Narayan’s short story ‘‘Forty-Five a Month’’ opens in the classroom of a little girl named Shanta. The child asks her friend whether it is five o’clock yet, explaining that her father has promised to take her to the cinema later that evening. Shanta tells her teacher that she must go home because it is five o’clock. The teacher uses the opportunity to discuss with the class how to tell time. The other children, however, can tell the proper time no better than Shanta. After explaining to Shanta that the current time is only two forty-five, the teacher tells the children to return to their seats. Shanta does so, but only for ten more minutes, at which point she approaches her teacher once again, insisting that she must go home early or her father will be angry with her. The teacher dismisses Shanta, who runs home and looks for her mother. Shanta’s mother returns from the house next door, where she had been visiting with friends. When Shanta’s mother asks her why she is home from school early, the girl replies with a question, asking whether her father has come home from work yet. Shanta proceeds to dress in her best clothes and tie a ribbon onto the end of her braided hair, asking her mother if she will be coming along for the evening.
Shanta’s mother, who informs Shanta that she will not be going with Shanta and her father, attempts to keep Shanta from standing at the gate and looking down the street for her father. Frustrated that the hour is growing late and her father has not yet returned, Shanta questions her mother, who suggests that Shanta’s father had to work late. Despite her mother’s repeated requests for her to come inside, Shanta persists in waiting at the gate, until she takes it upon herself to walk to her father’s office. She soon becomes lost and is helped home by a servant from one of the nearby homes.
Meanwhile, Shanta’s father, Venkat Rao, recalls his impulsive decision to promise his daughter an outing to the cinema. Rao feels saddened by the fact that he has little time to spend with his daughter, who he fears spends much of her time alone, without the toys, dresses, and excursions that other children enjoy. He laments the fact that he works late every evening and spends much of his weekend at the office as well. Having promised Shanta he would take her out and that she should be ready by five o’clock, Rao proceeds to his office the morning of the appointed day, resolved to resign if his superiors attempt to force him to work late into the evening once again. At five p.m., Rao approaches his manager and asks to leave, explaining that he has pressing personal business to attend to. His manager tells Rao to get back to work, insisting that nothing should be more urgent than his job. Rao returns to his desk, observing that it is now half past five. Anticipating that he would have to remain at work for another two hours to complete the task his manager has set for him, Rao pens his resignation letter, a note filled with anger at the fact that he has had to work like a slave for almost no pay. Rao then walks to his manager’s desk, and places the note, sealed in an envelope, on the manager’s desk. The manager, not noticing what Rao has done, informs Rao that he is to receive a pay raise of five rupees. Rao immediately pockets the letter. When the manager questions him, Rao lies, explaining that the letter was a request for some time off. The manager interrupts, telling him that under no circumstances will Rao be allowed any leave for at least two weeks. Rao responds by saying that he understands, which is why he decided to withdraw his request. Once again returning to his desk, Rao works until nine o’clock.
At home, Rao finds his daughter asleep in her best dress; his wife explains that Shanta refused to change her clothes or eat anything and would not lie down for bed, as she was worried about wrinkling her dress. Distraught, Rao attempts to wake Shanta, saying that he could still take her to a late show. Shanta does not wake up, but she kicks her legs and cries out in irritation at having her sleep so disturbed. Rao’s wife asks him not to wake Shanta, and she soothes her daughter back to sleep. Rao explains to his wife that he does not know whether he will be able to take Shanta to the cinema at all, as he has been given a raise, implying that now he will have to earn the increase by working as much as ever, if not more.
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.