Naipaul recalls how his father wrote to him during his first term at Oxford in 1950 and asked for something by Narayan, at which Naipaul repaired to Blackwell’s bookshop to look for him. There, standing in the second-hand section, Naipaul read the opening sentence of The Bachelor of Arts:
Chandran was just climbing the steps of the college union when Natesan, the secretary, sprang on him and said, “You are just the person I was looking for. You remember your old promise?” “No,” said Chandran promptly, to be on the safe side.
Naipaul continues, “I was immediately enchanted. I got to know that opening by heart, and for many years allowed it to play in my head when I was trying to summon up a new book, hoping that what would come to me would be as easy and direct and ironical, as visual and full of movement.” Trying to sum up the natural writer he believes Naipaul to have been, Naipaul concludes that he was
someone who overcomes difficulties by not seeing that they exist; and perhaps it never occurred to him that the way he used English to describe provincial Indian life was magical …. Narayan, with his glories and limitations, is the Gandhi of modern Indian literature.
I’m going to be in Oxford next month. Maybe I’ll stop by the second-hand section at Blackwell’s (do they still have a second-hand section?) and see the spot where Naipaul met Narayan.
ADDITION 8/14: A couple of other interesting links related to Narayan: