R. K. Narayan’s “House Opposite” appears in his collection of short stories, Under the Banyan Tree, and Other Stories (1985). As suggested by the word “opposite” in the title, the story deals with two fundamentally opposite ways of life, represented by the hermit and the prostitute. The story is told in the third person, in a delightful ironic mode, with its spotlight on the hermit’s consciousness.
The story opens with the hermit’s shock when he discovers one day that the house across the street is occupied by a prostitute, who is being visited frequently by her male customers. With his preconceived notions of good and evil, the hermit immediately censures the prostitute and her clients for indulging in a sinful life.
The omniscient narrator fills in the details that the hermit has renounced his family, possessions, and all comforts and pleasures to attain his goal of liberation from worldly bondage. He leads a regulated life of austerity, asceticism, and stern discipline, mortifying his body and eschewing any food that could stimulate his carnal desire. He retires early at dusk, sleeps on the bare floor using a block of wood as his pillow, wakes up at four in the morning, and after a ritual bath sits down to meditate. Sometimes, during the day, he teaches little children simple lessons of morality derived from the scriptures.
A turning point in the plot comes one afternoon when the hermit happens to see the woman standing on her doorstep. His eyes explore the woman’s sharp features, her soft, voluptuous flesh, and the seductive curves of her body. Driven by blind desire, he can hardly take his eyes off her...
(The entire section is 682 words.)