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


Narayan depicts the impact Susila has in the novel through the different emotions she evokes in Krishna. In the beginning of the novel, Krishna is portrayed by Narayan, as an anxious and uptight character with a very narrow perspective about right and wrong, hence his dismissal of the other teachers with whom he works and his dissatisfaction at the empty meaninglessness of living life ‘like a cow’. However, the arrival of Susila changes Krishna and helps him to break free from the constraints of working in the Albert Mission College and begin living a more fulfilling and joyful life. Narayan seems to associate this ideal of freedom with a movement away from the strictly ordered, materialistic British education system of the college towards a more spiritual and, perhaps, more traditionally Indian view of the world. Fundamentally the novel follows Krishna’s growth and development as he leaves behind the influence of the Albert Mission College and begins recapturing and discovering freedom and fulfillment, a process that mirrors the experiences of India as a country at the time as it gradually moved away from British colonial rule towards independence.

 

Susila assists Krishna in his journey of development towards self-enlightenment firstly through her appearance: Susila’s ‘fresh face, with no sign of fatigue’ and ‘indigo colored saree’ when she arrives at the train station in Malgudi brings an end to all of Krishna’s previous ‘anxious(ness)’ and ‘agitation’. The powerful impact of this moment on Krishna is made evident by his suddenly chastened attitude when he takes Susila’s hint and thanks her father for accompanying Suslia to Malgudi and invites him to dinner.

 

In addition, Susila’s impact is accentuated by Narayan through her carefree and naïve personality. Unlike to Krishna, Susila is more open to different views, as suggested through Susila’s disapproval of the similarity of houses in the Lawley extension when she says ‘Why are they so alike?’ indicating a lack of creativity and freedom. Whereas, this contrasts previously with Krishna’s attempt at house hunting when he was looking for the house in Sarayu Street and he required the house was ‘facing the north’, with the sun entering through the ‘eastern’ windows to provide the light that artists were fondest of. Krishna initial impression of the perfect house is one of which other people would approve whereas Susila’s is one which is different to everyone else’s. Suslia’s impact on Krishna is again made clear when he is asked whether he likes the house and he ‘looks at Susila’, implying he is willing to listen to her opinions, suggesting him being more flexible.

 

However, the impact that Susila has in the novel are not always positive and this is most evident after her death when Krishna seems to lose all hope and motivation to live and claims that ‘nothing will worry or please [him] hereafter’. This sense of resignation implies that Susila has had such a large impact on Krishna that she in fact seems to have given his life meaning as he realises that without here there is little point in continuing to live. Nonetheless, as a result of Susila’s death Krishna develops as a character in numerous unexpected ways as he learns to take care of his daughter Leela. Krishna states that his ‘one aim in life now was to make sure she did not feel the absence of her mother’ and Narayan suggests that this as a positive shift in priorities from before when his job or his poetry were all that concerned Krishna. At the start of the novel Krishna described his teaching job as the ‘wrong work’ and now in contrast Leela is depicted as his ‘only source of joy’. This shift is a result of Susila’s death, and the impact of this moment is clearly significant as Krishna learns to develop independently and becomes a happier man, a development which perhaps once again represents India’s own growth towards independence.

 

Even after her death, Susila is still very much present in Krishna’s life through the assistance of the medium and it is her spiritual presence that contributes further to Krishna’s development as a father and as a man. Without Susila, Krishna would have been unaware of Leela’s desires to attend school, a realisation that is ultimately one of the most important in the novel as it leads to Krishna meeting the Headmaster who acts as a further guide and inspiration for Krishna as he teaches Krishna the real meaning of ‘joy’, the importance of the innocence of children and the problem with modern Indian schools which are obsessed with ‘copying, copying, copying’ the British educational system and thereby end up producing nothing more than a bunch of ‘study idiots’ who, as ‘camp followers of another culture, are fit to be little more than the middle layer of management in colonial India tpossessed of no real drive, vision, or insight.

 

In conclusion, Susila’s positive impacts overrule her negative impacts on Krishna, as ultimately, Susila is the key contributing factor in leading Krishna down the path of self-development that ultimately brings him to joy and to an understanding of his ‘innermost self’, as is powerfully indicated by Narayan in the final chapter when Krishna is finally able to ‘clear’ his mind and perceive Susila directly in a ‘moment of immutable joy’.