Search for narrator in The Narrator: A Novel
- Nitin Jarandikar*
The Narrator: A Novel is Makarand Paranjape’s debut novel published in 1995. Besides a well-reputed critic, Makarand Paranjape is an authority on the Postcolonial Studies and Indian Writing in English. Makarand Paranjape’s this identity demands a lot of expectation from his debut novel, particularly when the Indian novel in English is gaining tremendous impetus from thematic as well as technical point of view in the post-Rushdie era.
“This book is, essentially, about story-telling. You tell a story to
break the monotony of life, to entertain in the most profound
sense of the term… This book celebrates the ability and power of
This is how one of the characters in The Narrator comments about the novel.
Rahul Patwardhan, a lecturer in English at the Asafia University, Hyderabad meets one fantastic creature named Badrinath Dhanda. By narrating one loose plot, Badri offers Rahul Patwardhan to develop it into a screenplay for him. Rahul Patwardhan accepts this offer and drafts one screenplay named “Manpasand”. While unfolding “Manpasand” Rahul Patwardhan gets hypnotized by the enigmatic personality of Badri. Thus, parallel to a story of “Manpasand” runs the story of Rahul Patwardhan’s adventures in association with Badri. Socially and culturally, both Rahul Patwardhan and Badri Dhanda are poles apart. Rahul Patwardhan’s is “reasonably secure, middle class existence” whereas Badri Dhanda is a businessman who no more believes in the so-called norms of the moral world. Obviously in course of time, Rahul Patwardhan’s middle class sensibilities get shattered.
The novel begins and ends with the monologue of Rahul Patwardhan. It is through him the readers meet Badri Dhanda, it is through him the readers get acquainted with the script of “Manpasand”. So, in broad sense Rahul Patwardhan can be termed as a ‘fictive-author’ or ‘the author-narrator’. By using Gerard Gennette’s terms, (228-229) it can be said that the novel The Narrator exploits three possibilities of the narrative levels (1)-
i. Extradigetic level: where Rahul Patwardhan narrates his personal
experiences, his meetings with Badri Dhanda and the working out of
the script, ‘Manpasand’.
ii. Intradigetic level: where Badri Dhanda narrates his personal
experiences to Rahul Patwardhan and to the real readers.
iii. Metadigetic level: where the screenplay ‘Manpasand’ is unfolded to
the real readers.
According to Gerard Gennette, each story has narration that tells the story. A character whose actions are object of narration can himself narrate a story or some other can turn narrating a story. It can happen in infinite turns. Such narratives within narratives create a hierarchy of levels where each narrative is subordinate to the narrative within which it is embedded.
In the novel The Narrator while talking abut such possibility of infinite turns Badri Dhanda says, “No doubt, the novel consists of many stories, jumbled up”(279). He makes a list of these stories remarking “ a true contents page indicating the major stories told herein would give us a clue”. The list of stories given by Badri Dhanda runs like this-
By accepting Gennette’s concept of narrative levels, it may appear that the novel The Narrator follows the norm of a hierarchy of levels. So there is no difficulty in tracing the real narrator of the novel. But the problem is the confirmation of an embedded narration and the subordinate narration, since the narrators themselves are doubtful about their roles and the existence.
There are two strong contestants to assign the role of a narrator- Rahul Patwardhan and Badri Dhanda.
In case of Rahul Patwardhan, he is a schizophrenic kind of person. He is split between ‘Goody’ Rahul and ‘Baddy’ Rahul. While talking about his past life, Goody Rahul declares himself as Mr. Clean and blames Baddy Rahul for his amoral and wayward adventures of life. It appears that the narrator who is talking with Badri and who is narrating the script of “Manpasand” is Goody Rahul. But the climax comes when Goody Rahul realizes he has been murdered by Baddy Rahul since Goody can’t be a writer. So, Rahul Patwardhan is doubtful about his ability as a narrator. He is trapped in two minds and unable to locate the role of the narrator.
In case of Badri Dhanda, he disappears from the life of Rahul Patwardhan when half of the script of ‘Manpasand’ is yet to complete and when his presence is unavoidable one for the completion of ‘Manpasand’. Then onwards Badri Dhanda talks directly with the real readers. Badri himself doesn’t know the reasons for his disappearance. “Badri appears from nowhere and disappears into nowhere”(263). About Badri’s existence, multiple interpretations are possible. Such as “ Badri never existed, or Badri and Baddy are the same person; or both Badri and Baddy are the same person but cancel each other out and so on”(263). Thus, there is a question mark about the existence of Badri Dhanda itself. Though Badri declares himself as the hero of the novel, his claim as a narrator even at intradiegetic level is a weaker one.
