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Updated: April 4, 2013 19:13 IST

History wears a new look

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Agnaatanobbana Aatmacharitre is a novel with a historical backdrop. This unique novel quietly bares human greed and cruelty that pervades all times

Agnaatanobbana Aatmacharitre by Krishnamurthy Hanuru

Ankita Prakashana, Rs.150.

Krishnamurthy, an eminent folklorist and a fiction writer of proven merit has written a novel which departs from the prevalent themes of our times such as a re-creation of ethnic history and a sensitive portrayal of contemporary problems in the context of globalizing forces. The author traces the path of history in the backdrop of the ebbs and flows of everyday life. However, he transcends the temptation to wrap it in an ideological framework and accepts the wisdom of the local and sub-regional communities as his guiding forces. This novel fits in the tradition of great anti war documents of Kannada such as Ashwaththaaman by B.M. Srikantaiah and Smashaana Kurukshetra by Kuvempu. But the genre of novel provides an opportunity to present various aspects of the phenomenon authentically.

The novel depicts the travails of a Dalavaayi in the army of Tipu Sultan. Desappaiah the main narrator, who is raised to the status of a saint, when his manuscript was found after a lapse of two centuries, was an embodiment of all that is negative as a man of war. However, he is both intelligent and sensitive at least during the later part of his life, which concurs with the fall of Tipu and its gory aftermath. The evolution of this character from a sub-normal existence to a humane individual takes place as a consequence of personal tragedies. His introspective forays into the past are juxtaposed with the events that are taking place at the point of narration. Hence, the wisdom gleaned from suffering opens his eyes to the cruelties of war and its antecedents. The novel celebrates the self-contained lives of the villagers and religious mendicants and documents the self-imposed agonies of kings and their retinues. The rude invasion of the army and its plundering attitudes into the rural society is presented authentically with enduring images of loot, pillage, violence and political machinations.

The plight of women in a society controlled by insensitive men and their feudal value system is presented in a heart rending manner. The wife of the protagonist and the other woman whom he picks up as a concubine are subjected to brutal treatment. But they react in diametrically opposite modes of meek surrender and courageous rebellion. However, that difference does not change the quantum of suffering that they undergo. However, women are given their due as the sustainers of familial and cultural harmony. They form an integral part of the subaltern point of view developed in the novel.

The novel acquires a unique dimension by creating characters which are custom driven in their action and humanely introspective in their thoughts and feelings. These include Tipu as well as Hyder Ali Khan. Dewan Purnaiah is portrayed as wise and wily. Many other characters have their own share of the limelight in the narrative structure. The nameless concubine narrates her story to her tormentor in a dramatic incident. The fact that he beats a hasty retreat from the brave woman is significant.

Krishnamurthy weaves various modes of narration and mindsets seamlessly to form a gripping tale. Folklore, mysticism, songs and stylistic nuances combine well to provide a world-view which does not belong to the author, but emerges smoothly from the native wisdom of the pre-modern societies. However, Hanuru does not commit the blunder of celebrating the pre-colonial period in contrast to our times and delineates the cruelty that is endemic with power and greed irrespective of time and space.

The author negotiates a couple of problems faced by longer fiction in Kannada. The first is the use of regional and social dialects even for narrative purposes thus creating problems of communication. Dialects are used very sparingly in this novel. Secondly, he eschews the realistic mode of narration that results in very long narratives. Thirdly, he is not given to reformist messages and allows his narrative to create its own vision. The narrative style is a blend of lyrical beauty and stark realism. Realistic details are often transformed to symbolic heights. The narrative is interspersed with a description of drawings/paintings contained in the manuscript and they add a special dimension to the novel. Similarly dreams are used to create a special effect.

The novel presents the eternal flow of life with streams of love and understanding in tandem with that of power and militancy. These streams overlap with disastrous consequences resulting in eternal chaos that mankind is condemned to live. Agnaatanobbana Aatmacharitre is unique because the novelist understands the limitations of a work of art and that understanding has resulted in a work of enduring quality.

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