It is always a matter of great curiosity why certain writers of great literary merit are pushed into oblivion. One often holds media and critics responsible, but is there also a deeper politics at work? In this column, we’ve unearthed a gem from five decades ago

Vilaapikaa, (1967, 2013) by Ramachandra Kottalagi

Kannada Sahitya Parishath

Ramachandra Kottalagi (1918-75) is a Kannada writer who did not get a fair deal either by the literary critics or by the reading public which is usually swayed by critical opinion and media. Kottalagi who hailed from the fertile literary atmosphere of Bijapura district authored a number of novels, short stories and poems of intrinsic worth. He has translated extensively from English, Bengali and Marathi. ‘Deepa Hattitu’ and ‘Deepa Nirvaana’ are important among his acclaimed novels.

‘Vilaapikaa’, a novel published concurrently with well-known modernist classics such as ‘Samskara’ and ‘Mukthi’ is unique in its thematic concerns and formal experimentations. The entire narrative consists of the lyrical outpourings of Vasudha, a young professor of Sanskrit. She is an extremely sensitive and erudite person, intrigued and injured by the dynamics of man-woman relationship in all its ramifications. The novel starts at a crucial juncture, when Vasudha is ruminating over her two romantic passages with Vilaasa and Jayantha, both of which end tragically. Vilasa is too frivolous and materialistic for her taste and consequently, she is lukewarm in her response to his pre-marital, amorous overtures. His insensitive nature in tandem with her ego aborts the relationship. This happens also because Vasudha is very emotional and an incurable romantic in addition to being attached to traditional values. Jayantha, on the other hand, is searching for a neutral companion to share his anguish caused by his own disappointments in love. But what stands out in both these men is their insensitive attitude about the emotional scars they leave behind. The novel looks at the delicate and fundamental differences between the approaches of man and woman to this issue and documents the emotional traumas experienced by them. Kottalagi delineates it from the point of view of a woman unlike his modernist contemporaries. However, he is not spurred by a missionary zeal to improve the lot of women. His protagonist would rather be called a ‘Maha Grihsthi’ (great homemaker) than a ‘Mahan Panditaa’ (great scholar). She is an intellectually endowed, modernised, sensitive person who can manage the emergent society competently, even though her inner self gets singed by the attitudes of men, both at the personal and the social strata. ‘Vilaapikaa’ uses narrative techniques which were truly remarkable at that temporal juncture. The story consists of two chunks of flashbacks which are cleverly interwoven. Vasudha’s current experiences provide a poignant backdrop for her journey into the distant past. Her self-indulgence, her rich emotional relationships with other human beings and her organic relationship with the flora and fauna around her bring out a lovable, mature woman who is denied her due. This novel is not a straight forward narrative replete with events. Kottalagi moves in a leisurely style, paying attention to details that go a long way in creating a fragile, dreamlike novel. It invites the reader to ponder over its micro-structure. The novelist makes frequent use of meaningful excerpts from Sanskrit literary texts, Urdu ghazals, English poetry and Hindi film songs in an unobtrusive manner to create appropriate moods. This collating of material is functional and adds immensely to the sophistication of the novel. He does not intrude into the narrative with his own comments and explications. He allows the protagonist to blossom and wither away all by herself. His vision and understanding are influenced by a very sensitive reading of modern and traditional work of literature. He was an adherent of Marxism. Kottalagi has successfully recreated the mindsets prevalent in the college going youth of his times. Occasionally, one is reminded of ‘Naalkaneya Aayaama’ by Kusumakara Devaragannuru and ‘Mukthi’ by Shanthinatha Desai. ‘Vilaapikaa’ is capable of making inroads into the readers’ inner being if savoured in a leisurely fashion. Of course, this kind of close and attentive reading is conspicuous by its absence in our harried times. Kannada Sahitya Parishath which has included this little gem among the 20-odd books it has published to commemorate the Kannada Sahitya Sammelana held at Bijapura deserves to be congratulated. One hopes that this event would generate an enduring interest in the works of Ramachandra Kottalagi and resurrect him from a cultural oblivion.

MaLegaala Bandu Baagilu Tattithu by Vikasa Negiloni

Ankita Pustaka, Rs. 95

This creative effort of Vikasa Negiloni is marked by freshness. Writing a short story in Kannada is indeed a tough art these days, considering that contemporary Kannada literature is dense with short stories whose writers come from a wide variety of background and bring stories from unique perspectives. Besides, there is a rich short story writing tradition in Kannada, which makes the art more demanding. As it is pointed out many times by critics, it is difficult to escape from the influence of great short story writers in Kannada. However, there is a wide range of literary/ artistic features in this book that deserve serious consideration. This collection contains eleven stories and though each one is disparate in their themes, they make a combined effort to confront issues like queer relationship between women and men, madness, absurdity of life, politics, urbanisation, transgender issues, nostalgia, etc. In some of the stories what is very significant is Vikasa’s sympathy for women. Though these are not exactly borne out of any ideological clarity but of a larger human concern (Kempurakta KanagaLu, Indirege thalebaagi...). His indulgence in stereotypes (particularly while delineating issues related to women and transgenders (Koneya Kshanada Horataagi) could also be a contentious matter for some. He often labours on these issues making the narrative problematic. Coincidences (as in Koneya Kshanada...) and mysteries (Melinda KeLage...) makes the reading of the stories puzzling. In some stories, like Avaru sukhavagi baaLidaru, Kadha baagilirisiha kaLLaamane, his comic mode of narration blunts the melancholy or the pathos involved in the events. Absurdity in comprehending others and the nuanced nature of communication are also predominant themes in his stories (like Bagilu Thegeyee Sesamma).The titles of the stories are mostly lengthy, full length sentences (MaLegaala bandu baagilu thattitu, Indirege thalebagisutta...). This aspect is not only interesting but also does make some sense in the scheme of his new mode of writing.

The above observations need not be construed as negative features of the book. This is indeed Vikasa’s style. His success as a writer can largely be attributed to his conscious effort to drift away from the influence of great writers. This refusal to tread on the beaten path has both advantages and disadvantages. There cannot be a radical shift in terms of the theme – it would still be human concerns like love, hate, jealousy, urbanisation, loneliness, mystery of life and death, politics, environment, etc., however the narrative style is what makes the writing individualistic. Navya is certainly not a literary period of the past. It’s alive and resonates in many different ways: the influences are quite marked in this collection. Vikasa’s style is one of irony, presented in simple spoken language, but quite complex for easy comprehension. Hence, in this sense, he still remains with a tradition, though he is reluctant about it.

This book does not look like the first attempt of a creative writer. There is a great maturity coupled with honesty which makes the reading a unique experience.

Jogi, the editor of the series, has written a thought provoking foreword to the series, Ankita Pratibha Malike, and also one for this collection in particular. But, it is very difficult to agree with him when he says that the genre of short stories is already dead in English. Parameshwar Gundkal has also written a useful introduction to the book.