Sunday, December 29, 2013

Choma's Drum - Kota Shivaram Karanth

One of the classics from the Kannada literature, Chomana Dudi ( or Choma's Drum as translated to English) is one of the major works of Kota Shivarama Karanth. Written in the 50s, this again covers the often discussed and dealt the  subject of  caste system.

Choma belongs to the Mari caste , a lower class, untouchable, limited to the job of a bonded-labourer of the Village chief. Widowed, with five children to feed, he typical to people of his type, work hard at the fields of his boss, spent half of what he earns at  the 'toddy shop' and spent the remaining to his family, which is now put together by the smart hands of the young Belli, 10 year old daughter, who grows to the responsibility of maintaining the house affairs. Choma harbors a dream of owning or renting his own farm where he wants to cultivate paddy and other crops, for a potential escape from the hand to mouth existence. Two bullocks, which he found abandoned in the forest years ago are now grown and strong, adds to the hopes and dreams of being a farmer himself. There are other suitors for his bullocks, with attractive offers, and threats, but Choma is not wiling to let go of them. The orthodox social system prevents Choma from getting his land for he being in the low class. The Christian missionaries offer him support, but he is reluctant to join the pastor's community.

To pay off his debt, Choma had to send his elderly sons to the Coffee Estates in the distant hills. They did not manage to pay off the debt, but one succumbs to cholera and the other desert the community and join Christianity to marry his lover, leaving his family and the estate. Now the girl had to go to the estate and work her way out to pay the debt, which she manages by allowing to be abused by the estate manager and the owner himself. She returns back clearing off the debt, but loosing herself.  Choma also looses his young son, drowned in the river, in front of a watching crowd who refuses to save him for being an untouchable. Lost and defeated time and again, Choma find his daughter in a compromising position with the estate manager. He kicks her out of the house, set the bullocks free in the forest, shut himself inside vigorously beats his drums until his life escapes him.

Choma is destined to fail from the beginning. The life beats him time and again. One after the other his family members are lost. His girl, the one he loved the most and only person he respected or feared is also managed defeat him.There are others like the estate manager who loot them with increasing the debt and interest. To the society he is a low class, his dreams and hopes have no standing in their life. Even the sympathetic land lord had to adhere to the social norms ( his aged mother make sarcastic comments about the low-class), there are promises of freedom from this by accepting the ways of the Christ, but Choma is not ok to leave his 'GODs' and the other deities. Choma continue to cherish his dream of owning  a piece of land. There are government offer for a piece of land, but he does not know the way of getting it done. He realises that his status being a low class, will come in between him and his dream. He even contemplates joining the Christianity just to fulfill his dream.

Drum, plays the role of symbolic oracle. For him, the only way to express his inner most feelings, anguish, anger, joy or sadness is through his drum. The drum represent his vocal output, which is curbed by his social stature being an untouchable. The novel starts with the drum beats, listened by those returning back to their homes from the village festival. One of them remarks, "It's Choma again, and it looks like he had a drink too much today". The echoes of his self expression, is ridiculed as the naughtiness of a drunkard. The drum is omnipresent, as much as the part of his physical extension. It remained so, until the beats stopped, for the drum and Choma.

Karanth writes in simple language, befitting the protagonist of his tale. The narration is straight forwards which become profound as it progresses. There are some touching moments and brilliant passages towards the end. He doesn't take the propagandist stand, but does it through his characters. Probably a bit dated for today's generation, but interesting and absorbing read.

Choma's Drum ( 1958)

Kota Shivaram Karanth ( translated from Kannada by P N Moodithaya & Gopakumar in 2007)

Green Books

108 Pages
Wiki, Our Karnataka,

No comments: