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A Devoted Son by Anita Desai - Summary & Exercise

A devoted son is a short sad story. In this story, Anita Desai covers the generation gap, identity, the conflict between duty as a son and duty.......
Summary of the Story A Devoted Son By Anita Desai

Summary & Exercise of 'A Devoted Son' by Anita Desai

Summary of A Devoted Son

A Devoted Son is a short sad story by Anita Desai. It is a story of complicated familial bonds which highlights the change of dynamics in the relationship between the father, Varma and his son, Dr Rakesh. ... The son is brought up by his father, starts earning his livelihood and then, dutifully looks after his father. In this story, Anita Desai covers the generation gap, identity, the conflict between duty as a son and duty as a doctor, as well as the hypocrisy in the perception of the same. Rakesh’s duties as a son were to study well, score well, work hard, earn well, marry well, settle well and then take care of his family well; Rakesh performed his duties in the superlative degree.

Themes of the Story A Devoted Son

  • The conflict between a good doctor and good son: perception, father and son define it differently & generation gap

  • from Verma's perspective, he has been neglected and wronged as a father and we must sympathize with him

  • we were taught the chapter from Rakesh's perspective - how his duties as a son and as a doctor clashed because of what was expected of him: he was expected to be indulgent towards his father who was also his patient

  • Role of the daughter-in-law: Verma had his misgivings about her - "although the daughter-in-law kept tactfully out of the way, the old man could just see her smirk sliding merrily through the air." 

  • A different relationship with the wife for father and son - father loved his wife and when she died he went to pieces. He especially missed her when he was denied food which his wife, "that generous, indulgent and illiterate cook" readily gave him. Son merely humoured his wife. Later we see that upon her discovery of and reporting of his son's dishonesty, he confronts his father, saying things like "I don't allow anyone in my house.." which leads us to the next point:

  • issue of transfer of the role of "man of the house"

  • also, in the end, we see that Verma might have died younger, but happier & father quite petty

  • society's take: jealous then accepting then sympathizing

  • at one point, forgets that he is the son - not with his usual respectful step but with the contemptuous stride of the famous doctor 

Summary of A Devoted Son

Anita Desai’s story A Devoted Son is all about the duty and devotion of a son. It draws a picture of the life of a son. The son is brought up by his father, starts earning his livelihood and then, dutifully looks after his father. However, a crisis develops as his father, whimsical due to age, starts misinterpreting his son’s treatment. The question that the story of a devoted son poses is that how long should a son take care of his father? What should be the extent of his dutifulness and obedience? This is a problem of the modern world caused by the busy life. It becomes difficult to attend to the whims of the elderly people after a days’ hard work. But should the duty and the toleration end? Or should a person remain ever dutiful? Should sacrifices be made on our part or should we continue to be self-centred and move and move our own way? The world has both instances of both but which is more acceptable?

A major character of the story A Devoted Son; Rakesh is a son born to illiterate parents. He was the first to receive education in his generation and how well he utilized it. Villagers felt proud as Rakesh stood first though the jealousy factor didn’t cease to exist. His education took him to the United States of America but to everyone’s surprise, he returned to his country to marry an Indian removing all doubts to marry a foreigner. His devotion towards his parents was proud when he married an uneducated girl of their choice. The girl too was good-natured and they were soon blessed with a son. Rakesh’s rise continued and he soon went to the top of the administrative organization, bought a car and thus it was the beginning of his fortune. However, he did not forget his parents and he did take them out in his brand new car. Rakesh was not only devoted but was also good-natured. He obeyed his parents, humoured his wife, hosted his friends, and in addition, was an excellent doctor. 

However, Rakesh’s joyride was short-lived. His mother passed away which also ensured his father’s breakdown. Old age caught up with his father and it was difficult to distinguish between his peevish whims and matters of significance. A birthday party for the youngest son had to be broken up at once when they discovered that the old man was on the verge of death. The old man, however, continued to live much longer thereafter.

Rakesh however, accepted his fate and its’ twist. He brought his father’s morning tea, read the newspapers and visited his father after returning from the clinic. All these couldn’t make the father happy and the situation worsened when Rakesh as a father began to supervise his diet. The supervision which included cutting down on oily, fried stuff, sweets and beetle nut was seen as a sort of disrespect and maltreatment by his father. The matter was so serious that the old man even went to the extent of complaining to his neighbours. Rakesh couldn’t help but be sterner. He as a doctor believed that strictness was better where his father’s health was concerned. The old man even tried to bribe his grandchildren which were met with strong reproach from Rakesh.

The father-son relationship began to go haywire. The old man began to hate his son and his daughter-in-law. The wife of Rakesh stayed out of trouble tactfully and Rakesh, able to feel every pulse, neglected nothing about his father. He made constant and repeated attempts to make improvements in his father’s mental and physical health. His efforts went in vain. This is the poignant question that we face to continue or discontinue the service of a son to his father.

This is a matter of both culture and tradition. Old age is also called the second childhood. We are always tender to a child in spite of his naughtiness and undue demands. Similarly, we should treat elderly people the same way. We don’t discard children because they disturb us. In the case of old people, we become biased, as we have seen them wise and matured before our own eyes. The grey cells become dysfunctional in old age and so elderly people behave in a childish way. Life is hard and difficult and all of us have our own share of problems. However, the rise above limitation will only make us better human beings. Patience and sacrifice shaped our hallmark. 

We should understand our own maturity and wisdom are not lost and this would help us to be kinder to them. Old age is cyclic and all of us would step into its shoes one day. The remembrance of this fact can wake us up to the reality of this life. Rakesh, in spite of everything else, understood this, which made him stand apart and above the rest.

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Important Points of the Story A Devoted Son

  • Rakesh scored the highest rank in the country for his Medical Examination.

  • Instead of getting lost in the most envied success, Rakesh bent down and touched his father’s feet. This cooled the father for it was another reason for the vegetable vendor to be proud of being Rakesh’s father.

  • For an uneducated family-like Rakesh’s, this success brought cheers. Getting Rakesh educated was Varmaji’s greatest dream.

  • Neighbours came to congratulate the winner, his father Varmaji and his mother.

  • Presents flowed into Varmaji’s house as garlands, halwa, party clothes and fountain pens to last years, even a watch or two.

  • To his neighbours, Vermaji told about his son’s touching his feet even after becoming a doctor with a first rank.

  • Some of the good neighbours appreciated this son and this father while others, envious as neighbours are, felt that Varmaji was giving himself airs.

  • Soon Rakesh cleared his MD course with flying colours.

  • Having won a scholarship, Rakesh went to the USA. (Varmaji didn’t know the difference between USA and America)

  • Rakesh worked in some most prestigious hospitals in the USA and won encomiums from his American colleagues which were relayed to his admiring and glowing family.

  • Finally, Rakesh returned to his native village. His brothers and sisters came to embrace him but the great son of all times (you will see why) bent down and touched his father’s feet.

  • Rakesh married a girl that his mother wanted him to marry and set up his own clinic. She was a girl of double standards. Will she suit Rakesh? Let’s see.

  • For some years Rakesh worked in the city hospital, quickly rising to the top of the administrative organization, and was made a director before he left to set up his own clinic.

  • Rakesh bought a new car and unfailingly drove his parents in it to his clinic. Varmaji and his wife were the happiest in the world.

  • For a while, Rakesh’s fame seemed to grow just a little dimmer but soon he became the richest doctor in town.

  • Varmaji grows very old and a number of ailments leave him bedridden. He retires from his job in the kerosene shop where he had worked for forty years.

  • Rakesh’s mother passes away. (She was quite fortunate that her famous doctor-son rubbed her feet during her last days)

  • Varmaji was quite helpless and his old age was going to be more miserable.

  • Varmaji fell ill so frequently and with such mysterious diseases that even his son could not cure him.

  • Even when his other sons and daughters ignored his strange illnesses, Rakesh (the pearl of his father) was always with him.

  • Rakesh took great care of his father, brought him morning tea, read him the newspaper and reminded him to take medicines.

  • After a while, Rakesh began to impose certain restrictions upon his father. No sweets, not too much food, no fried food, etc.

  • When the old man resented or tried to bribe Rakesh’s son and wife for his delicacies, Rakesh scolded his father.

  • Rakesh had by this time developed a doctor-patient relationship with his father. (That’s how it happen with those who always stand first in exams; they fail in life!)

  • Rakesh was only concerned with his father’s health but the old man thought his son was being miserly.

  • One day varmaji met his neighbour old Bhatia, next door. He told old Bhatia how his son and daughter-in-law refused him food.

  • Varmaji realized that even with a doctor at home he was not half as happy as old Bhatia. He began to think that his son had crossed all limits.

  • Determined, Varmaji announces that he didn’t need his son’s medicines. All that he wished was death.

