Saturday, September 12, 2015
Sunday, September 28, 2014
Dr. U. R. Ananthamurthy: A Maze of Ambiguities
To say that Dr. U. R. Ananthamurthy was a multi-faceted personality is to state the obvious. He was a gifted writer of fiction (35 short stories; 6 novels) and poetry (5 collections), a serious socio-literary critic (10 collections of essays), a successful translator (5 works), and an Activist. He took many extreme positions, defended them passionately, and courted controversies. How do we approach and understand such a baffling and dynamic writer?
One possible framework is ‘the changing interpretive patterns of Modernity and Tradition’. This binary opposition subsumes all other binaries such as ‘Individual and System’ and ‘Nativism and Western Thought’ ). Most importantly, he passionately explored these patterns of negation and approbation through a series of oppositions and symbolic representations. If we view all of his writings together, we find in him an ideological shift in course of time; and, on the basis of such a shift, we can categorise his writings into ‘ pre- Bhava’ and ‘post- Bhava’ phases ( his novel Bhava was published in 1994). We can consider Samskara and Divya as the most representative works of these two phases.
Samskara, arguably the most successful novel of Ananthamurthy, equates ‘Tradition’ with obsolete set of beliefs and rituals prevalent in Hindu society, as mirrored in the Brahmin community. This community, represented by Praneshacharya, is ignorant of the Vedic lore, lusts for gold and sensual pleasures, and mechanically observes rites and rituals. The disease of plague which devastates the village symbolizes the decaying society and its life-thwarting values. Juxtaposed with Praneshacharya, there is Naranappa, a rationalist, an atheist and a hedonist. In the end, Naranappa dies and Praneshacharya renounces his Brahminic legacy, and goes out in search of a new way of life. The novel is open-ended, suggesting that both Praneshacharya and Naranappa are incomplete until they internalise each other, the Self absorbing its Shadow (in the Jungian sense).
Divya, at the other end, interprets Tradition as the sum total of all the intellectual achievements of ancient India and its life-affirming values such as love and compassion for all, and a yearning for mystical experience. Gauri represents such a Tradition. She can experience intense wonder and joy about creation and she can enter into a dialogue with the setting sun. Owing to such mystical sensibility, she knows no caste, no lineage, and nothing like ‘purity’ and ‘impurity.’ In contrast with such ‘liberated mind,’ there is Ghanashyama representing Modernity; he is an educated and Westernised Indian, who is arrogant and aggressive, championing total change and progress. In the end, Gauri and Ghanashyama marry, symbolising as it were the meeting of the spiritual East and the materialist West. However, whereas Samskara is open-ended and dialogic, Divya, essentialist in tone, is completely monologic in its view of Indian tradition and culture.
There are many other novels and stories which posit an ideological position in between these two extremes, the most brilliant being “The Stallion of the Sun.” This story juxtaposes, very sensuously, the two ends of the ‘Tradition-Modernity’ binary, represented by Hade Venkata and Ananthu. Venkata, a rustic, is lazy, irresponsible and doesn’t worry about money; as contrasted with him, Ananthu is highly educated, Westernised, and holds a high position in society. However, the story reveals, it is Venkata and not Ananthu who is capable of mystic experience; Venkata can sight and experience the stallion of the Sun, but Ananthu, a rationalist, can only envy him. The story manages this juxtaposition very objectively, privileging neither end.
Another recurring theme in the works of Ananthamurthy is ‘the Individual and the System.’ Ananthamurthy, a staunch individualist, hates any System which destroys the ‘essence’ of an individual; and he finds all modern Systems authoritative and suffocating. Jagannatha, a Westernised intellectual, is reduced to a laughing stock by the orthodox religious system in Bharatipura. “Bara” depicts Satish, an idealistic IAS officer, who is forced by the bureaucratic system to order firing on an unarmed mob. The most ambitious work in this category is Awasthe, which examines many political systems and dramatises the way an idealist politician, Krishnappa, is slowly sucked into the whirl of corruption by the present political system, based on elections and majority rule.
One of the most provocative essays, “ Why Not Worship in the Nude?” can be considered a post-colonial re-assessment of popular concepts like modernization and rationality. Written in the aftermath of Savadatti incident in 1986, it does not advocate nude worship but questions the intellectual arrogance which designates such practices as primitive. He bemoans that we, educated and rational, have lost that “feeling of religious awe.” In “ Tradition and Creativity,” he argues that “ whatever tradition we could have had has been lost to us through a certain amnesia because of our terrible attraction to the modern world system.”
