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Untying the knots

T.P. ASHOK
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LEAFING THROUGH Kattu Kathegalu by S. Surendranath explores all the possibilities of the word ‘kattu'

Kattu Kathegalu b y S. Surendranath

Chanda Pustaka, Rs. 85

K attu in Kannada means ‘to tie', ‘to bind'. It could also mean ‘to build', ‘to construct', ‘to compose'. Surendranath has brought together in this volume many of his stories, old and new. The idiomatic phrase ‘kattu kathe' suggests something fictitious, concocted, fabricated, far from being ‘real'. ‘Kattu' also means extraction, the essence of a thing. Surendranath's “Kattu Kathegalu” has exploited all the possibilities of the word ‘kattu'. Surendranath deals with the ‘real' problems of ‘real' people. But the ‘reality' that Surendranath's characters encounter in their respective lives is so stark, macabre and grotesque that it appears as ‘fantasy'. Naturally, Surendranath's narrative strategies have broken all popular and taken for granted notions of realism. The author has not only been able to explore the labyrinths of human condition and existence but also has succeeded, to some extent, in extending the possibilities of contemporary Kannada fiction.

The protagonists of Surendranath's stories are cursed and burdened with many insoluble problems and tensions on which they do not have any control. They suffer for no fault of theirs. Why should man be punished for his ‘condition' which is actually thrust upon him? There are no simple answers for this philosophical question. One conventional and popular explanation is that such people have “Shani kaata”, the ominous influence of Saturn. Surendranath, however, does not indulge in a simplistic application of this belief. He uses it to reflect on the mysterious and the unexplainable in human lives. His comic mode resists any semblance of sentimentality and melodrama.

One of the most striking stories in this collection, which has no parallel in modern Kannada fiction, is “Shanikaatada Angadi” where people buy, sell or exchange their shani kaata. The author, in his inimitable comic style records the little efforts of his characters to come to terms with, to cope with and even attempt to lessen and neutralise their respective shanikaata. This unusual, daring composition not only throws up a complex metaphor but also provides a prologue to the never ending narratives of human condition in general and to the fictional world of Surendranath in particular.

Though the problems of some of the characters of these stories are peculiarly unique to themselves the author has been successful in enlarging their connotations. Physiological infirmities, tensions of sexuality, incompatible relationships, experiences of all kinds of nightmares reflect beyond individual conditions. Many of these characters are pious, God fearing and harmless. Even such people are not spared. They have to perform their role in this life that is God ordained. In “Aaroo into ippattentu...” Kolloorayya, an ardent devotee of Sri Ramachandra undertakes to scribe the Lord's name crores of times. In the process he actually begins to enact Rama himself to the amusement of people around him. “Karunalu Baa Belake”, the first line from B.M. Shri's poem becomes “Karunaalu Belake Tolagu”, the title of one of Surendranath's stories. In this story, Nooyi Panduranga Rao is endowed with an unimaginable gift. God puts a halo around his head and devotees believe that Lord Sri Ramachandra himself has descended on Davanagere. The story explores how God's gift becomes an unbearable burden — a curse in fact.

T.P. ASHOK

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