Pulitzer Prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri, in her introduction to RK Narayan&rsquos book Malgudi Days (in the edition published by Penguin Publishing Group in 2006), wrote, &ldquoMalgudi is on that wonderful map of places in the literary universe, either real or imaginary, that not only provide a setting but possess a soul. Faulkner&rsquos Yoknapatawpha County, Garcia Marquez&rsquos Macondo, and Joyce&rsquos Dublin are just three examples of the way certain writers cling stubbornly to a single terrain, entering its countless doors and portraying the residents within.&rdquo
Readers will recall that Narayan had insisted it was an &lsquoimaginary&rsquo place and &lsquonot to be found on any map&rsquo.
The book was originally published in 1942. &ldquoI have named this volume Malgudi Days in order to give it a plausibly geographical status,&rdquo R K Narayan had written in his introduction to the short story collection.
But the mystery of the location of this village, evidently situated in Karnataka, where the child character Swami and his friends lived, continued. The University of Chicago Press even went so far as to indicate the location of Malgudi village on a map of India in their literary atlas.
The book became widely popular after being converted to a television serial (directed by Shankar Nag) aired on the national channel Doordarshan in the 1980s. Apparently, the serial&rsquos popularity never waned, including striking a chord with contemporary viewers when it was aired during the pandemic lockdown.
Taking cues from people&rsquos interest about the location of Malgudi and the popularity of the television serial, the Mysuru Division (part of the South Western Railway Zone) of the Indian Railways decided to convert the abandoned railway station of Arasalu (after the place got a new building) into a Malgudi Museum. This was the station where many scenes of the television serial were shot. The rustic setting around the old railway station merged perfectly with the location demands of the story.
Arasalu, on the Shivamogga-Talaguppa railway route is about 34km (by road) from the district headquarters of Shimoga (Shivamogga). The first thing that strikes most visitors entering the restored building is the familiar tune from the background score of the television drama. The museum recreates scenes from the Malgudi Days, both the book and the serial, through installations, illustrations, murals, photographs, manuscripts, etc. Many of the artefacts, from clocks to steam engines, have been faithfully recreated. After a visit to the museum, you can stop by the purple train coach which houses the Malgudi Chai café.
Information Although several trains pass through Arasalu, not many stop here. It is best to add the museum to your itinerary when visiting Shimoga, the nearest railway station to the famous Jog Falls of Karnataka. The museum is open from 10am to 6pm on all days except Tuesday. Paid entry.