“No, I can’t be an absolutist,” declared Ananthamurhty in his essay on ‘Nude Worship’. We may quarrel with many of his ideological positions; but it is this skepticism, I believe, which makes him highly relevant today, in a world ridden with ‘Certainties and Absolute Truths.’
****** C. N. Ramachandran
Dr. S. Shettar, Halagannada: Lipi, Lipikara and Lipi Vyavasaya
Bengaluru: Abhinava Prakashana, 2014 P. 502; Price : 600/-
“Monumental Study of Kannada Script, Literature and Scribes”
Dr. S. Settar is a historian with a difference; he is not only interested in reconstruction of the past based on reliable evidence, but also in the common people like the sculptors and scribes and artisans who are usually ignored. A bilingual writer, Settar shot into fame with the publication of
Shangam Tamilagam in Kannada, in 2007; it has already seen nine reprints besides bagging the central Sahitya Akademi award for scholarly works. The present work, Halagannada, is more ambitious than the earlier one; it studies, for the first time, 2020 edicts and inscriptions in Kannada during the first millennium, on the basis of which it throws new light on the evolution of Kannada script & language, the scribes, and social history of the period. In this review, I shall confine myself only to a few of the major findings of Setter, documented in this work.
i) Evolution of Kannada script and language:
a) After the first period (3rd century B. C.--3rd century A. D.) during
which the only official script was Brahmi and the language was Pali as evidenced by Ashokan minor edicts, during the second period (3rd century A. D. – 4th century A. D.), while Brahmi script was continued, Sanskrit gradually replaced Pali. During and after the fourth century, Brahmi and Sanskrit were gradually replaced by early Kannada script and language. Sanskrit inscriptions on copper plates also began to appear in this period, the Nagarjunakonda inscription being the first Sanskrit inscription in the South.
b) the Tagarti edict of 349 A. D. could be the first Kannada edict, a
century before the famous Halmidi edict of A. D. 450.
c) Bilingual edicts/inscriptions begin to appear during the 6th
century. While in a few the Kannada script was common for both Sanskrit and Kannada (Tagare copper plate, 6th C), in others, two scripts and two languages were used in one edict (ex. Alampura edict, 713 A. D.; this edict is split into two vertical parts; while the left part uses both Kannada script & language, the right part uses Nagari script and Sanskrit language). Similarly, there were inscriptions in Kannada and Telugu (Kannada script) and inscriptions in three languages in Kannada script (Kannada, Telugu & Tamil; Rameshwaram Copper plate, A. D. 803).
d) Contrary to the prevalent opinion, Kannada borrowed ‘voiced-
aspirated consonants’ and nasals not from Sanskrit but from Prakrit.
e) Sanskrit-Kannada influence was mutual. Just as Sanskrit
influenced Kannada Kannada also influenced Sanskrit script and morphology. ( Ex. use of now extinct shakata refa and rala of old Kannada in the two Talagunda edicts . In fact, according to Settar, the above two letters are used in at least 30 Sanskrit edicts.) Also, Sanskrit morphology borrowed words like ‘naadu,’ ‘palli,’ ‘ooru,’ etc. from Kannada.
II Scribes: Scribes (here, meaning those who carved on stone or on copper plates) were known by different names such as twashta, tattakaara, tattaara, Vishwakarma, and such.
a) The first scribe known to us was Chapada, sent to Karnataka by
Ashoka, who belonged to Gandhaara. There were many other illustrious scribes like Jayasena, Sriramapunyavallabha, Vishwakarmacharya, and such; and most of the scribes were non-Brahmins.
b) Contrary to the existing belief, Brahmins were not the composers of the
‘edict-texts’ up to the 8th century. Till that period, the scribes were both writers of texts and carvers on stones and copper plates.
III Caste-relations: Brahmadeyas (land-gifts given to Brahmins) and devadeya (land-gifts given to temples) decreased considerably by the 8th century; and, in their place, those who fought for the rulers or undertook public service like building tanks in villages began to be honoured. Nolamba Pallavas didn’t care much for either the Vaidics and Sanskrit or temple-culture.
The criterion of a great research work is the amount of arguments and debates it provokes, and Settar’s work is no exception. Some of the points raised in the Seminar (centred on this work) were: the very use of the term ‘halagannada’ and whether it denotes an established early form of Kannada or different versions of Kannada prevalent in different parts of Karnataka; whether Sanskrit really lost its prestige after the 9th century since literary histories tell us otherwise; and such. Most importantly, edicts and inscriptions have limited purposes; and the knowledge gained through them has to be supplemented with other sources like oral & written literature, discursive writings, and travelogues. Otherwise, we will reach such indefensible conclusions like ‘ since terms such as ‘varna,’ and ‘Jaati’ (in the meaning of caste) are not to be found in the edicts, there may not have been Varnashrama hierarchy in the first millennium’ (as Settar speculates in his Preface).
