At no point does SLB tell you that the reincarnation hinted is a lie. A child that starts its first conversation at the age of 2 as “I am married. My wife’s name is Venkamma.” surely is not planning a con job for 15 years later. There are no conspiracy theories here, only some imagined. The name itself is borrowed from the Mahabharatha where in the very final act, Yudhishtira refuses to enter Swarga without the dog that had been following him like a shadow. Reading it when young I was pained to know that Arjuna or Bheema could not enter heaven while Yudhishtira, the most boring of the Pandavas, made it with a dog in tow. Later, of course, you realize that that dog represented his Karma and while attaining heaven was meant to be the final act of salvation, Yudhishtira refusing to give up his past deeds while entering was an act of significance.
Dogs are an integral part of this book. Kshetrapala (the re-born Vishweshwara) enters the house of Achhannaiah, his father from his previous birth, with his dog in tow. Achhannaiah’s dog greets it with as much ferociousness as it can muster and never reconciles to its presence in that house, while the initially hostile local dogs in the village accept its presence later on. When you are dealing with a topic based out on Karma and its repercussions you don’t ignore a scene created as well as this. Sitting and writing a post later on, after finishing the book, you get it! The dog continues to play an important role with most things and when you finally read of its death you expect something and you get it. But by then the character himself moves away from the storyline and you are left dealing with the affected family.
Most of ನಾಯಿ ನೆರಳು is along those lines. Weird things happen to people, many of whom have been cowed by the effects of their past Karma and then there is Jogayya, the Yogi/Sanyasi, who disappears at crucial moments and returns later to clarify things, who only laughs when asked “why?”, but sometimes gives a “Think for yourself, you’ll know”. Most things you don’t get (at least I couldn’t!), but over a period of time they start making sense. There are no “Aha” moments, only slow understanding. Of course, even then there are further questions. Venkamma (the wife of the reborn man) at the end is left wondering what role she had to play and why she had to go through all that. She goes through the most pain for everything or seems to. There are no easy answers here and no attempts are made either.
Having read only ಆವರಣ before, I was expecting a rational tale with no make-believe. This is a novel where you concentrate on the theme. You nod along when the grama-devathe comes to the house in the form of the possessed priest, when the jogayya tells you stories or when Acchannaiah recounts his tale. The ending is very abrupt, but along expected lines. This is not a fairy tale.
If you can read Kannada, I cannot recommend this enough. At only 168 pages, it won’t take much time either.
[Disclaimer: I haven’t watched the movie by the same name, directed by Girish Kasaravalli. From what I read about the movie, there are significant differences between the plot lines with only the character names and the concept of reincarnation as the only common points. So if you’ve seen the movie alone, I suggest reading the book if you can. What it deals with is an entirely different set of concepts and goes more into the ethos of Hinduism exploring Karma in its fullest.]