Born to a schoolteacher father, he took the name R. K. Narayan at the suggestion of Graham Greene. He learnt Tamil and English in school. He did his initial studies at the residence of his grandmother before moving back with his parents when his father was appointed headmaster of the Maharaja's High School in Mysore.
He did his bachelor's degree from the University of Mysore and went to the United States in 1956 at the invitation of the Rockefeller Foundation. His literary career began with his short stories which appeared in The Hindu. He began to work as the Mysore correspondent of Justice, a Madras-based newspaper. When he could not get his first novel Swami and Friends published, a mutual friend Purna showed the draft to Graham Greene who agreed to arrange for its publication.
He won numerous awards and adulations during his lifetime. These include the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1958, the Padma Bhushan in 1964, the AC Benson Medal by the Royal Society of Literature in 1980, besides the Padma Vibhushan in 2000. He was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1989. This great storyteller passed away on May 13, 2001 at the age of ninety-four.