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 After his death, his daughter, Janaki Shrinivas, collected, with admirable perseverance, all of his published and unpublished stories and brought out a collection of forty stories in 2011.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
Dr. K. KRISHNAMOORTHY’S
CONTRIBUTION TO COMPARATIVE POETICS
That the introduction of English education in India during the colonial period led to complex –and often self-contradictory –consequences is too well-known to be discussed afresh. However, it is an indisputable fact that it also bred a host of exceptional bilingual scholars, spurred by William Jones’s articles on ‘comparative Linguistics,’ who dedicated their lives to the study of Sanskrit language and literature from a non-traditional perspective: Orientalists in England and Europe, Transcendentalists in the U.S., and ‘jung grammatiker’ or ‘the New Grammarians’ in Germany. These scholars collected, edited and published old Sanskrit texts, both secular and sacred, and interpreted them from a modern point of view. Also, since the language of analysis and interpretation was, more often than not, English, its intended readership was both pan-Indian and international. This period is often recognized as ‘the renaissance of Sanskrit’ and some of the great Indian scholars who worked in this ‘renaissance period’ were Dr. R. G. Bhandarkar, Mahamahopadhyaya Kuppuswamy Shastry, Acharya Kane, and many others. Dr. Keralapura Krishnamoorthy belongs to this great line of scholars.
Dr. Krishnamoorthy’s multi-faceted scholarship, stretched over a period of four to five decades, overwhelms one by its sheer volume. As his daughter, Dr. Leela Prakash, lists in her ‘Introduction’ to the felicitation volume ¸nanda Bh¹rati, his publications included: a) over two hundred scholarly papers on Sanskrit poetics, b) critical editions of three unpublished major literary works in Sanskrit, c) English and Kannada translations of a score of major texts in Sanskrit poetics, d) works on individual authors like Kalidasa and Banabhatta, and e) translations into Kannada of Winternitz’s History of Indian Literature and Acharya Kane’s History of Dharma¶¹stra. In this short paper, I am mainly concerned with his contribution to comparative poetics.
Of course, Krishnamoorthy was not the first to write on Sanskrit poetics in English; there were many stalwarts who preceded him: A. Shankaran (Some Aspects of Literary Criticism in Sanskrit, 1925), S. S. Sukthankar (K¹vya Prak¹¶a, 1941), V. Raghavan (Some Concepts of Alank¹ra Sh¹stra, 1942), Kuppuswamy Shastry (High Ways and Byways of Literary Criticism in Sanskrit, 1945), M. Hiriyanna (Art Experience, 1954), S. K. De (Some Problems of Sanskrit Poetics, 1959), P. V. Kane (History of Sanskrit Poetics, 1961), etc. However, Krishnamoorthy differed from all these scholars in many ways. He was a tri-lingual scholar who wrote in English, Kannada and Sanskrit; and he was an editor-critic-translator par excellence.
His contribution to comparative poetics can, briefly, be considered under two heads: authoritative editions and comparative studies of Sanskrit and British/American poetics.
I a) : Authoritative Editions: The following are the major works in
Sanskrit poetics which Krishnamoorthy edited with critical notes and translated into English: Anandavardhana, Dhwany¹løka; Kuntaka, Vakrøktij»vita; Abhinava-gupta, Løchana; and Bharata, N¹yash¹stra with Abhinava Bh¹rati. Of these, the second work needs a special mention.
Till Krishnamoorthy took up the work, only the first two chapters and a part of the third chapter of Vakrøktij»vita were available, edited and published by S. K. De, in 1923. Although De later brought out a revised edition of the work in 1928, it remained still fragmentary (without the fourth chapter) and unsatisfactory. The third edition of the same work, published by K. L. Mukhopadhyay in 1961, was almost a mechanical reprint of De’s 1928 edition. Krishnamoorthy, who had been interested in this work since his graduate-days, came to know by chance that a new palm-leaf manuscript of the work was available in Jaisalmer Bhandar. Immediately, he visited the Bhandar (library), got photostat copies of the old palm-leaf manuscript, and with the help of other available manuscripts and allied works like Kalpalat¹viv∙ka, he was able to reconstruct all the four chapters of Kuntaka’s work, for the first time. Then, he published the complete work, with its English translation and critical notes, in 1977. Since then, thanks to the enormous labour and scholarship of Krishnamoorthy, Vakrøktij»vita has proved a seminal text for scholars interested in comparative poetics.
b) : Krishnamoorthy competently translated into Kannada almost all the major Sanskrit texts on poetics, with critical notes and a detailed introduction to the author. The following are his Kannada translations:
i Anandavardhana, Dhvany¹løka, 1951; ii Vamana, K¹vy¹lank¹rasØtra , 1955; iii Mammata, K¹vyaprak¹¶a, 1957; iv Kshemendra, Auchitya Vich¹ra-charch¹, 1960-61; v Dandi, Kavy¹dar¶a, 1975; vi Kshemendra, Kavi Kanh¹bharaªa, 1977.