The only way we can honour Settar’s seminal and pains-taking research is through engaging ourselves in serious debates provoked by this work.
---------------------- C. N. Ramachandran
Saturday, August 30, 2014
K. Gopalakrishna Rao (1906-1967) was a very popular writer of short stories in Kannada, in the pre-independence period. He was a contemporary of Masti Venkatesha Iyengar (Rao was called the ‘patta shishya’ - ‘pet disciple’ of Masti), A. Seetaram (pen name: ‘Ananda’), R. Shivaram (pen name: ‘Rashi’), and others. As an administrator, Gopalakrishna Rao served as the private secretary of the then chief minister of Karnataka, Kengal Hanumanthaiah, and as the secretary of the great association, Kannada Sahitya Parishat (1956-1961). Although Rao wrote many stories, during his life time, he could publish only three short-story collections and one collection of his selected stories. After his death, his daughter, Janaki Shrinivas, collected, with admirable perseverance, all of his published and unpublished stories and brought out a collection of forty stories in 2011. Now, twelve stories from that collection have been selected and translated into English. This is a matter of great satisfaction for all lovers of Kannada short stories; and I am very happy to write a Foreword to the collection, in order to introduce Rao’s stories to non-Kannada readers.
The period in which Gopalakrishna Rao’s literary sensibility was shaped and his stories were written was a turbulent period of contradictory pulls and pressures. Since the Freedom Struggle was being waged throughout the country, there prevailed a strong sense of nationalism and search for cultural identity. At the same time, owing to the introduction of English education and exposure to Western literature and ideas, Reformist movements like Brahmo Samaj and Arya Samaj were seriously engaged in questioning and exposing Hindu orthodoxy and traditional religious/ social customs. Consequently, a sort of ‘love-hate’ relationship existed among Indians of that period toward Indian/Hindu culture as well as English literature and ideas. It was in such an ethos that many new forms of literature like the Lyric, the Sonnet, the Novel, and such entered Kannada literary field; and among such new forms, one was the Short Story. All the forms of literature including the Short Story, written during that period, reflect such contradictory pulls and tensions and Gopalakrishna Rao’s stories are no exception. They reflect Idealism and a Romantic view of life as well as the harsh and unavoidable realities of contemporary life. Most of the successful stories of Rao are those which authentically capture such contradictory pulls and pressures prevalent in the Indian society in the first half of the 20th century.
Gopalakrishna Rao’s stories depict the experiences of urban and educated middleclass people, of the early decades of the last century, in a leisurely style that is controlled and emotive. Many major stories, following the structure of Masti’s stories, have multiple narrators: the first narrator tells the readers what he had heard from his friends and others. Also, most of the stories of Rao are ‘incident-centred’, full of coincidences in the lives of the protagonists. Long estranged or separated lovers, parents and their offspring, brothers and sisters, and friends meet each other unexpectedly, in strange places; and accidents take place for no fault of the victims. In fact, in one of his stories, Rao himself admits this fact through his narrator: “to tease others pretending to give them something and then to snatch it away is a game played by children; and God also loves to play such games” (“The Birthday Gift”).
However, the most significant features of Rao’s stories are two: dissatisfaction with the then-existing Hindu beliefs and customs, and an unflinching faith in the innate life-giving values of Indian culture. To start with, influenced by the reform-movements of that age, many stories of Rao mount a critique of traditional values and practices, particularly the discriminatory caste-system and the treatment of women in a Hindu society. The writer sadly records how lovers, owing to caste differences, have no choice but to run away from home and suffer, cut off from their parents for life (“ True Love Is Raised on Self-sacrifice”), and how, on some occasions, the caste-differences could lead even to murder of either the man or the woman involved (“Actress”). Contemptuous treatment of women makes the writer sadder. In those days, in Brahmin families, once the husband died, his widow was expected to lead a very secluded and ascetic life, getting her head completely shaved and not allowed to wear kunkum and flowers. She was not expected to participate in any public programmes or functions. Rao registers the inhuman cruelty underlying such treatment of women in many of his stories: “She whom I Beheld – Just Four Times” (in this story, early marriage makes a young woman widow, and even the famous pontiff of a Math refuses to give her ‘teertha’); “Dr. Susheela Sanketh” (in this story also, a young widow is taken forcibly to a holy place to get her head shaved; with her friend’s help she escapes from that horror, goes to Pune in Maharashtra, and becomes a famous doctor); and such.
