This, probably, is my third and last attempt to pen a successful review on this book. My previous two attempts, if put in simple language, were royal blunders, and all this thanks to the rich, multi-faceted nature of this book which I had picked up somewhere in late October last year. The reasons for reading it were ample; I had plenty of time, it was written by one of my all-time favourite authors, and I was desperately searching for a decent book on teachers. To read more of my feelings for this piece of fiction, you, sadly have to read through the rest of my review....
.::THE BASIC PLOT::.
“The English Teacher”, written by R.K. Narayan tells a story of an English-teaching college professor, namely Krishna who leads a mundane, routine hostel life of our reviewers recommend us, even though he had recently been married and has a kid. The story pulls off by when his immediate family at Malgudi advise him to settle down in a rented home of our reviewers recommend us with his wife (Susila) and his girl infant (Leela). Though initially, the new state of affairs does scare him, with time, his love for his wife and kid deepens and like any other small closely-knit family, the three of them become inseparable. All’s well when one day Krishna and Susila set off to find a new place for themselves and quite unpredictably, Susila gets terribly bitten by unknown species of insects after which she develops an incurable bout of typhoid which results in her untimely death on bed. Krishna’s life thereafter, is in pieces as he finds that with Susila, has gone his loveliest part of life. Depressed, saddened, Krishna becomes a person with a soul gone astray; a hardened receptacle of condolence and sympathy, when one day he receives a letter. What follows is a series of unbelievable supernatural accounts, which will have you hooked till the climax. What is in that letter? Is Susila still alive? Does Krishna become successful as a single parent? For all these answers, you have to read the book. You might get a taste of what happens next in my review further, but I have tried to keep the suspense part in wraps.
Narrative Style: What instantly makes “The English Teacher” likeable is its cohesive story-line. There’s primarily one plot, that of Krishna’s family, and even though scores of characters enter the frame, they are described in a way they affect Krishna’s life. However much description the stray characters may demand, they still remain relegated to the background, with Krishna, Susila and Leela hogging all the limelight as the principal characters here. The style of narrative is life-like and light in the first pages, and becomes heady and over bearing in the second. Ample relief comes in the form of Leelas character who tugs at your heart everytime she interprets something vaguely with her naviety and innocence.
The story pulls off neatly with Krishna adjusting himself to the daily chores. With sly bits of humour and an ample doze of domesticity being thrown in, the first few pages are a delight. The author masterfully sets the mood where the reader is transformed into a small, beautiful world of Krishna’s family, and by giving chunks of description of their daily chores, make the characters instantly identifiable and likeable. What follows then is a heart-rending description of Susila’s deterioration, which is so vividly deciphered, that it lingers on for days after you have read the book. Of course, the meatiest and probably the most fruitful phase of the book starts after Susila’s death, when Krishna has supernatural encounters via a farmer. The way the encounters have been written, completely leaves the reader numb.
For a taster read this: “He (the farmer) poised his pencil over the pad and waited. Suddenly the pencil began to move. Letters appeared on paper. The pencil quivered, as if with life. It moved at a terrific speed across the paper. It scratched the paper and tore the lines up into shreds and came through. It seemed to be possessed with immense power. My friend said with a smile...”
The best thing about all the encounters described was that they had a positive effect on Krishna’s life, they made him more developed as a human being and is not just there to instigate cheap thrills or horror. Besides, the descriptions of the after-life and the other world are so well penned, that they leave you speechless. What also astonishes is the way the novel progresses. The story doesn’t seem to be authored, but merely transcribed by the bounds of fate (as in real life), making it look more autobiographical (I read in R.K. Narayan’s autobiography—My Days, that this book is actually semi-autobiographical, and that the experiences mentioned are true, and date back when he lost his real wife—Rajam).
Characterisation: Brilliant is the word. All the characters in the book are so wonderfully fleshed out and presented in such a crystalline manner, that each of them leaves a lasting effect. Be it the plethora of emotions that Krishna goes through, or the helplessness of Susila in her last days, or for that matter even Leela’s purity and innocence as a child, every character is extremely well-etched. Besides, sewing in private reflections of Krishna brings the reader even more closer to each of the characters, as he sees each of them through Krishna’s eyes. Scores of other characters like Leela’s headmaster, Krishna’s parents and Susila’s parents register an equally deep impact on the reader’s psyche.
Language and Literature Value: The English Teacher would have probably been way off the mark, had it not been for Narayan’s flawless language. The language is devoid of any unnecessary pompousness and grandiose that is so very visible in today’s authors. A fabulous command over the medium means that it does satiate the reader’s literary buds. From the domestic details in the first half to the excruciating agony of Susila’s death and then the positivity in the supernatural second half, a fabulous flow is thoroughly maintained with an inexplicable blend of subtle humour and strained tragedy. Vividity in language is also in full form, which makes the book highly page-turning.
SOME FINAL WORDS.... Even though I had loved R.K. Narayan’s other works, this one will always hold a special place in my heart. For it displays love in its purest form. The love that binds Susila to Krishna to Leela. So pure is their love, that even mortality doesn’t snatch away any of its dew-drop freshness and in turn make it eternal. The characters or the scores aren’t settled. Their feelings, their desires are dissolved, recycled and restated...and in a very novel way, the story shows how love can make a person...a better human being.
A mature, positive, and a flawless piece of writing!!!
Hope you enjoyed the review....do catch up with this book....for now, do comment if time permits....
© Karan 2003