ABOUT THE STORY Like RK Narayan’s Malgudi and Aravind Adiga’s Kittur, Manu V Bhattathiri’s Karuthupuzha is a fictional small town in South India whose realities come to us filtered through the distinctive vision of the writer.
In a previous story by Bhattathiri, published in The Caravan this January, we met Kunjumon: a sweetly resentful, vaguely hopeful man with a dull job as an accountant in a rice mill in Karuthupuzha. To make himself feel better after his wife left him, Kunjumon plans grand altruistic projects for the town’s poorest folk, but, comically, his schemes become redundant even as their details are being worked out.
Now, in ‘The Wife’s Leg,’ we turn towards Eeppachan, the razor-sharp and calculating boss, or mothalali, of the rice mill. Eeppachan is immensely prosperous, and has used his influence to claim Karuthupuzha’s most beautiful young woman for his bride. His power falls upon the entire town like sunlight, and it seems he should have no worries. But, as any married person finds out at some point, the difficulties of possession can be just as vexing as those of pursuit. Eeppachan gradually becomes convinced that his wife’s head has been turned. The provocative singing of a young artist who puts down roots in Eeppachan’s neighbourhood resounds in our ears, amplified by Eeppachan’s imagination and—who knows?—perhaps also that of his wife. Love, power and rage swirl through Karuthupuzha, watched by the narrator with a wry sympathy and a delicate pity.