Back to: RK Narayan Novels
The Man Eater of Malgudi revolves around two characters, Nataraj who runs a printing shop in Malgudi and Vasu, who is a taxidermist and the tenant of Nataraj.
Table of Contents
Nataraj owns a printing shop on Market road in Malgudi. He is a popular man and his business is flourishing enough that he does not need to rent a front room of his shop which for many is an object of envy.
He is helped by his colleague Sastri and Kandan (Binder). He is also on the best terms with his neighbour who also runs a printing shop and owns the latest printing technology.
We are introduced to Nataraj’s family which consists of his wife and son, little Babu. His mother and grand auntie live with his brother in Madras.
He lives in his ancestral home on Kabir Street which was once inhabited by a family of 15 people with his father and his four uncles with their families. Nataraj is a content man with his Queen Anne chair and Heidelberg press in the neighboring shop.
He has a coterie of friends like the local lawyer famous for adjournments, a journalist named Sen who is critical of Nehru’s politics, a writer who is writing an epic on Krishna, a 70-year-old man who owns many houses in the village, the Taluk officer, milkman etc.
Nataraj follows a strict routine every day, getting up before 4 am and going to the river to wash his clothes and start his day with the rising sun.
A New Visitor
Sastri had to leave early that day to attend puja at his house on Vinayak Street. The printing of new KJ Drinks’ cards was to be moved to its second colouring and Nataraj was handed the task by him.
Inside the shop, the usual cast was immersed in their own work. The poet was busy with his monosyllabic poetry and Sen was busy critiquing the 3 Five Year Plan of Nehru.
He was joined by a Congressman and patriot and they entered into a heated debate. While Nataraj was busy with the press, beyond the blue curtain between the parlour and the press, he was startled to see a new face entering his workplace. The man was called Vasu, a taxidermist.
He was tall and muscular and intimidated Nataraj. He had come to get his visiting cards printed. Even though they have an uncomfortable first meeting where Vasu is unseemly and aggressive, Nataraj takes his order on the second visit. However, Nataraj and his friends have a bad feeling about the man.
A Forceful Tenant
Even though Nataraj is irked by the bullying ways of Vasu he cannot prevent him from moving into the attic of his shop. Clearing all the junk and old scrap paper, Vasu is meticulous with giving the attic a makeover.
He is staying in it till the time he gets a new Bungalow in New Extension area of Malgudi. Vasu is often absent from the place but when he does come, he makes a ruckus with Sen and the poet.
One day he brings a Forest Officer at Mempi forest and introduces him to Nataraj. The officer wants to get his boo—Golden Thoughts-get printed. Nataraj is not keen on helping a contact of Vasu.
On the other hand, Vasu wants to brown-nose to the officer to get a permit to shoot in the forest. After a while Nataraj relents but Vasu only gets a permit to shoot fowl. This gets under his skin as he wanted to hunt bigger animals like elephants etc.
A Visit to Mempi
Nataraj was going over the details of the wedding invitation of the adjournment lawyer’s daughter when Vasu dropped at the shop in his jeep. He coerced Nataraj to hop into the jeep and drove off, leaving the lawyer stranded in the shop.
Nataraj was scared that he was being abducted. Vasu calmed him down telling him about the Mempi forest. They were going on a tiger hunting trip. The journey ended at the Mempi village.
Here, Vasu discussed the whereabouts about the tiger and Nataraj went to the tea stall near the temple. He was hungry but did not have any money as he was forced to come in this unplanned trip.
Vasu drove off with his companions, asking Nataraj to wait for his return. Nataraj hoped to catch a bus to Malgudi before Vasu returned. He became friends with the tea-stall owner, Muthu. He was a self-made man who had wanted to print cards for a temple ceremony.
The temple had a pet elephant called Kumar which everybody adored in the village. He gave Nataraj tea and some buns to satiate his hunger. He also arranged for him a trip back on the bus, who conductor was a friend. The bus took eight hours to reach Malgudi.
The next day when the lawyer came back to the shop, Nataraj was embarrassed about leaving him unannounced the previous day. Nonetheless, they finalized the order for wedding invitations. The same day Vasu returned with the dead tiger.
He dragged Nataraj to the attic where he had set up shop. It was racked with dead animals, their carcasses and foul smells. Nataraj was perturbed and thought of devising a way to get rid of the nuisance named Vasu from his shop and life.
The Talk and the Summons
Finally, gathering enough courage and composure, Nataraj sat with Vasu to discuss his stay. Vasu was rude as ever but Nataraj politely asked about if he had arranged for a new place of accommodation.
Vasu declined and counter questioned his intentions. Nataraj lied to him saying he had a relative who needed the attic space. Vasu took the entire conversation indifferently and stormed off without giving a proper reply.
After a few days, Nataraj received a brown letter. It was a legal summons from the Court of Rent Controller. He was charged with two accounts: renting a place without proper formalities and wrongful eviction of the tenant.
He realized this was Vasu’s doing. He felt desperate and resigned to his fate. The next morning he caught hold of the adjournment lawyer who had been avoiding his shop as he had not paid his bill yet.