More importantly, Rao has a firm belief in the moral/ethical values of traditional Indian culture imbibed by one; these are the values which save one at the decisive moments of one’s life. The best example of this point is the story, “Dr. Susheela Sanketh.” On her way to a holy place with her in-laws (to get her head shaved), Susheela, a young widow, accidentally meets another young man in a choultry at Hassan. At night, both get attracted to each other and the young man brings her to his room with carnal intent. However, just before anything untoward happens, moonlight floods the room and the young man sees the idol of his god, Sreenivasa. Suddenly, his conscience pricks him and he falls at her feet and Susheela lifts him up and tends to him like a mother. Later, renouncing everything the young man becomes a monk and the young woman, now a doctor, remains unmarried, serving her poor patients. Even when illegitimate relationships do develop, the woman remains loyal to her man though he is long dead (“Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction”).
In fact, it is in this context of asserting the life-giving values of Indian culture that Rao endorses in his stories the Orientalist construct of the ‘Indian Woman’ (‘Bharatiya Nari’), who is a personification of Loyalty to her family and husband, Forgiveness and Renunciation. In the story “The Rarer Action lies in Forgiveness,” the husband abandons his wife and goes after another woman, condemning his wife to extreme suffering both mental and physical. Still, when he returns to his wife repentant, she lovingly accepts him, and the narrator comments: “Vengeance? How can you find it in a Hindu wife?” Similarly, Murthy’s step ‘mother’ in “Truth Is Stranger . . .”; Susheela in “Dr. Susheela Sanketh,” the protagonist in “Communion” -- all display the qualities of loyalty and renunciation, characteristics of an idealized Indian Woman.
Prof. N. Nanjunda Sastry, the translator of these stories, says in ‘A Note by the English Translator’: “As I have said earlier in this note, mine is not a verbatim translation. The method I have followed is to absorb the soul and spirit of the origin and then give it an English garb without its plot-structure, characterization and their details.” Given this framework, he has done a very competent job as a translator and deserves appreciation for his sincere efforts. I am sure, these stories in translation give the non-Kannada readers the same deep experience that the Kannada readers got through the originals.
*********** C. N. Ramachandran
July 10, 2014
Karnataka is one of the southern states of the Indian Republic, with an area of 191,976 sq. kms and a population of 61, 130, 704 (according to the 2011 census). Etymologically, the word ‘Karnataka’ comes from ‘karu’ (elevated/ black) and ‘naadu’ (region); and it may mean either ‘elevated land’ or ‘land of the black soil.’ Kannada, which belongs to the Dravidian family of languages, is one of the oldest languages in India; and there is enough evidence to prove that it has been in use since the beginning of the Christian era. The Kannada script evolved from the Brahmi script, introduced to Karnataka by Ashokan edicts and, in course of time, it got modified under the influence of Prakrit and Sanskrit. The earliest edict which uses both Kannada script and language is the Halmidi Edict, dated 450 AD.
Karnataka is the ninth largest state, bordering the Arabian sea on the west, and Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamilunadu and Kerala on other sides. The state is irrigated by two major river-systems: the Krishna and its tributaries in the North and the Cauvery and its tributaries in the South. Through its long history, Karanataka has been a seat of many distinguished kingdoms and empires. Beginning with the Kadambas ( 400 AD- 600 AD), famous dynasties that ruled over different parts of Karnataka include the Gangas, Badami Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, and the Hoysalas. Then came the renowned Vijayanagara empire with its capital at Hampi (1336-1565), which, during the reign of Krishnadevaraya, controlled almost the entire region to the south of Narmada. After the fall of Viajayanagara, power shifted to Mysore, and the kingdom of Mysore under the Yadu dynasty continued to rule Karnataka though, in course of time, it had to cede many of its parts to the British and other neighbouring rulers. After independence, the Mysore state, including Coorg and other Kannada-speaking regions restored to it, came into existence on November 1, 1956, renamed as Karnataka in 1973.
