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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Chandrasekhar Kambar

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To purchase Karimayi

Title: Karimayi
Author: Chandrasekhar Kambar
Genre: Novel
Written: 1975 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 320 pages
Original in: Kannada
Availability: Karimayi - US
Karimayi - UK
Karimayi - Canada
  • Kannada title: ಕರಿಮಾಯಿ
  • Translated by Krishna Manavalli
  • With a Preface by the author
  • With an Introduction by Rajeev Taranath

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Our Assessment:

B : appealing if uneven small-village novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Karimayi is set entirely in the small southern Indian village of Shivapura -- so insignificant that it isn't even shown on the regular maps of the local district. The title, however, refers to the dominating local deity, the Dark Mother Karimayi, to whom the local temple is dedicated -- whose: "influence is endless" in the village.
       India is still under British colonial rule here, but outside politics of any sort barely filter down to the village -- Gandhi and Jinnah are mentioned, but independence isn't even much of a tangible concept for the locals. Practically the only point of comparison for the villagers is the local 'big city' of Belagavi -- and even that is impossibly distant for most of them, their world essentially entirely local.
       Among the main protagonists in the novel is Gudsikara, who was sent out into the big world and obtained his LLB in Belagavi, returning afterwards to his hometown -- typically, for this world, while: "those were the times of the freedom struggle", this Shivapurite doesn't get involved but rather retreats, to take care of the family property after the death of his father. There's certainly no need of his professional services in the village -- but Gowda, one of the town elders, convinces the locals and Gudsikara that the educated man should lead a local panchayat -- a local government, formalizing an arrangement that had apparently always been more casual. Along with some buddies from school -- who hadn't made it quite as far as Gudsikara, literacy- or otherwise -- they make up the panchayat. Gudsikara's four friends are called the 'Evil Quartet', but they are, for the most part fairly harmless; nevertheless, tension between legalist would-be (sort of) modernizer Gudsikara and Gowda, the upholder of the simple, old ways, dominates the novel.
       It begins with a horrific action by the local eunuch. Gudsikara wants it handled by the book, but he is outflanked by Gowda and the old guard, who set things right in traditional ways. The conflicts continue, culminating in the election of a new panchayat-council -- the old one merely having been appointed, not publicly elected -- essentially pitting Gudsikara against Gowda, with other dark events of the meantime heightening the conflict between the two
       The novel remains resolutely local. Gudsikara occasionally heads to the big city, but it remains a place beyond the imagination, much less reach, of most of the others. But there are some outsiders, too, brought to the village, who contribute to the upsetting of local order -- including in Karimayi's temple.
       Karimayi is colorful -- and both bright and very, very dark, though many of the terrible events (which include murder, rape, fires, and assault) are treated almost as a mere part of existence, stuff that happens (though often with lingering consequences -- such as in the case of pregnancy). There's a great deal of humor, too, with even serious incidents lightened by the locals' often innocent ways. Naïveté dominates, with even the conniving often strikingly innocent -- which also makes those cases where it is not all the darker and more upsetting.
       The goddess Karimayi is a constant for the locals, a presence who may not always be definable or whose actions might not be comprehensible, but allows them to make sense of or, in a way, explain, the vagaries of fate and human action. Kambar utilizes the figure well -- including with a touch of the ominous, a suggestion of godly power -- without it intruding artificially on the action.
       Karimayi can have an off-kilter feel, some episodes -- even small ones -- nicely drawn out, but other significant events more rushed or only partially followed through. There are also many characters and stories here, Kambar juggling a great deal, with some of the appealing storylines not as fully developed or followed through as one might wish for. At its best, however, the writing is remarkably vivid and clear, and there are some memorable scenes and events.
       Karimayi is an enjoyable timeless sort of tale of place and people, distinctly (South) Indian, yet with a great deal that is also universal (albeit now seeming very much of 'simpler times', with a cast of characters that is largely illiterate, and a place lacking industry or even much commerce, much less modern technology).

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 August 2017

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Karimayi: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Indian literature

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About the Author:

       Indian author Chandrasekhar Kambar (ಚಂದ್ರಶೇಖರ ಕಂಬಾರ) was born in 1937.

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