The Doctor’s Word by R.K. Narayan
In The Doctor’s Word by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of honesty, friendship, uncertainty, letting go, fear, connection, trust, compassion and conflict. Taken from his Malgudi Days collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Narayan may be exploring the theme of uncertainty. Ramu is uncertain as to how Gopal has survived when the reality was he truly expected Gopal to die. It is also interesting that Gopal trusts Ramu’s word and believes everything that he tells him. However it is noticeable that Ramu lies to Gopal prior to leaving him for the night. This lie is interesting as Ramu appears to be in conflict with himself. Professionally he doesn’t hold out much hope that Gopal will survive. However personally he longs for Gopal to survive. So attached is Ramu to his friend. It might also be important that Gopal’s wife is full of fear that Gopal might die as it suggests that she loves Gopal very much. That they have a happy marriage. There is also a sense that Ramu’s patients appreciate his honesty. It is as though they are sure of where they stand with Ramu. It is also noticeable that Ramu doesn’t see any point in lying to his patients however as mentioned when it comes to Gopal, Ramu is torn between telling him the truth and lying.
There is also a sense that Ramu does not wish to let go of Gopal. He is exceptionally fond of him and scolds Gopal’s family for not notifying him earlier about Gopal’s illness. It is for this reason and possibly to comfort Gopal that Ramu might have decided to lie to Gopal about how serious his condition was. Though honesty would be considered to be a prerequisite when it comes to friendship. Ramu cannot bring himself to tell Gopal just how bad his condition is. Even though matters are so serious that Gopal wishes to sign his will before he dies Ramu does not allow him to do so. If anything Ramu has become emotionally involved with his patient (Gopal). Something that a doctor must strive to never do as it can and does affect their professionalism. If anything Ramu really does find himself in a difficult position. As though his professionalism is being challenged by his friendship with Gopal.
It is also interesting that Gopal does not fear dying. However he does fear what Subbiah and his gang might do should he not sign his will. This may be important as it suggests that Gopal is prepared to make sure that his family are looked after. Though he is near dying his number one priority is his family. Something that is also noticeable with Gopal’s wife. Throughout the story she shows genuine concern for Gopal. In fact she is afraid of him dying which suggests a strong connection between both Gopal and his wife. It might also be important that Ramu instructs Gopal’s wife to stay in a neighbour’s house as it is possible that Ramu suspects that if Gopal does die the grief will be too strong for Gopal’s wife. Though some critics might suggest that Ramu considers Gopal’s wife to be weak and unable to bear what is happening, hence telling her to go to a neighbour’s. The reality may be very different. Ramu could be showing Gopal’s wife compassion and allowing her the opportunity, to the best of her ability, to take some rest.
The end of the story is also interesting as Ramu fully expects Gopal to be dead when he visits the house in the morning. However when he discovers that Gopal is still alive and getting better he can’t figure things out. Ramu had lied to his friend to ease Gopal’s mind and now the reader finds that it is Ramu’s mind that is at ease. His word has not been broken even though he knows he has lied. The trust he has with not only Gopal but all his patients remains intact. Ramu is still a man of his word though he does remain puzzled as to how Gopal has survived through the night. It is also noticeable that Ramu was willing to show Gopal compassion. Something that the reader becomes aware of when Ramu tells his assistant to bring a tube of medicine with them should Gopal’s pain become too much. This level of compassion is interesting as Ramu most likely does not want any of his patient’s (friends or not) to suffer when their time comes. Throughout the story Ramu’s number one concern has been his patients. He has shown a dedication and professionalism that is unmatched by the other doctor who had been caring for Gopal. Though Ramu may have lied his lie was an act of compassion for not only a friend but for one of his patients. The reader is also left assured at the end of the story by the fact that though Ramu does not know how Gopal survived he is still nonetheless relieved and happy.