II: Comparative Criticism:
William Empson, the famous formalist critic, made this comment while discussing the possibility of ‘ambiguity’ or ‘plurality of meaning,’ as far back as 1930, that the question of ambiguity and related concepts goes back to Buddhist thinkers of the fifth century. Still it did not enthuse any Indian scholar to take up that issue and go deeper into it. On the contrary, a few scholars like S. K. De went as far as totally rejecting the Indian poetics that had been active for almost a millennium:
“Its method in general is suitable for the study of Botany or Zoology
but affords hardly any assistance for the understanding of aesthetic
facts or principles. It is like studying the index of a book than
the book itself.” (as quoted by Krishnamoorthy, Critics, p.340)
Fortunately, many later scholars politely differed from S. K. De and took up the fruitful task of comparative poetics seriously. K. Krishnamoorthy was one such.
a) Nature of Aesthetic Experience:
Krishnamoorthy’s first major work was Dhvany¹løka And Its Critics
(Kannada: 1951, English: 1974). Although the primary goal of this work is to explicate and firmly establish the ‘Dhvani’ school answering all the critics of the school, Krishnamurthy draws our attention, in the course of his discussion, to many similar views and concepts between Indian aestheticians and German Romantic thinkers. According to him, there are many similarities between Kant and Indian aestheticians like Abhinavagupta and Bhatta Nayaka, regarding aesthetic experience.
In the context of differentiating aesthetic experience from scientific and moral experience, Kant, in his Critique of Judgment, lays down ‘four moments’: moment of disinterestedness, moment of universality, moment of necessity, and the moment of finality. “It is remarkable,” states Krishnamoorthy, “that most of these ideas should be included in Abhinavagupta’s philosophy of rasa” (Dhvany¹løka, p.316). Of Kant’s four ‘moments,’ Krishnamoorthy points out that the ‘moment of disinterestedness’ is very close to Abhinavagupta’s concept of ‘ras¹nubhØti.’ Elaborating this point, he says that according to Abhinavagupta, ‘ras¹nubhØti’ is a moment of ‘other-worldly experience’ (‘alaukika chamatk¹ra’); it is totally ‘free from all pressures and constraints’ (‘v»ta- vighna- prat»ti’) ; and it is almost equal to ‘the state of pure joy in which the individual soul becomes one with the Universal Soul or Brahman’ (‘brahm¹nanda’ ). The ‘moment of universality’ as explained by Kant is what Bhattanayaka and Abhinavagupta identify as ‘s¹dh¹raª»karaªa’ (making it applicable to all/ generalisation). Kant’s ‘moment of necessity,’ Krishnamoorthy argues, is what Abhinavagupta says about rasa: ‘sakala- hrudaya- samv¹da- bh¹k’. Lastly, Mammata, following Abhinavagupta, describes ‘ras¹nubhØti’ as ‘sakala- prayøjana- mauði-bhØtam’ (‘there is nothing beyond this experience and it is not a means to anything else’), which is very close to Kant’s ‘moment of finality.’ In short, Krishnamoorthy points out, the way Indian aestheticians analyse ‘the experience of rasa’ is very similar to Kant’s analysis of ‘the experience of Beauty.’
Later, in the same chapter, Krshnamoorthy goes on to draw parallels between the accounts of aesthetic experience given by Schiller and Schopenhauer, and Abhinavagupta’s account of the same.
b) T. S. Eliot and Indian Poetics:
i. The Theory of ‘Rasa’ and the Concept of ‘objective correlative’:
In Dhvany¹løka And Its Critics, Krishnamoorthy touches upon Eliot’s
views on ‘impersonal poetry,’ with particular reference to Eliot’s famous essay “Tradition And the Individual Talent”; and points out that “the Indian distinction between Bh¹va and Rasa is very akin to the distinction between personal emotions and art-emotion, made by T. S. Eliot” (Dhvany¹løka, p. 313). However, he elaborately develops this comparative discussion of Eliot and Indian aestheticians in his later essays.
One such major essay is “Some Aspects of T. S. Eliot’s Critical Theory in
the Light of Sanskrit Poetics,” published in 1970. In this article, he continues his argument on ‘impersonal poetry’ and states:
The novelty of this paradoxical statement (‘It is not the expression of
personality but an escape from personality) can be appreciated against
the English romantic theory of the poet’s expression of personal emotions;
but in Indian criticism it does not appear either strange or original (Studies, 139).
Then, to justify his claim, he goes on to explain Bharata’s concepts of ‘bh¹va,’ ‘vibh¹va,’ and ‘vyabhich¹ri bh¹va.’ ‘Bh¹va’ is the raw emotion of a person in real life and it can never be expressed in art. ‘Vibh¹va’ (universalized stimuli),
‘anubh¹va’ ( general responses) and ‘vyabhich¹ri bh¹vas’ (associated moods and feelings) transform that personal emotion into impersonal experience..
In this context, he takes up for analysis Eliot’s concept of ‘objective correlative’ as a means impersonal poetry. Before him, Krishna Rayan had dealt with the same topic in 1965. Whether Krishnamoorthy was aware of Rayan’s argument is not known; but Krishnamoorthy’s argument appears to have been independently developed, and it is more precise. In this essay, Krishnamoorthy, mainly, discusses three issues.
a) The first one is the similarity between Bharata’s definition of ‘Rasa’
and Eliot’s formulation of ‘objective correlative.’ Krishnamoorthy quotes the well-known argument of Eliot, formulated for the first time in his essay on Hamlet (“The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an ‘objective correlative’; . . .”), and states that Eliot’s concepts and terms here are uncannily similar to those of Sanskrit criticism:
Now, in Indian poetics, even the earliest text, viz., Bharata’s N¹tyash¹stra,
we have the aesthetic principle of rasa whose sheet-anchor is the distinction
between causal stimuli, resultant responses and attendant moods and
feelings of any individual emotion in life and the treatment of just these in
. . . A real sorrow in life can only lead to pain in the onlooker” (Studies, 136-
Then he goes on to explain Bhattanayaka’s concept of ‘s¹dh¹raª»karaªa,’ which analyses, step by step, the process in which personal emotions and feelings are transformed into universal emotions and feelings.
As is well-known, Eliot’s formulation of ‘objective correlative’ came under severe criticism by many British and American critics. One major weakness of the formulation, according to its critics like Graham Hough, Raymond Williams, Elisio Vivas, and others, was that it reduced the entire creative process into a mere mechanical arrangement. The critics argued that before creating a work of art, no writer has complete knowledge of what he is creating, and that he ‘discovers’ it only through the process of creation. Similar criticism can be levelled against the ‘theory of Rasa.’
It is to the credit of Krishnamoorthy that he was aware of the limitations of the ‘Rasa-theory,’ which is, like Aristotle’s theory of Catharsis, is an ‘affective theory.’ In his article, “Rasa as a Canon of Literary Criticism,” he plainly and unequivocally states:
The classical theory of rasa practically fails to leave the poet a free
choice in the expression of his emotions and feelings in spite of its
assertions that he is freer than God Himself in the creative realm.
. . . Rasa, then, cannot serve as a sole canon of Sanskrit literary
criticism. It needs to be supplemented by the more serviceable
criteria of Guªa-R»ti (qualities and poetic diction and style) and
Alamk¹ra (figurative imagery) Essays, 72-73.
ii. Three Voices of Poetry and ‘Dhvani’:
Eliot, in his essay, “Three Voices of Poetry” (1953), identifies three kinds of poetic expression: the first is ‘the voice of the poet talking to himself or nobody,’ the example of which is lyric poetry; the second is ‘the voice of the poet addressing an audience,’ resulting in epic poetry; and the third is ‘the voice of the poet when he attempts to create a dramatic character speaking in verse,’ resulting in poetic drama. Eliot goes further and says that ‘it is the unique glory of poetic drama that all the three voices are heard and heard harmoniously therein.’ Krishnamoorthy begins his argument in this essay that “. . . T. S. Eliot’s ideas . . . have their echoes in an ancient Sanskrit text of literary criticism dating back to the ninth century A.D., viz. the Dhvany¹løka of Anandavardhana” (Essays, p.275).
