How is Leela’s Headmaster shown to affect lives of his own family, pupils and Krishna?
Fundamentally, the Headmaster is responsible for transforming Krishna’s life - from forcing him to realise his true passion and drive him towards inner peace to alleviating him of pain, misery and destitute following Susila’ death. His own family is initially introduced as inhumane, raucous and disrespectful; nevertheless they too learn from the Headmaster and transform into caring and supportive individuals. He elicits respect from his pupils and embodies a father figure like role, instilling within them a passion for schooling and education.
Firstly, the Headmaster’s most pivotal role in the novel is perhaps that of transforming Krishna’s life from one of disappointment and dispassion to one of satisfaction and salvation. Krishna reflects upon meeting the Headmaster ‘I felt I had made a profound contact in life’. Indeed, while this may seem hyperbolic it proves itself to be true as the novel progresses - Krishna learns a lot from the Headmaster. Clearly Krishna’s tone when describing the Headmaster is one of admiration ‘he seemed like a man who had strayed into the wrong world’ and their dialogues in the novel always comprise of amicable discourse. This represents their burgeoning friendship, and indeed it is because of this friendship that Krishna ‘decides to write a letter of resignation’ to Brown, the letter symbolic of his transition from a ‘professor who worked to save himself from adverse remarks from chief’ to one who has ‘found inner peace’. Prior to meeting the Headmaster, Krishna’s job involved the monotony of ‘browbeating, cajoling and admonishing’ leading to a ‘perpetual self criticism’ and fundamentally cynical outlook on life, accentuated by the cynical tone of narration in much of chapter one. This is all juxtaposed with the liberated Krishna ‘harmonizing with nature’ and ‘feeling moments of rare, immutable joy’ as he establishes communion with his wife.
The Headmaster exposes the innocence of the children to Krishna - he accepts this as an escape from the adult world of responsibility. It is amidst children that Krishna finds his inner being - where the ambivalence of his mind dissipates to yield a serene and tranquil state of mind - symbolised perhaps by the Headmaster’s school, where ‘everything smelt of Mother Earth’ and Krishna feels ‘all worry and sorry is lost sitting at the hut looking at the children play’. The Headmaster compares his pupils to ‘the real Gods on Earth’ - indeed the power of children influence Krishna to embrace and cherish optimism in an otherwise not unusual life. From Leela’s optimistic and cheerful attitude ‘exhibiting model behaviour’ during Susila’s death, always ‘spick and span and fresh’. Leela personifies the innocence and exuberance of youth - the same things the Headmaster associates with children. She is also the only reason Krishna meets the Headmaster. In many ways the Headmaster is the characterized personification of Krishna’s freedom (emotionally and physically), and the juxtaposition of the two characters - Krishna’s ‘bleak and dreary’ life with the Headmaster’s refreshed and rejuvenated demeanor reflected by the milieu of his school - natural and fresh - compel Krishna to realize the futility of his old lifestyle and indeed stimulate him to ‘cease living like a cow’.
Furthermore, the Headmaster’s pupils are shown to have great reverence for him - as Krishna narrates ‘there was a lot of noise until [The Headmaster] restored order’. He is shown to have a powerful impact on their lives. Indeed, they seem to idolise him as a father figure. His interactions with Leela are perhaps representative of his interaction with all his pupils, as Leela in microcosm represents the child-life vigour of all youth. His tone with her is always amicable ‘come to my house and I will give you the kitten’ and their dialogue lacks the didactic element of a teacher-student interaction. This conversational interaction in microcosm perhaps epitomises the unorthodox manner in which the Headmaster performs his profession - he treats it more as a hobby than an occupation and his pupil realise that, responding ‘with great joy and excitement’, even ‘coming to school on Sunday to hear stories’. The narration of a story by the Headmaster to his students is filled with interactive comments from the pupils ‘Oh! No! Poor bear!...So what happened Next?’ - their excitement elucidating their passion and curiosity for learning - stimulated by the positive influences of the Headmaster.
Thirdly, the Headmaster is shown to have a great influence on his family - albeit subtly. The paradox of the setting of the Headmaster’s home ‘Anderson Road’ - connoting Western orderliness - is filled with ‘dirt and vendors of all kind - the filthiest place in Malgudi’. This perhaps represents the paradoxical state of the Headmaster’s family life - initially his children are introduced as ‘uncouth street children’ and his wife is shown to be aggressive and rude with her ‘oily hair’ and ‘loud voice’. This opposes our (the reader’s) initial perception of the Headmaster - as one who is loved and cherished by all. Nevertheless, his family life is not elaborated on beyond the introduction, although readers are made away of its instability. As Krishna perceives it [the Headmaster] was ‘not willing to pursue the topic [of his wife] any further, disregarding that he should be home for dinner’. However, at the Headmaster’s predicted death, his wife is shown to be ‘in tears, screaming and shouting “my boys are orphans!” The sorrowful discourse of his wife is acutely juxtaposed with her initial apathetic tone ‘did you think we would wait for you?’, emphasising the changes that the Headmaster’s existence spur in the attitudes of even his wife and children, initially introduced as his most outright antagonisers.
Following this, his wife then begins to embody a role that perhaps befits Indian culture at the time ‘sending him tiffin in his school’. Nevertheless, the Headmaster rejects this action of care with the statement ‘A woman’s entire arsenal is in the kitchen’. Although he is shown to have an influence on his family, it seems by his actions at the end of the novel that he does not welcome the change - he wishes to ‘support them with monthly endowments and nothing else’. The Headmaster’s family life is perhaps the most ambivalent aspect of his character, for he never embraces him as his own, yet he extends his love, affection and care to the pupils of his school, whom to him are his real children.
Essentially, to this reader, the Headmaster’s most significant role in the novel as a personification of change and unconventionality is pivotal as this is what stimulates profound realisations in Krishna that propel his quest for inner peace. The Headmaster is arguably the characterisation of an emerging India; rising and developing through ‘revolutionary’ innovation as opposed to conventional practice. This multifunctional role is what ultimately results in his significant influences on the lives of Krishna, his pupils, and even his family.