On one of my lonely nights where I was desperate to kill boredom when movie watching wasn’t an option, television wasn’t conducive enough to entertain book reading struck me as an immediate choice. I always had fascination for novels that were larger than life and shrink us in a world of imagination without much complexity. Sidney Sheldon had an irrevocable mastery at such ideas and I couldn’t resist to cling on his works. But I had enough of them, the time for change had come where my heart wandered for a simple, lifelike yarn that’s soothing and dramatic. There I came across a brown scrap of cover, titled “The English Teacher” by R K Narayan. Here began the journey that was fulfilling,satisfying, enthralling, ravishing and equally heart wrenching.These words are a mere description of a work that transcends greater depths that we can ever imagine of a handsomely woven craft.
Narayan as in his most writings, places his characters in his fictional town Malgudi that dates back to the pre-independence era. The main protagonist Krishnan is an English teacher working in a degree college set up by the government headed by Mr.Brown and is paid 100 bucks a month. Krishnan is introduced as a simple down to earth person devoid of any personal egos and shares a wonderful rapport with everyone.But slowly the inner picture sets in,he isn’t as simple as he seems.He isn’t complete and as perfect as he’s projected.Few years ago he was married to Suseela and they’ve a daughter named Leela who reside in his mother’s house much to the amusement of everyone while, the former stays at a hostel.
The author in his vivid description about Krishnan glorifies his hostel life, upbringing, hobbies, choices,likes and dislikes. In this phase we see a jovial side of the author setting in with his regular mood swings,interactions with his colleagues Rangappa, Gajapathy, Ramaswami and Dr.Menon and the peon Singaram who’s familiar with him since his childhood days. Krishnan couldn’t recognize whether he was enjoying his privacy or felt the need to stay with his family.He was confused to say the least. His mom was too desperate for him to take charge of his family and become more responsible and this was the general opinion of his father-in-law too.He too felt the need for a new house and life couldn’t halt in this hostel.There were no more thoughts rolling on his mind and wherever and whoever he met, he raised this point and results weren’t positive to start with.
Finally a house clicked in and he went about for site viewing.Thoroughly impressed,he fixed his mind to that house and none could stop him.The green landscape,the verandah,expansive rooms looked perfect.He went on to meet the owner who was unmistakably old and his staring eyes threw light on his demanding nature.He was good enough to convince him that he wanted this one really badly and deal was finalised for 25 a month!!His mom came in a few days prior to his wife and daughter’s arrival.The house was setup and he couldn’t linger around any longer waiting for his family to turn up.He reached the railway station on time and his heart beat upon continuously as he saw his wife carrying the little one and his father in law behind. He was over caring about the child and saw that there wasn’t anything discomforting her safety.His father in law departed a day later and his mom stayed around for a month and helped them out.Life was moving at a rock solid pace and everything seemed perfect.
Suseela was lively and would set the house ablaze with her unshakable energy. She was cautious about handling money and calculated the monthly budget with utmost care. She was particularly insistent on bringing her groceries in the right measure,else neither the shopkeeper nor Krishnan would be spared.She measured her needs through a glass given to her by her mother in law and she’d count nothing against it.Krishnan wasn’t particularly impressed with her sensibilities but got used to it.He had an extraordinary taste for poetry and would be at his desk whenever the mood was right.He had this habit since his hostel days where he’d go for a river bath early in the morning where a cool breeze sets in and enthuses him to describe his views about nature through a poem.He always needed some inspiration to write in those lines.
Besides initial friction with his wife,he got on very well with her and he’d be cherishing the moments spent with her.He loved to see his child grow up and was charmed by the innocence and tranquility her face bared.To ease out things for the couple,his mom sent in an old lady who’d cook,take care of the child and look after the house.After all, her only relation, her son expired recently.She was told to be paid reasonably and to be given enough space for accommodation.The child had a great time listening to the witty old world tales of the lady and she shared a special bond with her.Suseela’s scheme of things too eased out in the kitchen department.Krishnan became increasingly dissatisfied with his work and the system.He felt the students fell an easy prey to a teacher who forces the subject in rather than understanding.But once he arrives home,even the slightest of worries would vanish.As days move on like this,the couple gets into a tangle with each other regarding a clock that was sold.They didn’t chat for three straight days but Krishnan couldn’t bear his guilt and broke the ice by offering her to a movie.Both made up later and peace persisted.After a serious thought,both came to a conclusion that it was high time they needed a own house rather than wasting on the rent.
