Kalavu begins with the theft of Rangamma’s buffalo. While the story primarily visits the incidents in a village over one day, it also lays bare the many forms of theft occurring in the lives of the villagers. The story explores the theft of Rangamma’s desires and ambitions, the shattering of Ratni’s dreams of marriage, the loss of Pootlayari’s masculinity and the societal role of the man of the house, the loss of the landlord’s daughter’s love for a man, the theft of the family jewels, the loss of land, spiritual values, and relationships among many other instances that reveal the all-pervasive nature of theft in daily life. Even the machinery of the government is an unwitting participant in the theft of Pootlayari’s manhood.
In the context of a patriarchal society, even in a tradition-bound village, Rangamma defies the rules and courageously dons the traditional role of the man in the family. She exemplifies the fact that a woman does not need a man to wear the mantle of responsibility in running a household. When the village thief Patla is accused of stealing the buffalo and is thrashed for his apparent crime, Rangamma is appalled by the violence committed in the name of justice and rejects the Panchayat’s authority as arbiters of the law. She returns home to find that her old mother has died of grief. Eventually, Rangamma continues to shoulder the burden of running her family, embodying feminist strength in a male-dominated world.
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