The history of Art and Architecture in Karnataka records many glorious achievements; and it has the second highest number of nationally protected monuments (752). The idol of Gommateshwara at Shravanabelagola (982-983 AD) is ‘the tallest sculpted monolith in the world’; the Gol Gumbaz at Bijapur (1656 AD), built in an egg-shape on a rectangular base, has ‘the second largest pre-modern dome in the world’ and a ‘whispering gallery’ in which any sound made is echoed many times. Other world-heritage sites include the ‘Ruins of Hampi’, the cave-temples of Badami and Pattadakallu, and the temples at Belur and Halebidu marked by exquisite filigree work in stone. Yakshagana, a typical folk-performance of Karnataka that blends music, dance, acting and narration, has a history of at least 1000 years. Purandara Dasa, the 14th-century saint poet-composer is regarded as the ‘Father’ of south-Indian form of classical music, called ‘Carnatic Music.’
Karnataka seems to have followed, by and large, the politico-ethical dictum laid down by the first Kannada work Kavirajamarga: ‘real gold is tolerance toward other dharmas and other ideologies.’ Though Kannada is the official language of the state, there are many other languages such as Tulu, Konkani, Kodava and Urdu flourishing in the state. Similarly, different philosophical systems like Monism (Advaita), Dualism (Dwaita), and ‘Monistic Dualism’ (Vishishtadwaita), and different religions/ belief-systems like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Veerashaivism, Islam, and Christianity have co-existed peacefully in the state since ancient times.
The first (extant) Kannada text, a treatise on Poetics, is Kavirajamarga by Srivijaya, composed in 850 AD, and the first full-length Kannada epics, Vikramarjuna Vijaya and Adipurana, by Pampa, were written in the tenth century. A few of the great poets who came after Pampa were Ranna, Janna, Kumaravyasa, Lakshmisha, and Shadakshari. In addition to such a great written tradition, there has existed since ancient times a strong oral tradition with its stories and poems and songs, culminating in great oral epics like Male Madeshwara and Manteswamy, which are still living and vibrant.
‘Modern’ literature in Kannada is the product of a series of colonial confrontations and compromises, at different levels. New interpretations of traditional literature and culture went hand in hand with newer adaptations of the Western models in literature and culture. It is customary to study modern Kannada literature under these four heads: Navodaya (Romantic-Idealist), 1920-1940; Pragatishila (Progressive-Realistic), 1940-1950; Navya (Realist-Modernist), 1950-1975; and Dalita-Bandaya (Satirical-Reformist), 1975-2000. Of course, many writers and genres straddle two or more periods.
The Navodaya movement, under the impact of colonial pressures, extensively experimented with new forms and modes of expression. New literary genres such as the Novel, the Lyric, the Ode, and Auto-biography entered and enriched Kannada literature. Among such new genres one was the Short Story. “Nanna Chikkappa” (‘My Uncle’) by Panje Mangesha Rao, published in 1900, is considered the first ‘modern’ short story.
Although short stories as such have a very long history in Kannada (as in other Indian languages), the ‘new’ short story differed from the earlier ones in that it reflected contemporary society and it was crafted very consciously as a literary form. From the point of view of social consciousness, Panje’s story, “ Kamalapurada Hotlinalli” (‘In the Hotel at Kamalapura’) is very revealing –the locale of the story is a ‘hotel’ which is also a modern institution and which allows people to commingle irrespective of class or caste. It is this social consciousness that differentiates the modern short stories from their ancient predecessors.
Masti Venkatesha Iyengar (1891-1986) was the writer who, besides bring a novelist-poet-critic-translator, explored all the formal and thematic possibilities of the Short Story and moulded it as a major literary form. Beginning with his first story published in 1910, his one hundred stories have unbelievable variety –stories about legendary characters, domestic/love, historical characters and incidents, and humorous incidents. Similarly, Masti’s signature-technique in stories is his use of multiple narrators. Usually, the first-person narrator narrates some story he had been told by others. Occasionally, we find even three narrators, as in “Chikkavva”. With the use of multiple narrators, Masti gains the ‘distance’ and also authenticity for what he narrates. At the heart of all stories, there is Masti’s faith in the inborn goodness of Man and certain life-giving values imbibed from one’s culture. Some of his great stories are: “Venkatashamiya Pranaya,” “Venkatigana Hendati,” “Acharyara Patni,” “Chikkavva,” “Ondu Haleya Kathe,” etc. (Masti himself has translated all of his stories into English, published in two volumes.)
The ‘Pragatishila Movement’ was a part of the pan-Indian ‘Progressive Writers Association’ begun at Lucknow in 1936, and the first conference of the Kannada counterpart was held in Bengaluru in 1943. The most important Pragatishila writers were Niranjana, Shriranga, A. N. Krishna Rao, T. R. Subbarao, Basavaraja Kattimani, and V. M. Inamdar. The ideology of this Movement was Marxist and it was concerned with the plight of the working classes/ castes. The movement was influential for a decade or so and then broke down owing to ideological differences among its members. The movement is remembered today only for a few stories written by Niranjana (“Koneya Giraki”) and Kattimani (“Girija Kanda Cinema”).