The problem about a narrator of The Narrator becomes more complex when the narrative levels get shifted, get intermingled.
Tara is the heroine and Vilas is the hero of the script of ‘Manpasand’. Like a typical Hindi masala movie the hero is expected to rescue the heroine from the clutches of the villain. So, Vilas becomes successful in that role. But in the climax of the screenplay the villain takes the hold of the hero. The moment comes when the villain will kill the hero at any time, there enters two more characters to save the life of the hero. Surprised hero asks them, “ Who are you… Why have you made such a late entrance into the movie? This is one of the last scenes, you know”(236). And the two characters declare, “We are the authors of this story. We are like mythological deities who guard over our favourite characters. This is our cameo appearance” (236).
Towards the end of the novel Badri Dhanda summons Tara and desires to make love with her. But Badri gets shocked when Tara makes a comment about his sexual behaviour, which is known, only to Rahul Patwardhan and the real readers. He asks her, “So you’ve been reading this book too, have you?” (244) and Tara says “You wrote the book in which I was a character; can I not at least read the book in which you are a character?” (244)
In a short-story, titled “Fact or Fiction” Makarand Paranjape hints at the possibility of such kind of interchangeability saying, “Sometimes real people walk into stories. But sometimes, stories also walk into the lives of real people”. (107)
Thus, the watertight compartments of the narrative levels as suggested by Gerard Gennette get collapsed in the novel. The narrator’s role keeps oscillating from homodigetic, heterodiegetic narrator to autodiegetic narrator (2).
Normally, the real authors do not enter the space of inquiry at the narrative level. But the novel The Narrator defies this norm also. Rahul Patwardhan, the so-called narrator of The Narrator, the narrator of Badri’s life and the narrator of ‘Manpasand’, feels exhausted and finds it difficult to maintain the balance at the various levels of narration. So he asks directly to the real author of the novel, “Will the real author of this book please stand up? I have a couple of suggestions to make to him…”(246). He says humoursly, if Rushdie’s women characters were allowed to express their opinions, there would be a mass revolt in the Rushdieland. Thus, Rahul Patwardhan feels a need to have a chance at rewriting his own character.
In this way, the notion of the narrative levels on one side and the notion of the narrator itself get collapsed in The Narrator. It opens the new possibilities about the concept of a narrator. All in all, there remains a series of ‘unreliable narrators’ (168 Abrams M.H.) where the line of demarcation between fiction and reality gets very thin.
Makarand Paranjape’s The Narrator is certainly not a deliberate attempt to write a novel with a complex narrative technique. In fact, multivoiced and polyphonic narration is not altogether a new technique. In that connection, Makarand Paranjape refers to Ramayana and Mahabharata in the novel (275). Thus, he tries to relocate himself with the ancient Indian tradition of the narratology. In the novel, Makarand Paranjape talks about the possibility of a book that will be “a compendium of an entire civilization”(275). The complex narrative technique, the possibility of unreliable narrators thus opens the new avenues of “fantastic literature”(168 Abrams M.H.). While assessing, The Narrator Sudhir Kumar comments “Paranjape’s novel marks a new attempt in the writing of the Indian novel in English… (his) unpretentiously innovative gesture of handling over his narrative may give a new direction to the course of the contemporary Indian novel in English”(381). Makarand Paranjape’s this stance as a narrator makes The Narrator a significant work of fiction in post independence Indian English fiction.
(1). Gerard Gennette’s Narrative Discourse is a seminal kind of work as far as the narratology is concerned. Conventionally the concept of narratology was restricted to the narrator and the first person or the third person narration. It is Gerard Gennette who gave a systematic framework to narratology for the first time. In Narrative Discourse Gennette talks about three narrative levels, namely-
2.Gennette categorises narrator in three types, namely
Paranjape, Makarand. The Narrator: A Novel. New Delhi: Rupa & Co., 1995.
. This Time I Promise It’ll Be Different. New Delhi: UBSPD, 1994.
Genette, Gerard. Narrative Discourse. N.York: Cornell University Press, 1995.
Kumar, Sudhir. “Taming the Postmodern: Some Reflections on the Theory and practice of Postmodernist Fiction in
Makarand Paranjape’s The Narrator: A Novel”.The Postmodern Indian English Novel. Ed. Viney
Kirpal. Bombay: Allied Publishers,1996.
Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. Banglore: Prism Books Pvt.Ltd., 1993.
* Nitin Jarandikar is a lecturer in English at Radhanagari Mahavidyalaya, Radhanagari (Maharashtra). This paper was presented at the All India English Teachers’ Conference held at Shivaji University, Kolhapur on 27, 28&29 December, 2006.
|Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape|