‘Lawley Road’ by RK Narayan

A comparable Indian story also about the early days of Partition is RK Narayan’s dark comedy Lawley Road (1943)the central premise of which is whom a monument should commemorate. In the fictional town of Malgudi, a series of bureaucratic absurdities around colonial symbols illustrate the legacy of colonialism and the confusion and crisis of identity after Independence. The Chairman of the Municipal Council decides to remove the sculpture of Sir Frederick Lawley, “with breeches, wig and white waistcoat and that hard determined look”, from the Lawley Extension, after it has been renamed Gandhi Nagar, even though “people had got so used to it that they never bothered to ask whose it was or even to look up. It was generally used by the birds as a perch.” The twenty-foot statue, “with the firmness of a mountain”, is blasted off its molten lead pedestal “with a few sticks of dynamite.” However, it is soon discovered there had been a mistake: Sir Lawley, whose statue had been uninstalled, had always been a friend to Malgudi, not to be confused with another Sir Lawley, a ruthless tyrant. The government orders the Chairman to reinstate the monument. The effect is tragicomic: the reader is always aware that the squabbles, typical of human nature, are of no consequence against the backdrop of violence and dislocation of Partition, which was occurring at the same time.

First published in 1943 and collected in Lawley Road, Architectural Book Publishing Company, 1969. Now available in Malgudi Days, Penguin Classics

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