AD's English Literature : Theme and Critical Analysis of Khushwant Singh’s "Karma"

Theme and Critical Analysis of Khushwant Singh’s "Karma"

"For man's Karma travels with him, like his shadow. Indeed it is his shadow, for it has been said, 'Man stands in his own shadow and wonders why it is dark.'"
Alan Watts (1915 - 1973)

Khushwant Singh, the renowned Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan, made a scintillating impact on Indian English writing by his pungent social views and artistic presentations. His Karma which is a story from his book The collected Stories (published in 1989) has also a bold statement- introspection of our colonized society. The story devised its plot into several sub layers- Imitation of foreign culture, unhappy married life, contrast of culture and life-style, aristocracy and patriotism. Read More Short Stories

Karma, a religious term, literarily means deed or the work done.  In Hindu theological idea it means destiny. It is the doctrine that once present action continues to have affects in another incarnation. Read More Short Stories A good acts pays us handsomely while bad deeds make us suffer, it is similar to the Greek idea of ‘nemeses’. Justice is given to us in consideration of our Karma. Now we have to examine whether the story ‘Karma’ his entitled according to the theme or how karma affects the lives of the characters in the story.

Karma is a story of an aristocrat who tries to follow English culture and lifestyle. He feels uneasy about his culture, lifestyle, customs, etc. He has a wife who is an ordinary woman. He dislikes her because she fails to impart foreign culture into her life.  As we have told, the story is about an Indian and his wife sir Mohan Lal and Lachmi.

Khushwant Singh
Sir Mohanlal is a native of India.  He is a middle-aged man, an aristocrat but arrogant. He is a barrister who works for the British; he was educated in Oxford and a follower of foreign culture and life-style. He spoke English fluently. He read the Times, wore Balliol tie, and drank whisky and smoke only English cigarettes. Read More Short Stories  He could never forget his glorious life in England but he hates everything in India. He is ashamed of his Indian origin and tries to speak English. He dresses like a high-ranked British official. He tries to show his sound knowledge in English through solving crossword puzzles of English newspapers.  India is a dirty place to him. He even dislikes his wife Lachmi and her relatives because they are poor and uneducated.

 One other hand, Lachmi, The wife of Mohan Lal, is purely a traditional Indian woman. She does not know English. Read More Indian English She wears an ordinary white saree with border. She can easily talk with poor railway coolies. She comfortably travels in the general class. She is simple hearted follower of Indian culture and life-style. She is unable to adopt English lifestyle which Mohan Lal aspires so boldly. As a result of this difference, Mohan Lal and Lachmi do not have a sweet married life.

Mohan Lal is very proud after boarding the first class compartment. The aristocracy of Mohan Lal gets a shock during a journey with his wife in a train. He books his seat in the first class compartment, which is reserved for the British, though he makes sitting arrangement for his wife in the general compartment. As the story develops we find that sir Mohan finds two English soldiers in his reserved compartment. He feels delighted at the thought of talking of an English man. But his pride does not last long. Two British soldiers start to abuse him in the compartment. They even called him a nigger!  The arrogant Mohan Lal tries to oppose. Consequently, they threw all his belongings out of the train and pushed him out of the compartment. Sir Mohanlal is now in identity crises. Who is he? Read More Short Stories Indian or English man. He is neither an Indian nor an English man. Thus he gets the result of his on karma. He rightly punished for belittling his own couture and custom.

 But his wife Lachmi does not face such humiliation. She is quite at easy in the general compartment and reaches home smoothly. Read More Indian English Now coming to the title Karma (Sanskrit for “action”), in Indian philosophy, is the sum total of one's actions, good or bad. Here Sir Mohanlal and Lachmi share their karma attached to the thought as it is determined by previous actions. Sir Mohanlal aspires to amass bad karma and finally after a good lesson in the train journey, strives for release from the process of it. He receives a good lesson. Relatively Lachmi is attuned good self and remains happy. It foresees in the justice that Mohanlal and Lachmi received at the end their own respective action. 

In a few words, Singh could portray a figure; in a few pages he could describe a fate. Some of his stories fired the imagination of short story readers. Singh’s name has become coupled with the “trick ending” in the short story tradition. People being different from society's approved behavior is a common theme in many of  Singh's books; normally he portrays such individualistic figures as gentle and sympathetic characters who are different either physically or emotionally, but who are trying to fit into the mainstream of society. In Karma the stakes of being different appear high. Read More Short Stories Those who dare to be different appear to have no responsibility toward others; in focusing on understanding themselves, the characters thoughtlessly hurt and confuse others around them. In the story, there are two types of characters: those who dare to be different and unconventional and those who seem dull and boring, yet comfortable. Read More Indian English Mohanlal seems like his wife Lachmi, yet he really is not; he and his wise appear to be cut from the same mold, yet they are very different. He is in love with English, yet drops her without an explanation or second thought in order to chase Indian culture. Again, although the theme of relationship is not central to Karma, it runs throughout the story as a tool to measure the characters' conscience and self-worth. Lachmi is the cautious, conservative one in the family. Mohanlal accepts Lachmi's simplity as just another way of being.

Ref: Wikipedia

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