BOOKS K. Satyanarayana, among the versatile and prolific writers of our times, was conferred with Bangalore University’s doctorate on July 18. His stories emerge from a vast spectrum of experience, complemented by solid, imaginative content H.S. Raghavendra Rao
K. Satyanarayana is one among the versatile and prolific writers of our times. He has experimented in most of the literary genres with the exception of poetry and has made significant contributions to each one of them. His writings are remarkable for their wide ranging thematic concerns, a comprehensive and subtle understanding of social dynamics as also the intricacies of human nature and an ability to transform all this in to enduring art. This article intends only to trace some attributes that form the nucleus of his oeuvre, irrespective of the literary form. I hasten to add that he has great regard for the uniqueness of literary forms and has tried consistently to extend their boundaries in the context of Kannada.
Life has been an itinerant adventure for this sensitive and well-read author, physically and metaphorically. His profession has taken him to different corners of the country and introduced him to a wide spectrum of human experience. Through his writing he has travelled into the innermost recesses of the human heart and tried to empathise with the angst caused by various factors, social and psychological. Several writers in Kannada have made socio-political realities as part of their creative canvas, but it is perhaps only Satyanarayana, who, without focussing on specific domains of injustice and discrimination, has consistently written about society as a whole. However, his novels and stories do not indulge in biased theoretical positions or superfluous intellectual arguments. More than anything else, they are ‘stories’ culled from a vast experiential spectrum and suffused with solid, imaginative content. Satyanarayana uses narrative techniques that are at once indebted to Kannada tradition and adds to them dimensions that are unique. For instance, he adapts the device of ‘twice removed narrators’, which was once used to great effect by Masti Venkatesha Iyengar, the grand master of short fiction. However, the similarities end there. Masti was rooted deeply in tradition and had an unshakable faith in destiny. Satyanarayana and his characters on the other hand, have no recourse to such emotional crutches. Not that Masti’s stories are less complex because of this. Satyanarayana can definitely be compared with the master in the sheer variety of human situations that are created in the stories and their resultant wisdom. These men and women in a Godless universe, tread their lonely paths in the company of ‘relatives’ and ‘friends’. Satyanarayana makes use of a style which is neither emotionally loaded nor ornate with images and metaphors. But this simplicity is deceptive because the stories are fraught with heart wrenching emotions and anguish with no apparent solutions at sight. This self effacing style saves them from melodrama and maudlin sentimentality.
The fact that women, dalits, underprivileged and other marginalised human beings form the fulcrum of his fiction often goes unnoticed. Of course, this concern is not based on dubious partisan position and the author is capable of depicting the eternal human dimensions of these situations. He has adapted a unique technique of interspersing his stories with well known personalities such as Sir M.V., Jayaprakash Narayan, Kamala Das and J. Krishnamurthy. But they are used only to illuminate his stories.
Satyanarayana has so far authored six novels, five short story collections, four essay collections, a travelogue, three works of literary criticism and a solitary drama. He is a columnist of proven merit and is well-known for choosing topics that are pivotal to our lives but usually go undocumented. His works in different genres are complementary to one another and thrive to present a common world view. They present a vision which is neither naively humanistic nor stridently political. He is prone to look at the grey areas of complex situations rather than take cock sure ideological positions. More importantly, he is never satisfied by the apparent and uses literature as a tool to understand reality. Consequently, his stories are structured more as a process than as a product. They find a continuum in the psyche of discerning and sensitive readers. He shuns lyricism in his in his stories and they, at the outset, appear to be prosaic and monotonous. But the careful reader will surely recognise the constant evolving nature of his style and its subtle variations. It is essentially the journey of a sensitive young man from the small towns and villages of south Karnataka to the metropolitan realities of modern India culminating in the corridors of power. However, the curiosity in the lives of others which is the hallmark of a good writer is intact, with oodles of compassion and wisdom added to it.
Satyanarayana is released from the confines of artistic structures in his essays and gives free rein to ideas which are refreshingly original and insightful. Of course, a story teller resides in these essays also and makes them different. They are important because of their rootedness in the contemporary. He infuses a non-academic outlook to his critical essays. But, again, the creative writer’s insights are never absent, hence looking at the process of literature than its declared manifesto. He is interested also in the modes of reading and its cultural antecedents.
I am forced to conclude this piece with a tinge of regret -- I could not mention even a single story. But I hope that readers are drawn towards this very important writer who deserves a close scrutiny and more accolades.