Nataraj asked for his legal counsel. They went to his office in Abu Lane. Here, Nataraj discussed the entire predicament and the lawyer agreed to help him as per his usual charges.
They were able to avoid the appearance in the court the next day and Nataraj sends the lawyer his well earned 10 rupees.
The Dog, the Forester and Rangi
A couple of weeks rolled off when Nataraj had a new visitor at his shop. It was the septuagenarian that he used to meet on his morning strolls. His grandson Ramu’s dog had been shot in the streets and he was enquiring about the shooter.
He knew Sastri and Sastri told him about Vasu. Nataraj tried to settle the passions and offered to buy a new dog for Ramu. Nataraj was missing having a relationship with Vasu even if it is of cynicism and sarcasm.
One day the forester who Vasu had brought earlier came back to the shop. He had come to meet Vasu and warn him about his illegal hunting expeditions in Mempi.
Vasu was curt with him and challenged him to prove any misdoing. This made things worse between Vasu and Nataraj as the former suspected him of helping the forester against him.
Due to strict oversight at the Mempi forest, Vasu could not continue his hunting spree. To offset this he started bringing working women and prostitutes to the attic.
One of them was Rangi whose mother was the former dancer at the temple and infamous as a temptress. Sastri knew about the mother and Rangi and was appalled to see the shop turn into a disreputable place.
A Visitor from Mempi
One lazy afternoon, Nataraj saw a familiar face enter his shop for the first time. It was Muthu, the teashop owner of Mempi village. Remembering all his help, Nataraj offered him money for tea and buns but he felt discomfited by the gesture. They continued their chat and it became clear that even people of Mempi was as irritated by Vasu as in Malgudi.
Muthu came for help. The elephant at the Mempi temple, Kumar, had fallen sick. The villagers knew about an animal speciality hospital in Malgudi and so came to Nataraj.
The next few days Nataraj searched for any information regarding the animal shelter and hospital. His journalist friend, Sen finally helped him with a newspaper article mentioning it. He visited the dilapidated place and met Dr Joshi.
The doctor asked him to bring Kumar (elephant) to the hospital for a checkup. Nataraj went to Mempi to convince the villagers to allow the elephant to visit the doctor in the city. He faced opposition from the village folks, especially the tailor.
Eventually, they came to an agreement and with the help of a Mahout (elephant handler) got the elephant up and about. Vasu also reached the spot and offered Nataraj a ride to the city.
Reluctantly he agreed and they sped away in Vasu’s jeep. Vasu mentioned his intention of printing a monograph on wildlife to Nataraj who feigned interest in his latest endeavour.
The Poet’s Celebration
Nataraj’s pet friend had finally finished his monosyllabic epic on Krishna and his wife Radha. The whole group was excited. They wanted to through a big gala around the festival to celebrate the launch of his epic.
An astrologer was arranged and he fixed date in a month’s time. Meanwhile, the owner of KJ Drinks was growing impatient with his unfinished print order.
Nataraj tried to reason with him and appealed to him to contribute to the auspicious ceremony that was going to organize. In fact, Nataraj and Sastri were knees- deep in their effort to raise money. They printed flyers for the event with the text from Sen.
However; they were struggling to make people loosen their purse strings. Finally, it was Vasu who offered to help. Through his uniquely rough and unpolished ways, he was able to force or coax people to pledge greater sums. All looked ceremonious and dandy for the poet and his function.
The Big Reveal and Confrontation
It was all hands to the deck, Sastri, the poet and Nataraj were racing against time to finish the first printed copy of the book. They were half-sleep and tired but could not stop the work. The function was scheduled for the next day and all other arrangements had been made.
There would be a speech form Municipal Chairman, dance from Rangi, music form pipers and drummers, coconut rice and KJ Drinks for the gathering etc. Gradually both Sastri and the poet dozed off and Nataraj was the only one slogging through the work.
He heard a call from a feminine voice. He looked over the grille and it was Rangi. She was talking in whispers. Nataraj was unusually taken by her physical attraction but she had other important news to share.
Rangi informed him that Vasu had hatched a scheme to shoot the elephant, Kumar during the procession. She was to perform in the same event and was worried about the hallowed creature and the sanctity of the temple ritual.
Vasu had decided to shoot the elephant as he passed in front of his attic window during next day’s procession. The next morning Nataraj decided to confront Vasu. Starting off with some pleasantries he eased into the conversation.
Vasu was not in a good mood and Nataraj had to come clean. He warned him against doing any harm to the animal but Vasu was undeterred. He claimed he had a written claim to the animal’s dead body.
Nataraj grew worried about the prospect of a wild and reckless animal and the ensuing panic in the crowd. He reached the temple where the festivities had already started. He looked at Kumar dotingly and racked his brains to find a solution.
In his desperation, he let out a massive scream pleading to Gods to intervene. This startled the carousing crowd and gave Nataraj some respite to have a word with the Municipal Chairman who approached him out of concern.
