Salundi, the Carnatic village where the tragic tale of Gendethimma and Maranki unfolds, can be any village in India in the '30s or '40s despite the localising strategies so carefully employed by the author: the regional and the national flow into one another like in the best of Indian novels. The protagonist is a roving tradesman driven to seek a living by bartering wares for foodgrains in the neighbouring village of Gauwally since his land cannot sustain his joint family. In the beginning the itinerant sells only betel-leaves, nuts and similar things but after his marriage to the charming, voluptuous and fashionable Maranki, his merchandise swells to include lingerie and cosmetics from the city market. The traditionalists look upon this gradual urban invasion as the devil's intrusion into rustic tranquility. The new objects have the power to break homes as mothers- in- law begin to frown upon their fashionable daughters- in- law even while their sons are secretly enchanted by the new libidinous aura their women have acquired. These objects of fashion the village to the roots as their use becomesshake a sign individual assertion and even revolt for theof women and an invitation to amorousness for the men. They lend a new, sensuous dimension to rural life and force even the men to discard their old habits and make themselves attractive. Maranki is at the centrepoint of this transformation and she tempts Gendethimma with her charms to break off from the joint family. She is a witch for the orthodox, an enchantress for young men and a positive model for the young women of the village. Her new- found freedom persuades Maranki to develop a liaison with Sivanna, the revered school teacher of her husband's village. This relationship soon becomes the talk of the village and one day Gendethimma discovers the pair in his own house. Unable to endure this, and punished by the panchayat for having wrecked families with his trade, he takes his own life. Shocked, the amoral Maranki, overcome by shame and guilt, also commits suicide.
One can argue that the novelist here reveals his unconscious sympathy for conservatrustic values and his hatred of the new urbaniveals ethos— that can also be viewed as liberating from a feminist point of view— yet I find the writer to be a dispassionate witness, a detached reporter of personal and social history. Female sexuality, symbolised by Maranki, ultimately emerges as an emancipating force despite the trauma it gives birth to, and the final sacrifice demanded of it. The sociological import apart, the novel explores human relationships at different levels like the love- hate between the protagonist and his brother Goolanaika. Alanahally is a close observer of the rural landscape and its rituals, customs and the caste and gender relationships. His sense of drama, descriptive powers and grasp of rural history make this a fascinating read for the average lover of fiction. Giridhar's translation is marked by narrative ease and poetic felicity, the hallmarks of Alanahally's style. What the novel lacks is the complexity, philosophical vision and innovative structural imagination that illuminates the works of greater narrators of rural life like Tarashankar Banerjee or U. R. Anantha Murthy.