Krishna??™s Attitude towards Education
The novel The English Teacher by R. K. Narayan deals with many aspects of human existence. The writer discusses these aspects through an English Teacher who teaches in a missionary school named Albert Mission College in Malgudi, the fictional village of R. K. Narayan where almost all of his stories take place. The story talks about an unending bond between a husband and a wife namely Krishnan and Susila. Krishnan the main protagonist of the novel struggles to find a way to reach Susila and communicate with her after her untimely death. With this determination in mind Krishnan goes in search of spiritual enlightenment which he seeks from the beginning of the novel and which he ultimately achieves through self-development. In this story of an unending bond between two souls R. K. Narayan also deals with certain subthemes like family relationships, mysticism and spiritualism, tradition, culture, education, love. And education in particular plays a substantial part in the story. Narayan was critical about the British education system which prevailed in India at that time; through Krishnan he criticizes the whole education system.
We find Krishnan at the school hostel living as a bachelor even though he was a married man, this lack of confidence in himself makes him evade from accepting responsibilities, here the writer points out the way how British education system has moulded them into dreamers with naive characteristics not even giving the basic knowledge on how to live in the society, as the writer points out, only ???mugging up??? Milton, Carlyle, and Shakespeare, beyond this literature knowledge there??™s nothing for the development of the character, that??™s why Krishnan says at the beginning ?????¦ I was constantly nagged by the feeling that I was doing the wrong work.???(5; ch.1) The naive quality of this education system is best highlighted by the example of Gopal the colleague of Krishna who is sharp as a knife-edge with mathematical matters but blunt in everything else in life, ???Gopal was sharp as a knife-edge where mathematical matters were concerned, but, poor fellow, he was very dumb and stupid in other matters.???(7; ch.1). Krishnan knows that he doesn??™t gain any self-satisfaction from his work in fact he himself says if the government paid the same hundred rupees for stringing beads together or tearing up paper bits every day for a few hours, he would perhaps be doing it with equal favour.
The novel starts with the theme of education which shows the writer??™s intention of emphasizing the failures of British education system; Krishnan has become an alien to his own culture while blindly following a foreign culture which doesn??™t give any spiritual fulfillment to a person??™s character. We can see the anger of the writer through Krishnan when he says to Mr.Gajapathy after the meeting with Mr. Brown where he had emphasized the need for preserving purity of the English language; Krishnan asks Gajapathy ???Why should he think the responsibility for learning is all on our side and none on his Why does he magnify his own importance???(6; ch.1).This shows his resentment towards the British attitudes, worrying about trivial things in this case a dropped vowel, when there is far more profound inescapable things like death. That??™s why Krishnan says to Mr. Gajapathy that there are blacker sins in this world than a dropped vowel.
R. K. Narayan is particularly critical about the way the British people treated his own native languages and his own culture because he understood later that he can find a spiritual satisfaction from his native culture and religion rather than from an alien western culture. It??™s the Hindu teachings and his religion that help him to attain spiritual enlightenment at the end of the story. While all the other professors in Albert Mission College worshiped English language Krishnan severely criticized the language. Krishnan found the English language a torture which has invaded his country to destroy the native culture and language and ultimately the minds of the Indian people. These words by Krishnan testify how he abhors the language ???As a student I had found language a torture, and as a teacher I still found it a torture.???(104; ch.5). He finds himself teaching his students mechanically without any feeling ???My business was to sit in that chair and keep my tongue active.???(104; ch.5) this sentence also gives the testimony that his innermost self doesn??™t respond to the teachings of a western culture. He has lived in the school hostel nearly thirty years as a student and as a teacher and he feels that he hasn??™t achieved anything worthwhile during those thirty years even he considers his profession as a burden on his shoulders, he doesn??™t feel any enthusiasm to teach his students, this extract from the text apparently proves it ???Four periods of continuous work and I hadn??™t prepared even a page of lecture. I went five minutes late to class, and I could dawdle over the attendance for a quarter of an hour.???(12; ch.1). Krishnan starts to understand that his secluded life in the hostel has been an ordered and predictable life which has been void of realities of life. He understands later in the novel that he has been a mere follower of the British education system. The arrival of Susila and Leela completely changes his perspective of life. This marks the first step of what becomes a journey out of the cloistered world of the school and into the real world of ordinary people leading ordinary lives. Krishnan doesn??™t retreat again into his sophisticated world of literature and philosophy after he entered to this ordinary life, because he finds a deep attachment to his culture. This attachment to his own culture intensifies even more after his beloved wife??™s death, because he realizes the reality of life. In an outburst with one of his students, Krishnan says of literature, ???Don??™t worry too much about these things—they are trash, we are obliged to go through and pretend that we like them, but all the time the problem of living and dying is crushing us??¦. ???(149; ch.7), this is a great testimony to prove that with the death of Susila literature, philosophy, and rationalism, is no use to him. They are all illusions, and a hindrance to his journey for spiritual enlightenment. He believes that his journey to fulfillment links with his native Indian culture.
