He is condescending to his wife because she is an ordinary woman unable to appreciate his aristocratic English culture. Others are: Imitation of foreign culture Unhappy married life Contrast of culture and life-style Aristocracy and patriotism Plot[ edit ] Mohan Lal is a middle-aged man who works in the British Raj. He is ashamed to be an Indian and hence he tries to speak in English or in Anglicized Hindustani and dresses up as a high-ranked British official. He fills crossword puzzles, to show off his immense knowledge of English. He makes Lachmi sit in the general compartment while he gets his seat arranged in the first class compartment, which was meant for the British.
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The mirror was obviously made in India. The red oxide at its back had come off at several places and long lines of translucent glass cut across its surface. Sir Mohan smiled at the mirror with an air of pity and patronage.
The mirror smiled back at Sir Mohan. That neatly-trimmed moustache - the suit from Saville Row with the carnation in the buttonhole - the aroma of eau de cologne, talcum powder and scented soap all about you! Yes, old fellow, you are a bit of all right. He glanced at his watch. There was still time for a quick one. On a small grey steel trunk, Lachmi, Lady Mohan Lal, sat chewing a betel leaf and fanning herself with a newspaper.
She was short and fat and in her middle forties. She wore a dirty white sari with a red border. On one side of her nose glistened a diamond nose-ring, and she had several gold bangles on her arms. She had been talking to the bearer until Sir Mohan had summoned him inside. As soon as he had gone, she hailed a passing railway coolie. Lady Lal picked up her brass tiffin carrier and ambled along behind him.
She sat down on her steel trunk which the coolie had put down and started talking to him. While she ate, the coolie sat opposite her on his haunches, drawing lines in the gravel with his finger. He is in the waiting room. He travels first class. He is a vizier and a barrister, and meets so many officers and Englishmen in the trains - and I am only a native woman. She was fond of a little gossip and had no one to talk to at home.
Her husband never had any time to spare for her. She lived in the upper storey of the house and he on the ground floor. He did not like her poor illiterate relatives hanging around his bungalow, so they never came.
He came up to her once in a while at night and stayed for a few minutes. He just ordered her about in anglicised Hindustani, and she obeyed passively. These nocturnal visits had, however, borne no fruit.
The signal came down and the clanging of the bell announced the approaching train. Lady Lal hurriedly finished off her meal. She got up, still licking the stone of the pickled mango.
She emitted a long, loud belch as she went to the public tap to rinse her mouth and wash her hands. After washing she dried her mouth and hands with the loose end of her sari, and walked back to her steel trunk, belching and thanking the Gods for the favour of a filling meal. The train steamed in. The rest of the train was packed. She heaved her squat, bulky frame through the door and found a seat by the window. She produced a two-anna bit from a knot in her sari and dismissed the coolie.
She then opened her betel case and made herself two betel leaves charged with a red and white paste, minced betelnuts and cardamoms. These she thrust into her mouth till her cheeks bulged on both sides. Then she rested her chin on her hands and sat gazing idly at the jostling crowd on the platform. He continued to sip his scotch and ordered the bearer to tell him when he had moved the luggage to a first class compartment.
Excitement, bustle and hurry were exhibitions of bad breeding, and Sir Mohan was eminently well-bred. In his five years abroad, Sir Mohan had acquired the manners and attitudes of the upper classes. He rarely spoke Hindustani. But he fancied his English, finished and refined at no less a place than the University of Oxford. He was fond of conversation, and like a cultured Englishman, he could talk on almost any subject - books, politics, people.
How frequently had he heard English people say that he spoke like an Englishman! Sir Mohan wondered if he would be travelling alone. It was a Cantonment and some English officers might be on the train. His heart warmed at the prospect of an impressive conversation. He never showed any sign of eagerness to talk to the English as most Indians did. Nor was he loud, aggressive and opinionated like them.
He went about his business with an expressionless matter-of-factness. He would retire to his corner by the window and get out a copy of The Times. He would fold it in a way in which the name of the paper was visible to others while he did the crossword puzzle.
The Times always attracted attention. That would open a vista leading to a fairy-land of Oxford colleges, masters, dons, tutors, boat-races and rugger matches. Whiskey never failed with Englishmen. English cigarettes in India? How on earth did he get them? But could he use the Englishman as a medium to commune with his dear old England? Those five years of grey bags and gowns, of sports blazers and mixed doubles, of dinners at the inns of Court and nights with Piccadilly prostitutes.
Five years of a crowded glorious life. Worth far more than the forty-five in India with his dirty, vulgar countrymen, with sordid details of the road to success, of nocturnal visits to the upper storey and all-too-brief sexual acts with obese old Lachmi, smelling of sweat and raw onions. Sir Mohan walked to his coupe with a studied gait. He was dismayed. The compartment was empty. Sir Mohan looked out of the window down the crowded platform.
His face lit up as he saw two English soldiers trudging along, looking in all the compartments for room. They had their haversacks slung behind their backs and walked unsteadily. Sir Mohan decided to welcome them, even though they were entitled to travel only second class. He would speak to the guard. One of the soldiers came up to the last compartment and stuck his face through the window. He surveyed the compartment and noticed the unoccupied berth.
They opened the door , and turned to the half-smiling, half-protesting Sir Mohan. The soldiers paused. It almost sounded like English, but they knew better than to trust their inebriated ears.
The engine whistled and the guard waved his green flag. Then followed his thermos flask, briefcase, bedding and The Times. Sir Mohan was livid with rage. The engine gave another short whistle and the train began to move. The soldiers caught Sir Mohan by the arms and flung him out of the train.
He reeled backwards, tripped on his bedding, and landed on the suitcase. He stared at the lighted windows of the train going past him in quickening tempo. The tail-end of the train appeared with a red light and the guard standing in the open doorway with the flags in his hands.
In the inter-class zenana compartment was Lachmi, fair and fat, on whose nose the diamond nose-ring glistened against the station lights. Her mouth was bloated with betel saliva which she had been storing up to spit as soon as the train had cleared the station. As the train sped past the lighted part of the platform, Lady Lal spat and sent a jet of red dribble flying across like a dart.
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Karma by Khushwant Singh
Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Singh may be exploring the theme of self-importance. Sir Mohan Lal considers himself to be better than others. Particularly other Indians. It is as though Lal has forgotten or abandoned his heritage and culture in favour of taking on the role of an Englishman. Though Lal has only spent five years in England he has adopted the ways of an Englishman and appears to be somewhat arrogant. Who does not appear to have adopted the same traits as her husband.
Karma (short story)