Khushwant Singh

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Who is Mohan Lal in Khushwant Singh's works?

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According to Khuswant Singh's short story, Karma, Mohan Lal is a vizier and a barrister. He seems to aspire to every characteristic of the British upper-class, whether in dress or in conversation (he enjoys speaking in either British-accented English or anglicized Hindustani). He also fancies himself handsome and distinguished. When we first meet Sir Mohan Lal, he is preening in front of the mirror, reveling in his Saville Row suit and how 'British' he apparently smells:

...the suit from Saville Row with the carnation in the buttonhole- the aroma of eau de Cologne, talcum powder, and scented soap all about you! Yes, old fellow, you are a bit of all right.

Sir Mohan Lal is such a self-important man that he travels first class on the train, while his wife is relegated to economy or general class. Fancying himself above his countrymen in every respect, Sir Mohan Lal enjoys displaying what he thinks are habits highlighting his unfailing good taste. From his propensity towards drinking Scotch while in the company of Englishmen to his inclination of working crossword puzzles in The Times in full view of others, Sir Mohan Lal is the epitome of the typical narcissist.

In the story, Khuswant Singh highlights the irony of Sir Mohan Lal's airs: while trying to ingratiate himself with two British soldiers, the soldiers end up throwing him out of first class and the train altogether. Being common British soldiers, they fail to recognize nor to be impressed by Sir Mohan Lal's 'King's English.' They merely see him as an usurper who does not belong in first class despite Sir Mohan's protestations to the contrary (all in the King's English, of course).

It did sound like English, but it was too much of the King's for them.

The irony is complete when Sir Mohan has to stand on the platform watching the train speed past with his wife (in general class) on board.

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