Krishnan??™s unsatisfying immersion from a sterile literary approach of a foreign origin to a more profound spiritual teaching of his native culture shows how R. K. Narayan tried to establish the fact that how he himself loathed alien ways. The final stage of Krishnan??™s journey takes him further from the western intellectual frame of mind, inherited from the British, in which he was embedded at the beginning of the novel, and further towards native Indian spiritual practices to reach his goal of ???a harmonious existence.??™
Children are very much in evidence throughout ???The English Teacher??™, and are important guides for Krishnan on his journey. At the beginning he is with the boys at his school, but he realizes that they have already become puppets of an alien culture, already entangled in the system from which he needs to escape. The children who help to show him the way are the younger children, his own daughter Leela, and the children at the headmaster??™s school, they have not yet had their natural energy stifled and diverted by the deadening educational system, and free from rationalism, religion, and other systems of thought, they are spontaneous and natural. The Headmaster defines them ???They are the real gods on earth.??? (135; ch.6)
???The Leave Alone??™ system the headmaster believes in leads Krishnan to another way of thinking, he realizes that through this system of teaching the children will become wholesome human beings contrasting to the young adults of Albert Mission College. He considers that his students have been consumed by the curse of copying a western culture. Krishnan doesn??™t even want to take Leela to his college because he doesn??™t want to incorporate anything belonging to that alien culture in her, ???I made it a point to take the child wherever I went, except the college.???(97; ch.4).
After Susila??™s death he becomes more lethargic in his profession, ???A terrible fatigue and inertia had come over me these days and it seemed to me all the same whether they listened or made a noise or whether they understood what I said or felt baffled??¦.???(104; ch.5),he doesn??™t even know what he??™s doing after Susila??™s death.
Narayan presents us with the coexistence of these two systems of thought in Indian culture, but doesn??™t make an issue of being ???for??™ one and ???against??™ another because in the matters of life and death that he wants to focus on here the distinction between western and eastern thought pales into insignificance. We must also keep in mind that Narayan doesn??™t say that his religion, culture, language, are far more important than western religion and culture, these words by Krishna justly testify this ???What fool could be insensible to Shakespeare??™s sonnets or the Ode to the West Wind or ???A thing of beauty is a joy forever??™
I am up against the system, the whole method and approach of a system of education which makes us morons, cultural morons??¦..???(179; ch8)T his is the main reason Krishnan throws off this cultural inheritance from the west, and decides to withdraw from the adult world and adult work into the world of children, he??™s free to take a further step in his traditional Indian self-development and reach a state in which ???one??™s mind become clean and bare and a mere chamber of fragrance.??? It could apply to all of us as adults, alienated from our own roots in childhood; to modern Indians, alienated from their native cultural roots; and to humanity as a whole, in that we have become rational human beings, alienated from our roots in the unknown.
The headmaster exerts a distinct influence in transforming Krishnan??™s life. The headmaster doesn??™t believe in spoon-feeding or excessive discipline we find in Krishnan??™s college and allows children to play games most of the time, teaching them lessons in-between their play. For Krishnan this mode of learning is more effective rather than copying literature from a western culture. We find in the novel that Krishnan and Headmaster similar ideas regarding changing the prevailing education system. They both have a deep attachment towards nature. Krishna finds Headmaster??™s school enchanting, ???The floor was uneven and cool, and the whole place smelt of Mother Earth.???(134; ch6).Krishnan further says that the place has a primeval simplicity, intimately bound up with earth and mud and dust. Headmaster also abhors luxuries, he believes in simplicity which lacks in the British Education System.