Some of the most successful short stories in Kannada were written during the Navya or Modernist period. The major writers of this period include U. R. Ananthamurthy, Yashavant Chittala, Ramachandra Sharma, Shantinatha Desai, P. L. Lankesh, Veena Shanteshwar, and a host of others. These writers substituted scepticism for idealism, sexuality for love, and the sordid for the sublime. They were Liberal Humanists and they viewed the individual as pitted against Establishment; hence they opposed all systems, be they religious or political. We can consider Ananthamurthy and Veena Shanteshwar as representative writers of this period.
Till now, Ananthamurthy has written, besides novels, poetry and discursive essays, thirty stories, most of which have been translated into almost all Indian languages and acclaimed. Roughly, we can categorise his stories (and novels) into two phases: in the first phase, as a ‘critical insider’ Ananthamurthy ruthlessly exposes the cruelty inherent in Hindu tradition and culture. The outstanding stories of this period are “Ghatashraddha,” “Prasta,” “ Kartika,” and “Mauni.” In the second phase, with equal ruthlessness, he attacks Modernity, which to him stands for Westernisation, soulless urbanization and development (ex. “jaratkaru,” and “Akkayya”). “Suryana Kudure,” arguably the best story written by him, comes in between these two phases, and it dramatizes the conflicting values and ways of life of traditional and Westernized Indians. Also, another great quality of Ananthamurthy is his use of language which is sensual, poetic and connotative.
Veena Shanteshwar, a writer of fiction and translator, has to her credit 37 stories spread over five collections. All of her stories are ‘woman-centred’ and she exposes in each the different forms of the unequal Man-Woman relationships within the marriage system and outside it. However, while her stories in the beginning ( ‘Nirakarane,” “Kavalu,” “KoneyaDari,” . . .) mount a severe critique of the male-centred system, her later stories like “Gandasaru” and “ Shoshane, Bandaya, Ityaadi” connote that the only way left for a woman in such unequal relationships is ‘compromise.’
Poornachandra Tejaswi’s attack, in 1973, on the individualistic and egotistical Navya movement heralded the beginning of a new movement, called ‘Dalit-bandaya’ movement –a Movement of Protest. The primary objective of this movement was to fight against the hierarchical caste-system and gender-class discriminations. It was an umbrella movement, which included Dalit writers (Devanuru Mahadeva, M. N. Javarayya, Aravinda Malagatti, etc.), women writers (Geetha Nagabhushana, Vaidehi, M. S. Veda, etc.), Muslim and Christian writers (Sarah Abubakar, Banu Mushtak, Boluvaru Mohamad Kunhi, Na. Disouza, etc.), and all those who opposed the Establishment (Tejaswi, Baraguru Ramachandrappa, Kum. Veerabhadrappa, Besagarahalli Ramanna, etc.). We can briefly consider a few representative writers of this movement under the following three categories.
a) Protest against Establishment:
Tejaswi depicts, within the Lohia framework, the cultural decay of rural life in most of his stories. According to him, Marxism fails in India mainly because it focuses only on economic system, whereas unless an individual’s cultural consciousness gets enriched, no major social change is possible. Hence, story after story, Tejaswi pictures the rural people suffering from superstitions, blind beliefs, illiteracy, poverty and heartless bureaucracy. Some of his most successful –and disturbing -- stories are “Abachurina Post Office,” “Kubi Mattu Iyala,” “Avanati” and “Tabarana Kathe.”
Kum. Veerabhadrappa is a prolific short-story writer (besides novels), who, following Tejaswi but without his subtlety, pictures the mute suffering of the rural folk within a feudal system which continues to exist even in a democratic system (“Devara Hena,” “Doma,” “Kattalanu Trishula Hidida Kathe,” etc.). However, he has also written stories like “Kubusa” and “Kurmavatara” which, in a comic-ironic style, mirror the changing mores of a transitional society.
b) Protest against Caste-hierarchy:
Devanuru Mahadeva, the most significant Dalit writer, depicts, with
pointed irony and in a chiselled style, both the suffering and resilience of dalit-life within the caste-hierarchy. As his stories unfold, the exploitation of the dalits is not only economic but also social and sexual. However, Devanuru also connotes the possibility of the exploited waking up and confronting the upper castes on equal footing. A few of his celebrated stories are “Amasa,” “Marikondavaru,” “Grastaru,” “Mudala seemeli kolegile Ityadi,” etc. Most of them have been translated into English and other Indian languages.
