Swami and Friends, 1935, was Narayan’s first novel, and it was at once hailed by competent critics as a great work of art. Graham Greene, for example, called it, “A book in ten thousand’, and Compton Mackenzie said, have never read any other book about India in the least like it. This is really creditable for a first attempt.
The novel describes the life of boys in South Indian schools, and much of R.K. Narayan’s personal experience has gone into the making of the novel. We get a vivid portrayal of the thoughts, emotions, and activities of schoolboys. The plot revolves around the activities of Swami, the hero, and his friends Mani (the Dada), Shanker, the most intelligent boy of the class, Somu, the monitor, Samuel, the short-statured, and so-called the Pea, and Rajam, a late arrival, intelligent and charming, the son of the Police Superintendent.
Ebenezar, a teacher of the school, is a fanatic Christian and one day, quite early in his school career, Swami comes into clash with him. Unable to endure the abuses hurled on the Hindu deities by this fanatic Christian, Swami tries to heckle him and consequently gets beaten and his left ear injured. He, however, avenges the insult by delivering to the Head Master his father’s complaint against the teacher. There is further trouble. His very close friend, the powerful Mani, who is in the habit of bullying the newcomers, takes it into his head to bundle up Rajam, and throw him into the Sarayu river. Swami agrees to help his mighty friend in his dangerous plan. Luckily for him, the proposed fight does not take place. Fear on both sides brings the two enemies together and in no time they turn fast friends, eating biscuits and sitting on the banks of the river.
When Rajam arrives, the M.C.C. (Malgudi Cricket Club) is formed with Swami and his friends as members. The advent of Rajam marks a crisis in Swami’s life. Swami falls in love with the boy and is distressed that his other friend Mani has to fight with the newcomer just to put him in his place. The party at Rajam’s house where the young man orders his cook about just to show off his importance, the excitement of asking Rajam to the house, and the way Swami sets about this, educating his grandmother as he goes along every reader recollects. The crisis in their relations is reached when Swami, without intending it, lets down his team by not turning up for the crucial match between the M.C.C. and the Young Men’s Union. The result is that Rajam is very angry with him and the friendship between the two comes to an end. Soon Rajam’s father is transferred and he is to leave the town. Swami goes to bid him farewell at the station.
With a copy of Anderson’s Fairy Tales in his hands, Swami reaches the station in time but hesitates to approach Rajam. A little before the train starts, Mani discovers him standing in the crowd and takes him to Rajam but the train steams off. With great difficulty, Mani succeeds in handing over Swami’s present to Rajam who acknowledges it by waving his hand towards Swami.