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Om Namah Shivaya

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Sep 15, 2016

READER: The English Teacher by R K Narayan

Some times some books chose you rather than you choosing them to read. In the three years that I have been reading some lovely books through our 'Sans Serif book club' initiative, this book connected with me at deeper level. The tentative steps taken by R K Narayan - one of the Indian pioneers of writing in English, is endearing and courageous. 

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This book also connected well with all of us in the book club as some of the members have had the privilege to interact with R K Narayan personally while he was alive and gave us beautiful account of their interaction with the author himself. 

Discussing 'The English Teacher' at our Sans Serif Book club
@ Apparao Galleries

The story, seemingly a book about a life of an English Teacher, turned out to be more than a simple story of a person. It moved from being a persons account of tribulations of living to an account of three person's mortality and beyond in case of the death of the English teacher's wife. The connection beyond living, so lovingly brought out by R K Narayan, seemed natural and touching. Some times when we lose some one we love, the bonds remain, sometimes so strong that the person is not able to move on and that's what this story highlighted in its essence. That's the first loss in the book that made the English teacher look into his own life and living. Here I must note that it was one of the best writing skill of the author that even though the loss was immense, he was able to mention in such a subtle way, without the necessary drama of a loss that most of the authors succumb to, that I had to go back and read the lines to convince myself that the English Teacher's wife was really dead.


"After the car (doctor’s) had gone, a stony silence closed in on the house, punctuated by the stentorian breathing, which appeared to me the creaking of the hinges of a prison gate, opening at the command of a soul going into freedom." - R K Narayan in "The English Teacher"

The second loss was of perceived demise of the Head Master. In his going, he had prepared himself to rise above his own short comings and left his home to be reborn again as the teacher he was. Some times the enlightenment comes in different form and this was one the most powerful highlights of the book.

Finally, did the English Teacher die too? Well I will leave this question unanswered as I feel that this discovery is needed to be made by yourself - the reader.

I remember meeting Alexander McCall Smith in this year's Hindu Lit Festival, where he extolled the beauty of R K Narayan's writing and his lament still rings true that we, the Indians, don't appreciate the beauty and the power of an Indian Author's writing in English. I had promised myself after the discussion with him, to read his books and I am so glad that I did. It opened not only my eyes to an era, beyond Malgudi days, to the dirt track of villages, writing letters and making of an ink. A process my grandfather used to employ in my own childhood.
Alexander McCall Smith at Hindu Lit Festival 2016

The another beauty of R K Narayan's writing that comes out so powerfully in this book is the handling of flowering love - an under current that ran through the book so deeply that one wonder's why the new breed of authors have to resort to uncover a body to bring the excitement of love into love making. R K Narayan made love deeper than the river's flow that has breeched the banks. I loved it.

The mystical approach that he took to connect with his departed wife may sound far fetched but I was given to understand by the friends of the family - some of the members of our book club, is real. It seems so too to me. I have had many mystical experiences, while travelling in Himalaya with Sadhu's, Fakirs and wandering monks and could vouch for the connection of the spirits beyond the physical world. Even if it is not true, I personally feel that the experiences shared rings true.

Picture of actual transcendental writing from R K Narayan's departed wife
The best part of reading this book, along with the Sans Serif Book Club members is the fact that you get to hear different perspective, not only about the book, the story but about the author as well. I am so grateful to Prema Ma'am for the insights she gave of the Author, who she used to meet quite frequently in her younger days since he was a family friend.

One of the book club member even highlighted the way he started off with the book as cliched English writing and moved on to immensely powerful portrayal of quaint life.

But in the end, I felt that this was one of the book, in which you can see the transformation of the characters within the pages, growing out to be more fleshed, mature and powerful as the story progressed. What I could actually relate to, was the way the author's love life blossomed within the pages as she took over the day to day life within the house. 
An engrossing discussion at the Book Club @ The English Teacher

It is a beautiful book and if you have not read R K Narayan, not seen Malgudi Days on T V, then I think you should start with this book. 

Now I will leave you with a brief note about the Author and then share some of the words from the book that connected with me and I could relate to...

A Brief Note...

R. K. Narayan (10 October 1906 – 13 May 2001), full name Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanaswami, was an Indian writer, best known for his works set in the fictional South Indian town of Malgudi. He was a leading author of early Indian literature in English, along with Mulk Raj Anand and Raja Rao.

Image curtsy Wikipedia
Narayan's mentor and friend, Graham Greene was instrumental in getting publishers for Narayan’s first four books, including the semi-autobiographical trilogy of Swami and Friends, The Bachelor of Arts and The English Teacher. The fictional town of Malgudi, was first introduced in Swami and Friends. Narayan’s The Financial Expert, was hailed as one of the most original works of 1951, and Sahitya Akademi Award winner The Guide, was adapted for film and for Broadway.

Narayan highlights the social context and everyday life of his characters, and he has been compared to William Faulkner, who also created a similar fictional town, and likewise explored with humour and compassion the energy of ordinary life. Narayan's short stories have been compared with those of Guy de Maupassant, because of his ability to compress a narrative. However, he has also been criticised for the simplicity of his prose.

In a career that spanned over sixty years, Narayan received many awards and honours, including the AC Benson Medal from the Royal Society of Literature, the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Vibhushan, India's third and second highest civilian awards. He was also nominated to the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of India's parliament.


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Some Thoughts and Quotes from the Book - The English Teacher
Sans Serif Book Club Members @ Apparao Galleries

I loved this room because the sun came through a ventilator, bring in a very bright beam of light, and brilliant dust particles floated in it, and the two boys who sat on the second bench looked all aflame.

My father’s letter brought back to me not only the air of the village and all my childhood, but along with it all the facts …

[God said to his assistants, ‘Take this man away to hell’ and they brought him down to the hostel bathroom passage, and God said, ‘torture him’ and they opened the room and pushed him in…]

She watch these containers (carrying rations for the month) as a sort of barometer, the level of their contents indicating the progress of the month. Each had to be at a particular level on a particular date.

There are no more surprises and shocks in life, so that I watch the flame without agitation. For me the greatest reality is this and nothing else…. Nothing else will worry or interest me in life hereafter.

Our nature adapts itself to circumstances with wonderful speed.

Tree twigs have a sense of humor and adopt funny shapes. I think it is one of Nature’s expressions of humor, if only we can see them that way….

It gives on the feeling that it is a place belongs to Eternity, and that it will not be touched by time or disease or decay.

A man takes to drink to forget sad thoughts, but after a while they return with gathered force.

She sees me and perhaps takes in naturally, since children spontaneously see only the souls of persons. Children see spirit forms so often that it is natural to their condition and state of mind.

When I watch them (children), I get a glimpse of some purpose in existence and creation.

For all of us, our possessions turn to mementoes.

Between thought and fulfillment there is no interval. Thought is fulfillment, motion and everything. That is the main difference between our physical state and yours. In your state a thought to be realised must always be followed by effort directed towards conquering obstructions and inertia - that is the nature of material world.

The law of life cant be avoided. The law comes into operation the moment we detach ourselves from our mother’s womb. All struggle and misery in life is due to our attempt to arrest this law or get away from it or in allowing ourselves to be hurt by it. The fact must be recognized. A Profound unmitigated loneliness is the only truth of life. All else is false.

The kitchen is the deadliest arsenal a woman possesses.

This education had reduced us to a nation of morons; we were strangers to our own culture and camp followers of another culture, feeding on leavings and garbage.


Success must be measured by its profit-less-ness, said a French philosopher.

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Shashi 
ॐ नमः शिवाय
Om Namah Shivaya

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