The Insurance Agent by Khushwant Singh
In The Insurance Agent by Khushwant Singh we have the theme of identity, uncertainty and sorrow. Taken from his The Collected Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story it becomes clear to the reader that Singh may be exploring the theme of identity. Nobody at the party appears to know who Mr Swami is. He has arrived on his own and no one knows who has invited him. Mr Swami’s ritual with every person is to say hello to them and embrace them into his bosom. If anything Mr Swami is as over friendly as a salesman. Something which people later suspect he is. It may also be a case that Mr Swami is viewing each individual he meets as a possible sale for life assurance. Which becomes clearer to the reader towards the end of the story.
The theme of uncertainty is self-evident in the story. According to the narrator and apart from malicious people, Mr Swami is completely unknown or has no background in which a person may be able to understand who or what he is. However Mr Swami appears to know everything about everyone. Whether he is right or wrong is another thing. This may be significant as Singh may be highlighting a sales technique that is being used by Mr Swami. He appears to try and get everyone on his side by using affection and knowledge of the person. Though again at the party at the beginning of the story Mr Swami obviously does not know the narrator. Which may leave some readers to suggest that the sense of uncertainty about Mr Swami’s lack of accuracy when identifying people remains throughout the story. Mr Swami if anything is trying his best to endear himself to others. Just as a salesman might do in order to make a sale.
The ex-president’s wife’s funeral is also a place in whereby Mr Swami is able to endear himself in other people’s sorrow. From the description given by the narrator one would assume that Mr Swami was related to the ex-president’s wife. He singles out the ex-president for attention and manages to get him to buy life assurance. When the reality is Mr Swami is preying on the ex-president’s fears about who will look after his family after he is gone. However this comment may be seen by the narrator as being malicious towards Mr Swami. In fact the thoughts of others play a large part in the story. Though the narrator’s considers thoughts that are alternative to himself to be malicious and coming from malicious people. Even though he has no basis to do so.
It is these thoughts that leave the reader wondering if the narrator is reliable or whether he has been ‘sold’ on Mr Swami, by Mr Swami. There is no real engagement in the story as to the narrator pursuing a side in whereby he does not believe Mr Swami. Leaving the reader to suggest that perhaps the narrator is viewed as no more than a commodity by Mr Swami. The narrator after all never questions Mr Swami when he asks about a wife and children that the narrator does not have. If anything the narrator may be an easy touch for Mr Swami. The narrator is not the only one who is an easy touch. The whole of town appear to have been easily bought by Mr Swami. Who attends functions in the town with the aim of selling life assurance to people. The end of the story is also interesting as the narrator remains unconvinced that Mr Swami is an insurance agent. When all conclusions point to the fact he may very well be one and a very good one at that. Mr Swami has arrived into town unknown and managed, by attending as many functions as possible, in getting a sale from the ex-president. More sales are sure to follow before Mr Swami moves on to the next town and begins to endear himself further with people. For no reason other than to make a sale and the reality is Mr Swami does not really care for the people he meets.