Ghosts of Vasu Master by Githa Hariharan is about the life of Vasu Master and all the people, all the memories, his ailments that are the ghosts. There is no bitterness or anger in Vasu, only a lot of compassion for all his experiences. He is left all alone after his retirement from his school job. In his life of solitude, his student Mani enters. In the process of teaching Mani, Vasu goes over his own life and views it with a degree of objectivity.
Vasu tells his story in the first person. He uses the notebook his students had given him as a farewell gift. He notes down not only his past, but all his present in it. His experience with Mani and all the changes that happen later.
The novel moves ahead through stories that Vasu tells Mani, through letters that he receives from his two sons – Vishnu and Veru, through memories of his wife Mangla. Their rare trips to the Marina beach outside Madras, his simple life in the village Elipettak. The trip infuses a new joy in their mundane lives. The waves, the beach seem to liberate all of them from their monotonous lives.
Vasu remembers all the strict lessons of his father and the food cooked by his grandmother.His father believed in healing with Ayurveda, his grandmother aimed at curing the young Vasu with her woking. Vasu had weak stomach and digestion from childhood. All through his life he suffers on that account and tries all cures to heal himself.
Vasu Master remembers his students of 6 B with fondness. They were a noisy group but he had tried his best to discipline them and instill some basic values in them. Vasu also writes in his notebook about the education system, the meanness and partiality in school. The different types of punishments for the rich and the poor students. Many other writers have also written about this disparity in school education. The rich students are let off lightly while the poor and underprivileged have to face corporeal punishment.
Vasu records his dreams which many times relate to the problems of his life. His struggle to arouse Mani’s interest to make him understand and to utter a simple word. The many chapters in the novel tell a special story, the Blue Bottle fly is of great interest. It connects with Mani and his struggle to free himself from all his past injuries and his struggle to come to an understanding of himself and all that his patient teacher tries to tell him.
His father would buy vegetables and cook for him, at the same time lecture him on the importance of shlokas and Shakespeare. In that manner Vasu has an eclectic childhood, full of varied enriching experiences. His grandmother, who knew only one word is English, nuisance and that is the nick-name she used for Vasu. She would pull his ears and later as compensation for her harsh behaviour tell him a story.
He remembers the pranks, the juvenile tricks of his students in school. His wife Mangla, who would also tell a story rarely, now she had been dead twenty years. His two sons lived away, Vasu would have tough time remembering the names of his grandchildren.
He takles the questions of Mani’s education from all directions. He becomes more patient than he had ever been, he changes his teaching techniques and looks forward each day to a glimmer of hope in Mani’s eyes for some recognition on Mani’s part. Gradually he is happy to see a change in Mani,who concentrates on the words of his master. Vasu lovingly cooks for him, hugs the deprived child and showers love on him. Vasu fervently hopes to hear his name from his students lip but is happy nevertheless when Mani speaks his own name. Mani’s body language changes it becomes poised and confident.
Mani draws with bold, confident strokes. All Vasu’s stories take their colour in Mani’s drawing. The Master succeeds in igniting Mani’s mind and soul. Mani learns to express though creative drawing. The master feels that it is his best reward Love, compassion and hard work pays. Old habits and methods are reworked and modified. Mani fulfills Vasu’s life in a very special way. Both the teacher and the student in this journey of learning, give strength to each other.