Sharath Komarraju’s books give out a rustic, village feeling. Everything the characters do is filled with an Indianness that resonates with everyone. He, yet again, sets his story in a small village where as he says, “everyone knows everyone else.” The Puppeteers of Palem starts off on a tentatively eerie note, as if it is trying to gauge whether or not the reader is going to get scared.
I cannot believe that I’m saying this about a Sharath Komarraju book, but there is a little too much attention to what is happening around the characters. Sometimes, there are unnecessary descriptions about the environment in which the story unfolds. But that is purely my opinion.
Sharath Komarraju has the knack of bringing words to dance for the reader. He has the ability to spin stories in highly interesting ways. He has the ability to describe a village atmosphere so well that you get transported into the place he describes. And THAT is impressive. So when I furrowed my brows and read on in confusion, uncertainty and skepticism, I know that every line is going to be worth it – even if there is an excess of description!
A simple example is this: Sharath Komarraju describes darkness as “a sudden explosion of black”. How much more beautiful he makes darkness sound!
And also quotes like these that make you sit and reflect within yourself.
Dead people don’t hang around if their job here is done. If they don’t leave us, it means they want revenge. – It is eerie when a child’s words – something that you already probably knew and believed – brings you chills.
The foundation stone would remain. The statue of Bapu would remain. The school would still stand. But something in it – something nameless – would die. – Killing something within yourself or something that you hold close – even if it is just a feeling – it is so identifiable with everyone that it puts a smile on your face.
It had been seventeen years since they’d moved around in the fog in Palem, but the memory returned without any conscious effort. Their minds knew where they had to go and their feet knew how to take them there – fog or not. – Much like home. You might be away for a long, long time, but in the end, you’ll find your way back and find your way around!
Sharath Komarraju cleverly weaves in his other books into The Puppeteers of Palem, including Murder in Amaravati and Donoor’s Curse. Donoor’s Curse is brought to your cognizance because the village of Palem is supposedly low-lying, a feature that it shares with the village of Donoor. He also slyly inserts a quote from one of his other books: Women needed something to worry about.
In addition to the clever quotes and mentions of his other works that Sharath Komarraju inculcates in the book, there are other little things that catch your attention and either make you nod in approval or clench your teeth as you wait for the suspense. Here’s a long list:
- A simple sentence about honour and longing to go back to one’s roots, uttered by a conductor, is enough to bring a smile to your face.
- How returning home can bring you so many memories, impressing upon you how things can change so much, yet remain the same.
- Lessons in compassion and manners. Undertones that are detected are impressively beautiful.
- The plot makes you widen your eyes in fear. That late realization that something eerie has indeed happened!
- How things and places can change in a matter of years! Or rather, how nostalgia explodes within you when you visit a place you used to live in!
- Some domestic situations are put thoroughly in words. Some that you can identify with so much that you cringe at the thought of someone else experiencing it – even if that someone else is a fictional character. Portrays the fear perfectly!
- How cruel memories can be, especially when reminded heartlessly by a “best friend”.
- Your eyes widen as sometime during the last 20% of the book, you begin to connect the dots and realize who could be behind the entire story. Confusingly, tentatively. Is it what you think it is?
The story, like every other, also has anxiety and suspense in dollops, not to forget the difficulty that I had in remembering the names of the number of characters. It was initially a little too much, making it difficult for me to remember who is who, but halfway through, I could name anything in the book. I’m not so sure now, though!
The book builds up so much on the story. It remains enigmatic pages into the book, keeping you on tenterhooks. But it becomes a little excruciating for the reader to plod along. How much longer can you keep up with the suspense?
The events are confusing. You realize the connection with the book’s title but then sink back into wondering what exactly is up. The constant to and fro between time periods is not exactly easy on your mind and not helping, either.
“When she first came out – when ‘you’ brought her out-“ – Who is this she? Curiosity gets the better of you! But then your brain pings with an idea – could it be Lachi? Who is this she? Talking about killing ‘her’ and ‘carrying parts of her back to your houses’!
The diary of the reporter who goes to Palem to investigate the issue gradually grows on you in a very creepy manner, as if to say, “Not you too!”
Avadhani Thatha’s repeated remonstrations of not to fight disregarded blatantly. What will happen next? Accusations fly around – frustrating not to know who did it. Tell me what’s going on, already!
And then gradually, you begin to understand. Or at least you think you understand. And when the answer appears in front of you, you find yourself at peace!
There are unexpected twists in the story in the end, but when even the slightest suspicions that could have been raised earlier turn out to be true, your eyes widen and the first thought that crosses your mind is that you wanted it to transform into a sudden blockbuster. The whole book goes at a 3/5 pace… Until you get to the last few pages of the book. It ricochets up to 4/5 and falls back to 3.5/5. But as you think of the book as a whole, it stays put at 3/5.
All in all, an enigmatic book. Pay close attention as you read it. You might miss something crucial to the plot of the story that Sharath Komarraju weaves impressively if you don’t!
You might also want to read my reviews of these books by Sharath Komarraju: