The English Teacher


Major Characters




The novel is principally about Krishna’s development as a character and, while many events happen to him throughout the course of the story, Krishna’s reactions to those events and they effect they have on the development of his personality are often more important than the events in themselves.


Krishna begins the novel as a prententions, overly elabourate, occasionally arrogant, smug and slightly pompous young man who seems foolishly, anxiously obsessed with perfections. Emotionally disconnected from his family, sometimes capable of being a bully and dissatisfied with his job he seeks escape in a variety of clichéd ways, for example writing poetry or ‘harmonising’ with nature. We are also aware of his love of routine and habits at the start of the novel and Krishna is presented to us very much as the picture of an English-educated Indian. However, there is a redeeming side to his personality: his desire to see his wife and child, his desire to find the perfect house for them to live in, his anxiety over their arrival, his sense of humour and his ability to realise that ‘there are blacker sins in this world than a dropped vowel’ suggest the man he might become.


However, following his wife’s death Krishna becomes increasingly modest and humble. Gone are the elabourate speeches and grand plans and, in their place, a sincere affection for Leela is developed as he strives to look after her by himself. Immediately following Susila’s death, however, Krishna has become isolated, disillusioned and benumbed believing that life consists only in harsh truths and loneliness. Much of the rest of the novel involves him regaining his emotions and sense of connection with other people through interactions with inspirational characters such as the Headmaster and the mystic and, of course, his conversations with his dead wife’s spirit.


Accordingly, by the end of the novel, Krishna has lost the pomposity and presumption of his youth and has discovered that a well-lived life involves deriving personal satisfaction from your work, accepting the realities of death but feeling nonetheless that you belong amongst those around you. Hence he resigns his job as a high school teacher, which has seemed increasingly artificial and pointless to him, and works with the Headmaster in the inspirational presence of young children.



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‘I was on the whole pleased with my day, not many conflicts and worries, above all not too much self criticism.’ ‘I should cease to live like a cow.’ ‘Eating, working, speaking, walking, talking, all done to perfection, I was sure, but always leaving behind a sense of something missing.’ Finally Krishna claims ‘I am a poet, and I was constantly nagged by the feeling that I was doing the wrong work.’




‘I got up at eight every day and swallowed a meal’ He also had to ‘mug up’ on Shakespeare before he taught it.




‘I felt like pricking him so that he might vanish like a bubble and leave no trace behind.’ ‘There are blacker sins in this world than a dropped vowel’




‘It showed a weak, uncontrolled mind, this incapacity to switch off. I now subjected myself to a remorseless self analysis.’




Krishna believes that his problems are due to ‘irregular habits’ and as such he decides to ‘regulate [his] life’




When dismissing his friends early Krishna explains that this is because ‘I want to cultivate new habits’




After bathing Krishna ‘felt very well satisfied indeed with my performance’




After he has written his poem called Nature Krishna feels ‘that I had discharged a duty’




Krishna realises that ‘I was merely a man who had mugged earlier than [his students] the introduction and notes in the Verity edition of Lear.’ He admits ‘I did not do it out of love … to Shakespeare’ instead, as a teacher, he feels he has ‘the lion tamer’s touch.’




With regards to his daughter Krishna says ‘I no doubt felt a mild affection for it but there was nothing compelling or indispensable about it.’ Indeed Krishna says that it was ‘for my wife’s sake’ that ‘I had to pinch its (Leela’s) cheek’. He is worried that the baby’s ‘howling’ and ‘crying’ will disturb his life Nonetheless, he does ‘want to see her at once’ on p.16.




While waiting for the bathroom Krishna imagines an epic poem about God waiting for the bathroom and says ‘This promises to be a good poem. I must write it someday.’




‘All that was to be learnt about clouds was learnt by m, sitting in this place, and looking away while studying for exams or preparing lectures.’




Before looking for his house Krishna draws up a mental list of what it must be like and insists that it must have ‘the due measure of the northern light that artists so highly value.’ In addition, ‘It must keep us all together but separate us when we do not wish to see each other’s faces.’




‘I fell to feverish anxiety over the house’ his student mentions to him and he ‘implored’ and ‘brushed aside objections’ so that he could see it as soon as possible




‘This room was evidently built for me.’ ‘This must be her room’. ‘When a monkey goes up that tree I can show it to the child’



When closing the deal with the house owner Krishna  says ‘I drew myself up proudly. He was tremendously impressed.’




