The title of the short story – “Karma” – suggests that Khushwant Singh’s story will deal with the idea of karma, a spiritual concept that is typically used to suggest that one’s present actions influence one’s future life.
In the story, we see an Indian man named Mohan Lal who models his behaviour and appearance according to English culture:
“In his five years abroad, Sir Mohan had acquired the manners and attitudes of the upper classes. He rarely spoke Hindustani”
Time and physical setting
• Style of writing
• Antithesis and juxtaposition
The short story “Karma” by Khushwant Singh is told by a third-person omniscient narrator.
The story is mainly told through the perspectives of the two main characters -Mohan Lal and Lachmi Lal. We also get a brief view of the two soldiers' thoughts towards the end.
The narration is mixed with dialogue, and the narrator sometimes completes the dialogue with further observations:
‘Janta – Reserved. Army – Fauj’ exclaimed Jim, pointing to his khaki shirt. (…)
‘I say. I say, surely,’ protested Sir Mohan in his Oxford accent. (p. 182, ll. 6-9)
The point of view of the two main characters is also shown through dialogue, for example when Lachmi tells the coolie about herself: “
‘I am only a native woman. I can’t understand English and don’t know their ways, so I keep to my zenana interclass.’ ” (p. 179, l. 29-31)
However, their point of view is also conveyed through free indirect speech. This can be observed, for example
when Mohan Lal imagines how his English cigarettes would attract attention and he would take the opportunity to spark a conversation with a fellow traveller:
English cigarettes in India? How on earth did he get them? Sure he didn't mind? And Sir Mohan's understanding smile - of course he didn't.
But could he use the Englishman as a medium to commune with his dear old England? (p. 181, ll. 21-24) The narrator is generally not explicit about what happens in the story.
While he describes the characters and the events in detail, he does not comment further on the implications of the characters’ behaviour or the meaning of the events.
For example, the narrator is not explicit about the meaning of Mohan Lal’s experience of being kicked out of the train by English soldiers.
This is instead conveyed through Mohan Lal’s arrogant attitude and through the title of the short story – “Karma” – which suggests that Mohan Lal received a karmic lesson in humility.
The narrator can also be considered reliable, as his descriptions are generally straightforward, showing little bias in his interpretation of the characters’ behaviour and of the events.
However, occasionally a bias can be observed, for example in the narrator’s slightly humorous comments about Mohan Lal or the English soldiers:
“The arrival of the train did not disturb Sir Mohan Lal's sangfroid.” (p. 180, l. 13); “they knew better than to trust their inebriated ears.” (p. 182, l. 11)
The language style used in the story “Karma” by Khushwant Singh often supports the characterisations. For example, Mohan Lal uses formal Englishto convey the fact that he is well-educated: “
'Preposterous, preposterous,' he shouted, hoarse with anger” (p. 182, ll. 14-16). In turn, he only uses the Hindilanguage to briefly address the servants:
“ 'Ek chota,' ordered Sir Mohan, and sank into a large cane chair to drink and ruminate” (p. 179, ll. 1-2). This also helps to portray Mohan Lal as an arrogant man and suggests the lower-class Indians’ poor education.
The words or phrases in Hindi also add to the story’s authenticity: “ ‘Koi hai?’ A bearer in white livery appeared through a wire gauze door.” (p. 178, ll. 17-18)
In contrast to Mohan Lal, the two English soldiers who throw him out of the train use informal expressions
which suggests their lower-class background. Furthermore, their use of Hindi words suggests their own feeling of superiority over Mohan Lal, as it shows they assume he does not speak English: “
‘Get the nigger out,’ he muttered to his companion.” (p. 182, l. 2); “ ‘Ek dum jao – get out!’ ” (p. 182, l. 8)
Contractions are used only in the dialogue, which gives the story realism by conveying the informal tone of ordinary conversations:
“ ‘I can’t understand English and don’t know their ways’ ” (p. 179, l. 30); “The arrival of the train did not disturb Sir Mohan Lal’s sangfroid.” (p. 180, l. 13)