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"Karma" 1989 by Khushwant Singh - Story Summary, Characters, Synopsis & Moral in English

"Karma" is a  short story written by Indian writer Khushwant Singh. It was originally published in 1989 in The Collected Stories. Khushwant Singh was also a lawyer, diplomat, journalist and politician. In 2007 he was awarded Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest civilian award in India.

Reading this to know the characters, outline summary, round vs flat characters, setting, narrator's point of view, style, themes, and moral of this short story, "Karma"

The characters involved in this short story are:

1) Sir Mohan Lal - an arrogant middle-aged Indian

2) Lady Mohan Lal (Lachmi) - Wife of Sir Mohan Lal

3) A bearer

4) A porter/a coolie

5) Bill and Jim - British soldiers

Now let us move to the outline summary of this short story, "Karma"


Waiting Room in Indian Railway Station

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 and dresses up as a high-ranked British official. In those day the first class compartment in the train are only meant for British. And Indian born Mohan Lal usually travels in first class compartment as if he considers himself as English. He feels inferior being an Indian. Hence Mohan Lal endeavours to change himself completely in favouring the habits of Englishmen.

When this short story begins, Sir Mohanlal, the protagonist, looks at himself in the mirror. He smils at the mirror in the waiting room and says to the person appearing in the mirror i.e he says to himself in the mirror that he is very dirty like everyone in the country.

The mirror smils at him back and says that he was a distinguished personality. His dressing makes him look even more smart. Later he goes out from the waiting room and asks a bearer to give him a small peg.


Outside the waiting room at Indian Railway Station

The important event occurs on a journey of Mohan Lal and his wife Lachmi in a train. Mohan Lal makes his wife Lachmi sit in the Zenana compartment while he gets his seat arranged in the first class compartment, which is specially meant for the British. Because he considers his wife submissive to him. Lachmi is a traditional Indian woman and poor illiterate, due to this difference Mohan Lal and Lachmi do not have a sweet married life. They even don't have children.

Now Lachmi is sitting at the waiting room outside the railway station and chewing betel leaves. She wears a dirty white sari with red border and has several gold bangles in her arms. She asks the coolie where the zenana would stop. To which the coolie replies that the zenana would stop at the end of the platform. As they hear the signal and the bell sound which symbolises that the train is approaching. Therefore the coolie picked up the luggage of Lachmi and by following the coolie, Lachmi walks to the end of the platform inorder to get seat in zenana compartment. They both reached the end of the platform. Meanwhile Lachmi opened her brass lunch - box and eats her meal, chapatties and mango pickle.

Then there happens a very active conversation between Lachmi and the coolie. Lachmi is very fond of talking if she gets a chance because Lachmi had nobody to talk to her in the house. Her husband Sir Mohanlal was always busy with his clients and he would never have time to speak to his wife Lachmi.


When there are signals of the train arriving, Lachmi washed her hands and proceeded towards the zenana. She gives two annas to the coolie for carrying her luggage and dismissed him. After taking a seat in the general compartment, Lachmi opens the box of betel leaves and put two in her mouth. Gradually her cheeks bulged.


On the other side of the platform, Lachmi's husband is waiting to seat in the first class compartment. The arrival of the train do not make a difference to Sir Mohanlal. He made the coolie take his luggage to the first class compartment. He had stayed 5 years in abroad and had acquired the features of the upper class people. He used to speak necessary words only in English when Mohan Lal seats in first class compartment.

About Author:

Khushwant Singh is a renowned author with master craftsmanship in writing biographies and historical fiction. Three of his books, The Turbaned Tornado biography of oldest marathon runner Fauja Singh, Maharaja in Denims and The Opium Toffee, are being adapted into cinematic experiences, making him one of the fascinating contemporary authors of India. His biography of erstwhile royal and former Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh set new standards in writing biographies of Indian political giants. Fearless, creative and suave, Khushwant Singh has worn many hats, including a journalist, columnist, TV host, editor and farmer. He is currently the State Information Commissioner, Punjab making him a unique blend of top administrative experience and creativity.

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