The English Teacher


Major Themes


Superstition and Science


If this novel were a straightforward attack on Western Imperialism and the influence of the British in India, we would perhaps expect a favourable depiction of the non-rational, spiritual and superstitious elements of Indian culture in over the portrayal of Western-style scientific ideas as cold and unfeeling and, to a degree this happens. The doctors, with their confidence in the rules of Typhoid are unable to save Susila and the novel clearly ends on a climax that reinforces Indian-style beliefs in life after death and reincarnation which are in contrast to the Western scientific tradition. However, as with most other themes, the distinction is not that simple as Narayan strives to make us cynical about whether the mystic really is communicating with Susila (given all the wrong information she reports) as well as undermining simpler superstitions about bathing to prevent hair loss. The accuracy of the Headmaster’s astrologer is also called into question as he does not, in fact, die when predicted, although it is true that he does experience a kind of re-birth so some kind of death could be said to have occurred. Equally, Western medicine is not uniformly criticized. The exorcist, after all, is also incapable of saving Susila and the doctor, although perfunctory and mechanical in his office, becomes human and caring after his initial visit to Krishna’s home. As with many of the other themes Narayan seems to believe that it is not simply a question of choosing one tradition or the other but instead of borrowing elements from both.



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The doctor is described in the following way: ‘He read out the names on the slips and bottles one by one, examined a throat here, tapped a chest there, listened in to the murmurs of hearts through a tube and wrote prescriptions at a feverish speed.’




‘However ‘he was an entirely different man outside of the dispensary. He played with my daughter and gave her a ride on his shoulder, examined all the books on my table, proved to be a great book lover and student of philosophy, and was delighted that we had similar taste.’




The doctor is confident ‘I like Typhoid, he said. ‘It is the one which acts strictly by its own conventions and rules.’ Yet still Susila dies.




The house contractor says ‘Never trust these English doctors. My son had Typhoid. The doctors tried to give him this and that and forbade him to eat anything; but he never got well though he was in bed for thirty days. Afterwards somebody gave him a herb and I gave him whatever he wanted to eat and he was got within two days … The English doctors are always trying to starve one to death.




‘I saw a man with his forehead ablaze with sacred ash, a thick rosary around his neck and matter hair, standing at the door.’




The Expert called in by the doctor prescribes ‘glucose and brandy with five minims of Solomine.’ because ‘It is the best stimulant I can think of at the moment. He asserts that ‘Everything is quite well done here.’ yet still Susila dies.




Grandmother’s last words to Krishna ‘Don’t fail to give her an oil anointment and bath every Friday or she will lose all her hair.’




Krishna receives Susila’s letter from ‘another region.’




The doctor down the road ‘sold some home-made pills; it was more or less a quack shop which gave medicine under no known system, but the shop was always crowded.’




The temple at the mystic’s house ‘It is said that Sankara, when he passed this way, built it at night merely by chanting ]Vak Matha’s] name over the earth.’




When Susila is communicating, ‘Letters and words danced their way into existence.’ ‘This is an attempt to turn the other side of the medal of existence which is called death.’ However, we are suspicious when Susila incorrectly names her daughter ‘Radha’.




‘Children spontaneously see the souls of persons’




After many mistaken details about Susila’s last day alive the mystic says: ‘When dd you buy the cloth for this shirt? Was it before or after the coat you are wearing over it? All memories merge and telescope when the time element is removed.’




‘Ever since these communications had begun I felt, now and then, that she showed a greater wisdom than I had know her to possess.’




In the afterlife there is no gap between thought and action. ‘Everything is finer and quicker than on Earth’ things are ‘more intense’




‘Her presence was unmistakably there. I could sense it’ because of the Jasmine smell




‘I missed my friends sittings continuously for three or four weeks’ due to silly excuses: ill friends, business trip and when Krishna tries to talk to Susila directly ‘My words fell on a deep silence and died without a response – the faintest would have made me happy’




The ‘sitting in absentia’




When Susila is describing Krishna’s attempt to communicate with her she says ‘You had a few sheets of paper and a green handled pencil.’ but ‘Krishna ‘had over a dozen pencils in my drawer; I hadn’t noticed which one I picked that day.’




Krishna asks ‘How will you make me feel your presence’ and Susila replies that ‘At first it will be a matter of belief’




The Headmaster comes to announce his death and says ‘It is a good omen, they say, the braying of a donkey, so my request is well timed.’




The Headmaster, because of his astrologer’s report, believes that ‘Tomorrow I may be no more.’




‘I was beginning to be aware of a slight improvement in my sensibilities …. Like a three quarters deaf man catching the rustle of a dress of someone he loves.’




The ‘ivory-worked sandalwood box’ is brought to him by his mother. So Susila’s comments about the box that were earlier unfounded have proven to be true




‘When I opened my eyes again she was sitting on my bed with an extraordinary smile in her eyes.’