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Indian Literature R K Narayan The English Teacher

Krishnan, the central character of R. K. Narayan's 'The English Teacher', undertakes an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual journey during the course of the novel. At the start of the novel he is an English teacher, living and teaching at the same school where he was once a pupil, and at the end we see him resigning his post, beginning work at a nursery school, and learning to communicate psychically with his dead wife.

Krishnan's change comes about not as a result of any grand plan or ambition, but as a result of a series of challenging circumstances which arise once he begins to take steps away from the cloistered and protective environment of his school.

But although Krishnan's journey is unpredictable, a number of themes are being worked out in the course of the novel. These themes might be said to be Krishnan's progress from predictability to unpredictability, from the academic world to the real world of life and death, from adulthood to childhood, and from a western mentality to an eastern mentality.

From predictability to unpredictability.

Krishnan repeatedly finds himself being drawn out of situations which ought to have been predictable and ordered by events which are spontaneous and unpredictable, and it is clear that he finds spontaneity and unpredictability to be stimulating and life-enhancing, while predictability and order, although providing a cushion of comfort and security, is ultimately stifling and deadening

Susila, his wife, brings unpredictability into his life at every turn. For example when they go to look at a house she wants to make a long diversion to walk by the river and bathe her feet, where the rational orderly Krishnan would have naturally taken the most direct route, and it is clear that he finds her unpredictable behaviour a source of delight and inspiration.

The turning point of the story arises from Susila's unpredictability. When they go to look at the house we could not possibly predict that she would go for a walk on her own, get stuck in a contaminated lavatory, and then become ill.

The futility of clinging to the belief that life can be orderly, predictable, and knowable is shown in two central, and symmetrical, predictions which occupy a prominent place in the novel. The first is the doctor's assertion that typhoid, which Susila has contracted, is the one fever which goes strictly by its own rules. It follows a time-table and that Susila will be well in a few weeks. But in spite of his further assurances that her attack is Absolutely normal course. No complications. A perfect typhoid run' Susila dies.

The other prominent demonstration of the futility of believing that life can be knowable and predictable is seen in the headmaster's belief in a prediction made by an astrologer, 'who can see past present and future as one, and give everything its true value' that he will die on a given date. But although (just as the doctor had asserted that Susila's typhoid was 'A perfect typhoid run') the headmaster has found that his 'life has gone precisely as he predicted', the headmaster lives.

Both of these episodes show the limitations of man's ability to know and predict the world. The truth is that we cannot know, and cannot predict, and any view of life, whether deriving from modern western science, or ancient eastern mysticism, which disregards the unknowable and sees only what is supposedly known, and supposedly predictable, is hopelessly inadequate.

From the academic world to the 'law of life'

While these episodes fail to provide Krishnan with anything rational to believe in, they do bring him face to face with the reality of life and death, and confronting the realities of life without retreating into the safe cerebral world of literature and philosophy is an important component of his journey.

In coming to terms with the death of his wife literature, philosophy, and rationalism, are no use to him. They are all illusions, and the journey he is on involves leaving illusions behind. The truth Krishnan wants to discover cannot be found in Shakespeare, Carlyle, or Plato, it is found only among real people leading real lives, it is 'the law of life'.

From adulthood to childhood

Children are very much in evidence throughout 'The English Teacher', and are important guides for Krishnan on his journey. The children who help to show him the way are the younger children, his own daughter, Leela, and the children at the nursery school she attends.

The most prominent character in the novel, after Krishnan and his family, is the headmaster of Leela's school. He is a champion of childhood, having devoted his life to children since receiving the prediction that he would die, and believes they are angels', the real gods on earth', and employs what he calls The Leave Alone System' in his school.

In the second half of the novel Krishnan's discovery of children as an effective countermeasure against the curse of adulthood', and the opening of his mind that he is experiencing through meditation, pave the way for his resignation from his old job and the adoption of a more genuine lifestyle.