Book Reviews

A Tale of Three Villages in Karnataka

Pasanadgada Gendethimma a novel written in Kannada by Srikrishna Alanahally and published in 1974 was translated into English as Gendethimma by P.P.Giridhar. The English version was published by Macmillan India in 1998. A novel of early post-independent India it depicts rural life of three villages in Karnataka (where even barter was extant) with an emphasis on the blowing winds of urban influence on the rural people. It can be considered the transitional tendencies in rural life patterns caused by strong urban influence. It deals with the characters and conditions of life of the characters of three villages: Salundi, Gauwally and Ulinavu. Gauwally is a village in the low lying area and the name of the place govi hally means ‘cave village’. The main characters are Gendethimma of Salundi and Maranki of Ulimava. Both are of Parivara caste lower than Vakkligas and Lingayats. The times of the novel show the differences in caste, class, beliefs and traditions. Tradition bound, even the so called ‘low caste’ Parivaras are particular to follow the customs. After wedding when the bride comes: ‘Chennanji, Gendethimma’s ten year old niece, came out and waved a platter of vermilion stained water and a small lamp in a circle, thrice before the couple. Maranki’s sister-in-law, who stood by the threshold of the entrance door, instructed Maranki to step into house right foot first.’(p.17) The rich land owners are Vakkaligas. Malegowda and his wife Devirawwa are Vakkaligas in Gauwally. Their son Muddappa is the strong connecting link between the chief protagonist Gendethimma and his parents and thus between the two villages. Maranki, Gundethimma’s wife belongs to Ulimava and she is the one who brings down disaster on her husband. At the end the wife and husband die causing a tragedy in all the three villages.

Gendethimma and his elder brother Goolanaika are the children of Bediyamma, a widow in the time frame of the novel. She is traditional and forceful too with a loud voice. She likes Maranki to be her daughter-in-law but becomes her enemy after she sees her life style, preferences and ambitions. A betel-hawker, who is a basket-shop runner too, is pleased with his wife, beautiful and impressive. She comes with a town-loving mind set and improves her husband’s business by asking him to bring and sell bras and petticoat, face powder, hair oil etc and sell them to the young women without the knowledge of the men folk to begin with. Maranki wishes to use soap, keep the house clean and ‘fashionable’ much to the chagrin of both her mother-in-law and sister-in-law. The silent and timid husband finds it hard to displease either his mother or his wife. Goolanaika when sober does not mind anything but when inebriated with toddy becomes uncontrollable. To begin with Bediyamma appears to be pleased with the daughter-in-law. She says: ‘Fancy that! This girl has a Brahmin housewife’s cleanliness.’ (p.27) Maranki has ways that surprised her in-laws. ‘Every morning she set about her daily work only after washing her face and doing her hair, bathed at least twice a week, changed her saree every second day, washed soiled clothes with soap and not with brackish mud as did the mother-in-law and sister-in-law, wore thin, see-through sarees, plaited her hair and braided it with coloured ribbon once in a while. These were noticeably new to the whole village, not just to Bediyamma’s household.’(p.28) Gandethimma is very happy but not his mother. Soon the old woman Bediyamma is very angry and says: ‘This sorceress has made a monkey of my good boy, (p.29) Then follow brawls and the new ways of the elder brother’s sister-in-law lead to the separation of brothers. Maranki puts up a make shift bath place and arranges for the flowing out of the bath water, keeps her husband clean washing his clothes with soap. She is a ‘fashionable’ city-loving woman and believes that having sex even before marriage is not uncommon.

Mudda likes the story-teller Gandethimma not merely for his stories. He is his friend, the only one who does not call him by the nickname ‘thwaada’, a bandicoot. Not interested in going to school he spends his time playing and listening to stories narrated briskly by the itinerant basket-shop. His sister Rathni’s wedding with a boy from Paduvarahally gets fixed and that makes Gendethimma very busy since has to get things for the bride from Mysore (Maranki also proposes to join him for the purchases) and he has lots of things to do in the making of chappara and the mantap for the grand wedding. Maranki’s maternal uncle’s son Madeva who lives in Nanjangud is affectionate and the young woman finds him attractive. In lasciviousness the two often have good time. Maranki’s father wants to marry her off and Gendethimma is found suitable to be his son-in-law for the obvious reason. Maranki has an iron will to have her own way and she wins her husband’s favour in all the things she does.