Krishnamoorthy equates Eliot’s ‘Voice’ with Anandavardhana’s ‘Dhvani’ which, literally means ‘tone.’ He then argues that the three types of ‘Dhvani’ as enumerated by Anandavardhana anticipate Eliot’s three ‘voices’:
. . . in lyrics, etc. . . . there is Dhvani of a single Bh¹va or Rasa; in epic, etc.
there is Dhvani of more than one Rasa or Bh¹va, not necessarily falling
into a unity. But in poetic drama there is Dhvani of several Rasas and
Bh¹vas which necessarily fall into a unity. (Essays, p. 278).
Further, Krishnamoorthy says that Anandavardhana gives significant names for these three varieties: Swatah-sambhavi ( literature, naturally possible); kavi- Prau©hokti-siddha (literature imaginatively possible when the poet speaks in the first person); and kavi-nibaddha-prau©hokti-siddha (literature imaginatively possible only in a character invented by the poet). (Essays, 279) After further explication of these terms, Krishnamoorthy ends his discussion that “though there are differences in detail, one cannot mistake the identity of approach” in Eliot and Anandavardhana (Essays, 280).
C) Poetry And Purification Theories:
As is common knowledge today, Aristotle, in order to answer the charges levelled against poetry (literature) by Plato, laid down his theory of Catharsis, in his Poetics. However, he did not elaborate the ramifications of this theory except the statement in his definition of Tragedy that it “arouses pity and fear to purge off these and like emotions.” Hence, many and varied interpretations of this theory were given by scholars; and one of the interpretations advanced by Humphry House came to be called ‘Purification theory.’ According to this theory, Tragedy arouses such strong passions in spectators (readers) like pity and fear, and, through the very act of arousing them, it pacifies them and restores psychic equilibrium in the spectators (and readers).
In the essay, “Bhatta Tauta’s Defence of Poetry,” Krishnamoorthy takes up this point and draws our attention to an ancient Indian aesthetician, Bhatta Tauta (10th century, A. D., the mentor of Abhinavagupta), who puts forward a similar defence of Poetry, in his critical work K¹vyakautuka. This work, meaning ‘Wonder of Poetry’, is, unfortunately, lost today except for a few parts of this work preserved in other works. However, even these excerpts are enough to give us an idea of his major arguments in defence of Poetry.
Krishnamoorthy begins his article pointing out that “many a battle must have been fought by the champions of poetry and philosophy” even in ancient India, similar to those of Plato and Aristotle; and that the charges of the philosophers, similar to those of Plato, were made on the ground of morality:
They point to the sensuous and erotic elements that are preponderant
in poetry and ask how these, which are really hindrances, can be of
help in the achievement of Moksha. ( Essays, 48-49)
Then he quotes Bhatta Tauta’s argument:
Surely, there is no real existence of sense-objects in poetic
experience. How, then, can you complain that passions are
profoundly excited by Poetry? . . .
Our position can be stated thus: Just as dust is used to clean
up a rusty mirror, the mind of the critic is purified of passion
through passion itself. (Essays, 50)
Commenting on these excerpts of Bhatta Tauta, Krishnamoorthy argues (in his note) that “the idea has its close parallel in the Ayurvedic principle –ushªamushªena shamyati” (‘heat cures heat’); and then, he concludes:
this ‘purification’ theory of Bhatta Tauta . . . is significant as coming
from not only an able advocate of poetry but also one who virtually
inaugurated true aesthetics in Sanskrit, perfected later by his worthy
disciple, Abhinavagupta. (Essays, 50)
There are many other essays by Krishnamoorthy, in which he attempts comparative aesthetics (“Aesthetics in Indian And Western Literature: A Comparative Study”); and in one article, he undertakes the challenging task of analyzing modern English poems within the framework of the dhwani school ( “ The ‘Dhvani’ School of Criticism in Sanskrit”); and such. However, I believe the major articles I have discussed till now ably give us an insight into Krishnamoorthy’s vast scholarship in and understanding of Sanskrit and Western traditions of poetics.
Expert commentary and explication of the abstract theories and concepts of Indian poetics, authoritative editions of rare Sanskrit texts, and translations into Kannada and English of all major texts of Indian poetics—these are the primary areas of interest as well as achievement of Dr. K. Krishnamoorthy; and comparative poetics is only incidental. Still, no one can deny that he has done remarkable work in this field. However, one or two questions need to be raised regarding his astounding scholarship and the supposed ‘limitations’ of Indian poetics.
a) The entire body of Indian poetics, spread over a period of
approximately one thousand years, is basically Formalist. Underneath it is the belief that ‘there is a recognizable, autotelic and autonomous text, the meaning of which is clear and amenable to any informed and mature reader/critic.’ Roughly, this position can be called Positivist and (in Derrida’s terminology) logocentric.
