Preethi Mruthyu Bhaya
The publication of this novel, written in 1959 and resurrected accidentally has generated considerable interest among the cognoscenti, because of its historical significance as well as its contemporary relevance, even though the former would be restricted to academics. The introductory remarks by the author describe the novel as a creative attempt aimed at purgation from the trauma caused by intense experiences such as death and love as also the emotional and intellectual responses released by them. It delineates the journeys undertaken by Shekhara into his past and the inner recesses of his psyche. It deals also with the alienation of the protagonist from his social and familial moorings; it interrogates his relationship with Shyamala – is it physical, is it ideological or is it love itself. However, this oft repeated theme acquires an added dimension because the novelist perceives the problem as cutting across generations and cultural idiosyncrasies.
Ananthamurthy, among the most important writers of our times, has maintained a critical distance from the protagonist. This is the portrayal of a predicament rather than a worldview. Shekhar’s inability to understand the inner compulsions of other characters and the consequent intolerance should be perceived as lacunae introduced by the novelist himself. The interface that is created among primal forces such as love, death and fear leads to the evolution of Shekhar’s psyche. The sudden death of his younger brother propels him to transcend his limitations and make the ‘right’ choices. He feels that his relatives and friends are denied this privilege because they are sentimental and exploitative. This of course is typical of the Navya (Modernist) writing.
Hatred and intolerance often borne by ‘sensitive’ persons towards an ‘insensitive’ world result in various reaction patterns such as renunciation, struggle, masochism, compromise, resignation and unwilling participation. Shekhara exhibits all of them at various junctures in the novel. His self righteousness is tempered by an untold respect for others and a genuine awareness of his limitations. Surprisingly, his ire is directed more at his mother and other women in his life, rather than male characters with whom he vibes reasonably well. Most of these characters serve a functional purpose – they foster the evolution of Shekhara.
The novel employs the stream of conscious technique with certain modifications. Chronological narration makes way for discrete units of experience that are held together by emotional and cerebral continuum created in the protagonist. The novel may not satisfy your artistic expectations, but its disarming honesty and intensity captivates the reader.
This novel is historically important for two reasons. Firstly, it contains within itself the birth pangs of the modernist fiction in Kannada. It illustrates the process of transition from the realistic modes of structuring and narration to the modernist mode which is characterised by panache for poetic quality, foregrounding the narrative and relegating the story to the background, and being richly symbolic.
Secondly, this novel contains many major preoccupations of Anathamurthy’s oeuvre in their embryonic form. This represents a stage at which the individual and the family are at the nucleus and society forms a peripheral backdrop. Later on, Ananthamurthy focused on the philosophical and socio-political dimensions of life, although never at the cost of sacrificing the sanctity of individuals. In celebrated classics such as “Samskara’ and “Avasthe’, an artistic merger of these concerns is manifested very competently and artistically. The intellectual positions taken in this novel are genuine because the author was bothered neither by a desire to be politically right nor by inner compulsions to cater to the reading public. The fact that the novel ends rather abruptly may also indicate the tentative nature of author’s ideological positions at that temporal juncture.
However, the significance of this work lies in the fact that it reflects on the angst indigenous to youth. However, the travails undergone by other age groups, as furtherance to what sets in during youthful years are given ample representation. It creates a sombre and contemplative mood in its readers. It could become a perennial favourite, it is sure to evoke similar responses in decades to come because it addresses issues that are relevant for all time.
H.S. Raghavendra Rao
This is a review of Prof U.R. Ananthamurthy's latest novel, published on 24-08-12 in ‘The Hindu’