He told him about the situation and then asked his family to leave the event and return to the safety of their home.
The Last Attempt
Nataraj came back to his house with his wife and son. His friends: Muthu, Sen, poet and Dr Joshi also came to visit him. He told them about Vasu’s plane.
They still had time before the procession started and decided to contact the Deputy Superintendent of Police who was the Sen’s friend. The DSP ordered an Inspector to accompany them to Vasu’s place.
Vasu was unflinching in his defiance. He was confident in the paperwork for the guns and was not ready to be intimidated by the Inspector. In trying to heckle Vasu, the Inspector broke his wrist and the team of four had to leave Vasu’s place.
They could not do anything until any crime had been perpetrated. Meanwhile, Rangi visited Nataraj at his house. His wife was surprised and grumbled to see a prostitute in her house.
Rangi had come to learn about Nataraj’s well being and told him that Vasu had left a message at her house. He wanted to see her and she was afraid if she did not oblige,
Vasu would light, her house and her deaf mother in it, on fire. Nataraj’s wife growing frustrated at his husband new friendship with Rangi stormed off to the procession with their son, Babu. Rangi left the printer too.
He waited for his wife to return furtively and started mind-jogging through the procession. A couple of passersby told him that the procession had started late. He could not take the suspense any longer and decided to stop Vasu at any cost.
Nataraj reached the attic filled with frightful determination. He saw Vasu sleeping in his long chair and swiftly grabbed his gun which was lying on the floor. At the same time, the procession also crossed his shop.
The Investigation and the Aftermath
Even though it did not occur to Nataraj what had actually happened, it became clear the next morning. Thanappa, the postman, came to Nataraj looking spooked.
He told him he had gone to the attic to give Vasu his mail but only found his cold dead body, Nataraj asked him to remain quiet and leave the place.
He went upstairs and scanned the crime scene. He found his folder (funds for the event) and the stuffed tiger cub (valued at Rs 2000) and hurried to his office downstairs.
For the whole of the next day, the place was a hotbed of investigation and speculation. The DSP was perched on the Queen Anne chair and was questioning everyone from Muthu to Rangi.
Even Nataraj’s wife was interrogated but he stuck to what her husband advised to say. Vasu’s body was examined by the forensic team and taken to the mortuary for post-mortem.
There was small tiffin lying beside his body. This was Rangi’s and had the pulav she made him. But neither Nataraj nor Rangi dared to speak a word about its owner.
The medical report confirms that the cause of death was blunt trauma to the side of Vasu’s head. The whole town gossiped about the possible murderer.
For some, it was Sen the journalist or Muthu the village teashop owner. But for most, including his wife, it was Nataraj who had finally snapped after being subjected to Vasu’s belligerence for so many months.
The Murderous Press
Now, Nataraj became the talk of the town. He was the subject of all the gossips and hushed rumours. This affected his relationship with his friends like Sen and the poet who never returned to their fixed spots in the parlour of his press.
Muthu and the villagers disowned any connection to Nataraj as well. Sastri had left for a wedding in Karaikudi and had not come back yet. For all intents and purposes, he had deserted his employer too.
The press became known as the Murderous Press and the stigma attached to it really fell hard on Nataraj and his psyche. One day he caught hold of the poet, coaxed him to come to the press and offered him the stuffed tiger cub to thaw the frost of indifference.
To his utter dismay, the poet scampered out of Queen Anne and the press as soon as he laid eyes on Vasu’s masterpiece. He considered Nataraj had lost his marbles and was suffering from lunacy, a deranged killer.
It became clear to Nataraj that even though Vasu had killed many tigers and wild beasts, it was he who was the real man-eater. Vasu, even after his death, had killed Nataraj’s hard-earned reputation and place in his beloved Malgudi.
When all hope had been lost, Nataraj had a visit from an old friend. It was Sastri who had returned from his extended trip. Nataraj opened up to him about the troubles that beset his life, work and reputation. Sastri calmed him down and revealed the mystery behind Vasu’s death.
He said that Rangi had come to his house the previous evening and described how Vasu died. She was with him at the time of the procession and he succumbed to the flat of his palm when trying to swat away an army of mosquitoes.
In a poetic sense, Sastri quoted the scriptures that expatiate that every demon, even the man-eater Vasu, has a particle of self0destruction in them. It is the power of the tyrant itself that brings the end of his tyranny once and for all.
The Man Eater of Malgudi: Key Thoughts
The Man Eater of Malgudi is considered to be an outstanding allegory that puts the struggle between good and evil at the forefront. In the end, it triumphantly declares the victory of good when evil meets its end by self-destruction.
The titular man-eater is not an animal but a man, Vasu, who has no limits of contrition and compassion and is consumed by guilt, gore and pleasure-seeking. The story has a detailed plot with a diverse cast of vivid characters.
The character of Vasu, the antagonist and Nataraj, the meek protagonist are crafted with masterful skill and patience. The words evoke a response of pathos mixed with some moments of comic relief. It is certainly one of Narayan’s best works.
Visit this site for a brief overview of the novel.