‘This is a story about disappointment.’ With close reference to the novel, show how far you agree with this statement.

 

Disappointment is evident through the novel The English Teacher as the main character, Krishna, suffers the loss of the person who is perhaps most dear to him, his beloved wife, Susila. After Susila’s death, Krishna is ‘blind, dumb and dazed’, and in a tone of despair proclaims that ‘nothing else in life will worry nor interest me hereafter.’ In addition, Krishna’s diary entries reveal that Susila’s death had left a ‘curiously dull pain at heart’ so that he ‘felt nothing’ which is evocative of the emptiness felt by him now that Susila is gone. In addition, disappointment is also evident through when Leela is eventually separated from Krishna. Krishna had initially intended to take care of her, claiming that he was unable to ‘shirk’ the ‘novel situation’ given to him by God, but ultimately he realizes ‘with a pang’ that ‘children need above all else the warmth of a mother’s touch’ and the best he could provide was ‘hopelessly inadequate.’ In both of these cases Narayan explores the impact that disappointment can have on a person and his novel beautifully conveys the sense of loneliness and emptiness that can haunt us after the loss of a loved one. Perhaps his insight into this kind of disappointment was inspired by the early loss of his own wife, Rajam, upon whom Susila is modeled.

 

Narayan also conveys the theme of disappointment through Krishna’s relationship with Brown, the principle of Albert Mission College, the school at which Krishna teaches for the majority of the novel. This disappointment is initially conveyed through Krishna’s attitude to the fuss made over the incorrect spelling of ‘honours’ which lacked a ‘u’, as he believes that ‘there are blacker sins in this world than a dropped vowel’ while Brown remained adamant about the ‘importance of English language, and the need for preserving it’s purity’. This situation clearly suggests a lack of focus or, rather, an inappropriate focus as instead of the concentrating on the real, essential teaching material, Brown is focused on small details which are of little significance. Additionally, Krishna’s disappointment is also shown during the ‘grand send-off’ that is held for him after he tenders his resignation, as he is puzzled and ‘embarrassed’ as to why he is made a ‘sudden hero’ in the speech that Brown gave resulting in Krishna feeling ‘too disturbed to look up.’ Krishna’s discomfort here clearly suggests that Brown had not been able to fully comprehend the reasons for Krishna’s departure and instead of understanding him, praised him for his devotion to a job that Krishna’s himself considers to be a ‘fraud.’

 

This disappointment is also closely linked to the disappointment that Krishna feels towards the British education system that dominated India at the time and which seemed to be producing a ‘nation of morons’ who were engrossed in ‘copying, copying, copying.’ The monotony and lack of originality implied here is clearly emphasised by the repetition of these three simple words. Indeed, Krishna disparagingly states that they ‘might as well have been born monkeys to justify their powers of imitation.’ Krishna, alive now to the flaws of a system that he once idolised, realizes that schools like the Albert Mission College are doing little more than ‘feeding on the leavings and garbage’ of their colonial rulers: the ‘dead mutton’ of ‘literary garbage’. The sense of increasing disappointment that Krishna feels with the way in which the India culture has been supplanted by that of colonial Britain perhaps echoes the independence movement that was gaining momentum in India at the time. Written two years before 1947, the date of Indian Independence, the novel may be seen in this light as a call by Narayan for the Indian people to stop behaving like the ‘camp followers of another culture’ and re-embrace their own rich heritage.

 

Lastly, the theme of disappointment is also conveyed through Krishna’s ‘sittings’ with the Medium. During the initial sitting, Krishna admits to be disappointed with the results produced as Susila mistakenly claimed their daughter name is ‘Radha’, mentioned events that did not occur during their last house hunting outing such as Krishna ‘slipping in the backyard’ and constantly requests him to find the ‘fourteen letters’ and ‘sandalwood casket’ which he does not believe exists.  Disappointment is also evident when Krishna loses his means of communicating with Susila when the Medium is out of town. Krishna’s morose language at this point suggests how much he had been relying on his constant contact with Susila to give his life meaning and indeed he seems to realize that he had been ‘clinging to the veriest of straws’ at the ‘brink of a well’ which has now snapped and as a result of which he could ‘only drown’. However, his disappointment is most highlighted through his suicidal thoughts where he considers ending his life by means of ‘a long dip in [the] river, or a finger poked into snake hole.’At this point, even his daughter, Leela, who previously gave him the strength to survive is unable to help now which reveals the depths of his despair and disappointment. Once again we can perhaps see echoes here of Narayan’s own feelings upon losing his wife, Rajam.

 

In spite of this, however, the novel is not primarily one of disappointment because it is as a result of these disappointments that many lessons are also learnt. Although the time that Susila and Krishna spend together is relatively brief, his life with Susila does encourage Krishna to begin grow into the caring and compassionate ‘family man’ that he becomes by the end of the novel. She pulls him out of the dull monotonous life that he led at the hostel where his days were spent doing little more than ‘speaking, walking, talking’ into a life full of vibrancy and spontaneity that is embodied through her ‘indigo-coloured saree’ which is clearly juxtaposed with the ‘sagging grey cotton suit’ that Krishna wears to school. In addition, Susila brings into Krishna’s life the energy and spirituality of traditional India and, through her desire for individuality as shown by her refusal to believe that bathroom tiles are merely for bathrooms, she shows Krishna that he does not have to conform to social norms and conventions. However, more importantly, as a result of her death Susila helps Krishna to understand that death is not the final stage in life and, unlike the Headmaster, whose beliefs are that life is a ‘full stop’, her joy and happiness during her afterlife shows him that death is nothing to be feared. Ultimately this helps lead Krishna to a better understanding of the human condition that people ‘meet only to part again. It is a continuous cycle’, a statement which clearly shows not only his understanding but his acceptance of death.

 

Furthermore, Krishna’s relationship with Leela is also depicted by Narayan as one filled with joy and love, as Leela indirectly aids Krishna in his development from a single man into someone capable of taking on the roles of both ‘mother and father’ in order to ensure that Leela ‘did not feel the absence of her mother’. Eventually, he transforms from a man who objectified his daughter as an ‘it’ for whom he felt only ‘a vague affection’ at the start of the novel into a man who states that he ‘felt a thrill of pride’ as taking care of Leela was an ‘exciting and noble occupation’.

 

Leela also teaches Krishna to be inquisitive as she constantly bombards him with questions such as, ‘Why are you closing your eyes, Father?’or ‘What are you smelling, Father’, prompting Krishna to consider everything and find joy in even the most simplistic matters. In addition, Leela also teaches Krishna that daily routines can also be thrilling as she was ‘bubbling with anticipation and joy’ while en route to school, which contrasts markedly with Krishna whose greatest joy was hearing the college bell that signaled the end of the day. Krishna learns a similar lesson from the headmaster and the children at his school as he comes to appreciate that children are the ‘real gods on earth’ who were able to see without the ‘blinkers’ that adulthood puts on us.

 

Essentially, although disappointments recur throughout The English Teacher, the novel is not fundamentally a story about disappointment. Instead, it is one of overcoming disappointment and adversity and it celebrates the process of learning and development that we go through as a result of the hardships we face, an approach to life modeled by Krishna’s journey during from an unfulfilled teacher who knows that there is ‘something missing’ in his life to a man capable ‘grateful to both Life and Death’ who is ultimately able to lose in himself in a moment of rare and immutable joy.