of discussion for current events in Malgudi.
Mempi forest is on the other side of Sarayu. It houses many hills and caves. Animals to be found there include tigers, members of the deer family, langurs and water buffaloes.
While describing how he conceptualised Malgudi, Narayan says,
"Malgudi was an earth-shaking discovery for me, because I had no mind for facts and things like that, which would be necessary in writing about Malgudi or any real place. I first pictured not my town but just the railway station, which was a small platform with a banyan tree, a station master, and two trains a day, one coming and one going. On Vijayadasami I sat down and wrote the first sentence about my town: The train had just arrived in Malgudi Station."
Various critics compare Narayan's Malgudi with Thomas Hardy's Wessex or William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha. It was a town created from his own experiences, his childhood, his upbringing. The people in it were people he met every day. He thus created a place which every Indian could relate to. A place, where, in the words of Graham Greene (from the introduction to The Financial Expert), you could go "into those loved and shabby streets and see with excitement and a certainty of pleasure a stranger approaching past the bank, the cinema, the haircutting saloon, a stranger who will greet us, we know, with some unexpected and revealing phrase that will open the door to yet another human existence."
In contemporary culture
The concept of Malgudi as an "idyllic spot located in South India" seems to have taken root in popular imagination. Some restaurants offering South Indian fare go by the name or extensions of "Malgudi." The Shyam Group operates Malgudi restaurants in Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad , . A restaurant named "Malgudi Junction" is located in Kolkata .