Saturday, August 30, 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