I read R.K. Narayan’s English Teacher almost 15 years ago as a part of my college syllabus. English Teacher was supposed to be the autobiographical account of Narayan’s struggle to come to terms with the death of wife, Rajam. And that’s probably why it had such a profound impact on me. And on the 108th birthday of this iconic author let me list out the lessons I have learned –
Keep it Simple – One of the first things that strikes you about Narayan’s writing is that you don’t have to reach out to Google or the dictionary to check his vocabulary. Simple words coined in simple sentences can aptly do the job of narrating your story. Even profound philosophies about life can be described beautifully using simple language. This was one of the most useful lessons that I learned from English Teacher.
“I returned from the village. The house seemed unbearably dull. But I bore it. “There is no escape from loneliness and separation….” I told myself often. “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 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.
Understated humour – Humour is a classic prop that Narayan uses in all his novels. His humour is often understated and tongue-in-cheek which works well in all his plots. English Teacher too had many such moments where Krishna the protagonist fails to prepare for his class and ends up using attendance as an excuse to while away the time and the headmaster of the nursery school confessing to him about why it takes a long time for him to come out of bathroom. Narayan’s art of weaving in humour with many slice of life moments is a lesson that many writers can learn.
Discovering yourself – English Teacher on the outset could be classified as a tragic love story of a college professor, Krishna who falls in love with his wife, only to lose her tragically to Typhoid. But it is certainly much more than that. Krishna’s dissatisfaction with his life and work and the loneliness he feels after Susheela’s death leads him towards a new path. In the end, he finds a way to connect with his dead wife and discovers the joy that one derives only out of doing something that they really like. Krishna finds joy in teaching little kids rather than trying to explain Southey’s poetry to unappreciative students in college.
This was one of the most important lessons that we can learn from this book. There is indeed no greater joy than working on something that you enjoy.