Write a character sketch of Rakesh concerning his overall personality and the cause of his change of behavior toward his father toward the end of "A Devoted Son."

From boyhood, Rakesh in "A Devoted Son" has been devoted to his parents. He expresses this in various ways. As his father grows old and needs more care, Rakesh continues to tend to his needs. Even at the end, he is respectful and attentive to his father, but his perspective as a physician causes him to become unaware of his father's traditional values.

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In a character sketch, we reflect on what makes a character tick, what drives his personality, and his relationships with other people. We dig into his traits and his motives, his words and actions, and we try to draw some conclusions about what this character is meant to teach us.

With that foundation, let's explore Rakesh in Anita Desai's "A Devoted Son." Rakesh is the title character in this story, and he is indeed a devoted son. For most of the story, he treats his father with the utmost respect. Even after Rakesh becomes a doctor, for instance, he continues to practice the traditional act of bowing to touch his father's feet.

Rakesh is grateful for his chance at an education, and he takes full advantage of both his natural talent and intelligence and the opportunities he is given. He goes to the US and finds great success as a doctor, but then he returns home to India and settles into a blended life there. He marries the girl his parents choose for him and is an attentive husband and father, but he also starts his own clinic to provide medical care for the people of his home region. All the while, he continues to show great respect and care for his parents.

This respect and care continues even after Rakesh's mother dies and his father grows ill and irritable. Rakesh sits with his father every morning, reading the newspaper to him. But as time passes, Rakesh begins to behave rather differently toward his father, at least in his father's eyes. Rakesh wants his father around as long as possible, and as the older man grows weaker, Rakesh develops a medical plan that includes changes in diet and medicine. He honestly believes that he is doing his best to care for his father in the last stage of his life, but his father doesn't see it that way. He finds Rakesh's behavior controlling and oppressive.

Rakesh is no longer acting like a traditional Indian son but, rather, like a doctor. He prohibits his father's favorite foods and prescribes a regimen of pills to help his father live longer. His intentions and motives are pure and out of love, but he fails to realize that his father would rather follow the natural rhythms of life to the end rather than be restricted. Rakesh's modern ideas have finally caught up with the family and prevented him from seeing his father's real needs.

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In the short story "A Devoted Son" by Anita Desai, Rakesh is the son of illiterate parents in an Indian village. He is deeply devoted to his parents in a traditional way, which Desai illustrates by having him touch his father's feet when he greets him as a sign of respect. Later, Rakesh also demonstrates his respect for his parents and for tradition by agreeing to marry a village girl his mother finds for him instead of a foreigner. Rakesh never deviates from his profound respect for his parents. Even later in the story, when his father is old and Rakesh is caring for him, he does it out of profound respect.

If Rakesh's respect for his parents and for tradition was all that distinguished him, he might have disappeared into obscurity. However, he is also a brilliant student. He goes off to study in America and then returns to his hometown to set up his practice, becoming rich and amazing his parents and neighbors.

The important thing to understand about Rakesh's character is that his fundamental attitude towards his father does not change. Even at the end, when he tries to present new medicine to his father, he tries to touch his feet in respect. He spends time with his father and cares for him, but the problem is that his modern medical training has left him incapable of hearing his father's heart cry. His father is old and wants to die in peace, while modern medical standards dictate that patients must be kept alive as long as possible, even at the cost of their well-being.

On Rakesh's part, the change is not so much one of attitude as of perspective. He comes to see his father as a patient, from a doctor's perspective, rather than from the perspective of a devoted son who obeys everything his father tells him. This disturbs his father. Desai writes,

Outwardly all might be the same but the interpretation had altered: his masterly efficiency was nothing but cold heartlessness, his authority was only tyranny in disguise.

In other words, the traumas of old age that his father is suffering have brought about a rift between how Rakesh and his father interpret his actions.

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The character of Rakesh is presented as having all excellent personality qualities. He is kind, studious, dedicated, loving, intelligent, and, most of all, he is devoted to his parents. He even shows them the greatest sign of respect and devotion by reverentially touching their feet. After returning to his home in India from his doctoral studies in the U.S. and marrying a rural village girl his mother chose, it came to pass that his mother died. Rakesh increased his devoted kindly care of his father, even helping him downstairs and reading newspapers to him. As his father's health deteriorated over time, Rakesh found he could not diagnose his father's condition. This is the first event causing the change that overtook Rakesh's personality.

Rakesh acted upon his best medical understanding and restricted his patient's diet--only this time his patient is his father. One of Desai's objectives is to question where ethical boundaries lie in relation to applying Western scientific principles to traditional cultural situations: Should Rakesh have treated his father, of all people, like a patient? Would Rakesh have been violating medical ethics if he did not apply strict principles to his father in the same way he did to his other patients?

Two things occured as a result of Rakesh's restrictions on his father's diet. At least one of these things also caused the change that overtook Rakesh's personality. One thing is that his village-raised wife meanly and ungenerously took pleasure in denying and depriving her father-in-law of things he wanted. The other is that the father bribed Rakesh's children to get him the things he wanted that Rakesh prevented him from having. When Rakesh discovered the trickery and the deception, he was enraged, as any parent might be. He not only upbraided his father in the harshest terms--something he had never done before--he deepened the restrictions on and increased the supervision of his diet.

The question is raised as to whether Rakesh's anger was justified; whether it had always been part of his personality but not shown because his father had never incited it before; was because he deemed his father an inferior and corrupting influence. The story ends with more questions than it started out with. In fact, there is a question raised about the culture that encourages such strictly defined and expressed roles that can be so destructive when reversed or interfered with.

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