Tired of ads?
Join today and never see them again.
Think self-involved, unmotivated grad student and you've got Shukumar in a nutshell. He's the kind of guy who, even though his wife is trying to recover from losing their baby in childbirth, can only think about "how long it had been since she looked into his eyes and smiled, or whispered his name on those rare occasions they still reached for each other's bodies before sleeping" (ATM 12).
Instead of grieving with his wife over their terrible loss, he's hoping that this thing will pass, "that he and Shoba would get through it all somehow. She was only thirty-three. She was strong, on her feet again. But it wasn't a consolation" (ATM 13).
In other words, Shukumar's not exactly sensitive, at least not toward his wife. You'd think he'd be more broken up about the baby, but it seems like he's more upset that he's lost the one person who takes care of him—his wife.
That point is most clear at the end of the story when he does the cruelest thing imaginable to get back at Shoba's for her decision to leave him. He reveals the gender of the baby—the one thing Shoba really didn't want to know. He knows this will devastate her.
But Shukumar's pretty important in the wide scheme of things. He may not be much, but he's our first main character, which means he sets the tone (bleak) and the perspective (pretty narrow) for the rest of the book.
Since he's also a guy, he kind of shows you what an immature man is all about (like we need lessons about that), and how romantic hopes and dreams can die because of men like Shukumar. Okay, that may be a little harsh. After all, Shoba has a hand in the end of their marriage.
But definitely it's hard to feel sympathetic for Shukumar, precisely because of this passage:
"Our baby was a boy," he said. "His skin was more red than brown. He had black hair on his head. He weighed almost five pounds. His fingers were curled shut, just like yours in the night." (ATM 102)
It's not painful enough to reveal the sex of the dead baby to your wife, who expressly told you not to tell her? Shukumar just has to go into, not just detail, but poetic detail about the corpse of the baby? Just try and not be judgmental about this guy. Not possible.