While awaiting the arrival of Susila and Leela, Krishna ‘made a mental note, ‘Must shout as soon as the train stops ‘Be careful with the baby.’’’ Despite claiming that men ‘bear all the anxieties’ when traveling, Krishna feels ‘slightly demented’ and decides that any things that could not be got off in time would have to be ‘lost with the train’




Krishna describes waiting for the train as ‘travail and anguish’




‘I was moved by the extraordinary tenderness which appeared in [his mother’s] face’ when she greeted the baby. He senses a ‘great harmony’ between the two of them which he does not share




‘I left the college usually at 4:30’ and when he returns home he washes and brushes his hair ‘as a religious duty’ ‘I felt such a contrast to them (Susila and Leela) when I returned in the evening, in my sagging grey cotton suit with grimy face and ink stained fingers while the mother and daughter looked particularly radiant in the evenings.’




Krishna describes the days before Susila when ‘I simply paid for whatever caught my eyes with the result that after ten days I went about with no money.’




He does exert his power and rationality over Susila in the case of the ‘extraordinary measure’ and he exhorts her to ‘throw away that tumbler and use an honest measure’




However, in contrast, after insisting that Susila not sell his clock ‘No, no. Take care. Don’t do it.’ he caves in first when they are not speaking ‘It came to a point where I simply could not stand any more of it’




On the morning of the house hunting Krishna is ‘struggling with smike in my eyes and nostrils’ to light a fire for coffee while in comparison Susila looks ‘like a vision’ and takes over the job ‘Now get ready. Let us be off. I will attend to this.’




When Susila likes the tiles in the hotel, Krishna replies ‘they are only used in bathrooms in civilized cities’ and he reiterates this again on the next page where he pleads ‘but they are usually only put up in bathrooms’




When  Susila tried to eat with a spoon in the hotel, Krishna  says ‘Put it away if you can’t manage it.’ However, later he says ‘He helplessness, innocence and her simplicity moved me.’ and he decides ‘I will give her something nice to eat.’




When her meal has onions in it ‘I called for the boy vociferously and commanded … I behaved as if I were an elabourate ceremonial host … I gave elabourate instructions.’




‘I will also take you to England and Europe if I make a lot of money out of the books I am going to write.’ He wants her to go on a tour of India with him and ‘touch the marble of Taj, stand astounded by the snow-capped Himalayas.’




Sastri says ‘I hear lots of complaints that you don’t bring her [Susila] out.’ Indeed, on p.50 ‘It was her first visit to the Bombay Anand Bhavan hotel’ but Krishna has been going ‘for several years now’ and even knows the waiter ‘Mani’.




When imagining bringing the child out Krishna ‘began to visualise all the difficulties in a instant: the protection, ceaseless attention and all the rest of it.’




‘I’ve no patience to wait, my dear fellow. I want a house the moment I think of it.’




Krishna complains ‘What an amount of banality surrounds the purchase of a houses! How much we have to bear before we are through with it’ and this is only at the first house.




Krishna ‘would love to call this the Jasmine Home’ and he believes ‘I shall write immense quantities of poetry when I settle here, I think.’




‘When the presence of the other two [men] was withdrawn. I grew elabourately fussy.’




When they visit the temple on Susila’s insistence ‘I felt transported at the sight of it. I shut my eyes and prayed.’




‘My room … had lapsed into the natural state of my  hostel days. Once again all Milton, Shakespeare and Bradley jostled each other in a struggle for existence.’




He admits, that books on Plato, Swinburne and Modern Poetry had ‘not even opened once’. He decides ‘I will get through this stuff on Plato’ but he quickly decides ‘I don’t like this book. I shall return it.’




‘Little one, you must learn to obey your mother in all these matters without a word.’ When Leela complains about her dress.




‘This damned thing [the Horlicks drink for Susila who is sick] is scalding … I’ve half a mind to fling away this rubbish.’




Krishna is pleased when the doctor describes his sick room as ‘The most attractive sick room I have ever come across.’




He seems to enjoy the fact that Susila’s days of sickness ‘were days of iron routine.’ He adds ‘my vision of paradise was where all the entries [on her temperature chart] would be confined between 100 and normal.’




