As Upadhyay’s short story “The Good Shopkeeper” opens, the protagonist Pramod is just beginning his downslide from arrogance into humility. He has assumed he was sitting on top of the world with his great job as an accountant for a large corporation. He was making a good salary and proving to his wife’s family (who enjoyed a better economic status than his family) that he was on equal footing with them. But corporations have no heart, this story implies. So when a more qualified young man appears with more technologically advanced skills, Pramod finds himself a victim of progress. He finds that he must take advantage of his wife’s connections and humble himself in front of his brother-in-law. And when that does not work, Pramod fantasizes about having money, working in a fancy office, and in his dream it is his brother-in-law who must grovel to Pramod. But his fantasies satisfy Pramod only temporarily. So he seeks another diversion. He has an affair with a housemaid, a married woman whom he sees as socially beneath him, allowing him at least a few moments of arrogance. At this point, Pramod has still not learned how to be humble. Instead, he continues to try to find ways to make himself feel superior. This appetite for feeing superior keeps him from considering becoming a shopkeeper. Only when he is knocked off this artificial pedestal created by ego does he come to realize that his position in society is not important. Pramod realizes, finally, that his family matters most. So it does not matter what kind of job he holds. What matters is that he does not lose his wife by having an affair with another woman and that he does take care of his family economically, even if he must work as a shopkeeper. Once Pramod is humbled by his situation, in other words, he realizes what is truly important to him.
At the beginning of this story, material wealth is a measure of self-worth. Pramod is proud of what he can afford. But as his possessions accumulate his life becomes more complex. The more he owns, the more he worries about maintaining his position. So when he loses his job, everything in his life begins to unravel. He worries so much he cannot see the life that is passing in front of him. He becomes blind to his love for his wife and his child. On a whim, he acquiesces to a sexual relationship when a woman approaches him. Ironically, some good comes from this affair: Pramod learns the lesson of simplicity. The woman quotes her husband as saying that city people spend all their time worrying. The woman believes that one should live moment to moment and not worry about consequences until they appear. In other words, she enjoys what she has in front of her without worrying about the possibilities that it might be taken away. She lives in a simple apartment, eats simple food, and works at a job that she does not have to worry about when she comes home. Although her life is not perfect, some of her philosophy about simplicity tempers Pramod’s outlook. Rather than losing his house, his wife, and his child while he holds out for a more respectable job to be arranged for him, he needs to pursue the potential in a simple job that will provide simply and adequately for him and his family.
Modern culture is impersonal in this short story. Pramod’s loss of job is the prime example. When he tells family and friends about his loss, they empathize with him and wonder how such a thing could happen. Pramod was a hardworking and loyal employee. He had worked for the company for three years. But the employer, an international company, is focused on money as everyone else is. Loyalty to its employees does not increase the profitability of that company. What the company demands is efficiency, which relates directly with profit. So when another man appears who is a good accountant and has current computer skills, the company demands that Pramod be replaced. Even within the family, Pramod confronts modern impersonality. His brother-in-law, although he promises to find a job for Pramod and assures him that everything will be all right, does not come through for him. Despite being part of the family, Shambhuda is a businessman who is driven by profit. The story suggests that Shambhuda might have even murdered someone in order to protect his profits. Although it is never disclosed why Shambhuda does not find a job for Pramod, the suggestion is that in this world even family cannot be relied upon to help a relative in difficult financial times. Eventually Pramod gets over his depression, he finally realizes that he has to find his own way in order to survive. Thus he realizes that being a shopkeeper may not be such a bad thing. Even though a shopkeeper does not have the same social status as a corporate accountant, Pramod hopes to be self-sufficient when he has his own business.
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