I read this book, along with Swami and Friends, and Malgudi Days, a long time back. I remember vaguely the story of Swami and Friends, but the story of The English Teacher had completely slipped my mind.
Krishnan is an English lecturer at the Albert Mission College, living in the hostel while his wife and child live with his in-laws. When they decide to move in with him, and Krishnan rents a house, where he lives with his dear wife in marital bliss. But their little heaven is short-lived, when Krishnan’s wife Susila falls ill. The events that follow shake Krishnan’s life, but slowly he attains clarity of vision and ultimately, peace.
This book has Narayan’s trademarks: simple prose and an uncomplicated storyline. But the picture it paints of the ordinary Indian family is joyful to read. Narayan’s Malgudi is a small town (Bangaloreans will recognize the amalgamation in the names of Malleswaram and Basvangudi), where people have straightforward concerns: earn money, keep wife and children in relative comfort and live happily. The idyll and routine of daily life is captured very evocatively, and the small things which we often overlook acquire new light through his words. When I read Narayan, I feel like I am seeing the events of the story unfolding around me, as if I were a part of the story too. This is the power that Narayan exerts over his readers: everybody can identify with the characters.
I’d say that The English Teacher is not among my R.K.Narayan favorites. It has a good plot, about dealing with loss, and is reportedly based on Narayan’s own experiences, but it didn’t strike a chord with me. There is nothing fundamentally wrong; it is just one of those books I didn’t like. I can’t really pinpoint what is wrong with it, because it is no different in style from his other works which I loved. Having said that, I would recommend it to anybody interested in Indian literature; Narayan is one of the best, on par with Chekov and Greene.