‘The height of contentement was reached in observing perfect bodily functions.’ She was having ‘a perfect Typhoid run’




When breaking ice for Susila’s ice pack, Krishna intones ‘I always took pride in the fact that the blow I gave was so well calculated that the pieces were neither too large or too small but of the correct size and slipped into the mouth of the bag.’




‘Everything in the sick room seemed to me profoundly ingenious and full of technical points and pleasures and triumphs.’




‘In my happy days my table was a jumble. In my days of anxiety, it was no less a jumble. Perhaps a table is meant to be so.’ He notes that ‘the habit of wishing to do something or other with the table top, whenever I saw it, had persisted with me for many years now.’




At Susila’s death ‘Nothing else will worry me or interest me in life hereafter’




‘In three or four months I could give her a bath with expert hands, braid her hair passably and wash and look after her clothes’




‘My one aim in life now was to see that she [Leela] did not feel the absence of her mother.’




‘God has given me some novel situations in life. I shall live it out alone, face the problems alone.’ On p.93 Krishna adds ‘Death and its associates, after the initial shock, produce callousness.’




‘God intends me to learn these things and do them efficiently’




‘Living without illusions seemed to be the greatest task in life to me now … That was the stuff to give humanity … the twists and turns of fate would cease to shock if we knew, and expected, nothing more than the barest truths and facts of life.’




‘Even sad and harrowing memories were cherished by me, for in contemplation of these sad scenes and hapless hours, I semmed to acquire a new peace, a new outlook, a view of life with a place for everything.’




He reads Leela the story which is ‘junk’, even though he is exhausted and can barely stand it.




At the end of the school day ‘I felt genuinely happy that I could go home now to the child waiting for me there all ready and bubbling with joy.’




Krishna panics when he thinks he might not meet the boy who delivered the message from Susila ‘Suppose I should never meet him again. It was a horrible thought. ‘Boy,’ I had to beg him, ‘are you sure to wait.’




When Krishna believes Susila’s spirit is near by he believes ‘There did not seem to be any need to ask or answer. This was enough. The greatest abiding rapture.’ and on p.115 he adds ‘Nowadays I went about my work with a light heart. I felt as if a dead weight had been lifted.’




He burnt her letters because ‘I thought it might abolish memory’




When Leela goes to school ‘I was as excited as if I myself were to be put to school’




Krishna offers sound advice to the Headmaster ‘But your wife and children would be in better circumstances’ if he fought for his inheritance. He adds ‘but you have not put her in a very happy locality’ and concludes ‘Till then don’t you think you should concede to her wishes and move to a better place?’




Krishna describes the Headmaster as ‘a man who had strayed into a wrong world’




Angry at teaching Krishna denounces literature as ‘trash’, ‘garbage’, ‘bogus’ and ‘fatuous’  and he believes ‘I see more clearly now between fatuities and serious work.’




The sitting in absentia ‘offered me a new lease of life’ and on p.150 Krishna ‘went home singing’ after Susila encourages him to start on his own psychic development although his failure at the first attempt leaves him ‘hopelessly miserable.’




Krishna says ‘Who cares for happiness in work. One works for the money’




‘Life falls into ruts of routine, one day following another, expended in set activities, child, school, college, boys, walk and self development.’



When told that contacting his wife will be, at first a matter of belief Krishna states ‘Belief, belief! Above reason, skepticism and even immediate failures, I clung to it.’




‘Children need above all else the warmth of a mother’s touch. Watching her now I realised that the very best I could provide was still hopelessly inadequate.’



‘There is no escape from loneliness and separation … We come together only to go apart again. It is one continuous movement .. All struggle and misery in life is due to our attempt to arrest this law or get away from it.’


‘The fact must be recognised. A profound unmitigated loneliness is the only truth of life. All else is false’ We all ‘scatter apart like the droplets of a water spray.’ Krishna ‘reconciled myself to this separation with less struggle than before.’




Krishna wants a job that ‘satisfies [his] innermost aspiration.’



He honestly says ‘I am retiring not with a feeling of sacrifice for a national cause, but with a very selfish purpose. I’m seeking a great inner peace’ and so he withdraws ‘into the world of children’