Maranki’s jest for good living ultimately leads to a serious problem when the young women need the things which her husband brought for them without the knowledge of their men. But the elderly women soon begin hating their daughter-in-law. Things are affected by the rapid winds of change in the villages. ‘Even if it means having to spend a little more, we should marry Rathni off into a household in town,’(p.55) says Devirawwa.

She is terribly afraid of a nagging mother-in-law for hers daughter. We are told ‘… one of the reasons Rathni was being married off into Paduvarahalli was the belief that the mother-in-law of the town was not like the mother-in-law of the village, that people in the towns didn’t think mothers-in-law were creatures who went on at their daughters-in-law.’(p.56)

It is in Maranki that we find bringing the winds of change first into the village with her attraction to the towns like Nanjangud where eatable stalls and cinema houses are there and the big city Mysore with which she is enthusiastically familiar. After her husbad gets their part of the house, she makes it more convenient and fashionable to the extent possible. She becomes very popular in Salundi and even in Guahally. A fun-loving, amoral, passionate girl with ambition, Maranki, loves Madeva, son of her maternal uncle. The young man’s mother sees it many a time but tells herself it is something that she cannot control. After her escapade with him, ‘she wants Madeva’s iron-hard body to pound into her like it was doing more and still more.’(p.43) When Bediyamma’s anger reaches the highest point, she hollers to her son: ‘The words of a worthless girl carry more weight, don’t they, you perishing milksop? You no longer have any use for someone who gave birth to you and raised you, washing your arse, scrapping off your dirt, do you? Thoo…’(p.51) When things come to a climax and the brothers separated, Maranki is secretly happy. She makes her portion comfortable and along with her father’s buys things for her house and her person. She buys a big looking glass and five framed pictures of gods and gives away the old ones to her brother-in-law Goolanaika’s wife.

For the house warming function the school teacher Shivanna and makes Gendethimma feel extremely happy and proud. The couple is extremely happy: ‘They could bathe all day long if they so wished. They could freely use whatever they wanted. No constraints, no restrictions, and no one to answer to. Gendethimma had heaven at his feet.’(p.93) ‘She begins parading her snobbish conceit by wearing a colourful blouse every day and jingling anklets.(p.96) Ambitious and pleasure loving Maranki advises her husband to bring lingerie and goods for women and even wants to help him buying them in town. She realizes soon that Shivanna has a crush on her and this sends a purr through her mind. Gendethimma being busy and remembering he has to visit her father-in-law’s house asks Shivanna to take Maranki along with him to Ulimavu. This gives an opportunity for the duo to be together, away from their village. First they go to a film and later walk into a sesame field. ‘Horsegram vegetation served as their bed.’(p.106) Maranki’s father knows nothing about her chuckle and bubbly feeling when she reaches her parental home.

Soon things go awry. A friend asks Gendethimma why he is coming in the evening while his wife came by the morning bus to Salundi. The innocent husband blurts out that he has sent his wife along with Shivanna to Ulimavu. In the night when he gives her eats given by Devirawwa she throws them away saying: ‘It is beggars who lap up the scraps of food from other houses.’(p.111) When Kali of the Mari temple gang of friends pairs the name of Shivanna eith Maranki, Gendethimma punches, beats him up and slumps the fellow with thud. The brawl is seen by Shivanna but Naga coming along with Gendethimma whispers to him to stay out of sight before rushing to calm down Gendethimma.

The rural folk in the period of the novel are uneducated, ignorant and superstitious. Gandethimma believes in witch doctors and ghosts and things like that. After the quarrel in the house Bediyamma asks her elder son to send for the sorcerer Hampapura and ask him to get an amulet tied round his brother’s arm. Though he gets well, Maranki falls seriously ill. The witch doctor says that things are going wrong only because of the disastrous happenings at home. Gendethimma too strongly believes so. He believes strongly in things like black magic, amulets and talismans in general and in the words of the Hampapura medicine-man in particular. He goes to Basappa temple and believes in the oracle, which is another misleading affair, what with the doings described in that Karuba quarter executed by Kada. ‘The practice was for Kada to wear a white shirt and a transverse panche (also called dhoti). Narasimhaiah placed a garland of basil leaves around Kada’s neck. He then lit a bundle of joss-sticks, before ringing the bronze bell. Eyes closed, Kada sat before a picture of the Lord Shani. The ring of the bell suffused the atmosphere with frenzy of devotion. … As if to test whether Kada continued to be intensely possessed as before, Narasimhaiah would light crystals of camphor and hand them to Kada as and when one man’s session ended and another’s started. Kada would gulp down the bits of flaming camphor. With every camphor piece he thus swallowed, the faith of the gathered devotees strengthened. … As soon as the oracle called him, Gendethimma, a flower tucked behind his ear and a vermilion mark he size of age coin in his forehead, rose, and stepping up, stood before the god. His eyes focused on the oracle, on Kada.’(pp.118-19)