Mogalli Ganesh, the younger contemporary of Mahadeva, extends the framework of ‘Dalit Story’ in his four collections of stories. He depicts not only the suffering of the dalits within the caste-hirarchy but also the political and bureaucratic dimensions of such suffering. In stories like “Buguri,” “Railujana” and “Topu” Mogalli brings together the different forms of exploitation existing in modern India: exploitation of the dalits and lower castes in the name of caste-hierarchy, of nature in the name of ‘Development,’ and of innocent men in the name of Political Democracy.
c) Protest against Institutionalised Religious Systems:
The women writers that come in this group depict the ‘double subjugation’ of women – gender-discrimination in a patriarchal society and traditional religious practices. Sarah Abubakar and Banu Mushtak picture Muslim women suffering under ‘Shariyat Laws’ which sanction the practice of polygamous marriages, easy divorce available to the male, and lack of educational facilities for women. Similarly, Vaidehi mounts a severe attack on Hindu religious customs and practices. Her famous story “Akku” ruefully registers that a woman in this Patriarchal system can have freedom of expression and action only when she is considered insane. However, her later stories in the collection Gulabi Talkies forcefully make the point that women, inherently, are superior to men.
Boluvaru and Phakir Katpadi also register their protest against the existing practices like polygamy and easy divorce in the Muslim society.
However, Boluvaru very quickly added to his stories the dimension of ‘inter-religious relationships’ in a multi-religious society; and one of his best stories, “Ondu Godeya Tundu,” dramatizes the aftermath of the ‘demolition of Babri Masjid’ in a comic vein. Later, as the stories in Swatantryada Ota reflect, he developed faith in what he calls ‘collective wisdom of a community’ which can solve any problem of Muslim communities living in India.
During the last two decades, there aren’t any dominant ideological movements; hence free experimentation in all literary forms is actively pursued. The Short Story, arguably the most vibrant genre during this period, examines, besides the earlier forms of oppression, the myriad forms and consequences of Liberalisation and Globalisation, There are scores of significant short-story writers in this period: Jayanth Kaikini, Viveka Shanbhag, Raghavendra Patila, Vasudhendra, and many others; and each has his own form of expression and concern. In order to understand the new themes and new modes of expression in recent short stories, we can briefly consider Jayanth Kaikini and Viveka Shanabhag.
Jayant Kaikini has published till now five collections of short stories and one collection has been translated into English under the title Dots And Lines. Whereas the stories of his first two collections are built around the climactic and decisive moment of the protagonist’s life, his later stories are built around individuals lost in the absurdities of mega cities. People who do not know their parents, young children who cannot answer the quizmaster’s questions, fathers who go in search of prospective grooms carrying ‘virginity certificates’ of their daughters –these are the characters that inhabit the ‘absurd’ world of Jayant’s stories. Most of his stories in this group imply that Life is too complex and too big to be either understood or changed. All that one can do is (like the old woman in “The Unclaimed Portrait”) to come out of one’s shell and extend love and care to the needy, however meagre it is.
The successful stories of Viveka Shanbhag, who has published five collections of stories, revolve around gigantic Hydro-electric projects, MNCs and the globalised IT industry. “Nirvana,” for instance, narrated in a comic-ironic mode, shows how the MNCs obliterate all distinctions like caste, language and nationality of their employees. Whereas “Kantu” is centred on a village about to be submerged in the huge reservoir being built, “Huli Savari” depicts the way management-trainees are taught how to make huge profits in far-flung and backward countries. In fact, the title of the story “Huli Savari,” which means ‘to ride a tiger’ can be considered a metaphor for most of his stories: once one is after money, it is like riding a tiger; one can neither continue to ride nor get down from the tiger’s back.
S. Diwakar (1945-) is a major journalist- short-story writer and translator in Kannada, with 30 works to his credit. Diwakar’s interest in the short-story form goes back to three decades; he has been writing short stories since the 70s of the last century and he has translated good stories from European, African, and Latin American languages (Uttara DakShina Dikkugalannu Ballavanu, Jagattina Ati Sanna Kathegalu, Katha Jagattu). The present work is a collection of seventeen selected short stories, translated into English, which vary in length as well as form: there are stories of one page to fifteen pages; and, at the level of form, there are realistic stories (‘Epiphany,’ ‘Victory Over Death,’ ‘The Photograph,’ ‘A Poem of White Flowers,’ etc.), allegories (‘The Box’ ‘the Vow’), fantasies (‘The Water in the Depths,’ ‘fear’), and meta-fictional stories (‘History,’ ‘Duality,’ and ‘The Communalist.’