Consequently, excepting brilliant, text-oriented theories and concepts, no other view of literature, like Marxist, Feminist and Historical, could enter the body of Indian poetics. In fact, it seems that Indian poetics views literature as something precious to be carefully preserved on an ivory tower -- an object, cut off from history and contemporary society, and meant only to be meditated upon.
However, ancient Sanskrit literature is far from this position; it is always shaped by contemporary concerns, and it is directly involved in the society which gave birth to it. In his major play, Abhijny¹na ˜¹kuntalam, Kalidasa seriously questions the contemporary patriarchal ideologies: his king is often ridiculed by his clown; the ignored queen’s anguish is heard from the king’s palace; and, in the end, the king, who, in the beginning represents a male-oriented system, falls at the feet of his wife, in the end. Shudraka’s Mruchchakatika, of course, brilliantly reflects a ‘world turned upside down’: it shows us a courtesan who doesn’t love money, a great merchant who is poor, a gambler who turns into a Buddhist monk, and a Brahmin who uses his sacred thread only to measure the area of the hole carved in the wall in order to thieve. Even while there were such remarkable plays before them, how could the Indian aestheticians continue, one after another, to debate which was the ‘soul’ of poetry and which wasn’t? Only a scholar of Krishnamoorthy’s calibre could confront and answer such a question; but he doesn’t; he contents himself with commentaries and explications. One wishes he had raised such a question.
b) The entire body of Sanskrit poetics and linguistics seems to have
been shaped by ‘theistic’ or ‘¸tmav¹di’ view of life; and, it has no place for ‘atheistic’ or ‘an¹tmav¹di’ schools and views. Of course, the Dravidian forms of poetics and linguistics came to light only recently, perhaps too late for Krishnamoorthy. But, being an authority on Sanskrit poetics and linguistics, one wishes, he could have paid some attention to, at least, the most ‘modern’ ‘Apøha theories’ of Buddhists in his vast-ranging academic work. Unfortunately, he doesn’t consider them at all except for a few passing references.
Admittedly, every scholar demarcates for himself/ herself the area in which he/she wishes to work, and, arguably, others have no right to question his/her choice. Consequently, we can only say about Dr. Krishnamoorthy what he says of another great aesthetician, Ananda Coomaraswamy, and end this essay: “ K. Krishnamoorthy does not give any new aesthetic theory as such, but he provides new eyes as it were to see the perfect beauty symbolized by Indian art, not as an entertainment but as a part of one’s spiritual life” (‘Three Modern Writers on Art Experience,’ Studies, p. 40).
A) Dr. K. Krishnamoorthy’s Books/Articles
1) Essays in Sanskrit Criticism, Karnatak Univ., Dharwad, 1963-64
2) Dhvany¹løka and Its Critics, Kavyalaya, Mysore, 1968
3) Vakrøkti-J»vita of Kuntaka, Karnatak Univ., Dharwad, 1977.
4) Studies in Indian Aesthetics and Criticism, D. V. K. Murthy, Mysore, 1979
5) Aspects of Poetic Language—an Indian Perspective, Poona Univ., 1988
6) “The Indian Theory of Suggestion and Some Western Parallels,” The Poona Orientalist, Vol. Xiii, No.s 3-4.
7) “Indian Poetics and T. S. Eliot’s Three Voices of Poetry,” Journal Of Mys. Univ., XV: 1
8) “Relevance of Sanskrit Aesthetics in the Field of English Studies in India,” Cygnus, Lucknow Journal, No. 1, 1979
9) “Aesthetics in Indian and Western Literature-A Comparative Study,” Annals, Univ. of Madras, Vol. 29, 1-2, 1980
10) “Figurative Language and Indian Poetics,” Journal of Indological Studies, I : I, 1986
1) Rayan, Krishna, “Rasa And the Objective Correlative,” in ed., S. K. Desai and G. N. Devy, Critical Thought: An Anthology of 20th Century Indian English Essays; New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 1987.
2) Prakash, Leela, “ Dr. K. Krishnamoorthy And His Works,” in ¸nanda Bh¹rati: Dr. K. Krishnamurthy Felicitation Volume, ed. Editorial Committee, Mysore: D. V. K. Murthy, 1995.
3) Empson, William, Seven Types of Ambiguity, 1930; p. 193.
4) Vivas, Eliseo, Creation And Discovery, 1955.
--------------------------- C. N. Ramachandran