The protagonist of the story is Chandran, a student of History. He lives quite a stereotypical life with a loving family (mother, father and a brother) and trusting friend Ramu. His college life is full of pre-exam anxiety, friendly banter and hotly contested debates.
However, college friendships often last only until one graduate and the same happens with Chandran. He graduates college and is primed to join the professional life designed in the mould of post-colonial India fighting to find a balance between a chaotic past, uncharted present and an uncertain future.
He hails from Tamil Nadu and has lived a life as per the traditions and conventions of his place and time. However, his education has kindled a desire within him to break the chains of conservatism and look for an escape into the freedom of the world. This change is triggered by heartburn, a loss.
His Love for Malathi
Chandran is lovesick for a girl named Malathi who he meets at the village river. He falls hopelessly in love with her and spends all his time immersed in her thoughts. The situation becomes apparent to his parents and they try to surrender to his wishes.
Vivified by a burning desire to wed the girl, Chandran impels them to go to Malathi’s house and approach her parents. However, the stars in their horoscopes are crossed and his marriage proposal is declined. Malathi is married off to another suitor soon.
Chandran feels hurt and helpless in the hand of fate. Dazed by such heartache, he decides to give up control and throw caution to the wind. He leaves his home in a spirit of the rebellion reaches Madras. Residing in a hotel at first he quickly weans off a unique path.
Ultimately, he decides to commit to a life of asceticism and cuts off his hair. During his travels, he acquires fame as an accomplished sage. His defiance lasts for nearly eight months and then it starts to wear off. He feels guilty about deserting his family and parents.
The toil and aimlessness of life as hermit dawn over Chandran and soon he returns to the mundane life as a householder. He gets a job in publishing and decides to marry according to his parents’ bidding. He is still afflicted by the memory and lost life with Malathi and still pines when looking at her pictures.
Marriage With Susila
Finally, his father finds a young Brahmin girl named Susila for him. He is still gripped with uncertainty and initially refuses to marry her. However, fate turns a circle and he ends up falling in love with Susila on his visit to her house.
One glance at her he is imprisoned by the same desire and yearning he had long forgotten. Interestingly, she comes laden with considerable dowry too.
Back to Normal Life
Surrendering his spirit of adventure he finds peace and tranquillity in the domesticated life and returns to his roots and social function as prescribed by his Brahminical society. The youth and itinerant whims of a young man finally find restitution in the domestic responsibilities and familial relationships.
Key Thoughts in The Bachelor of Arts
Set in the backdrop of South India, the story is autobiographical in nature with Narayan heavily utilizing his own experience in the sketch of Chandran. The tale successfully enmeshes the post-colonial mix of traditional and modern life values and thoughts.
Narayan depicts the strands of suffering and humour in a beautiful tapestry of Malgudi and its vibrant characters. The story is part of a Malgudi based trilogy starting with Swami and Friends and ending with The English Teacher.