Disturbed and upset, Gendethimma, who is innocent and ignorant in believing the oracle goes to the oracle in Karuba quarter where Kada sits before the picture of Lord Shani and gives answers to questions to men who come to them for relief by following their suggestions to propitiate god. When his turn comes giving aloud laugh declares: ‘Son! I know why you have come to me. You’ve presented your problem not once but three times. Happiness was not written on your forehead in respect of one thing. You forgot me when you went about doing that. You put around your neck what you thought was a garland of flowers but it turned out to be a snake. What ought not to have happened, happened. You did all that you could. Drained off inner comfort and ease of mind, you have been suffering. ..’ (p.119-20)

The sociological drifts caused by the winds of change caused by urban attractions, in rural areas are attributed to individuals. The young semi-urban minded woman Maranki’s attraction to ‘modern fashion’ and her pleasure loving mentality, not having the sense of morality and the demands of the young women for things like face powder, scented hair-oil and lingerie lead to brawls in families. The elderly find it difficult to tolerate what the young women do with the connivance of their sons who really enjoy the change. The quarrel between Ningawwa and her daughter-in-law Chinni is a case in point. White petticoats and wearing the saree low are hated. Ningawwa slams her daughter-in-law: ‘Just a minute, your husband would sort you out. Are you a whore that you wear your saree the way you have? Our household will really prosper because of you.’ She also complains of a stink – like that of a dead rat or bandicoot – which turns out to be the smell of Chinni’s hair oil. Brushing teeth with Nanjangud tooth-powder makes her son Siddura relish the smell and the taste of the powder. It makes his teeth look fresh and white in the mirror. His mother says: ‘Look Siddura! I for one can’t stand the stink. Look in the nooks and crannies. It must be a bandicoot. If not it must be some other dead animal the cat has pulled in here.’ …’Yes,’ Siddura tossed back sarcastically. ‘There are not one but four dead and stinking bandicoots in your daughter-in-law’s hair! Just smell it and see.’ (p122) Whatever it is, life in Gauwally acquires a luster. The winds of change blowing about Gauwally streets have force their way into many homes.

Gendethimma is unhappy and her story-telling flair becomes dull. The thought of Maranki no longer makes him feel pleasant and he does not walk along the streets holding his head high. Maranki tells him she has gone three months pregnant. The Parivara quarter of Salundi acquires a new glow. Maranki is very happy acquiring a gramophone. The street seems to openly declare that they are second to none in the whole village. But Goolnaika dreads of the days to come because of Maranki’s ambitiousness. Bediyamma dies within a week of the gramophone’s arrival.

Gendethimma becomes extremely busy since he is given the task of putting up the chappara and the mantap for the wedding. Surappachari assisting him sings his praise in front of other people: ‘Instead of his betel business, if he practiced a little more of his decorative work the palace might someday invite him for a job there.’(p.147) While the works are in rapid progress, the panchayat of Gauwally sends word to Gendethimma to appear before its heads. Morappa’s two sons Shivainga and Gurubasava complain against Gendethimma. Kuntadyavegowda speaks first. ‘Listen, those of who live for the sake of honour, dignity and prestige! Look at this rascal, seated with an innocent ‘I-don’t-know-anything’ look about him.’ Pillorying him he tells the panchayat that Gendethimma brought their womenfolk home-wrecking things that townspeople wear … Because of these inauspicious things, we have wrangles and squabbles and bickering at home. Things have come to such a pass that my son has claimed his share of property … A cad like this has wrecked our homes…’(p.150) The patela after listening for some more fined Gndethimma a hundred rupees asking him not to appear in their village again. Though unhappy and wanted to say something, Malegowda could not say anything in view of his daughter’s wedding round the corner. The panchayat members themselves are not happy and the fine gets reduced to fifty. Malegowda pays it immediately. Gendethimma requests Malegowda to adjust it with the grains. No matter how much Devirawwa and Malegowda tried to assuage his feelings, Gendethimma does not feel better.

