LITERARY REVIEW

Subterranean world

FICTION

Subterranean world

A STORY of a displaced people — their lives, their struggles and their poverty. Chinnamani is an 11-year-old, living in Indira slum in Bangalore. He dreams of becoming a cricketer. But when he forms a "club", all he and his teammates can manage are a piece of wood to use as a bat and a battered rubber ball. All the same, he dreams on...

Chinnamani's world is small but full of action. He watches the happenings in the slum — his father's drunken bouts, Yellamma dishing out food and advice to her customers, Rowdy Muthu doling out his brand of justice. It is a world that is constantly struggling to survive.

Mukunda Rao depicts the lives of the people in the slum. He vividly describes the story of the people — each person has a story to tell. A tale of lost loves and hopes. No one person can be identified as the protagonist, for, they all live their lives in squalor and poverty and fight for a better tomorrow. The language used is sometimes filmy like when Rowdy Muthu thrashes Rajamani for beating his wife: "Get out of this colony, now," Muthu growled. "If I see you here again, I'll break your leg and give it in your hand... " Picturesque, vivid and certainly colourful, making you wonder more and more whether you are actually reading a film script! Confirming this is the surfeit of film songs, including "Yengay nimmadhi, yengay nimmadhi"!

And then there is a wedding to celebrate. "No ordinary wedding" as Rao himself states, for the bride is a pregnant 15-year-old. It was the consensus of the slum that the 17-year-old boy who had got this girl pregnant must marry her. Rao clearly defines that now the people of the slum think that they have successfully solved yet another problem. They have little concern that both the bride and groom are underage!

The names too are descriptive — Canteen Yellamma, Rowdy Muthu, Isthri Selvan, Mason Murugan and more in the same vein. You do get the feeling that may be Rao has gone a trifle bit over on the "Mani" bit, like Thangamani, Muthumani, Chinnamani, Rajamani...

Simply and lucidly written, the story is told of the people in the slum. Towards the end, it is as if the author has just too much on his hands. For, he suddenly sets the slum on fire and finishes off the story. A story that he took so long to build up, a story that meandered through the hopes and dreams of the shacks in the slum, through a non-governmental organisation, through the offices of the government, through the village school and through the buildings that were coming up in the new layout...

And then, all of a sudden, everything is wiped out and once again these people are dislodged and have to begin to build their lives all over again. A disturbing and ironical story where the people are on the voters list and have ration card, but they do not qualify to own a plot of land because they do not belong to Karnataka.

NIMI KURIAN

Chinnamani's World, Mukunda Rao, Penguin India, p. 274, Rs. 295.

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