Explore the impact of Susila in Narayan’s The English Teacher


‘I will carry the baby down,’ Susila asserts when she arrives in Malgudi where she is met by a flustered Krishna who is beside himself with concern that seven minutes will not be enough time to offload Susila’s luggage from the train. The sense of calm authority in this phrase and the grace and poise of her bearing quickly establish Susila as a character who will be a key influence on Krishna and, in many ways, his stabilising point throughout the novel.


Initially Susila brings unpredictability into Krishna’s mundane life, a life which, previously, had been ‘lived like a cow.’ Her desire to ‘bathe [her] feet in the river’ when they go house-hunting enables Krishna to experience some rare moments of delight as a result of deviating from the old normal routine by which he lived his life and as a result he exclaims after their excursion that ‘It was a most invigorating walk down the river.’ Furthermore, her unpredictable death later on allows Krishna to experience the tragedies of life he had yet to understand. The event prompted him to search for methods of relieving the pain whether by distracting himself by caring for Leela or by being determined to communicate with the spiritual world through the Medium. His eventual success as a father and his ability to commune with the spirits implies that tragedy can be the start of a process that ultimately leads to our most valuable achievements. As such, while Susila brings a sense of unpredictable spontaneity to Krishna’s life she is also the image of an effervescent and fragile life that can all too easily be taken away. Her spontaneity and her death accentuate the precariousness of life thus causing Krishna to value it more. The fragility and risks associated with life makes it more worth living as Krishna discovers. Our understanding that Susila represents Narayan’s wife Rajam, who also died at a young age makes the impact that Susila’s death has on the reader even more poignant as we can see how the effect that her death had on Narayan is relayed and reflected in the novel. This barely concealed symbolism makes the novel more emotionally affecting and helps to establish a closer connection between the reader, Narayan and Krishna.


In addition, Susila’s unwavering love is a motif that runs throughout The English Teacher. ‘The talk went on till darkness crept in,’ symbolises their strong relationship and how she is a wife, a friend and a guide to him. In her role as a teacher, Susila admonishes Krishna for trying to ‘abolish memory’ by burning her letters to him stating that ‘I can only laugh at the remedy.’ Her insight and wisdom is highlighted towards the latter half of the novel, a trait in females that is often overlooked by the kind of patriarchal Indian society in which Krishna lives, as she teaches Krishna that acceptance is of paramount importance rather than forcing a memory to be forgotten. In this way, Susila will not be forever parted from him, instead she is integrated into his everyday life so that Krishna rejoices in the knowledge that ‘the darkness and loneliness were nothing… she was here with me.’ Susila also teaches Krishna to appreciate the beauty of nature and the happiness he can potentially find in life. She inspires him to write poetry as Krishna calls her a ‘phantom of delight,’ representing development in his character, instead of leaving his unfinished poems ‘on the table’ in resignation where they act as symbols of half fulfilled hopes and unrealistic dreams to have his ‘books sold all over the world.’ During Susila’s illness, Narayan shows that Krishna is able to write poetry that is unforced and genuine and, following Susila’s death, he becomes ultimately more accepting of the ‘laws of life’ and thus makes him significantly less pessimistic and prepared to embrace life and live it to the fullest.


Susila also brings determination and motivation into Krishna’s life. She asks him to find ‘a box of ivory and sandalwood,’ where she kept their letters. Instead of giving up his efforts as he may have done earlier in the novel as exemplified by his half finished poems or his resolution to bathe in the river every morning, Krishna continues searching for the box. This development in his character evokes a sense of pride in the audience as well for we realise the obstacles overcome by Krishna, in this case his lack of resolution, in order to progress to inner peace. Furthermore, Krishna’s determination is evident when he ‘will continue’ with the communications with Susila ‘whatever happens.’ This portrays Krishna’s determination to improve, a trait that had been lacking in his character at the start of the novel when he admits he would have happily carried out a meaningless job such as putting beads on to a string if it had paid him the same one hundred rupees a month as his teaching job. 


In conclusion, the most important impact that Susila has in the novel is the way in which she acts as the source of inspiration for Krishna. She allows him to experience a truer form of life: the life that he had been avoiding whilst living in the hostel. Her life and death reinvigorates Krishna and the reader as we are drawn in by ‘her innocence, simplicity and helplessness.’ Krishna’s journey towards self-fulfilment is the reader’s own and the emotional impact on Krishna can be felt by us. Susila is symbolic of change in the novel as well as providing the warm motherly love that endears her to us. It is because of her that Krishna realises that he has to be ‘grateful to both Life and Death,’ for the joy that he has experienced in his life and as a result he comes to understand that ‘Life’s journey is made easier for one who can see Nature and God at every moment.’