At the very beginning, in a 3 page preface, KP Poornachandra Tejaswi starts with a methodical takedown of the Navya school of literature. Among the reasons, the main ones are that it has become stale, dominated by academicians and professors with no scope for others to enter, and that it has failed to address the life of the common man living in villages. With that, he starts off marking a separate territory that he calls ‘protest literature’ along the lines of Ram Manohar Lohia.
The ones I’ve read by him tend to be light, even while addressing critical environmental issues. I expected satire, dark humour. There is very little of that.
Abachurina Post Office, the first story, starts off about Bobanna who’s a ‘temporary’ post master for a temporary post office. He doesn’t maintain much discretion with the mail, conducting open sit-togethers to write and read letters for the illiterate. Other posts are put in a kind of bulletin board where anyone can take a look and pass on the message to the intended. Things turn bad when he sneaks off a post card with a nude picture meant for his boss and he just can’t resist doing the wrong thing, read perverted thing, whenever the opportunity presents itself. Things turn really bad when a letter to someone about his daughter makes it to the ‘bulletin board’ and becomes the talk of the town. There’s so much to see here – Bobanna’s desperation, his mother-in-law’s control, the gradual breakdown of his family. This is almost RKN territory, but a lot darker, about how these innocent small town/village guys aren’t that innocent after all.
Avanati, the second story is about a small collection of villages and a few characters making do and dealing with their lives. The story is visual and very conversational, trying to look at the ways of lives and the superstitions that rule people’s lives. Have an eye ailment? Get some breast milk and apply it to your eyes. Keep losing your children as soon as they turn 1 month? Maybe there’s some God’s bad eye on you, let’s fix it when your wife gets pregnant next time. Never mind that the wife has figured out that the best way would be to go to her native in the coast and time her delivery to avoid the Monsoons/Winter. In parallel, literally in parallel as they’re talking other things, there’s a bargain for an ox being made. The person who brings up the topic first is the most desperate, so try talking about everything other than what you’re there for, ok?
Kubi mathu Iyala. Those familiar with the Kannada movie scene would remember a movie of this name, starring Charu Haasan which made a lot of waves in the awards world. A simplish story set in a village with one good doctor fighting the system and the village seen through the eyes of a ghastly murder. This is one of the best stories of this book. The imagery, the atmosphere, the dark humour and the exasperation of the doctor when dealing with the villagers and their superstitions are the main points here.
Thukkoji and Dare Devil Mustapha are two different stories after KMI. The former looks at the growth of a small village into a small town through the lives of a simple tailor and the growth of his family, and the tensions that creep in because of that. A tailor who manages well with his wife helping him, is forced to have a child because that’s the way of the world. Things soon fall apart as he is unable to handle the load by himself as his wife is busy looking after the child. Dare Devil Mustapha is about a lone muslim student in a Hindu college and the usual tensions and anecdotes. This was the weakest of the book, but that could possibly be because I wanted to jump to the next one.
Tabarana Kathe. A movie gets made of this story, again starring Chaaru Haasan, directed by Kasaravalli (who else?) and it gets rated as one of the top 10 best movies ever made in India by one historian, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Satyajit Ray. Try and beat that! A small tale of 12 pages, each line packed with intensity, telling the story of Tabara Setty, a government low level worker who is about to retire, having served on both sides of the Independence, retiring around 25 yrs after independence. This is his struggle to get his PF money released after finding out that the govt owes him money for his services. There are files to be stacked up and gotten from different departments for that and he runs around. All this while his wife gets diagnosed with diabetes and he struggles to take care of her. Eventually he ends up at a butcher’s shop and asks him if he can cut off her infected leg. She dies eventually, and the Tahsildar promises to release his money, only if he can make a decent contribution to the 25th Independence Day function. The irony, after all that he endures, just makes you put down the book and cry.
ತಬರ ಅವನ ಹೆಂಡತಿಯನ್ನು ಹಿಂದಕ್ಕೆ ಕರಕೊಂಡು ಬಂದಾಗ ಆಕೆಗೆ ನೋವಿನಿಂದ ಮೂರ್ಛೆ ಬರತೊಡಗಿತು. ಬಾಯಲ್ಲಿ ನೊರೆ ಬರುತಿತ್ತು.ತಬರ ಮಾಂಸದಂಗಡಿಗೆ ಹೋಗಿ ಕಟುಕ ಯೂಸಫ್ ನನ್ನು ಕೇಳಿದ, “ತನ್ನ ಹೆಂಡತಿ ಕಾಲನ್ನು ಮಂಡಿಯ ಕಾಲಿನವರೆಗೆ ಕಡಿದುಕೊಡುತ್ತೀಯಾ?” ಎಂದು.“ಏನೋ ಹೆಣ್ತಿ ಕಾಲು ಕಡಿಸಿ ಸಾರು ಮಾಡ್ತಿಯೇನೋ?” ಎಂದು ಯೂಸಫ್ ನಕ್ಕ. ಇನ್ನು ನಾಲ್ಕಾರು ಜನ ಹ್ಹೆಹ್ಹೆಹ್ಹೆ ಎಂದು ಅವನೊಡನೆ ನಕ್ಕರು.ಹಸಿಮಾಂಸ ತಿಂದು ಕೊಬ್ಬಿದ ನಾಯಿಯೊಂದು ಲಟಲಟ ನಲ್ಲಿ ಮೂಳೆ ಅಗಿಯುತ್ತಿತ್ತು. ನೇತು ಹಾಕಿದ ಕುರಿಗಳ ಮಾಂಸ ಶರೀರದಿಂದ ಕೆಂಪಗೆ ನೀರಿಳಿಯುತ್ತಿತ್ತು. ಹಲಸಿನ ತೊಳೆಗಳನ್ನು ಬಿಡಿಸಿಟ್ಟುಕೊಂಡು ಒಬ್ಬ ಬಡಕಲು ಹುಡುಗಿ ತನ್ನ ನಿರ್ಬಲ ತೋಳುಗಳನ್ನು ಯಾಂತ್ರಿಕವಾಗಿ ಬೀಸುತ್ತಿದ್ದಳು, ನೊಣ ಓಡಿಸಲು.
Tyaktha is the last story and goes into philosophy a lot. A lot about the shallowness of words and a life lived filled with words. Am not sure how much I got here, there were a lot of things happening, like his grandmother dying and his little cousin wondering where she went, and if she was packed off like they said they will pack him off if he didn’t behave. There is the constant theme in the background from the narrator that you cannot capture the true essences and experiences of life in mere words, while everyone around him seems to be hell-bent on doing just that. Even the lamentations, they form specific words that everyone identifies with, clear patterns that you need to utter when faced with a specific situation, just because everyone does that.
This is one of the best books to come out in Kannada Literature. If interested in reading Kannada, don’t miss this. At the very least, check out Tabarana Kathe on Youtube.