This is the third book of Sri S L Bhyrappa that I have read. I am deeply affected by this book too ….. especially the main protagonist, Nanjamma. There are several incidents in Grihabhanga that have actually happened in my family. Am kicking myself that I missed Sri Bhyrappa’s books all these years !
The word “Grihabhanga” means a broken home or a home that has been destroyed/split. I can’t think of the exact translation for “bhanga” in English and if some reader is able to, please share in the comments.
The story is set in the 1920’s and traces the life of Nanjamma through her marriage to the village idiot Channigaraya, the terrible foul-mouthed mother-in-law called Gangamma, her children being born, the struggles to make ends meet, all the way till her death and a little after that.
It shows how Brahmins lived in penury, literally a hand-to-mouth existence. Its important to understand that in light of the current anti-brahmin propaganda. Even today, Brahmins have no “quotas” or reservation, despite many of them living in abject poverty. They are becoming the true minority in their own country and no government is willing to help.
Nanjamma loses her mother at birth and is brought up by her grandmother. Her father, the great learned Kantijois, leaves baby Nanjamma, outside in the rain because her cries were disturbing him. Luckily she survives because no water falls on her face ! She is educated and is smart, but her marriage is fixed to the village idiot Channigaraya, whose late father was the Shanubhoga. The Shanubhoga is a sort of accountant for the village/district who kept tax records and land revenues.
Nanjamma not only learns to become the defacto Shanubhoga but also finds other ways to earn money. The village is hit by plague every couple of years and at one time there is a prolonged drought. The incident where families search for roots and tubers to stay alive reminded me of what my paternal grandmother had to undergo when she and her children were shunted out of their home. My dad and my uncles and aunts have survived by eating roots and tubers !! This is not truly a work of fiction .. just the characters are fictional.
Nanjamma reminded me of my mother-in-law in so many ways. My mother-in-law, her sisters and brother lost their mother when they were very young. They were brought up by their grandmother. The other place where I remembered Amma was when Nanjamma loses both her daughter and son to plague. Amma lost a daughter at a young age and then she had to deal with Kannan’s passing away at his prime.
Most of all, Nanjamma’s grit reminds me of Amma and my paternal grandmother Rajamani Ammal. Both had such hard lives, but both of them faced all the challenges with not just grit but also intelligence and guts. I wish I could have shared this story with them…. but they were probably reading it with me. 😃
I can go on and on … the characters are all etched in my mind. Sri Bhyrappa is truly a master story teller and his books are classics because you never forget some of the main characters. I also notice that Sri Bhyrappa is a feminist. All the three novels that I have read of his, have a strong woman as the protagonist.
The translation by Smt Shanthakumari is outstanding. The book is full of swear words but thats because of Gangamma and her sons’ characters. Don’t let that stop you from turning the pages. Its a gripping novel, that you will learn a lot from.