The Thief of Nagarahalli and Other Stories: Essentially Indian Stories

Asha Choubey, Lecturer, Dept. of English,Kanya Mahavidyalaya, Bareilly, U.P. India

Literature and Culture of Indian Subcontinent

Indian poetics considers pleasure as the essence, the soul of literature. Pleasure principle is an all-pervading concept, which may be applied to all genres of literature from all nations and all languages. Pleasure afforded by literature depends on and derives from the world-view of the people that it represents. The sensibility that it evokes differs according to the difference in the world-view. But the pleasure principle works towards the unification of various world-views inasmuch as all the different world-views aspire towards pleasure. One recent book that is based on and exemplifies the pleasure principle amply is The Thief of Nagarahalli and Other Stories, the debut collection of Prof. Basavaraj Naikar of Karnataka University, Dharwad. The writer has special interest in English literature in translation, Karnataka folk theatre and Kannada religious literature and all these interests have helped in shaping his art as a story writer.

In the preface of the book Naikar declares : 'Like many Commonwealth writers, I believe in the view that we Indians must write in our cultural ethos.' All the ten stories, though vastly different in their theme and message, have one common thread running through them--they are subtle, in-depth studies in human psyche. And it is here that the pleasure principle enters the scene. All the stories are based on one or the other rasa (the name given to pleasure principle by Bharata) as adumbrated in NatyaSastra. While the title story evokes hasya or comic along with vira or heroic in the daring exploits of the protagonist, it ends admirably in santa with the bold thief having reconciled himself to his defeat at the hands of one of his rivals. All for Gold has very strong connotation of sringara or erotic but ends suitably in santa as the feeling that it imbues in the reader is one of acceptance of the divine justice. While Her Husband Went to America works through sringara and karuna or compassion but ends in santa or tranquil; Mother's Husband has elements of sringara (which happens to be one favourite rasa of Naikar) as well as adbhuta or marvellous. The Invisible Face has shades of vibhatasa or odious in its revelation of the gruesome reality of human faces beneath the facades. In exposing Mr. Bangarasetty the perspicacious author evinces his knowledge of human situations and behaviour. She Wanted a Child is a pathetic story of a woman hit by the double-edged sword of misery due to her infertility. On one hand is her own sense of deprivation at the inability to bear a child and on the other hand the social as well as familial stigma that is attached with it. The story has karuna or compassionate as the predominant emotion. When the News Came evokes hasya through comic situations arising from a case of mistaken identity. Coffin in the House evokes the permanent emotion of jugupsa or disgust at the appalling reality of a paedophile thereby evoking vibhatasa or odious but the emotion of bhaya or fear also runs through the story at the unpredictability of human nature, hence bhayanaka or terrifying is also not missing. The last story of the collection Fulfillment works through sringara (erotic) culminating in santa which has been acclaimed highly in Indian culture. Indian world-view is closer to karuna and santa and as such these two have been considered the king of all rasas. Naikar's stories are closer to Indian sensibility as after all the upheavals, there comes reconciliation with the prevailing situation. And Indian optimism is evident in the fact that this final reconciliation comes not from passive submission to fate but from recognition of human courage and fortitude despite fate imposed limitations.

All the ten stories in the book show the essentially Indian sensibility of Naikar. Using English in a truly Indian context Naikar exploits its powers of expression as a medium only and does not allow it to overpower the sensibility of and alienate the characters for Indian readers. In times when every Indian English writer is prepared to go whole hog simply to please the foreign media, Naikar abstains from indulging in such mean gimmicks. His stories are written for Indian readers though it does not in any measure reduce its appeal to readers abroad because all his stories focus on human relationships i.e., man-man relationship, man-woman relationship and other interpersonal relationships which is common to all countries at all times.

The title story is a festival of fun and mirth. In the person of Malla, the protagonist Naikar presents a man who despite his humble calling rises to a lofty stature simply by dint of his daring, confidence and rare conviction. An obscure person from a remote village becomes a pushingly distinguished man in the hands of Naikar. Naikar excels in the dramatization of human psychology. All for Gold , Mother's Husband and Coffin in the House are studies in human behaviour but nowhere does the writer choose to rationalize on it. Naikar presents life as it is without attempting to make a 'moral fable' (Kettle 1962: 17) out of them. This deliberate effort on the part of the author accounts for the intimacy that is immediately established between the reader and the characters. This factor undoubtedly adds to the charm of these stories. The author exposes human weaknesses but never does he show a reformist's zeal. Arnold Kettle writes: 'Every writer has a philosophy. The distinction is, rather, between those who are quite conscious of their philosophy and those who do not formulate their sense of life in generalized terms' (Kettle 1962: 27). Naikar belongs to the second category, and therein lies his appeal.

The author also gives a closed end to all the stories, instead of following the usual open end manner, usually put in practice in modern times. Naikar's language is quite candid and uninhabited making his intent clearer and more expressive. He bases all his stories on human instincts and presents man as a slave to the same. Though each story gives different aspect of life, there is one thread of harmony that runs through all the stories, and that is the writer's perspective. Though quite subtle and unimposing, Naikar's perspective comes out clear and loud. One cannot find a single fault howsoever hard one may attempt. Excepting, of course, some typographical errors. The collection was short-listed for the Commonwealth Fiction prize for the best first book from Eurasia in 2000. With or without award the book can be a prized-possession for a connoisseur of literature as it has all that one looks for in a book. Some times the stories amuse, at other times they arouse, still other times they move but at all times they give pleasure, which ultimately is the essence of literature .


1. Kettle, Arnold. 1951. An Introduction to English Novel. 1962. London: Arrow Books.
2. Naikar, Basavaraj. 1999. The Thief of Nagarahalli and Other Stories. Calcutta: Writer's Workshop.

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Last Modified: 17 July, 2002