The Indestructible Woman
Sumitra Kannan
KARNO’S DAUGHTER: THE LIVES OF AN INDIAN MAID by Rimli Sengupta Context, 2018, 193 pp., 499.00
May 2020, volume 44, No 5

When in doubt of your mettle, Rimli Gupta’s book, Karno’s Daughter makes for a good litmus test. If you feel exhausted on reading it, you are a wimp, but if the trials and tribulations of Buttermilk the protagonist buoy you, there is hope for you.

Karno’s Daughter, is a story of one of the countless Indians, who strings her body and soul together through making a few middle class lives  bearable. Buttermilk—an unlettered house maid⁠—is an endearing protagonist, strong as steel, pliable as bamboo. She traverses the world she was born into, and the world she has created for herself with the ease of a trapeze artist. Born into an agriculture family, her father flees to the city when the yield of his land becomes inversely proportional to the demands of his growing family. The move is fortunate, at least for Buttermilk for she learns to be street smart. Only a chit of a girl herself, she takes on the care of her younger siblings to allow their mother to become a wage earner. Soon she becomes one herself and finds work as a maid. But Buttermilk has the sickness of land in her. You can take her out of the land, but you cannot take the land out of her. Again and again she hears its siren call and like moth to flame, she is drawn to working her land as a part-time farmer, borrowing money, pouring energy and resources that she does not have into it, in complete awareness that either a dry spell or a flood will bring her to ruin.

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