Listed among the best works in recent times, Krishnamurthy Hanur’s novel Ajnaatanobbana Atmacharitre has generated a lot of excitement in the Kannada circles.
“My crown feels heavy. My body feels weary and enthusiasm stands diminished. I want to walk away to a place where no one calls me Nawab. My heart desires to leave the palace and its inner chambers to live a nameless life….”
These lines spoken by the great warrior Tipu Sultan in Krishnamurthy Hanur’s novel Ajnaatanobbana Atmacharitre not only sums up the purpose of the novel – futility of power and its accompanied cruelty, but also paints a dimension of history that’s far removed from common perception. Tipu, however, is not the hero of this novel; he forms its backdrop. This remarkable creative work which includes several forms and styles into its narrative structure tells the story of the Dalavayi – head of Tipu’s army – who symbolizes institutional brutality and furthers it mercilessly at the personal level as well. Krishnamurthy Hanur’s work finds its legitimacy in history but makes creative leaps to unravel the horrors of war and bloodshed, and the tragedy it wreaks on those drunken on power. In doing so, he presents that side of history which is concealed under a golden sheath.
Like Tolstoy in his magnum opus “War and Peace”, Hanur uses fiction to the extract “truth” out of history. He evokes a whole social world in its minute details. A folk scholar who has travelled extensively in Karnataka, and produced over 40 works, Hanur dedicates his discernment to the innumerable journeys as a folklorist. “Tolstoy has been a great influence on me. When Kreutzer Sonata was translated by O.L. Nagabhushana Swamy, it had such a big impact on me that in two months after that I wrote a story Railu Nildana, modelled on it. If something haunted me as much as the great novel War and Peace it was the Kurukshetra war in Mahabharatha and the agony unleashed by all the wars in world history. For a long time I struggled to write about this from the view point of an ordinary soldier. What came to my aid were my experiences as a folklorist. I have roamed around for 30 long years, and have heard hundreds of folk stories, songs, and war ensembles. All this put together became my novel, Ajnaatanobbana Atmacharitre,” explains the quiet, soft spoken author.
Even as he explains his eight-year long artistic expedition before he completed the novel, Hanur often says that the novel was not written by him. “You read a book about a period in history and form your thoughts about its victories, glories, and downfalls.” But when you walk the streets and begin to talk to people about it, you realise that it’s not the same. “How can anyone say that this is how history unfolded?” asks Hanur. “How do you verify the truth of the documents we have? For years together I have studied edicts, reports, manuscripts, charters, gazettes, and other things. But they all narrate history as if they were narrating mythology. There are several imagined episodes as well. If you make them the basis of your work, what can you possibly write?” At best, one could perhaps reiterate the glories of the past like hundreds of other works have done. But when he walked through the villages of Chitradurga district, he gathered that there was little similarity between the way history had been documented and the way the common man spoke of it. “I heard so many songs on the practice of Sati. Not even one said that the woman jumped into the pyre after her husband and went straight to heaven! Instead, they described how her body, little by little, eyes, nose, hair… were burnt to cinders in the heartless fires of social practice. It set me thinking…” For several years, Hanur was intensely engaged in visioning how a soldier perceives the palace, war… his greed, lust and a host of other things. “I must say it was a battle within and without.” As you keep thinking about a period in history, certain incidents and episodes get formed in the mind and find their way into one’s writing. “It almost seems like the writer has no control over them. A picture unfolds and you are only a tool of recreation. The hundreds of incidents that I’ve heard has become my narrative… it’s neither a self-conscious process, nor something born out of inspiration,” reasons Hanur.
Reacting to Hanur’s novel poet H.S. Shivaprakash has said that the women characters are strong and resilient. Even as several other critics have expressed similar feelings, feminists may have a problem with Hanur’s women. “If feminists ever have a dialogue with me, they have to be willing to listen to my long response,” he says. “I have been a close spectator of the world of rural women. My 30-year-old work Kattale Daari Doora is a collection of narrative poems by these women. It’s these women who gave birth to the women in my novel.” Hanur says that the women he knows from his rural wanderings and those that inhabit folk literature are of unbelievable conviction and resoluteness. Their counterparts in modern, urban settings may find it difficult to understand their spirit.
It’s hardly a surprise that a novel of this kind receives an ovation from the literary world. But the real surprise is the kind of warmth the general reading public have showered on it. Doctors, government officials, contractors, engineers, police, vessel sellers, goldsmiths – all kinds of people have reacted to the book. “A vessel seller called me and said that the book touched the core of his being. Ramesh Babu, a goldsmith told me -- ‘there’s everything in it’. I have always felt that there is a community of sensitive readers who we don’t see. It was affirmed after the novel came out. I feel grateful to them,” says Hanur.
Like all great works, Hanur’s novel doesn’t wish to paint shades of black and white. Neither does it discuss characters in slots of caste. There are no heroes and anti-heroes. Everyone is part of the sweep of historical forces. “My chief purpose was to look for a humaneness and a human religion that is beyond all compartments.”