31 pages • 1 hour read
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“A Devoted Son” is a short story by Indian author Anita Desai originally published in her 1978 collection Games at Twilight and Other Stories. The story is about the relationship between a father and son and examines how time and perspective can change the way actions and intentions are perceived.
Varma is proud because his son, Rakesh, is at the top of the academic list in India. Rakesh credits his parents, mainly his father, for giving him the opportunity to be successful. He bows and touches his father’s feet.
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Rakesh’s intelligence and ambition take him to the United States, where he receives an excellent medical education and brings more honor to his family. Rakesh clings to the traditions of his homeland, however, and allows his mother to arrange his marriage. He then returns from the US and moves back to his childhood home to be with his parents and new wife. He works hard at the hospital and continues to make a name for himself, improving the lives of those around him.
Varma is no longer the center of attention in the household, so he does things to get people to notice him. For example, he lays still in bed and makes the others think he is dead. Varma pretends to be dead during his grandson’s birthday party, and the family is so distressed, they send the guests away and prepare to mourn. He then pops up from his bed and lets the others know he is alive and well.
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Soon, faking his death no longer works, so Varma looks for other ways to become the center of attention once again. The older he gets, the more his health fails, so Rakesh changes his father’s diet and makes him take supplements and other medications. Rakesh’s devotion to his father and his desire to make him proud never falter. Using his medical knowledge, he does what he can to prolong his father’s life.
At first, Varma appreciates what his son does for him. But before long he starts to view his son’s actions as a form of torture. This is especially apparent when Rakesh takes away the food and treats his father loves. Varma believes his son should give in to his desires even if they are unhealthy or could lead to his death. Varma goes so far as to bribe his grandson to buy sweets and sneak them into the house. When the bribe is discovered, Rakesh is upset with his father’s actions and points out that Varma is turning his grandson into a liar and a cheat—all so Varma can indulge his sweet tooth.
Varma is not the only one who seems to be upset with Rakesh. The neighbors have long since stopped being awed by Rakesh’s accomplishments and a few of them, including Old Bhatia, complain about his actions after Varma makes comments about how he’s being treated. Eventually, Varma becomes so upset that he tries unsuccessfully to lock himself in his room.
Varma refuses to take his medication, going so far as to knock the bottle out of Rakesh’s hands. After the glass shatters on the floor, a ruckus erupts throughout the house and the story ends with Varma saying that he wants to die. He knocks the pillows away so that he can lay flat then tells his son that he needs to let him go.
By Anita Desai