Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Book Review: Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane (A Kannada novel) by S L Bhyrappa

The story of this Kannada novel is set in the 1960s’ in a typical village of India. Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane can be roughly translated to “You've become an orphan, Son”.

The family of Kalinge Gowda belongs to the tribes who rear the cattle. Kalinge Gowda and his family believe that cows are no ordinary animals but representation of Gods. They get no less care than his family members. His affection towards cows is appreciated ad reciprocated by the whole village at large. His son died a brave death fighting a wolf trying to kill his cow. His grandson, also named Kalinga (as per family tradition of passing the name of grandfather to grandson across generations), was fed by a cow during his infancy when the child’s mother did not produce sufficient breast milk. These experiences had made his life more interwoven with that of cows and he goes on to build a temple at the place memorized as the meeting place of a cow ‘Punyakoti’ belonging to his ancestors with a tiger and it was believed that tiger gave up its life as it was moved by truthfulness of the cow for keeping the promise it made to the tiger for coming back to it to become food for it. In this background, grandson Kalinga grows up, completes his schooling and heads to USA for higher studies in Agriculture and related sciences.

The final days turn tragic for the contented old man Kalinge Gowda. Govt. begins to construct a road across his farm dividing the land he owns and also running over the burial place of his son. Moved by this Kalinge Gowda’s wife dies and Kalinge Gowda too departs soon. Grandson Kalinga returns to homeland to find that both of his grandparents are dead. He cannot communicate effectively with his mother as she is mute, cannot talk.

Kalinga approaches the Govt. officials for compensation for the land lost towards road construction and the land where his grandfather had built the temple in return. As a well-educated and foreign returned individual he commands respect among the Govt. officials with ease. He puts efforts in bringing the modern methods of farming to his village, buys a tractor and makes use of a water-pump to lift water. He meets up with his childhood friend Venkataramana who is also a priest performing Pooja at the temple built by his grandfather. He informs him that he is already married to an American and has a son and talks of his arrangements to bring them to the village. They too arrive soon. 

All the villagers are partially scared with the developments in the family of the offspring of their beloved Kalinge Gowda. Kalinga after his return is a changed person and has very different perspectives than those of his grandfather. He now thinks that the cows which are old of no use and sells them to butchers. This angers the villagers and they begin to develop hatred towards Kalinga. Kalinga’s wife Lydia thinks that animals are a means to human welfare and they should be put to productive use else should be killed. She is a regular meat eater like many of her country people. She one day kills a cow and cooks the meat for her family. Once the news of this spreads in the village, furious villagers attack Kalinga’s farm, destroy his crops and put him to a village court which fines him and bars him from killing any more cows. And the decision was supported by Kalinga’s mother and Venkataramana.

Kalinga’s mother saddened by the behavior of her son dies but the villagers perform the last rites keeping Kalinga out of the scene. Kalinga learns about all this. Though he was pained by his mother’s death, he is afraid of villagers insulting him if he went any near to them. He develops a dilemma and starts thinking what steps of his went wrong. In a few days after his mother’s death, Kalinga’s second child, a daughter is born and soon after the delivery due to medical complications his wife is unable to feed breast milk to the new born. The baby is starved as it refused to accept bottled milk and reaches the verge of life and death and that is when Kalinga goes to Venkataramana and begs him to lend him a cow to feed his baby and thus saves his child. That incident brings clarity to the thoughts Kalinga had and he decides to save the old cows his wife had sold to a butcher few days ago. Tracing them he reaches Mumbai but fails identify his cows among thousands of cows in the butcher house. All begin to appear like his cows but with the money he has he cannot save all of them. Again he begins to retrospect his life.

 This is a masterpiece and a critical work by S L Bhyrappa. This was first published in 1968. It was made into a movie in Kannada and Hindi languages. Though it was written four decades ago, readers of the present times can read it for the clarity of thought and to get the perspectives of moral rightness. Having read most of Bhyrappa’s work, I rate this book and his other novel ‘Parva’ the best among all of his works.