Book Reviews

Ten Stories Rooted in Kannada Culture

Basavaraj Naikar: The Thief of Nagarhalli and Other stories
(Shortlisted for commonwealth fiction prize in 2000)
Sarup Book Publications Pvt Ltd., New Delhi, 2008
First Edition, ISBN: 978-81-7625-893-7, Rs.450/-. 174 Pages.

A critic’s job is to read to disagree’ and ‘to write to disagree’. Here, I find nothing to disagree with Basavaraj Naikar's collection of stories The Thief of Nagarhalli and Other Stories. Almost all the ten stories are thoroughly rooted in Indian soil and selectively on Kannada land. Dedicated to Late Mulk Raj Anand, the stories consist largely of native characters, native themes, native backgrounds, settings and locale, the names of Kannada characters and places figured in the stories are typically symbolic of Kannada language, tradition and culture although the roots trace back to a common place phenomenon in Indian situations. The names of Hindu Gods, Goddesses and temples are essentially Carnatic in spirit and the names of food stuffs figured are distinctively South-Indian.

Basavaraj Naikar’s narrative skill rests largely in the incidences he takes for the stories. He is one who just appears to be an onlooker of developments rather than a mere experimenter from close quarters.

The tales are set against rural folklore and carried forward with references to urban cities and lifestyles to bring about the current Indian affairs. They represent the various aspects of human relationships in the life of common man, they range from the elemental to the social and then to the mythical dimensions of life. A typical note of beliefs, superstitions and spiritualistic way of Indian life dominate the stories. A kind of native brand of English enters the stores.

The Thief of Nagarahalli" is the first story rooted in Indian soil symbolic of ancient times. That “Thieving is an art’ is amply exhibited but later surfaced from its debris. The notoriety of a thief called Malla has been typically Indian in practice & experiment. Eventually, how Malla was forced to accept defeat at the hands of Manappa shows that “evil prospers only for a while, but truth comes to exist at last” (The Thief of Nagarahalli 1-18).

Then, the third story impressed me much in the context of present Indian Scenario. The Story “Her Husband went to America” (48-64) pitifully presents a horrific but realistic picture of how NRI husbands continue to cheat and subsequently divorce their wives back in India. Rajasekhar & Girija are a couple happily married. Shockingly, it was all over for Girija when Rajasekhar left India for America for higher education and where he married an American girl and begot two children. Similar episodes continue to terribly haunt the parents of prospective daughters when they look for NRI grooms. There are no stringent laws in India to curb their atrocities

The next story that touched my heart is “Coffin in the House” (131-142) in which a friend betrayed his. friend and let down the meaning of friendship. The friend becomes a betrayer of hope, faith and above all, confidence. The criminal here is Mr. Patil who raped and killed the teen-aged girl Prema in his house and kept the corpse in a coffin for months together. Ultimately, the truth comes out and Patil confessed his guilt to Mallikarjun, a neighbor in the apartment and later, the news reached the police who, following the investigation, arrested the Criminal. At this, the victim’s father commented, .”We thought that Mr. Patil to be the best friend of our family and could never imagine that he would do such a terrible thing. We simply cannot guess which snake lives in which hole” True to his observation , Patil is a snake in the grass, a criminal and a betrayer of friendship. The story presents a series of evidence that criminals are either aides or close associates of victims.

"The Anonymous Letter” (143-159) focuses largely on the infighting of professors in the university departments. The story is a glaring collection of facts and how university politics is ruining the positive image of education. There is no coordination among the staff, and this leads to provocations and provocations are but the handiwork of the head of the Department against his own colleagues. The anonymous letter addressed to the Professors of department by their studies presents the picture of dirty politics in the Indian Universities. The story is particularly relevant considering the academic underworld. Basava Raj Naikar, being a university teacher, rightly shows that the university teachers are but a bunch of academic slum dogs involved in selfish politics of protest, revolt and retaliation.

I can firmly say that the stories are essentially diverse penetrations of rural life and its relationships and predictably their downfalls towards the ends. What is still significant to remark that all the stories are socially delineated, thematically Indian based and yet regionally centered. At times, one finds in Basavarj Naikar a committed reformist who focuses largely on the waning moral values in life. To conclude the review, I reckon that he exhibits greater depths of insight into the nature and character of men and women in the contemporary age and finally, the critical but analytical studies of human psyche, sickness and weakness presented succinctly in the stories are fruitful rewards of prudent sensibility as an effective short-story writer.


More by :  Dr. P.V. Laxmiprasad

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Comment This review by Dr. P. V. Laxmiprasad serves as a window through which one could get a peep into the fictional world of Basava Raj Naikar and his masterly handling of characters and situations reflectimg his native culture rooted in, and seasoned with, its own unique customs and traditions. However, the stories go beyond the chartered horizons and succeed in touching upon universal human foibles and frailties that defy the test of Time.

Dr. D. Gnanasekaran'
23-Mar-2024 23:59 PM

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