Bhatia is Varma’s next door neighbor. Although he is old, Bhatia is still somewhat mobile, unlike most of Varma’s other neighbors. Bhatia visits Varma and is sympathetic to his complaints about how Rakesh treats him. Bhatia is horrified that Rakesh refuses his father food, saying it is disrespectful.
Rakesh is the dutiful son of Varma and his wife. Though his parents are illiterate, they invest much in him and his education so he can become a doctor. Rakesh becomes a success and even earns a scholarship to study in the United States. Returning home, he becomes a respected, gifted doctor and director at a local hospital, and he eventually opens his own clinic. Rakesh becomes rich and important but remains an ideal son known for his good nature. He is respectful in every way to his parents. Yet when Varma reaches the end of his working days and falls ill, Rakesh’s care for his father takes a new tone. Rakesh maintains his physical gestures of respect and reads the newspaper to him every morning, but he starts to control Varma’s food intake. Rakesh does not allow him to eat any fried or sweet foods and gives him numerous vitamins, tonics, and medicines. Varma finds this treatment disrespectful, becomes seriously ill, and wants to die. Rakesh dismisses his father’s opinions on this matter, caring for him as he believes he should. Rakesh respects his father but is oblivious to what the man really wants.
Varma is Rakesh’s father and Veena’s father-inlaw. The son of a vegetable seller in the local marketplace, Varma is illiterate and works at a depot for a kerosene dealer for forty years but values education for his children. He and his wife make sacrifices so their son Rakesh can receive an education. They are proud when Rakesh is a first division student at medical school and goes to the United States to continue his education. In the beginning, Varma is just as pleased when Rakesh continues to show his respect to himself and his mother. After Varma’s wife dies and Varma retires from his position, he ‘‘very quickly went to pieces.’’
Varma begins to spend all his days in bed, complaining of illness. He would also lie in bed, seemingly dead, with everyone gathered around, then bolt up and spit out the betel juice. After he does this act during a party at the house, the rest of the family, save Rakesh, no longer pay attention to what Varma does in bed. While Rakesh continues to care for him and treat him with respect, Varma soon begins to resent his son as Rakesh imposes dietary restrictions one day when Varma really becomes sick. Varma is denied all the foods he likes and soon feels Rakesh is not feeding him enough. Varma sees Rakesh as disrespectful and believes that Veena is smirking at him as well.
Eventually, Varma shares his concerns with his elderly neighbor Bhatia, who agrees that it is wrong for a son to refuse food to his father. Such visits are Varma’s only happiness for a time. Soon, Varma really becomes quite ill and finds his diet is even more limited as Rakesh replaces food with vitamins, tonics, and medicines. Varma claims he only wants to be left alone to die, but Rakesh dismisses his desire. Varma snatches a bottle of medicine out of Rakesh’s hand at the end of the story to make his point and groans ‘‘God is calling me—now let me go.’’
Varma’s wife is Rakesh’s mother. Illiterate like her husband, she spends her days in cooking and taking care of her family. She helps put Rakesh through school and is immensely proud of his academic and professional success as a doctor. Varma’s wife is particularly pleased that Rakesh did not marry when he lived in the United States and that he allowed her to pick his wife for him. She selects the daughter of a friend from childhood who lives in her home village, and Rakesh marries her. Varma’s wife dies around the time her husband retires. During her final illness, Varma’s wife is cared for by her son. In an ultimate gesture of respect, he is ‘‘pressing her feet at the last moment.’’ After her death, Varma falls apart and spirals downward.
Veena is the wife of Rakesh. She is selected to be his wife by his mother. Veena is the daughter of his mother’s friend from childhood and a native of his mother’s village. Desai describes her as ‘‘a plump and uneducated girl, it was true but so old-fashioned, so placid, so complaisant that she slipped into the household and settled like a charm.’’ While having a family with Rakesh and growing obese, Veena cooks and cares for the family. She specifically helps take care of Varma when he retires and becomes ill, though Varma comes to resent her as well because he sees her as disrespectful. Varma does not like Veena’s smirk when Rakesh puts limits on what he can eat and believes that she taunts him. Desai calls her a ‘‘smiling, hypocritical pudding in a rustling sari’’ at the beginning of the last scene.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, Anita Desai, Published by Gale Group, 2010