Main Summary of A Devoted Son

The short story A Devoted Son highlights the complicated bonds of a family and captures dynamic change between the father and son relationship. The whole story moves around the Verma family and its crisis. The central character Rakesh is from a poor background. His father is a poor Indian villager who works as a vegetable vendor. He wants to see a change in his family. His dream comes true when his son becomes a reputed doctor of the town. His son is the first person to get proper education in his whole family.

The theme of A Devoted Son

‘A Devoted Son’ is a realistic short story set in a middle-class Indian family in an Indian village. The story shows how parents cherish their ambition towards their children and how a son should fulfil his duty towards the parents. The story captures the contemporary Indian urban life of that time. The central characters are known to us. We feel that we have known them in our day to day life. 

The Characters of the Story

Rakesh: He is the son of Varma who is a well behaved and duteous son. He is a brilliant student who becomes a doctor and has an opportunity to continue his practice and education in the USA. He is the son of a kerosene vendor Varma. In his father's old age, he supervises every bit of food his father eats and medicates him for every little complaint.

Veena: She is a simple and fat Indian girl married to Rakesh by the wish of his mother who is very loyal and dutiful by nature. She follows Rakesh's orders regarding his father's diet.

Varma: He works as an oil seller at Depo and he is the father of Rakesh who hardly educates his son and has pride over his son's achievement. But later he finds his son as a tyrant as he cuts his foodstuffs. 

Bhatia: He is an old neighbour of Rakesh and a friend of Varma who participates in Rakesh's family conversation and activities. He lives next door and often joins Varma to sit outside and complain about the hardships that the two of them are facing.

Varma's wife: She is an unnamed lady who dies later, which leads to his unhappiness, and made him sick. 

Rakesh's children: They are unnamed children who pass time and play with grandfather as well. Varma is briefly able to convince one of them to sneak him extra food.

Plot Summary of The Devoted Son

The summary of the story devoted son centres around Dr Rakesh who comes from a poor Indian village. His father Verma sells vegetables and spent many years dreaming of having an educated son. Rakesh is the first person in the family to get an education. When Rakesh completed his medical examination with high marks - the highest in the country - it was because of the celebration.

Verma tells everyone who hears about Rakesh's grade and how they can go to medical school in the US. Neighbours come to pay their respects and wish them well, but some townspeople worry that it will make Rakesh arrogant and forget where he came from. Verma is not worried about this, although he is now proud to have a son known to all.

After completing his degree, Rakesh spends most of his time in the United States. He accomplishes this easily and offers jobs in prestigious American hospitals. The prizes he won are sent back to keep and praise his family. Rakesh's way is to stay in touch with them till he returns home. Although Rakesh loves America and his colleagues praise him for his merits, he loves his family more. He always planned to return home, and that hasn't changed. With enough experience and money behind him, he returns home with the intention of working in his hometown.

However, her parents are not happy about her choice of life. They do not understand why they want to come home and leave it all. He doesn't even understand why he chose to marry an uneducated village girl - Verma believes he should have big dreams. Rakesh refused to listen to his parents and married the girl.

Then he started working in a city hospital, which is very different from the hospital where he used to work. However, Rakesh wants to make a difference in his city by working here. He soon reaches the position of director, to the amazement and delight of his entire family. From all this, Rakesh never looks arrogant or ungrateful. There is always a sense that he remembers who he is, and he will not let it go. When she has her own son, her life is complete. 

Sadly, his mother died not long ago. Verma takes it specially. Rakesh is happy that he was proud of her at least before her death, but he is worried about his father and how he will cope. Now that Rakesh has his own family, he doesn't have much time to surrender to Verma, but he does what he can when his father's health deteriorates. He does not want to lose any of the time he has left, and he puts his medical skills to good use. Rakesh banned sweets for Verma to take care of his stomach. 

However, Verma tries to get them through Rakesh's son, which angers Rakesh. The father is worried that his grandson will be less respected than Rakesh. Tensions rise between father and son, and Rakesh gets angry about how much time he spends caring for himself - even though he keeps doing it. For example, when everyone fears that Verma's death is imminent, they postpone the birthday party, only to have Verma recover completely. Rakesh wonders if he is deliberately trying to get attention.

In any case, Rakesh does not give up on his father - instead, he becomes more devoted to him. He wants to have a good relationship with his son Verma, as he did as a boy. Verma tells Rakesh and his wife that he doesn't like her, but Rakesh looks for her. As the relationship deteriorates, Rakesh must decide whether to remain devoted to his father or to die on his own. Rakesh chooses to help his father. 

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