Karma Summary by Khushwant Singh

Karma Summary by Khushwant Singh



In one of his ironical epitaphs, Khushwant Singh, who expressed his wish to be buried, instead of being cremated wrote.Here lies one who spared neither man nor God.

Waste not your tears on him, he was a sod. Though this epitaph could not be placed in his grave, the lines faithfully revealed the ironical spirit of the sturdy, outspoken and agnostic Sardar who did not spare anything or anyone from his vitriolic attack in literary career spanning more than five decades. 



In the story ‘Karma’ we find his gun of irony pointed at those colonial ‘brown sahibs’ who suffered from identity crisis and shunning their Indianness, pretended to be belonging to the race of their whiteskinned rulers, the Englishmen with their carnation in the button hole, Saville Row suits, Balliol ties, the Times and their Queen’s English.



‘Karma’, a short story centres round the protagonist Sir Mohan Lal. He is an Indian Vizier and barrister who adores everything in English and identifies himself with the Englishmen. In the course of the story we find that the real Englishmen do not consider him in any way to be their own kin. The perfidious gentleman got what he deserved for his adopted identity-humiliation and ejection from the railway compartment.



For parallelism and contrast the character of Lachmi, the native Indian wife of Sir Mohan has been introduced. The plump English-illiterate Lachmi is typically Indian with her mouthful of betel, gaudy gold ornament and gregarious manner. She is a perfect contrast to her Anglophile husband. Her manners accentuate the vanity of Sir Mohan Lal.



The story ends with a jet-like spitting of betel-juice dribble from Lachmi’s bloated mouth symbolising the deep-set hatred for those imbecile Indians who their inborn identities to put on the mantle of foreign rulers.



Karma‘ was first published in 1989 as a short story in the anthology called ‘The Collected Stories’. Since the setting of the story is pre-independence India the story might have been written earlier.




Sir Mohan Lal prides himself on his appearance, deportment and above all, his English. He aspires in every way, to be as upper class British as he can. ‘Karma’ begins with Sir Lal waiting for a train. He is to board the first-class compartment and he plans how he will behave during the journey (not to act in an excited way, read ‘The Times’, drink whisky and smoke English cigarettes) so as to impress any Englishmen who might share the compartment with him.

His wife, Lachmi, is sitting outside the first class waiting room. She is a traditional Indian woman and is dressed in an untidy way. Lachmi is to board the inter-class zenana compartment. Lachmi knows her husband looks down on her. They have a strained, distant relationship and do not have children either. The train arrrives and Lachmi boards the train and begins chewing betel leaves. Sir Mohan Lal boards the first-class compartment and finds it empty.

Then two English soldiers appear. Sir Mohan is ready to welcome them but the two soldiers are drunk and do not want to share the compartment with him. Sir Lal’s sahib like appearance and English are of no use. The soldiers throw Sir Lal and his belongings onto the platform. As the train pulls out of the platform, Lady Lal sends a jet of red dribble flying across like a dart. This story is rich in irony and the author takes up the issues of patriotism, loss of identity and unhappy marriages.


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