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A Devoted Son – by Anita Desai

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  • Pages: 3
  • Word count: 574
  • Category: Death

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This story takes place in a shabby suburb in India. Rakesh, the son of a vegetable seller, triumphs in medical school and afterwards. He is a devoted son, bowing to his father, marrying the girl his parents choose, and becoming the director of his own clinic nearby. His father grows old, becomes a widower and begins to develop physical complaints and unpleasant habits, such as spitting forcibly. Still, his son tends him, and even decides to take over the man’s diet. He bans most foods his father likes because they are unhealthy; he fills him with medications that the old man does not want; he refuses to let his father die, even though this is finally the only thing the old man wants. At last, the old man refuses to take any more medicine. He lies down and demands that his son lets him go to God

Family relationships change as time passes when the roles and responsibilities for an individual are reversed. The story “A Devoted Son” by Anita Desai demonstrates a relationship between father and son change from one of utmost admiration, devotion and respect to one of resentment and hostility. The son in the story, Rakesh, makes his parents extremely proud by becoming a brilliant doctor, venturing from his run down colony in India to the United States, and receiving distinguished accolades while working in the most prestigious of hospitals. Returning home to live with his parents however, to marry the girl they selected for him and to take care of them, made them more proud than any other feat. Not letting his success affect the morals his parents instilled in him, Rakesh was a great son and always put his parents first. With his success came fortune and fame and as an intensely devoted son he became the most devoted doctor. The change of authority figure from parent to child can have a negative effect on their relationship.

The family dynamic changed by Rakesh being not only his parents` son but doctor as well. Mother and son bonded on her death bed but the father, Varma, had much difficulty accepting his son`s authority as his doctor. With the deterioration of the father`s health came the deterioration of their relationship. A regulated diet was mistaken for disrespect. “A son who actually refused his father the food he craved? No, it was unheard of, it was incredible.” All doctor’s orders from his son were interpreted as a lessened devotion even though the reality was the exact opposite. “Outwardly all might be the same but the interpretation has altered: his masterly efficiency was nothing but cold heartlessness, his authority only tyranny in disguise.” Although his son was only trying to keep the old man in the best health possible to prolong his life for as long as possible, with old age, diminished health and the loss of his wife, he gradually started to become dissatisfied and, finally, to woo death.

After Reading

1. Why does Varma’s perception of his son change?
2. Who do you find more sympathetic, Varma or Rakesh? Explain why. 3. What do you think is the lesson that Desai is trying to get across in the story? Do you believe the conflict is unavoidable?

“A Devoted Son” is an ironic story about perception: how good things that you wish for have a dark underside. It also shows how modern life has changed India.

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