Sastri was his old time friend who was now a contractor and he requested him advice regarding the matter.He was instant in reply and both left the child near the old lady and went on to spend some time alone before they got ready for the house-hunt.They sat near the beach gossiping,chatting and moved on to the hotel.During these instances,he could recognise how important and indelible her presence was to him.Life had no hue or purpose without her.He couldn’t argue with her today and spoil the mood and sat gaping at her.They then walked in a few miles to reach Sastri’s house.While they weren’t predominantly satisfied with the initial houses on the street they began their look out.They finally liked one of them that was a good bargain and would please them in terms of budget,spaciousness and surroundings.The paper work was just about to begin where the men began chatting.Suseela wasn’t interested and she went to check in every nook and corner of the house.Krishnan was suddenly feeling her absence and searched her in the house and he could hear some voice croaking in a dark room.That was her and the room looked atrocious with an unbearable foul smell in addition to the mosquitoes and that too she’d gone barefoot inside.They then left the house and brought a few biscuits for the child and went back home.Suseela looked extremely tired and she rested immediately without her dinner.She refused to have so and by morning,she didn’t look good and her body temperature was soaring and her face was pale.He felt either the hotel food or the nasty room did the trick.He temporarily managed with a few medicines but she wasn’t getting any better.The old lady advised a doctor and he rushed in immediately.The doctor suggested a meal and a systemised dose for her suggesting she may be suffering from malaria.This meant nothing as her condition wasn’t anywhere near stable too.The doctor could identify the seriousness of her condition and went in directly for home check up.Krishnan was told to keep a check on her temperature and make a note of it.Ice bags were advised to cool it down .There was an air of tension and nervousness spreading in the house.
He was regularly attached to her taking care of the doses and his father-in-law and mother in law too offered help seeing the enormity(who arrived a few days before).He used to read out stories aloud and make her sleep and rest.To confirm the dosage,a famous city doctor arrived on a special request his face didn’t suggest anything positive.Her body temperature started to assume an ungainly low and she started to yell.The doctor looked very nervous and was rather grim looking.The house plunged into an ocean of sadness when she was reported to be dead.Krishnan couldn’t understand how to handle this.The usually lively Krishnan had a great setback that could influence his entire life.The child was motherless and he was partner-less and they didn’t let the child know of her death.He lit the funeral pyre and the burning ashes signified a colossal loss in his life.
Life couldn’t go on so easily,it was after all a death. It was a moral test of his strength mentally. He took this as a challenge and didn’t make the child feel her absence. He was affected but that shouldn’t have a bearing on the tender one. He narrated her stories,combed her hair up and selected her dress.A sudden sense of responsibility and belonging to the child shook him up. There were no else left in his life. There were no interests,desires of materialistic aspects for him and it seemed standstill. He even stopped writing poems and gorged on each thing small or big that belonged to his wife. Her memories were haunting him through continuously. The child though was entirely blissful and even started schooling.
Just when there was nothing to look or rely upon in his life for the future,he comes across a medium that establishes connection between him and his long- lost wife.He’s initially confused but believes it as time passes by.What’s that?A soulless professional life will earn him money but not satisfaction.He needs a life that was balanced on all fronts.What was that?Who will ever offer it to him?These unanswered questions will find a reply in a supreme fashion bonded with splendor as a reader approaches the ending.
This was my first experience of R K Narayan’s novels.I’m cursing myself on why I didn’t take up reading novels in my childhood. Such stark ordinariness in the characters could be found nowhere. Such imagery and grandeur in vocabulary is uncommon. As a reader goes in,he unobtrusively sinks us in his town Malgudi and we’re so much bonded to the characters such that you would find tears inescapable from your eyes at the end. A satire that involves unconditional humour,excruciating series of emotions and sentiment punched in with beautiful,intelligent dialogues that lift the story to a paramount level. Never does the author slip the barrel in terms of quality or substance. For example,in the death scene of Krishnan’s wife the author describes the whole scene in sync with the Indian traditions never using the word “death”. His unparalleled view of childhood regarding its innocence and bliss suggests how the authors values those days. He’s straight and in full command of the message he wants to convey. His interpretation of the protagonist’s life post the debacle is so life like articulating the use of being strong and cool headed despite any extremes. Death tries to weaken him but he shows he’s man of steel.”All relations emerge and part ultimately” is the essence that he puts forward. He uses the child to great effect in handling the delicate situations of the story. All in all,a wonderful package that assimilates sense and tests your intelligence. If aren’t habituated to read novels,begin with this one. You’ll never regret it. If your an accomplished reader,dare miss one. A winner all the way. I fear I’ve lost time,I’ve to make up for it,I’ve to read so many works of his,I’m rushing…Hail Narayan!