This is Sowmya Aji’s second novel (first is Delirium) and the book is inspired by Kannada folk tales. Aji has brought together multiple grandma’s tales in this book about human emotions.
The plot line mainly revolves around the legend of Kamadeva, the God of love and sex. The storyline subtly draws parallels between the old and the modern world. The story is set somewhere in a remote, unnamed village in Karnataka. India is on the brink of independence and modernisation yet to reach the village.
A mysterious wall that is there since eternity dictates the traditions and customs of the village. No one alive knows the history of this mystical wall that holds secrets and treasures beyond comprehension. The wall, the villagers believe was built by an unknown god to keep out evil of their village, because beyond the wall is the gumma. The gumma is almost always different to each individual. It is in all respects a metaphor for the trait that brings out the worst or evil in people.
The stories told by elders to children have been passed through generations, begin and end with the wall. Tales of its mystery and evilness have been told to desist people from going near it. Everyone is supposed to stay away from it and no one dare climb over it. In spite of the fear instilled since a young age, women from the headman’s family fall for what is, beyond the wall. The story revolves around their fascination and the outcome of their secret escapades.
For a non-Kannadiga, who has no idea about the tales of the gumma or any other Kannada folk tales, the book can get mildly complicated. Multiple plot lines are disconcerting and one may have to re-read a couple of times to get the flow right. Keeping a track of the multiple characters, their activities and numerous relationships needs quite an effort on the part of the reader.
Sowmya Aji has done a decent job of blending the political, social and economical angles with history and mythology that usually affect our society. Only if there were a fewer characters.