A Bit of a Smash in Madras by Julian Maclaren-Ross

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A Bit of a Smash in Madras Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The flippant title of this story about an Englishman who seriously injures an Indian laborer in a drunken automobile accident is the first clue to its ironic social criticism. The very fact that the central character and narrator of the story calls such an accident merely “a bit of a smash” says more about the British arrogance and indifference to native Indians that led to the crumbling of the British Empire than do volumes of history or social commentary.

The story begins with the narrator’s admission to his unidentified listener that he was so drunk when the accident occurred that he knew nothing about it until told about it by his roommate the next morning. His prejudicial attitude toward the Indians is made obvious when the police inspector arrives and the narrator identifies him as an Indian but a “nice chap” anyway. Adams’s white acquaintances are equally indifferent to the feelings of native people. All are eager to “fix” things for him—his roommate, who buys off his bar bill so there will be no evidence that he was drunk; his drinking buddy, who pays for his bail; and his boss, who retains the company lawyer for him.

Native figures influenced by British rule fare no better in this story. Adams’s first act is to retain an Indian lawyer whose main claim to fame is that he once defended an Englishman who crashed into a Muhammadan funeral, killing five; the lawyer was able to get for him a sentence of only three years. After Shankran the lawyer reassures Adams not to worry, he goes off thinking that, except for his skin, Shankran is much whiter than many Englishmen in India. The one witness to the accident, Krishnaswami, is interested only in extorting money from Adams, but he masks this by insisting that he believes the caste system should be abolished and that all men are brothers, even the poor laborer who was injured. He tries to ingratiate himself with Adams by suggesting that he should play middleman and take money from Adams to give to the laborer’s family.

The British influence on Indians is further criticized by Adams’s description of the company lawyer, Menon, and Krishnaswami, who negotiate a deal about the amount of the proposed payoff, both talking in Oxford English and trying to outdo each other. Shankran, who corrupts the courts and witnesses, ironically accuses Menon of corruption when the company lawyer tells him to get as much out of Adams as possible. In fact, the entire story is a complex and distasteful web of corruption, prejudice, and indifference by Englishmen and English-educated Indians...

(The entire section is 678 words.)