Last Updated on October 4, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 937
When the results appeared in the morning papers, Rakesh scanned them barefoot and in his pajamas, at the garden gate, then went up the steps to the verandah where his father sat sipping his morning tea and bowed down to touch his feet.
The initial sentence has one key detail: When Rakesh reads the results, he immediately goes to his father and bows down to touch his feet. This shows great respect in Indian culture, and Rakesh is indicating to his father that although his position in life is about to change through the news he is about to deliver, nothing has changed in their relationship. In fact, the father takes pride in communicating this to his neighbors at the party that follows:
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To everyone who came to him to say “Mubarak, Varmaji, your son has brought you glory,” the father said, “Yes, and do you know what is the first thing he did when he saw the results this morning? He came and touched my feet. He bowed down and touched my feet.” This moved many of the women in the crowd so much that they were seen to raise the ends of their saris and dab at their tears
Rakesh also demonstrates his fierce loyalty to his mother:
As for his mother, she gloated chiefly over the strange fact that he had not married in America, had not brought home a foreign wife as all her neighbors had warned her he would, for wasn’t that what all Indian boys went abroad for? Instead he agreed, almost without argument, to marry a girl she had picked out for him from her village, the daughter of a childhood friend, a plump and uneducated girl
Rakesh spends some time in America (or, as his father takes pride in calling it, "the USA," as only ignorant neighbors still call it "America") and remains true to his culture. Surely he meets many educated women who would stimulate his intellectual drive, but he follows his mother's wishes and agrees to the arranged marriage with an uneducated girl. He is following his duty as a son, as he always has.
Thereafter his fame seemed to grow just a little dimmer—or maybe it was only that everyone in town had grown accustomed to it at last—but it was also the beginning of his fortune for he now became known not only as the best but also the richest doctor in town.
People become accustomed to Rakesh's successes. He becomes incredibly successful working in the city hospital, rising to the top of its administration, and then becomes director of the hospital. He leaves to set up an independent clinic, and the dazzle of his career and intelligence isn't quite so impressive as he spends his entire career developing his work. As is often true in life, even the extraordinary can become mundane via familiarity.
It was Rakesh, too, who, on returning from the clinic in the evening, persuaded the old man to come out of his room, as bare and desolate as a cell, and take the evening air out in the garden, beautifully arranging the pillows and bolsters on the divan in the corner of the open verandah. On summer nights he saw to it that the servants carried out the old man’s bed onto the lawn and himself helped his father down the steps and onto the bed, soothing him and settling him down for a night under the stars.
Now that his father is sick, Rakesh wants to take care of him as well as possible. He pays attention to the small details, making sure he has fresh air; he hires servants to make sure he can make it from inside the house to his outdoor bed. He arranges his pillows to try to make him comfortable. And all of his efforts please his father—initially.
What was not so gratifying was that he even undertook to supervise his father’s diet. This is when things begin to shift. While Rakesh has his father's health at the forefront of his care, his father simply wants to enjoy the rest of his life, whatever time that may be. He wants to enjoy fried foods and sweets, but Rakesh refuses to allow him to eat any of them and forbids any servants or grandchildren to give in to his father's requests. His father grows increasingly upset about having to spend the last days of his life hungry and eating vitamins. Rakesh doesn't relent and presses his medical expertise onto his father, completely ignoring his wishes. This creates quite a conflict and distances their relationship. In the end, when Rakesh goes to see him,
Old Varma tucked his feet under him, out of the way, and continued to gaze stubbornly into the yellow air of the summer evening.
He no longer feels that his son respects him because he will not allow him to enjoy the rest of his life, so he no longer wants the respect offered by the touching of his feet.
He gave one push to the pillows at his back and dislodged them so he could sink down on his back, quite flat again. He closed his eyes and pointed his chin at the ceiling, like some dire prophet, groaning, “God is calling me—now let me go.”
The story ends with the father trying to reclaim some control over the end of his life. He is tired of the pillows and tired of the medicine, which he smashes in anger. He only wants to die in peace, in a way he has some control over.