Rishi Reddi’s “Justice Shiva Ram Murthy” is an interesting and insightful short story about the struggles displaced immigrants may face in big-city America. The author successfully applies techniques such as setting, characterization, and point of view to explain the main character’s motivation and to resolve one small conflict while presenting a larger, possibly unsolvable conflict.
The story’s setting serves to create a sense of displacement and confusion in the main character, Shiva Ram Murthy. Making the character a retired Indian judge who has been moved from India to a large American city where his judicial powers and knowledge are of no consequence add to Murthy’s wounded pride and inflate his apparently innate self-centeredness. Also, being in a new country where everyone speaks a different kind of English, leads to misunderstandings and arguments between Murthy and others throughout the story. Had this story taken place in India, Murthy would not have felt the need to prove himself to everyone he met. He would not have been walking around consumed with paranoia, thinking Americans were always purposely trying to misunderstand him. The setting is crucial to this story, in that any change to it would have meant the creation of an entirely different, or at least acting, character.
Characterization in “Justice Shiva Ram Murthy” is also very consciously thought out and articulated. Shiva Ram Murthy is a static character, his attitudes and ideas are generally the same at the end of the story as they were in the beginning. He is consistently self-centered and selfish. Murthy is always contradicting what his only friend says or thinks, as when he says “Manu told me later that as I pronounced these words, a little bit of saliva came from my mouth and landed on the girl’s sleeve. I do not agree” (362). There are many instances throughout the story where his friend, Manu, will say one thing and Shiva will tell the reader about it, only to disagree with Manu’s statement.
Also, Shiva is completely selfish. He talks about Manu having no values, but when Shiva leaves his cane at the restaurant, it is Manu who goes back and gets it for him. It is also Manu who finds a lawyer for Shiva, and goes with him to the appointment. Shiva cannot seem to do much on his own, but at the end of the story he says that it is “Manu without any friends, without anyone to understand him and keep him company,” as if it was Shiva who is always there for Manu. These characteristics, and his personal pride, are the cause of both small conflicts in the story (the argument with the restaurant manager and the misunderstanding with the lawyer) as well as the larger conflict, Shiva’s inability to recognize his own faults and put any blame on himself, rather than heaping it all on his loyal friend and the rude “westerners” (Americans).
Being told in the first-person allows the reader to get inside the head of the main character. Hearing the story from this point of view is beneficial because it allows one to understand why Shiva acts the way he does, why he seems so stubborn and unyielding. The reader can, for example, get a sense of why Shiva gets so upset with the lawyer’s inability to help him. We get an idea of his thought process, what makes him tick, what he worries about even in his home. However, being told from the first person point of view limits this story, in that the reader does not get any sense of how anyone else truly feels about Shiva and his actions. The only example of this that is given is when Manu finally confronts him, yet, even after this confrontation, there is nothing more of Manu’s point of view, only all Shiva. The benefit of this, though, is that it further emphasizes Shiva’s self-centeredness. Reddi purposely harmonizes the way the story as whole is told with the way Shiva tells his story, inflating Shiva’s general self-centeredness.
There are two small conflicts within the story: the confrontation with the restaurant manager at the Mexican fast food joint, and the argument with the American lawyer. The first conflict is resolved by Shiva’s taking the lawyer’s advice to write a letter of complaint to the restaurant owner and getting a satisfying reply. The conflict with the American lawyer (who stands for American law in general) is never resolved, because Shiva is never content with American law or living. Both conflicts are reflective of the larger conflict in the story, which is Shiva’s inability to assimilate and adapt to the new culture he has been thrust into. He cannot accept that it is he who may have a problem understanding the Americans, rather than all Americans having a problem with him.
Reddi creatively applies various writing techniques within her story to create an entertaining story that is also consistent and purposeful. She uses symbolism to discuss larger issues on a smaller scale. For example, the lawyer who represents American law as a whole, and the cane he was given but insists he does not need that represents Shiva’s refusal to set aside his pride and ask for help. Also, it is not lost that both misunderstandings within the story take place between Shiva and American women. This represents a larger problem, as Reddi sees it, in either Indian male ideology or male ideology in general. Further, Reddi creates a setting and point of view which serve to accentuate the character’s personality and faults. For these reasons, Reddi’s story is well-written, and her point is made successfully.