A Devoted Son by Anita Desai

In A Devoted Son by Anita Desai we have the theme of gratitude, desire, change, longing, choice, freedom, defiance, loyalty, powerlessness and reliance. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Desai may be exploring the theme of gratitude. Though some might suggest that Varma should be grateful for the attention that Rakesh is giving him. The complete opposite is the case. If anything Rakesh has become a hindrance to Varma and doesn’t allow him to live the life that he wishes to live. He is housebound and has very few luxuries and any luxuries that he does have are taken away by Rakesh in order to keep Varma alive. Which may be the point that Desai is making. She may be suggesting that Varma cannot be grateful to Rakesh because of the lifestyle he is forced to live. Though bed bound he has no sense of happiness in his life with the sweets his grandchild buy him being taken away from him. In reality Varma has no quality of life and Rakesh is attempting to sustain Varma’s life despite the fact that Varma is an unhappy man.

Though some critics might support Varma’s cause it might also be important to remember that Rakesh as a doctor has a duty of care to Varma. Not only is Varma his father but he is also his patient. He will not let him die if he knows that he can save his life. Even if saving his life means that Varma has no quality of life whatsoever. It must also be difficult for Varma to see his world turned upside down with the loss of his wife and Rakesh moving into the family home with his family. It is as though Varma is powerless just as he is powerless to refuse the medicine that Rakesh has prescribed for him. In reality all Varma wants to do is to be left alone so that he can die. He no longer finds any joy in life and does not see the purpose of continuing on with his life. This may be important as Desai may be placing the spotlight on the relationship between a patient and a doctor. When the patient wishes to die but the doctor will not allow them to do so. Varma knows that things will be simpler for him should he die. However at the same time the reader does feel as though Varma at times is over reacting.

Despite this it is difficult to take sides when it comes to Varma and Rakesh’s relationship as the reader understands both men’s point of view. As mentioned Varma has no quality of life and Rakesh has a duty to keep his father alive. It is also interesting that Varma and his wife were so proud of Rakesh when he became a doctor however things changed when Varma became one of Rakesh’s patients. He no longer has the stomach to talk to his son and at times does ignore him. Which is understandable considering the position that Varma finds himself in. It is as though Rakesh’s constant care of Varma becomes too much for Rakesh. If anything Varma may feel as though his freedom has been taken away due to Rakesh’s loyalty to him. When the reality is that Varma just wants to live the life that he is accustomed to and which many critics might suggest he is entitled to. Even if his lifestyle will lead him to an early grave. However the important thing to remember is that Varma’s ability to choose how he lives has been taken away from him.

The end of the story is also interesting as Varma remains defiant that he will not take Rakesh’s medicine. How long this will last for is difficult to say but it is the first occasion in the story in whereby Varma refuses medication. It is as though he has become rebellious though he may just be fooling himself. In time the reader suspects that Varma will do as Rakesh asks him to do and that he will continue living his short life being submissive to Rakesh’s wishes. However it is also possible that Varma will stick to his plan and continue to refuse the medication. Though he has no means to get any of the food that he longs for. He is reliant on Rakesh’s wife to cook for him and she will not cook anything that has not been prescribed by Rakesh. If anything it is up to Rakesh to change and not Varma. He is the doctor and he can decide the course of action that should be taken. Again Varma is powerless over his circumstances and reliant on others when it comes to the remainder of his life and how it is to be lived.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "A Devoted Son by Anita Desai." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 25 Oct. 2018. Web.


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