The Writer :
|Khushwant Singh (b. 1915)|
Khushwant Singh (b. 1915) is a renowned Indian Journalist and writer. He worked as the editor of Illustrated Weekly, National Herald, Hindustan Times, etc. He wrote books like History of the Sikhs, Train to Pakistan, End of India, A Bride for the Sahib and Other Stories, Burial at Sea, In the Company of Women, Love, Truth and a Little Malice, etc. He was awarded both the Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan.
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The present story Karma is taken from his book, The Collected Stories published in 1989.
It is a first class waiting room at the railway station. Sir Mohan Lal is found standing before the mirror. The mirror is worn-out and partly broken. He hates the mirror as he hates everything of India. But he admires his own appearance. He looks perfectly like a sahib. The train is yet to come. He calls the bearer and orders a drink.
Outside the waiting room, Lachmi, his wife is sitting on a small grey steel trunk. She is chewing a betel leaf. She is a traditional Indian woman and is commonly dressed. She requests a coolie to carry her luggage to the end of the platform. She will get into the inter-class woman compartment. She is not allowed to accompany her husband in the first class compartment, because her husband is a high government official, a barrister. He will meet many officials in the compartment. But Lachmi cannot speak English and does not know their ways. Obviously, she cannot travel with her husband. She hardly enjoys the company of her husband. He visits her rarely at night. Then Lachmi plays the role of a passive partner. They have no child.
The train arrives at the platform. Lachmi enters the inter-class compartment. It is almost empty. She prepares some betel-leaves and starts chewing one.
There is a lot of noise. Passengers are jostling on the platform. Sir Mohan Lal totally detests them. He is calm and quiet. He is still enjoying his drink. He has spent five years in Oxford University. He strictly follows the manners of the English. He rarely speaks Hindustani. He speaks in English with a foreign accent. He can talk on any subject like a cultured Englishman. Indeed, he always feels at home with the English. He expects some Englishmen as co-passengers. In that case it will be an enjoyable journey for him. But he shows no sign of urge to talk to the English like most of the Indians. He pretends to read The Times. He has already his Balliol tie. He orders whisky. And lastly, he opens his gold cigarette case full of English cigarettes. He knows well that all these things will automatically arrest the attention of the Englishmen. Now he recalls his five-year glorious life of England. He loves everything of the country. Even the prostitutes of England are more charming to him than his wife Lachmi.
However, Sir Mohan enters his reserved first class coupe. It is empty and so he is sad. He begins to read The Times. Just then two English soldiers appear. They are looking for a suitable compartment. Sir Mohan is ready to welcome them. The two soldiers ultimately choose Sir Mohan’s compartment. But they order him to get out from the compartment. Though it is reserved, the soldiers do not care for it. Sir Mohan protests mildly. His royal English, sahib like appearance and The Times come of no use. The soldiers throw all the belongings of Sir Mohan out of the train. Finally they push him out of the train. The train quickly passes the station leaving him on the platform. His wife, totally unaware of his condition, chews the betel leaves, spits and sends a jet of red dribble flying across like a dart.
The word karma is a Sanskrit one and literally means destiny. It also has a Hindu theological idea, but it has been used as the title of the story only to speak about the identity crisis of a person who blindly imitates the western culture and fashion under the impact of British colonialism in India.
Irony forms one of the basic characteristics in Khushwant Singh’s style of writing. The consequence of Sir Mohan’s babu-culture is ironical. The irony lies in the fact that he is neither a British nor an Indian. He has no real identity. He himself has lost it. Khushwant Singh has portrayed a deep ironical view of the world around him through this story.
Mohan Lal and Lachmi are totally opposite characters though they are couple to each other. Mohan Lal is a blind follower of the English culture, whereas his wife Lachmi is a typical Indian woman. Finally, Mohan Lal loses his identity, but Lachmi has no such crisis.
Through this story, Khushwant Singh warns us against our false belief in foreign excellence. It teaches us not to cut our roots off with our own soil, men and civilization. Otherwise, we are sure to face humiliation and tragic doom.
The story shows Khushwant Sing’s art of presenting the psychological aspects of human beings nicely. His power to study of man is as remarkable here as the glamour of his linguistic style to present them vividly.
- Imitation of foreign culture
- Unhappy married life
- Contrast of culture and life-style
- Aristocracy and patriotism