Saturday, February 26, 2011

The English Teacher - R.K. Narayan

I started reading 'The English Teacher' quite some time ago. This was among the many R.K.Narayan books I had bought a few months ago. I found this one rather difficult to read and made really slow progress in the initial pages but that could be attributed to my being distracted with other things as well. However as I moved further into the book I realised where the book was coming from and it made sense.

The English Teacher' (Indian Thought Publications, 182 Pages, Rs. 95) was first published by Eyre & Spottiswoode in 1946 in London. It is the story of Krishna, an English teacher in the Albert Mission College of Malgudi. Krishna is not from Malgudi so he lives in the hostel with other young bachelor teachers. His parents live in another town, his older brother has moved to Hyderabad and eventually Krishna also gets married. After many months of his marriage and living apart form his wife, Krishna finally gets himself a rented house and brings his lovely wife Susila and child Leela home. It is an ideal house with the new housewife taking charge, the inevitable bickering with the mother and domestic help. Krishna's life is blissful.

But things change when he and Susila go to select a house to buy. Soon after that visit Susila falls sick and never recovers despite the attentive administrations of the family. The disillusioned Krishna who was very much in love with his wife is not left to take care of his young child who is curious about her mother, who she thinks is sick and in a locked room. The child eventually finds out that there is no one in that room and is told that maybe the mother has been taken for treatment and will come back after she is well. Narayan writes with great restraint but the pain is all too obvious. The later part of the book delves into how Krishna comes to term with his loss, his dealings with the spirits through writing where Susila tells him that she is fine and that he must take care of himself. Krishna eventually finds peace and understanding of life and death.

This part is exactly what happened to R.K.Narayan who lost his wife at a young age due to a sudden illness, someone whom he loved very much. He brought up his child in the joint family and came to terms with her death through the same methods as described in the book. One can feel his pain in his writing and one can also understand his understanding as he tries to make sense of his life. It is sad, funny and makes you think. It is also a wonderful commentary on how little India has changed since those days despite our signs of progress.

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