A Devoted Son Summary
by Anita Desai

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A Devoted Son Summary

Desai's short story begins with Rakesh performing an act of obeisance to his father.

Rakesh has earned the top spot in the national examinations. Since Rakesh is the first son in the family to receive an education, news of his achievement 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 (Rakesh's father) has given himself airs. Aside from this, the neighbors remain amazed at Rakesh's accomplishments and his devotion to his parents.

In due time, Rakesh earns his MD and wins a scholarship to study in the United States. There, he pursues his medical career at prestigious hospitals. When he returns, he marries a village girl of his mother's choosing. After his marriage, Rakesh is hired to work at the city hospital, where he quickly rises to the top spot as the director. Before long, he leaves to start his own clinic.

By this time, Varma has grown older and is retired from his job at the kerosene dealer's depot. Meanwhile, Rakesh's mother dies after suffering an illness. It is said that she died happy because Rakesh himself ministered to her in her last moments.

All in all, everyone agrees that Rakesh is the perfect son, husband, and physician. There seems to be no end to his virtues.

Trouble eventually looms in the household, however. Following his wife's death, Varma begins to develop symptoms of depression. Although Rakesh continues to devote his time and efforts to his father's well-being, the latter refuses help. Varma, although pleased by his son's devotion, eventually becomes irritated by Rakesh's presumption. The son, claiming the authority of a physician, 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 begins to despise meal-times, as he must subsist on the blandest of foods. Rakesh, meanwhile, remains unyielding. To outwit Rakesh, Varma bribes his grandchildren to bring him treats from the village shop. However, he is soon forced to stop after Rakesh finds out and accuses him of corrupting the young child'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 on a sad note. When Rakesh brings his father a tonic, Varma sweeps it out of the son's hands. The bottle crashes to the floor, and Varma lies back down again, begging to be left alone to die.


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

“A Devoted Son” appears in Desai’s acclaimed collection of short stories, Games at Twilight, and Other Stories. Unlike her earlier novels in which female characters dominate the texts, this story is about male characters. Focusing on a father-son relationship in a traditional Hindu family, the story looks at the problem of old age from two different angles. The setting of the story is realistic. Developed with a sense of humor, the story presents a fine study in human psychology and love.

The title of the story refers to Rakesh, who is always reverential to his parents, touching their feet in devotion. A brilliant student, after getting his M.D. in India he goes to the United States on a scholarship and pursues his career in a most prestigious hospital, winning the admiration of his American colleagues. His love and devotion to his aging parents compel him to return to India, get married to an uneducated village girl in deference to his parents’ wishes, start working in a city hospital, rise to the position of a director, and finally set up his own clinic and come to be recognized as the best and the richest doctor in town. People can hardly believe that a man born to illiterate parents could rise to such heights of glory and yet remain devoted to them.

The conflict between the father...

(The entire section is 1,060 words.)