The Financial Expert Summary
Narayan’s sixth novel, The Financial Expert (1952), is his masterpiece, and Walsh calls Margayya, the hero of the novel, “probably Narayan’s greatest single comic creation.” An extremely well-constructed novel, in five parts corresponding to the five Acts of an Elizabethan drama, The Financial Expert tells the story of the rise and fall of Margayya, the financial expert.
Margayya begins his career as a petty money-lender, doing his business under a banyan tree, in front of the Central Co-operative Land Mortgage Bank in Malgudi. He helps the shareholders of the bank to borrow money at a small interest and lend it to the needy at a higher interest. In the process, he makes money for himself. The secretary of the bank and Arul Doss, the peon, seize from his box the loan application form he has managed to get from the bank through its shareholders; they treat him with contempt and threaten to take action against him. This sets him on the path to improving his position.
When Balu, his spoilt child, throws his account book, containing all the entries of his transactions with his clients, into the gutter, it becomes impossible for Margayya to resume his old practice. He shows his horoscope to an astrologer and is assured that a good time is coming for him if only he does puja to Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth. The puja is done for forty days, it’s ash from a red lotus and ghee made out of milk from a grey cow. Margayya goes through the puja and at the end of it is full of hopes of a prosperous career.
Old Dr. Pal, who sells him the MS of a book on Bed Life, for whatever ready cash Margayya’s purse contains, assures him that the book renamed Domestic Harmony will sell in tens of thousands if only he can find a publisher. Madan Lal, “a man from the North”, reads the MS and agrees to print and publish it on a 50-50 partnership basis. The book is at once popular and Margayya’s fortune is made.
Margayya is again ruined through his son, Balu. He had put him to school in great style, getting the blessings of his brother and sister-in-law next door. His wealth had enabled him to become the secretary of the School Managing Committee, with all that this meant in terms of power vis-a-vis the Headmaster and the school staff. He had engaged a private tutor for his son and instructed him to thrash the boy whenever necessary. But Balu is not good at his studies. He cannot pass his S.S.L.C. Margayya attempts to persuade him to take the examination a second time. The result is that Balu seizes the school leaving certificate book, tears it into four quarters, and throws them into the gutter, the same gutter which closed its dark waters over Margayya’s red account book. Now it carries away the School Certificate book. Then he runs away from home.
A few days later there is a letter from Madras telling Margayya that his son is dead. The brother’s family immediately comes to his help though Margayya feels he can do without their help and wonders whether this will change the existing relationship between them. He leaves for Madras discovers through the good offices of a fellow traveler, a police inspector in plain clothes, that his son is not really dead, traces the boy and brings him home. He wants to marry him to a girl named Brinda, the daughter of the owner of a tea estate in Mempi Hills. When a pundit after an honest study declares that the horoscopes of Balu and Brinda do not match, he is curtly dismissed with a fee of one rupee. Another astrologer, whom Dr. Paul finds, gives it in writing that the two horoscopes match perfectly and is paid Rs 75 for his pains. “Money can dictate the very stars in their courses.”
Balu and his wife are helped to set up an establishment of their own in Lawley Extension. Margayya, wishing to draw Dr. Pal away from his son, seeks his help in attracting deposits from Black Marketeers on the promise of interest of 29%. “If I get Rs 20,000 deposit each day and pay Rs 15,000 in interest, I have still Rs 5,000 a day left in my hands as my own,” Margayya calculates.
Margayya grows rich. It is now necessary for him to have a car. Every nook and corner of his house is stuffed with sacks full of currency notes. He is on the right side of the police, contributes to the War Fund when driven to do so and works day and night with his accounts and money bags, though his wife is unhappy at his straining himself so much.
One day Margayya visits his son in Lawley Extension. He finds Brinda and her child. The girl cannot hold back her tears while narrating Balu’s nocturnal activities. When Margayya gets out of the house, he finds a car halting in front of it out of which emerges Balu. His companions are Dr. Pal and a couple of women of the town.
The enraged father pulls Dr. Pal out of the car, beats him and dismisses the two women with contempt. The next day Dr. Pal, with a bandaged face, whispers to all and sundry that things are not going well with Margayya’s concern. Hundreds of people come to Margayya and ask for their deposits All the accumulated wealth is disbursed: still hundreds of people cannot be satisfied. The run on the bank leads to Margayya’s filing an insolvency petition.
And thus, like a house of cards, the wealth Margayya had accumulated is blown away. He advises his son to take his place under the banyan tree with the old box; and when he says, “How can I go and sit there? What will people say?” he replies, “Very well, then I will do it.” -(P.S. Sundram)
The theme of the novel is lust for money, but Margayya is no monster of greed and wickedness. R.K. Narayan has succeeded in humanizing him and showing that, despite his lust for money, he is a human being like us.