The English Teacher by RK Narayan reminds me of Erich Segal’s Love Story and the Bobby Goldsboro classic, Honey. One may even be reminded of David Copperfield and Dora. Narayan has been compared to Charles Dickens. But the relationship between the couple at the centre of this story is more profoundly moving.
I have not come across a more romantic English novel by an Indian author.
Set in Narayan’s fictional town of Malgudi, the plot is simple. A man teaching English in a college gets married, has a daughter and a few years later his wife dies of typhoid. The rest of the story, told by the man himself, is about his raising his daughter and holding on to his wife’s memories.
What makes it remarkable is the love that pours out of every page.
The man describes the beauty of his wife and the happiness they had known with an ardour and a lack of inhibition that’s extraordinary for a book by an Indian author published in 1945.
Narayan’s own story
It’s said to be Narayan’s own story: his wife died of typhoid, leaving behind a little daughter, a few years after their marriage.
Indeed, Narayan dedicated the book to his wife, Rajam.
Narayan captures the ardour of the young couple. Krishna, the English teacher, virtually worships his wife, Susila, who is beautiful, charming, a perfect homemaker, and enjoys the attention of the man she loves. Outwardly though she defers to him, she has him completely under her thumb.
When he is sitting at his table, trying to write a poem, she comes up and says: “Let me see if you can write about me.”
She is simply adorable.
Here they are out on a walk. Krishna, the narrator, writes:
“I was highly elated. The fresh sun, morning light, the breeze, and my wife’s presence, who looked so lovely – even an unearthly loveliness – her tall form, dusky complexion, and the small diamond ear-rings – Jasmine, Jasmine…”I will call you Jasmine, hereafter,” I said. “I’ve long waited to tell you that…”
“Remember, we are in a public road, and don’t start any of your pranks here,” she warned, throwing at me a laughing glance. Her eyes always laughed – there was a perpetual smile in her eyes.”