What aspects of the personality and behaviour of Krishna might make you feel sympathetic towards him?


Fundamentally, Krishna exists as a literary construct representative of the typical Indian in the 1940s. His state is one of ambivalence, disorientation and one filled with conflict. His wife’s unpredictable death only augments his already unstable self and compels him to lead a life of misery and misfortune. Clearly, readers sympathise with Krishna as they are evoked of pity for his misfortune, and pathos when he embraces responsibility in domesticity. However readers also sympathise with Krishna because his story is not unusual - the readership of the English Teacher can most probably relate with most of the events in his life, and empathise with his point of view.

Firstly, Krishna is introduced as a cynical and self-deprecating character who compares his life to ‘living like a cow’. His cynical tone evokes pathos in the readers as they empathise with his desperation to ‘take stock of his life and cultivate new habits’. The first person, stream of conscience style narrative of the text emphasises the pity felt by readers. The behaviour of Krishna in the early stages of the novel elucidates a careless attitude that represents Krishna’s disappointment with life. He ‘browbeats, admonishes and cajoles’, ‘coming to lessons late and then dawdling over the register’. Readers sympathise with Krishna as they too feel despondent at the purposelessness in his life - the monotony, symbolised by the milieu of ‘Albert MIssion College’ compels Krishna into despair and thus the readers.


Additionally, readers sympathise with Krisha based on the fact that he lives life ordinarily - without a greed for materialistic possessions nor does he demonstrate ardent frugality. His ambition to ‘enrich a language with poetry’ may be perceived as arrogant and pretentious, however to this reader his ambitions are harmless and indeed denote an aspect of his personality that readers feel sympathetic towards, even if only because his ambition is often overwhelmed by routine. Moreover, the scenes in the novel when Krishna is ‘house-hunting’ are particularly symbolic of his burgeoning responsibility and his ‘sheer determination’ to accept it. Readers sympathise with him as he searches for a home to house his family. The rhetorical question ‘what would [my family] do if they arrive and have no where to live’ epitomises the caring and family-oriented Krishna; his worry over their accommodation denoting a real anxiety over their well-being. This is emphasised even more so, given that earlier in the novel Krishna is self-obsessive and ‘leaves pictures of his wife unhung’. His initial impersonal attitude towards Leela ‘what am I to do with a child of 6 months’ antagonises him in the perception of the readers - nevertheless over the course of the novel he embraces his domestic life with a genuine emotion of care - and readers feel sympathetic towards him because of this change in character.


Furthermore, readers are elicited of sympathy as Krishna described events during his wife’s death and immediately after. His fragile state, caused by his wife’s illness is perhaps symbolised by his role of ‘the nurse, preparing a sickroom that is better than the ward’. This, in addition to his poignant descriptions ‘I am blind, dumb and dazed’ elicit sympathy from readers. This is emphasised by the use of present tense ‘I am’ - the immediacy of the situation is stressed, augmenting sympathy felt by the readers. Krishna states the days [during Susila’s illness] were of ‘iron routine...getting up at five and taking [his] duty in the sickroom’. The monotony, amalgamated with the emotional trauma at seeing his ‘jasmine’ in a ‘motionless state’ renders him despondent; the poignant expression of emotion eliciting readers of pathos and sympathy.


Moreover, Krishna’s narration is perhaps even more poginant after Susila’s death - he is forced to ‘be both a mother and father to Leela’. The use of foreshadow by Narayan earlier in the novel when Susila cries ‘[Leela] looks like an orphan without proper care’ only emphasises the pathos felt by readers when Leela is in fact rendered an orphan. Krishna’s matter of fact tone in chapter four of the book, where he reflects ‘looking ater the child was my sole purpose in life’ elicits readers of pathos. His caring behaviour with Leela denotes a burgeoning paternal love that portrays him in an admirable light. Imagery of Leela ‘jumping in the water’ while Krishna bathes her, and Leela being ‘the first thing Krishna sees when he wakes up’ represent a Krishna who genuinely is affectionate towards his daughter, and indeed when she too leaves for her grandparent’s home Krishna reflects in a cynical tone ‘A profound and unmitigated loneliness is the only truth of life’. In this respect, readers are elicited of pathos owing to Krishna’s caring paternal (and maternal) behaviour with Leela, ensuring to the best of his capability that ‘she does not feel the loss of her mother’, and resultantly readers feel even more sympathetic for Krishna when he is forced to realise that ‘only a woman can fill a mother’s role’ and Leela is ‘sent away with her grandmother’. Krishna’s helplessness and impotence elicits sympathy from readers, overwhelming the disdain readers felt at Krishna because of his arrogant and self-obsessed attitude in the earlier stages of the novel. 


Furthermore, Krishna’s poetic discourse when describing Susila’s cremation ‘all sensations are blurred and vague’, ‘the shrivelling heat baked her face into a tinge of yellow’ only accentuates the melancholy he feels, ‘the curiously dull pain at heart’ evoking misery and despondence. Krishna’s trauma and devastation at his wife’s death evoke sympathy in the readers - his helplessness in saving her in microcosm being representative of the struggles in life and the impotence of all to superior forces - all of which evoke sympathy.


Moreover, Krishna’s sincere desire to communicate with his dead wife also evoke sympathy in the readers. The personification of the ‘pen quivering with life’ at the first ‘seating’ represents the importance of communication to Krishna. He makes a conscious effort to ‘rid his mind of sorrow, leaving it in a passive state’ as per the instructions of Susila. The irony of ‘The English Teacher’ being the student evokes readers of sympathy as it demonstrates Krishna’s acceptance that he is not ‘a poet’ or a ‘lion-tamer’ but indeed an ordinary Indian whose sincere quest for ‘inner peace’ overwhelms all. Krishna’s interactions with the Headmaster also portray a light-hearted and amicable personality, one that is acutely juxtaposed with the didactic toned ‘professor’ who ‘quietens the boys by out-shouting them’. The multiple attitudes and personalities of Krishna evoke readers of sympathy - they portray the ambivalence of his mind and denote his own subconscious quest for his purest being.


Essentially, Krishna’s relationship with Susila and Leela transforms the perception of his character in the minds of the readers - from a slightly pompous, arrogant and self-obsessed perfectionist to a caring, compassionate lover and sympathetic father. His devastation and traumatic response to Susila’s death augment the fragility of his being and readers are evoked of pity owing to his behaviour. However it is perhaps most significant that readers feel sympathetic towards him because he is an ordinary being - his troubles, misfortunes and worries in life are synonymous with those of many persons - the literal, matter of fact narrative of the text emphasizing the reality of his situation. Readers are therefore able to identify with his character, his personality, his behaviour - ultimately evoking them of sympathy, and indeed empathy.