The Martyr’s Corner written by R. K. Narayan depicts the simple life and commerce of Rama, the food vendor, who loses his business, his reputation, his livelihood, everything in the hands of violence.
The story revolves around Rama, the food vendor, and indicates how a small unpredictable circumstance can bring in a change in the lives of ordinary men. Sudden external unknown situations crop up and create a dramatic effect forcing the humble individual to surrender oneself in the hands of destiny. The language of the story is vivid and descriptive and the content of the story takes us to the first half of the twentieth century when coins of annas, paisas and pies existed.
Rama, the protagonist of the story, runs a comfortable business of selling food items at a particular corner, which he feels and indeed is, very lucky for him. Though Rama is uneducated, it does not affect his commerce and the comments of the passersby justify his prosperity and the jealousy that resulted – “Lucky fellow! He has hardly an hour‘s work a day and pockets ten rupees – what graduates are unable to earn! Three hundred rupees a month!” but Rama is very unhappy at such comments because he knows the amount of work and dedication required for the best stuff to be prepared to attract various customers. Often he is irritated at such remarks and grumbles to himself, “What these folk do not see is that I sit before the oven practically all day frying all the stuff ……”
Fortune favours him and he makes the best use of his business strategies that help him to make a good profit every day. He is hardworking and punctual and very popular among his customers. Sharp at 8.15 in the evening he would reach his lucky corner and layout the stuff that he, along with his wife, had prepared throughout the day and display it on a big tray balanced on a stool. The mouthwatering bondas, dosais, chappaties, chutney, duck eggs and refreshing coffee would allure everyone to come and satisfy one‘s taste bud. The appearance and the aroma of his food was so mesmerizing that even a confirmed dyspeptic failed to pass by without throwing a glance at the tempting sight. Rama was always on time to catch the cinema crowd of the evening show and his customers also included the boot polish boys, jutka drivers, beggars, grass selling women and many more. Rama is not harsh even on his competitors as is evident from his allowing a young fellow to do business in the same place till he arrives.
As the corner where Rama laid his stuff was easily accessible to all his customers he was making a good profit of nearly ten rupees every day. It was really interesting to note that all the copper coins that they earned throughout the day by serving their own customers finally came to Rama in the evening as it was only here that they could buy eatables at a very reasonable and cheap rate. And this is one of the reasons that his customers like him – “is there any other place where you can get coffee for six pies and four chappaties for an anna?” Rama gave his customers the privilege to pick and choose their own food but he knew very well the timing and the delicacy of each of his customers. Although he had a soft corner for the poor boot polish boys, it was impossible for him to think of any kind of charity for them as he did not want his business to be affected. He disliked serving his women customers, especially the blind beggar and the grass-selling women, as their loud shrill voice took to his nerves. After satisfying his customers throughout the evening, emptying his load of food, he would return home contented as well as saturated. Happy did the days pass by and Rama had no complaints.
But suddenly things take a different turn. One day when Rama reached his favourite corner with his usual stuff of food items he got astonished as he was not allowed to sell his food there. The reason behind this denial is the murder of someone in the afternoon which had aggravated a group of people who were then holding a meeting to show their protest. The agitated group demonstrated strongly and very soon fierce fighting got started killing many people and consequently leaving the spot totally devastated. Even after a few days, the situation does not improve and Rama is not allowed to carry on his business as the corner is declared as a holy place and the place is cordoned off. In some time money is raised and a stone memorial is erected with ornamental fencing and flower pots encircling the spot and thus the place becomes ̳the martyr‘s corner‘.
Rama is forced to leave his favourite place and shift at a distance with his stuff but this new place does not bring him luck. He even loses his selected customers because the new place is quite inconvenient for them to reach. This substantially reduces the income of Rama and every day he has to return home with a bulk of leftovers. Not just his business, even his happiness is ruined forever. He loses his reputation as well when he tries to reuse his leftover which makes some of his customers fall sick. Ultimately Rama has no other go but to wind up his business and decides to retire. But soon his savings get exhausted and he is in search of a job to carry on with their livelihood. Ultimately he takes up the job of a waiter in Kohinoor restaurant and for twenty rupees a month he had to wait eight hours a day on the tables. He is not very happy with the loudspeakers shrieking all day and being dealt with very rudely by the guests. But he submissively gulps down the insult and sticks on to his job but never forgets to inform them that once he too was a hotel owner and this recollection gives him great satisfaction – When some customer ordered him about too rudely, he said, “Gently brother. I was once a hotel-owner myself.” And with that piece of reminiscence, he attained great satisfaction.