His words aptly prove his opinion ???We are a poor country, and we can do without luxuries.??? Headmaster??™s influence on Krishnan is a turning point in story because this leads to Krishnan??™s resignation from Albert Mission College as he finds it meaningless. He gradually overcomes his grief over the loss of his wife and finds happiness and fulfillment in bringing up his young daughter. According to Amitangshu Acharya life is like a phoenix, life to Narayan is the greatest teacher. It is the truth of utter selflessness and insubstantiality of things, of the emptiness of the ego and of the impermanence of all things. Ignorance is destroyed, and, consequently, all craving, suffering, and hatred is destroyed with it. Most of Narayan??™s characters are in quest of inner peace and freedom from the collective which they couldn??™t achieve by clinging to a western culture. The Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia says that ???In coming to terms with the death of his wife literature, philosophy, and rationalism is no use to him. They are all illusions, and the journey he is on involves leaving illusions behind.???
The distinctive quality of the language Narayan has used apparently shows from the beginning of the novel. We find Krishna describing himself as a cow at the beginning of the novel ???The feeling again and again came upon me that as I was nearing thirty I should cease to live like a cow??¦.??? (5; ch1), the writer is bringing out humour to the reader and at the same time the writer is mocking the protagonist of the novel, because the writer wants to portray how the products of the British Education System behave in their day to day lives. Here Narayan wants to depict that the products of this system are not wholesome human beings but rather puppets of a foreign culture with naive characteristics. As a matter of fact Krishnan as a English teacher has led a mundane and monotonous lifestyle comparable to that of a cow. Narayan always wanted to highlight the drawbacks of British Education System in India which he perfectly demonstrates in the novel. Narayan is sarcastic about the character of Mr. Brown, the head of Albert Mission College who is a British man. Through Krishnan, Narayan criticizes the attitudes of Mr. Brown, that??™s why Krishnan asks from Mr. Gajapathy why their chief magnify his own importance so badly.
Narayan further goes on to justify his opinion by saying there blacker sins than a dropped vowel. He also mocks the authorities, who pay him a hundred rupees at the end of the month, because he knows that he??™s not doing his profession with whole heart. He also mocks his other colleagues, who worship English language as their own language, in the argument regarding the dropped vowel we can see how Krishnan??™s colleagues have become obsessed with the English language, ??????I think the American spelling is foolish buffoonery,??? said Gajapathy with his loyalty of a life-time to English language and literature.??™ The novel starts with the dilemma of the education system and also we find this at the end of the novel but in a different way, at the beginning we find the protagonist entangled in system with the dissatisfaction of life but at the end we find him as a more matured person who has escaped the tentacles of that education system.
The other important feature of his use of language is his descriptiveness of persons in the novel. He gives a descriptive detail about each and everyone in the novel which gives us the opportunity to examine each individual in depth. For example the colleagues of Krishnan who have become mere followers of an alien culture, Susila a devoted, typical, Indian housewife who helped her beloved husband achieve his goal at the end of the novel, Krishnan??™s own mother, in-laws, and specially the Headmaster who gives Krishnan a new perspective of life through his character. Narayan from all these characters shape up the main character or the protagonist on his journey to find inner satisfaction in life. One can ask the question what message does Narayan tries to convey to his readers By examining the story thoroughly one can say it??™s the satisfaction one enjoys being with one??™s native culture and values rather than with an alien culture which one cannot relate when a person undergoes so many hardships in life like death.
Although Narayan doesn??™t deal with political issues so much in his novels there is a slight hint in this novel that the people who are responsible for the well being of the ordinary people in Malgudi doesn??™t do their work properly. The Anderson Street where Headmaster lives is like a slum den and the he says that the municipality had forgotten the existence of this part of town.
The writer says this with mocking criticism to show the lethargic ways and apartheid qualities of municipal workers of Malgudi, ???Malgudi had earned notoriety for its municipal affairs. The management was in the hands of a council with a president, a vice-president, and ten elected members; they met on the last Saturday of every month and battled against each other.???(142; ch.6)
He also criticizes the Red Tape Method of medical profession which ultimately leads to Susila??™s untimely death. Narayan compares the doctors to film stars who only want popularity and money. For them medical profession has become a business, the mechanization of the medical profession, and the intention of the doctor was to attract more patients to him. Narayan has felt the injustice of the method because his wife also succumbed to the same disease and died. Likewise he doesn??™t confine himself to a one topic but talks about many things under different themes using his sarcasm, irony and humour, which make the story more dramatic and the first person narration gives an added advantage.
McKean, Ian. ???R. K. Narayan???. Literature Study Online. Literature Study.
Wikipedia. ???R. K. Narayan???. Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia. Free Encyclopedia Online.