What pains Gendethimma the most is not so much the cruelty of the decision of the panchayat or the loss of his business, which he never considered sinful. It is not so painful even when he is kicked during the trial. What causes him deep grief is being called a home-wrecker. He is not so sad when an angry person holds him responsible for his son claiming his share of property or when he is humiliated in public during the trial. He is ever willing to obey the powerful rich and accept the decision of the higher-ups or the panchayat. He tells the village court breaking into sobs that he does everything called in question unknowingly. He says: ‘You people know things and I am a man who has nothing to depend on and no one to turn to. Please swallow all wrong this desolate orphan has done. Let a cobra bite my hands if I get into the business again.’ (p.152) Perhaps his decision to end his life is made this very moment. The innocence of the simple minded like Gendethimma and the cruelty, quarrelsome mentalities of power-grabbing mother-in-laws and the powerful in the rural areas are portrayed with empathy for the poor villagers by the writer.

In the middle of the night Gendethimma walks out of the forest way walking through the Kallali brook and fearing an elephant seeing a steer cart climbs a tree going through a thorny shrub hurting himself. He goes through the forest way though afraid of ghosts and demons. On his way feeling totally crest fallen and hopelessly undone he shouts in the wilderness: ‘No, I’m not a home-wrecker, I never thought of such a knavish trick … why would I do such a wicked, sinful thing that would take me straight to hell? If ever I thought of such a thing, oh God, let a wild animal gobble me up! (p.156)

Reaching home he calls Maranki’s name thrice and when Maranki opens the door he strikes a match at the same time, he sees someone in white dashing out in the blink of an eye. Abnormally weird figures of Maranki and Shivanna keep flickering in his memory screen, he reaches the shrine of Basappa. Muddappa and Rathni are disappointed that Gendethimma did not show up at the wedding. Mudda is depressed too. Gorakala, the servant, whispers into Malegowda’s ears the tragedy he has seen. Mudda hears it too. Even after her husband’s death Maranki does not come out. Soon people are greeted by the frightful sight of Maranki’s body hanging from the rafter. Maranki who thinks that she has not done ‘what nobody else was doing’ is totally upset with the realization of her wrongs and has nothing more to do than kill herself. With his practical knowledge, Maranki’s father proposes a simple solution – instead of burying the dead bodies as per the practice of their caste, they cremate Maranki and Gendethimma together.

The last chapter is a kind of epilogue. It is said that the couple’s death is fresh even after twenty three years. The novel in Kannada was published in 1974 and the author indirectly tells us that the events in the novel are happenings twenty-three years earlier. The simplicity and guilelessness of the protagonist and the sexuality of Maranki the one who has no idea of morality are both realistic. Though not the chief protagonist, Maranki symbolizes the dual themes which interested the novelist: urban winds and female sexuality which is particularly evident in their clothing and making-up as shown in Maranki. What the characters, elderly people and especially women, disliked and hated as the effects of Maranki’s attraction to city (even without their knowing in detail), are invited by the younger men and women. The became fond of things like eating in public places, wearing new kinds of clothes, going to films and undertaking repeated travel and so on. Anger, ignorance and superstition cause problems peculiar to the villages which are surprising. During the trial what the old woman Motappa, the mother of two sons, who lives knocking together a wall of palm leaves in a corner of the front verandah, submits is sad and not amusing to anyone. Says Kendegannappa before kicking Gendethimma in righteous anger: ‘It was because of him that my younger brother who was a god of a boy obstinately split the household down into the middle. (p151) G.S.Amur’s assessment of the novel is one of high praise: ‘Set in the early years of Independence, the novel creates a whole way of life, its ethos and beliefs, festivals and folklore, its caste structure and village economy.’(p.xii)

Works cited
1. Alanahally Srikrishna, Gendethimma, (Tr. by Giridhar P.P.), Macmillan India, New Delhi, 1998,


More by :  Dr. Rama Rao Vadapalli V.B.

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