-Masti Venkatesha Iyengar
The story is narrated by Shyama, a concerned citizen of Hosahalli village in the state of Mysore (before Independence). Shyama loves the place, its beauty and its people. He loves the mango trees, the village pond and the creeper looking over it. He finds it a shame that both the English overlords and his own people have forgotten of the heart-fulfilling environment of Hosahalli, a place that finds no place on any cartographic constructions or maps of India. He says that the doctor in Hosahalli has traveled to many places around the country and even the World and considers the village to be a uniquely special place. The village speaks Kannada even though much has changed with the encroachment of English language in the casual conversations of the people. Many people like communicating in English or using English words in Kannada which Shyama finds disgraceful and disheartening.
The return of the city boy
It all started when the village got its first English speaker, the protagonist of the story, Rangappa or just Ranga. He is the son of the village accountant and went to study in Bangalore. On his return, whole village turned up at his house to see how the city had changed him. To everyone’s surprise not much had changed. Ranga was still the same person with the same appearance, clothes, manners and etiquettes as highlighted by his sacred thread (janewara) that is sign of the sanctity of his caste (Hindu social hierarchy). Most of the people were disappointed by that but Shyama admires Ranga’s determination to stick to his own customs.
A friendly advice
Ranga often visits Shyama’s place and Shyama is always delighted to have a chat with him. So much so that Shyama asks him to get married and lead a happy married life. However, Ranga is not sure about marrying at such a young age. He does not want to marry a young woman who does not understand his words or is not mature enough to make intelligent decisions .He also want to marry somebody he admires and feels that arrange marriages do not provide the room to develop such admiration. Shyama feels appalled that such a mild-mannered and courteous boy should remain untouched by the beauty and happiness of a sacred relationship like marriage. So, he decides to find Ranga a wife.
Shyama soon finds the right girl. Her name is Ratna and she is Rama Rao’s, friend of Shyama, niece. She is eleven years old and is well behaved and beautiful. She knows how to play harmonium and is a great singer. She was brought up in a big city but now lives with her uncle after the death of her parents. He instinctively thinks she will be perfect for Ranga
The rendezvous at Shyama’s place
Shyama devises a plan to introduce Ratna and Ranga to each other. He asks Rama Rao’s wife to send Ratna to his house to pick up some buttermilk. It was Friday and Ratna is happy to visit Shyama. When she arrives, Shyama asks her to sing for him. She obliges. Meanwhile, Shyama sends for Ranga to visit his house as well. When he reaches the threshold of the house, he is enchanted by the melodious voice and singing of Ratna. He is intrigued and peeps inside to find out. As soon as Ranga’s body breaks the light coming through the door, Ratna gets spooked and reaches for the corner. She feels shy. Ranga is also feeling coy but keeps on staring at Ratna. This makes Ratna nervous and she dashes into another room.
Ranga is truly smitten and enquiries if the girl is married. Shyama wants him to suffer a little and develop a stronger liking for her. Consequently, he tells him that Ratna had been married for a year. Ranga becomes crestfallen. All his desires for Ratna come crashing down in his chest. However, his disappointment reassures Shyama that Ratna is the right girl for Ranga
The visit to the astrologer
Shyama schemes with a Shastri or an astrologer. He dictates him what to tell Ranga in order to make Ranga realize his hidden desire for Ratna. Now, he goes to Ranga and seeing his dispirited look enquires about his situation. Shyama advices him to visit a doctor but Ranga says that he felt fine. He then asks Ranga to accompany him to an astrologer.
Now everything goes according to what Shyama had hoped. The astrologer sticks to the script and tells Ranga that the cause of all his worries is a woman. He predicts that Ranga will eventually marry a woman whose name refers to something that belongs to the ocean, like a pearl or Ratna. He also wishes for their marriage to be happy and successful.
Happily ever after
The plan goes ahead without a hitch and the next scene describes Ranga’s visit to Shyama’s house some years later. He has a three year old son named after the narrator, Shyama. It is like Ranga and Ratna’s way of thanking Shyama’s matchmaking ability. It was also a very English thing to name a child after someone they admired.
Nonetheless, it was only due to narrator’s insight and intellect that they got married. Adding to the glad tidings, Ratna is also expecting another child (8 months due). The story ends with Shyama visiting the couple’s house for the young Shyama’s third birthday. He kisses the child on the cheeks and places a ring on his finger as a totem of good fortune and security from evil.
The story is a beautiful depiction of a village in South India. It decorates the scene with the customs, manners and traditions of the place. It also highlights the constant struggle to preserve the endemic culture of the place against the winds of external agents and forces like a foreign language like English.
The story and its characters like Shyama, Ratna and Ranga bring the sweetness of village life to the text. The hallowed and sacred nature of marriage and companionship between husband and wife is celebrated cleverly in the narration of the story.