The story opens with Pramod announcing that he has lost his job. His wife, Radhika, cries when he tells her. Then Pramod scolds her; he does not like to tell her things because she does not think “with a cool mind.” But Radhika is not passive. She responds that she has a right to be emotional. It is not fair, after working for this company for three years that they let her husband go. Pramod reports that the company had no choice. They were out of money. When his wife asks why they singled Pramod out and why they did not fire someone else, Pramod makes clear that others have more technical skills. Radhika, on the other hand, reminds her husband that other people also know “many influential people.” Not to be undone, Pramod tells his wife he will go visit Shambhuda the next day.
In the morning, Pramod sets out to meet with Shambhuda. Along the way, the narrator comments on events that Pramod would normally not see: people on their way to work, others going to the temple, monkeys ready to snatch bags of food from unsuspecting people. He sees a former employer, Ram Mohan, and almost tries to avoid him until Pramod remembers how kind the old man is. Ram Mohan scorns the company that has fired Pramod. Pramod meets with Shambhuda, who with both a confident and a lackadaisical manner tells Pramod not to worry. He will see what he can do. Then he dismisses Pramod. Just before leaving, Pramod notices all the figurines of the gods that decorate Shambhuda’s house and wonders if these gods cause Shambhuda to be a success.
As time passes, everyone learns that Pramod is out of work. They are all supportive of him, but Pramod comes to hate their empathy, sensing that some of them might even be gloating at his misfortune. He dislikes his own reactions to their comments and especially dislikes the feelings he gets when he is around his wife’s relatives who are better off than his family. A month passes and still no job for Pramod. His wife suggests that they borrow money from her family, which Pramod dislikes to do. She also suggests that they sell their land in the south and buy some kind of shop, maybe “a general store or a stationery outlet.” Pramod does not like this idea for several reasons. He does not believe that the land would bring much money. But he is also humiliated by the idea of being a shopkeeper. After being an accountant, he does not like the thought of having to cater to other people, especially people he does not like or who, in his view, are beneath him. At night, Pramod turns away from his wife in bed and instead fantasizes about being a man of influence. He even goes so far as to imagine himself in a big office, supervisor of a big international company, with his brother-in-law Shambhuda a mere office boy who begs for money from him.
At this point, a small and plump woman approaches Pramod while he is sitting on a park bench. She works as a domestic, cleaning other people’s houses. Pramod, at first, thinks the woman is rude to talk to him. She is beneath him in status. The woman is married, but her husband lives in another town, she tells Pramod. As Pramod talks to her, he reflects on how low he has fallen since he lost his job: now he is sitting in the park in the middle of the morning, talking to a cleaning woman.
The woman tells Pramod that he thinks too much. Though Pramod feels superior to this woman, who is only referred to as the housemaid, he is attracted, at least superficially, to her simple outlook on life. She offers him a respite from his worries. So when she asks him to come to her apartment, he follows her as if he has no choice. He also has sex with her as if fate had directed it and he must comply. In other words, when he is with her he does not think. He only reacts to the circumstances. When he goes home after that first night, Pramod feels renewed. His lifted spirits make his wife ask if he has found a job, thinking that is the reason for his feeling better. But Pramod yells at her, stating that there is no job and suggests that no one, including Radhika’s brother Shambhuda, can help.
The story jumps ahead, with Pramod and the housemaid walking through the marketplace on the way to her apartment when they run into Ram Mohan. Pramod is embarrassed to be seen with the woman and pretends not to be with her. Later, she questions why he was so afraid. As time passes, Pramod spends more time with the housemaid, sometimes even staying overnight with her. Thoroughly discouraged, Pramod does nothing to find work. When he visits his wife’s relatives, he is moody and defensive. The men make fun of him, stating that they are the fools for working so hard, while Pramod spends the whole day without any worries. Shambhuda comes to Pramod’s defense. He tells the other men to stop mocking Pramod. They all have had their troubles in the past, Shambhuda reminds them. Then Shabhuda mentions having rescued one of the men after that man had embezzled some money. Tempers flare, and one of the men accuses Shambhuda of having murdered a police inspector. The women enter the room and calm the men. Then Radhika returns and goes directly to Pramod and accuses him of having started the fight. Pramod tells her, “You are a fool,” and then he leaves the house.
In the next scene, Pramod has returned to the housemaid’s apartment. The narrator states that Pramod has gone there because he wants to be anesthetized. He later asks the housemaid if she worries that her husband might show up. The woman asks Pramod, in turn, what he would do if this should happen. Pramod says that he would beat him up. Then he pretends to throw Karate punches and kicks, pretending to beat up everyone who has recently angered him, including Shambhuda. The woman laughs and asks him: “What good will it do . . . to beat up the whole world?” Something snaps inside Pramod, making him realize his own foolishness. He tells the housemaid that he must return home, despite the fact that she has prepared him a dinner. En route Pramod stops at the temple, and once he enters his house, his mood is changed. He plays with his baby and sings to it, then surprises Radhika with a proposal of starting up a shop. That night “he started to think.” And what he thought about pleased him. Maybe he would make a good shopkeeper after all.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 22, Samrat Upadhyay, Published by Gale Group, 2010