Explore the ways in which Desai vividly conveys the impact of the pursuit of education on Arun's life.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Desai is able to develop a vision of education that is much like the cultural advancement she depicts in the novel.  It is "on the move, but going nowhere." To a great extent, part of the cultural displacement that Arun experiences is because his own education lacked sufficient depth to address such a reality.  In such vision, Desai conveys that the impact of the pursuit of education on Arun's life carries with it unexpected realities and serve as a reminder to all students and parents about hollow- ended pursuits.

Arun's education is the embodiment of such pursuits in India of the modern setting.  Students are driven to achieve the highest of scores in becoming "toppers" and to pursue education for end- related means.  Arun's father dotes on him because he expects his son to achieve academic success.  The acceptance letter from Massachusetts is as much an expectation as it is joy. For Arun, being accepted into a foreign school was something that his pursuit of education had to pursue.  It was never about understanding the world and his place in it.  Rather, it was directed towards a specific end result.  Desai seems to be making a statement about all pursuits of education that seem to end up in "the perfect job," "the perfect acceptance," or "the perfect score."  Arun's education was never seen as life affirming or something that was to authenticate individual experience.

Such a reality strikes at him in his stay with the Pattons.  Arun begins to realize that his pursuit of education failed to help him understand what it means to be an outsider.  It failed to validate his experience as a human being. As a result, he feels doubly betrayed, both by the new nation in which he lives and the pursuit of education that never quite prepared him for what he was going to endure.  In this regard, Arun experiences what Desai characters often experience in terms of what it means to be "the other:"

Anita Desai has always liked to write about human beings out of place. Her books are full of travellers and exiles, and people who have lived beyond their time; they are preoccupied by the failure of cultures to understand each other, and the impossibility of carrying one place, intact, into another. Arun is a character in this vein, and his displacement throws up new truths, both about himself and the new place he has ventured into. 

In his alliance with Mrs. Patton, who herself is an outsider to her own world, Arun recognizes that he must calibrate his pursuit of education into a much larger and more holistic vision.  Through this, Arun recognizes that education is far more than an acceptance letter and far external materialization.

It is in this light where Desai is able to vividly convey the impact of the pursuit of education on Arun's life.  When he gifts the shawl and tea to Mrs. Patton, it is an acknowledgement of a new pursuit of education in his life.  It is one in which he understands that being an "exile" is an education for which no formal pursuit can ever properly prepare an individual.  The "new truths" that await Arun are ones that he understands lie outside the normal contours of a traditional pursuit of education.