The English Teacher and its Spiritual and Philosophical Context
Indian English Fiction has produced a large number of Spiritual figures. These characters talk of the spiritual values. Some of the spiritual figures have been discussed in the Indian English Fictions such as R. K. Nrayan’s Guide, Raja Rao’s Kanthapura, Bhabani Bhattacharya’s He Who Rides a Tiger, and Kipling’s Kim.
Through the character of Raju, in The Guide, Narayan unfolds the concept of spirituality. Raju’s passion makes him restless and almost mad. The transformation of Raju’s life is indeed the spiritual one. At the end he dies the true spirit of a saint or a ‘Karm Yogi’. Kola in Bhabani Bhattacharya’s He Who Rides a Tiger represents the concept of freedom and untouchabity. He seems to awaken from his half-sleep. He begins to confess about himself and his past life- “Nothing is as true as falseness. The more false you are to yourself and to others the more true you become” (Bhattacharya He Who 4). In portraying the character of Moorthy, in the Kanthapura, Raja Rao is operating within the Indian philosophical tradition. He is aware that the highest goal in life is ‘Moksh’ or self-realization. “Brother, in the name of Mahatma, let there be peace and love and order. As long as there is a God in Heaven and purity in our hearts evil cannot touch us. We hide nothing, we hurt none” ( Rao Kanthapura 6). Moorthy is idealized as a Gandhian and he unfolds the concepts of truth, love, non-violence, freedom, and self-discipline. In Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, the character of Lama unfolds the concept of Buddhistic spirituality. He is the embodiment of Buddhistic spirit. Throughout the journey the Lama was in quest of the holy river.
R. K. Narayan has a very strong background family fixed on the Vedic injunction. He never failed to use the Vedic perspective in his novels. The question ‘Who am I?’ is the basic principle on which the entire Vedas are built. The profound question is being repeated on many occasions in the novels of Narayan. We find the same idea in The English Teacher also.
The novel is undoubtedly the most personal and autobiographical of Narayan’s novels. It is a direct result of the agony of Krishna’s losing his wife, whom he loved very clearly. The novel is indeed based on the need to understand and realize life and death which are two different states of existence where two entirely different systems of values exist. There is certainly a deliberate contrast in the novel between the visible bodily world of human being and the invisible world of spirit and dead.
He establishes the universal truth that the fulfilment of man’s desires and aspirations is limited very much by forces outside the control of the human will. (Jothilakshmi)
Narayan dedicates The English Teacher to his wife, Rajam who died in 1939, leaving him with their three year old daughter, Hema. They met each other six years earlier and about that meeting Narayan himself writes:
While I was standing at the corner of the equivalent of a big-city-mall there, I saw a girl about eighteen. She was tall and slim and had classical features, her face had the finish and perfection and sculpture. She walked past me as in a dance… it was spring and I was twenty eight”. The English Teacher published in 1945 is an autobiographical novel depicting the spiritual love of the protagonist. “The Mission School is already Albert Mission College from which the hero of Bachelor of Arts graduates and in which the hero of The English Teacher lectures on English Literature. Singaram the old peon in the Mission School survives to receive a tip from Krishna the English teacher when he leaves the hostel for good to set up house with his young wife and child (Iyengar 362)
Krishna and Sushila, his wife, led a happy contented life for several months. But Sushila is stung by a flea, develops typhoid and dies after a few days. It is a great shock to Krishna. He is upset and loses all interest in life and his work. The only interest to him is his little daughter, Leela. He frequently wanders about a lotus pond, where he meets a Sanyasi who can communicate with the spirits of the dead. Through him Krishna is able to communicate with the spirit of his dead wife, is thrilled and regains his interest in life.
The theme of the novel is obviously the ‘Death’ of Sushila in the first half and her ‘resurrection’ in the second half: Paradise Lost being followed by Paradise Regained. In Kalidas’ play, Dushyant loses Shakuntala here, and rejoins her in the Ashram of Marichin there- on the other bank as it were. Krishna too loses Sushila in the flesh, yet on the last page of the novel- she comes back to him, to be with him forever. ( Iyengar 370)
The miracle happens, for she is by Krishna’s side: “’Shshila! Sushila! I cried. You hear’! Yes, I’m here, have always been here’” (Iyengar 370). Narayan here drives home the point that the human body is perishable, where as the soul is eternal. He establishes this fact when he talks about how Krishna succeeds in communicating with the spirit of his wife. Narayan had his own ideas about birth, death, old age, diseases etc. a person cannot conquer them. While talking about the loneliness and separation, which is caused by the sudden death of his wife, Narayan puts the same idea that the Soul- the maintainer of the body which is not perishable by nature. He says there is no escape from loneliness and separation
Wife, child, brothers, parents, friends … we come together only to go apart again. It is one continuous movement. They move away from us as we move away from them. The law of life can’t 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 to 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 (Narayan The English 177).
We come across the same idea repeated in A Tiger For Malgudi: “No relationship human or other association of any kind could last forever. Separation is the law of life right from the mother’s womb” (Narayan Tiger 174) Sushila, who is no more, tries to send a message to her husband through a medium. This proves that her body, physical body, is destroyed but not her soul. “One who has taken his birth is sure to die, and after death one is sure to take birth again. Therefore, in the unquidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament” (Narayan The English 110-111)
Krishna tries to gather more information about the life after death. He confirms from Sushila’s spirit that the soul never perishes. The English Teacher becomes all the more popular among the readers for the philosophical and spiritual concepts of life which is a part of Indian English Fiction.
- Bhattacharya, Bhabhani. He Who Rides a Tiger. New Delhi: Arnold Heimemann, 1977. Print
- Iyengar, Srinivasa, K. R. Indian Writing in English. New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Private Limited, `1993. Print.
- Jyotilakshmi, R. and Dr. Sundaram, Meenakshi G. “Soul-Body Concept in the Selected Novels of r. K. Narayan”. Criterion.com. April 2011 Web. 1 Aug. 2013.
- Narayan, R. K. A Tiger for Malgudi. London: Penguine Books, 1983. Print.
- Narayan, R. K. The English Teacher. Mysore: Indian Thought Publication, 1986. Print
- Rao, Raja. Kanthapura. London: Oxford University Press. 1909. Print.
Dr. Narendra K. Patel, Assistant Professor, Shri P. K. Chaudhari Mahila Arts College, Sector-7, Gandhinagar