Title – The English Teacher
Author – RK Narayan
Type – Fiction / Semi-Autobiographical
Reading Prompt – #15 – A book with a teacher as the main protagonist
Krishna teaches English at the Albert Mission College in Malgudi. He moves to a small rented house and brings in his wife Susila and daughter Leela, who have until now been staying with her parents. However, their marital bliss is short-lived and meets with a tragic end. How Krishna emerges from it forms the crux of the novel.
The English Teacher has the stamp of RK Narayan all over it. The fictional world of Malgudi comes alive with mentions of the river Sarayu and area names like South Extension.
The author’s trademark (and subtle) humour comes alive in many sentences. Example –
Hostel bathrooms are hell on earth. God said to his assistant, “Take this man away to hell”, and they brought him down to the hostel bathroom passage, and God said, “Torture him”, and they opened the room and pushed him in.
How RK Narayan describes the tragic aftermath of Susila’s death is equally heart-wrenching.
We mutter, talk among ourselves, and wail between convulsions of grief; but our bodies are worn out with grief.
The story had a natural progression until the part where Krishna adapts to a life without a wife. The appearance of the medium caught me unawares. That an English professor could believe in communication with ghosts seemed unrealistic. The author wrote this book after the demise of his spouse Rajam. Maybe he wanted to infuse an element of magic in this novel and console his mourning heart. In contrast, the character of the headmaster made sense. Through this companionship, Krishna finds his true calling and is at peace with himself.
The paranormal part notwithstanding, The English Teacher made for a good read. My heart wept for the innocent Leela, but this novel reaffirmed my belief that time is the best healer and that life goes on. RK Narayan is one of my favourite Indian writers writing in English, but this book doesn’t rank amongst my favourites.
I recommend this book for its sheer simplicity and the message it subtly implies. Soak in the atmosphere of Malgudi and allow the author to weave his magic on you.