Before we proceed further, a brief introduction to some of the common characteristics of Diwakar’s stories is called for. The special fortè of Diwakar lies in building up a story through precise and connotative details, like a skilled sculptor. Such details not only give his characters flesh and blood but also place them in a specific period. Secondly, he is interested in communicating unusual and quaint experiences with utmost brevity of expression. Again, most of the stories of Diwakar move on two planes simultaneously: the planes of fiction and meta-fiction.
a) As fiction, Diwakar’s realistic stories centred on women in a
patriarchal system, narrate very unusual happenings or experiences. The very first story of this collection, “Epiphany” (a much anthologized story in Kannada), exposes the cruelty hidden within the cover of piety and great scholarship. Alamelu, a polio-victim, is neglected since her birth because her father, a great scholar in Scripture and Sanskrit, wanted a son to continue his lineage. Alamelu, denied of parental love and care, has no freedom, as she grows up, even to go out without parental permission. Once, in her 36th year and still unmarried, she goes out, gets caught up in a street-fight, and a knife aimed at someone else strikes her back. She falls down bleeding. One Palanichami, a black, poor street-vendor, lifts her gently and leans her against his chest till the ambulance reaches there. For the first time in her life, “she could see compassion in his bulging eyes. His sour breath and the sweat from his forehead dripping on her head seemed to bring the essence of life to her.” The long and unpronounceable name of her father, his brilliant analyses of ancient scriptures, and the contrast between traditional culture and street-culture --all these add up to make the story a brilliant satire on piety and pedantry.
“Photograph” is another chilling ‘short’ story. It begins with a ‘close reading’ of an old marriage-photograph of a young man and woman (the young woman almost bound hand and foot with necklaces and other items of jewelry), and then goes on to briefly narrate their lives as heard from others. Once, the young wife, coming to know of her husband’s extra-marital affair, takes out an axe one day and begins to chop wood in front of her husband. Her act is so fiercely symbolic that her husband, shell-shocked, stops all his affairs from that day. This story depicts not only the helplessness of women in traditional families but also their inner strength.
The eponymous “Hundreds of Streets . . .” is another story full of genuine pathos. It pictures an old actor, a ‘hero’ in the age of silent films, who refuses to accept that times have changed and continues to live in his own world of illusions, till it is shattered.
Among the meta-fictional stories two stand out: “History” and “Duality.” The first story about a novelist, who is doing fieldwork for his historical novel, raises probing questions about historiography: what is history? Is it a truthful account of what happened in the past or is it an account of the past, pruned to serve present purposes? Again, in the very process of the present receding into past, do only virtues stand out and weaknesses fade away? Maranayaka, the past ruler of that town and the protagonist of the projected historical novel, is remembered today for his charitable acts, devotion, and heroism; but the old man whom the writer meets tells him that he was also a cruel man who got his general killed so that he could marry his wife. Which is the truth? In the same town, at present, there is a rich man and an old friend of the writer, Gurappa. He is cruel, merciless and ambitious –a mirror image of the old ruler. Do Gurappa’s crimes also fade away in future and only his charity or love of poetry is going to be remembered? Completely bogged down with such questions, the novelist gives up his project.
From the point of view of form, “Duality” is more self-conscious and reflexive. Cast in the form of a dramatic monologue, the narrator (probably a writer of fiction) addresses a novelist, who is writing a novel; throughout the story, parts of the ‘novel’ and commentary on it alternate. A writer of fiction, obviously, observes the men and women around him and writes his stories or novels based on his observations; but are the characters in the novel/ story and those in real life who lurk behind such characters the same? Or, in the process of creative imagination, do they become someone else? The narrator asks the ‘novelist’ the same questions: “ You have been choosing only such letters as will fit the image surfacing from your mind. But, do those letters make the right words to describe your thoughts?” The implied answer is ‘no.’ At the end of the story, the narrator declares: “Your wife who hates you doesn’t figure in the story you’ve nearly completed. The one who lives in it is a woman called Tarini.” In other words, no work of imagination can be a mere reflection of life.
G. Rajashekhara states in his introduction to the (original) work that it contains a few outstanding stories of Kannada. One completely agrees with him.
C. N. Ramachandran