Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Dharma” opens with an unnamed narrator in a bar talking with his friend Ramani about a haunted house with which Ramani is familiar. The discussion inspires the elderly Subramanian, a retired civil servant, to tell the story about Jago Antia that follows. This opening suggests a conventional frame structure in the manner of Joseph Conrad, with a loquacious narrator commenting in passing throughout the narrative and wrapping the yarn up at the end with a knowing commentary; but in fact nothing more is heard of Subramanian and the story could have dispensed with him entirely.

The flashbacks fill in necessary background at the right points in the story. Jago Antia’s fall from the balcony leads into the parachute drop in Sylhet that defines his courage and tells the grisly story of his losing a leg. In addition, after Thakker tells him he must go upstairs naked and alone, Jago Antia stands at the bottom of the stairs and in his musings recounts his childhood experiences with Burjor Mama, Soli, and his parents. This manipulation of time succeeds in maintaining suspense by not giving away too much too soon. Ramani’s story of haunted houses anticipates the tale that Subramanian will tell, and a major example of foreshadowing occurs when Jago Antia during the battle for Sylhet stares at the radio in a tailor’s shop and experiences a “flickering vision” of an earlier radio in an earlier room. This earlier radio emerges in the later flashback as one that Soli owned and that Jehangir was forbidden to touch.

The introduction—and abandonment—of Subramanian serves little apparent purpose, but “Dharma” remains continuously engrossing nevertheless.