Critical Essay on “The Good Shopkeeper”
Samrat Upadhyay’s short story “The Good Shopkeeper” focuses mainly on the evolution of protagonist Pramod as he sorts through his options upon losing his job. Although the female characters, Pramod’s wife, Radhika, and the unnamed woman with whom Pramod has an affair, are given little space in this story, their significance and their effect upon the protagonist is profound. It might even be true that these two female characters prevent Pramod from being lost in a downward spiraling depression.
Radhika appears first of the two female characters in “The Good Shopkeeper.” Although Pramod reprimands her at the opening of the story, it is Radhika who offers the solution to his dilemma, even though it takes the entire length of the story, which covers more than a month, for Pramod to recognize and accept her advice. In the beginning, Pramod accuses Radhika of being too emotional, and he tells her this is why he is reluctant to share information with her. Her emotions, Pramod tells her, are what keep Radhika from thinking clearly. Pramod, of course, believes that he, as an accountant, always thinks in a clear, rational manner. He is, after all, a man who works with numbers all day. What could be more rational than that?
Having just lost his job and along with it, his self-image, Pramod invests in thinking clearly as the only way that he is going to successfully work his way through this crisis. And who can argue with that? On his first day of unemployment, he asserts that his own performance is not to blame for his losing his job. He recognizes that his company has run out of money and has no other choice but to let him go. “It is not their fault,” Pramod tells his wife.
In response, Pramod’s wife asks: “So only you should suffer?” This is a reasonable question. In a company that really cares about its employees, could not everyone come together and give up a little, instead of one person having to give up all? Although this idea makes sense, Pramod finds a flaw in his wife’s supposition. He acknowledges that the person who has replaced him on the job is more technically skilled than he is. So in conclusion, it makes more sense (at least economically if not socially) that Pramod is the one who is let go. Then Radhika finds a flaw in Pramod’s argument. She adds that there is one more important factor in Pramod’s release that her husband might have overlooked. The man who has replaced him has more influential social connections than Pramod. Her statement implies that connections matter more than qualifications.
So Radhika’s suggestion prompts Pramod to seek his own connections through his wealthy and influential brother-in-law, Shambhuda. If this connection were to work for Pramod, help would be coming from Radhika’s side of the family, through his wife. But as it turns out, Shambhuda does next to nothing for Pramod. He lifts Pramod’s mood from time to time, telling him that things will get better, but no job prospects ever appear. Even though Shambhuda does not find a new job for Pramod, Radhika is the one who pushes Pramod out the door and into the streets to look for another job. She provides the impetus that Pramod needs. Even her existence along with their child heighten his need to secure an income for their household.
When Pramod realizes that finding another job, especially one as prestigious as the one he has just lost, is going to be harder than he realized, he becomes physically ill. The pressure gets to him. He pays his next month’s rent out of savings, but as that month passes by, he must turn to Radhika once again. It is Radhika’s family who lends him and his wife the money to manage their mounting bills. The loan gives them more time, but it also makes Pramod feel belittled. He wants to be a good provider for his family and does not want his wife’s family to think otherwise. But he has no choice. Radhika understands her husband’s...
(The entire section is 1624 words.)