A Devoted Son Summary

A Devoted Son” is a short story by Anita Desai that follows a young doctor named Rakesh.

  • Rakesh has earned the top spot in the national examinations and is the first son in his family to receive an education.
  • Upon his return to India from studying in the United States, Rakesh marries a village girl of his mother’s choosing. He soon becomes the director of the local city hospital.
  • Trouble begins to brew when Rakesh’s father, Varma, starts to develop symptoms of depression and the two begin to butt heads over Varma’s health and diet.


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Last Updated on October 4, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 670

“A Devoted Son” begins as Rakesh, a young Indian man, learns that his efforts have earned him the top spot in the national examinations. Rather than celebrating his accomplishments, he performs an act of obeisance to his father, Varma, and touches his feet in a show of respect and gratitude. Rakesh is the first son in the family to receive an education, so news of his achievements sets off a flurry of excitement. His parents hold a celebratory party, and everyone in the neighborhood attends. Joy abounds, but some of the neighbors maintain Varma has given himself airs; however, they acknowledge that he has earned his pride. Aside from such mild critiques, the neighbors remain amazed at Rakesh's accomplishments. Moreover, the neighbors are impressed by the son’s willing acquiescence to tradition and devotion to his family. 

As the years pass, Rakesh continues to succeed, reaching higher and higher heights. Soon, he earns his MD and wins a scholarship to study in the United States at a prestigious hospital, where he won many awards. Despite building a successful medical career in the USA, Rakesh again rejects expectations and returns home to his family. Upon his return, he agrees to marry a village girl of his mother’s choosing rather than marrying a foreigner. After his marriage, Rakesh begins to work at the local city hospital, where he quickly advances to the role of director. He spends some time working at the city hospital and gains the necessary experience to start his own clinic, which soon proves to be a resounding success.

As Rakesh builds a life for himself, his success appears to grow unchecked. He continues to respect his family's wishes and act as a devoted son should. His mother suffers an illness and, despite Rakesh’s dutiful ministrations, she succumbs. However, it is made explicitly clear that she dies happily, and her last sigh is one of pleasant contentment, for she has raised the perfect son. By this time, Varma has grown older and retired from his job at the kerosene dealer’s depot. As the family changes with time, the neighborhood’s opinion of Rakesh remains unchanged: everyone agrees that he is the perfect son, husband, and physician, and there seems to be no end to his virtues.  

However, trouble looms in the household. Following his wife's death, Varma begins to develop symptoms of depression, and his health declines. Although Rakesh continues to devote his time and efforts to improve his father's well-being, the latter refuses help. Varma, although initially pleased by his son's devotion, eventually becomes irritated by Rakesh's presumption. The son, claiming the authority of a physician rather than the submission of a son, begins to limit the old man's consumption of desserts and fried foods, claiming that those foods do nothing to promote health.

What results is a power struggle between father and son. Varma grows more miserable as the days progress. He grows to despise meal times, as he must subsist on the blandest foods. Rakesh, meanwhile, remains unyielding. To outwit Rakesh, Varma bribes his grandchildren to bring him treats from the village shop. However, Rakesh quickly discovers his father's scheme and forbids him from continuing, as Varma is compromising both his health and his grandchildren's morals. Varma's only comfort centers on complaining to his old friends.

As time continues, Varma's condition deteriorates. Eventually, his days are filled with ingesting a seemingly endless supply of pills Rakesh has prescribed for him. The story ends tragically as the father, once endlessly impressed with his son’s intelligence and accomplishments, wishes for nothing more than to be left alone. When Rakesh, striving to improve his father’s health and mental well-being, brings him a tonic, Varma sweeps it from his hands and sends it crashing to the floor. The old man, exhausted by the sad straits of his new life, lies down and begs to be left alone to die. Rakesh’s accomplishments, which once fueled Varma’s pride and happiness, have become an intolerable curse.

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