Kamala is a young schoolgirl, a friend of Shanta’s. Kamala incorrectly assures Shanta that it is five o’clock in the afternoon.
Venkat Rao’s manager is Rao’s direct superior. As long as Rao needs his job to support his family, he is at the mercy of his manager. The manager views work as a man’s most urgent responsibility, and he suggests to Rao that his duties in the office should be viewed as his top priority. The manager also asks Rao if Rao knows how many hours he himself works. Rao does not answer, but recalls how the other clerks in the office joke that the manager’s wife must beat him whenever he is at home, which is why the manager spends so much time in the office. While the manager expects much of Rao, Rao’s hard work has earned him the manager’s respect, as evidenced by the fact that the manager informs Rao that he has recommended to his superiors that Rao receive an increment (that is, a raise).
Mrs. Rao is Venkat Rao’s wife and Shanta Rao’s mother. Her first name is not provided. The reader is introduced to Mrs. Rao when Shanta returns home from school early. Mrs. Rao questions Shanta about her sudden appearance at home, and argues with her about what Shanta selects to wear on her outing. Mrs. Rao urges Shanta to wear a long skirt and thick coat, but Shanta selects a thin frock. Mrs. Rao’s choice indicates her concern for her daughter’s health and comfort. She further reveals her practical and cautious nature when she scolds Shanta for waiting in the direct sun, and then again for standing outside after it has gotten dark. When the story shifts from Shanta’s point of view to Rao’s, Rao recalls how his wife doubted that he would be able to keep his promise. This suggests that Mrs. Rao is familiar enough with her husband’s schedule and habitual lateness at the office to doubt that he will be able to take Shanta to the cinema. When Rao returns home, late, after Shanta has been in bed for hours, Mrs. Rao tells her husband how Shanta would not change out of her dress or eat, and how the child refused to lay down, so certain was she that her father would arrive in time to take her to the cinema. Mrs. Rao then insists that her husband cease his efforts at trying to wake the child, and she comforts her daughter back to sleep.
Shanta is a young girl, the daughter of Venkat Rao and his wife. In school, she questions her friends and teacher persistently about the time, insisting that she must be home at five o’clock to go to the cinema with her father. Not only is Shanta’s eagerness to spend time with her father apparent in her actions at school but her desperation to not disappoint him is evidenced as well. As she informs her teacher, Shanta is anxious to avoid having her father be angry with her for not being ready on time. Once home, Shanta refuses food or drink and gets ready for her evening out. She and her mother argue about what she will wear, as Shanta selects a thin dress, whereas her mother wants her to wear something warmer. Shanta persists in waiting outside for her father to come home. Her mother chastises her for standing out in the sun, and later, for being out as it is starting to get dark. This indication of the passage of time demonstrates Shanta’s stubborn belief that her father will keep his word. She even attempts to walk to his workplace, but quickly becomes lost and is escorted home by a servant from another home. From her father’s perspective, Shanta’s life seems devoid of the pleasures enjoyed by other children, and it is this perception that prompted him to answer her request for a trip to the cinema in the affirmative. When Rao arrives home after nine p.m., long after Shanta has fallen asleep, Shanta’s mother informs Rao that Shanta waited for him, apparently still convinced her father would be taking her to the cinema when he got home.
Venkat Rao is Shanta’s father. He feels that Shanta has been denied many of life’s joys, compared with other children, and he feels as though he has no time to spend with her. Certain he has neglected both his wife and his daughter, Rao tells himself that at least his wife has her own circle of friends; she cannot be as lonely and bored as Shanta. All of these thoughts make Rao resolve to stand up to his manager and insist on leaving at five o’clock to take Shanta out to the cinema. However, after Rao politely requests time off, the manager does not permit him to leave but rather scolds him for not viewing work as his most urgent priority. Rao pens a passionately angry letter to his manager and resolves to resign, but before he can do so, he is told that he will be receiving a raise, so he stays at work until nine o’clock. Upon seeing his daughter asleep, still dressed in her pretty pink dress, Rao is deeply moved and saddened. He tries desperately to explain to his wife that he might not be able to take Shanta out at all. Rao seems to fear that even more will be required of him now that his salary has been increased by five rupees, and he despairs at having even less time with his family.
Rao’s anguish is clearly and repeatedly depicted. His intentions to stand up for himself and for his family life are demonstrated through his thoughts and the undelivered letter. Yet Rao only presents a polite and dutiful attitude toward his manager. His anger and anguish remain hidden from the workplace. As much as Rao wants to spend more time with his family, particularly his daughter, Rao also appears terrified to jeopardize his income. His sense of duty to provide for his family outweighs the sorrow he feels at not being able to be a meaningful part of his daughter’s life.
Shanta’s teacher plays a minor role in the story. She questions Shanta when the child tells her she must leave at five o’clock. Eventually, the teacher grants Shanta permission to leave school early.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 29, R. K. Narayan, Published by Gale Group, 2001.