Books

Pathbreaking works

Leafing Through Kannada translation of P. Sainath’s Everyone Loves a Good Drought, and eminent writer U.R. Anantha Murthy’s very first work

Bara Andre Ellarigu Ishta by P. Sainath, Translated by G.N. Mohan

Abhinava, Rs. 350

yahan admi aur bail me kya pharak hai?”

People like Medha Patkar, Baba Amte, and Teesta Setalvad are very different from others – because they choose to tread a ‘path not taken’. Palagummi Sainath is one such in the field of journalism: he gave up prestigious jobs and during 1993-94, toured two of the poorest districts in the states of Orissa, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttara Pradesh, and Tamilnadu. During this challenging tour lasting 15 months and, roughly, 80,000 km, he filed a series of reports based on his experience, published in the Times of India. Later, he undertook another trip to some of those and other districts in order to write a book based on those reports; and the book, Everybody Loves a Good Drought, was published by Penguin Books in 2000. Immediately, it became a best-seller and got translated into many other languages. G. N. Mohan, another committed journalist and Sainath’s friend, has ably translated this book into Kannada.

The book contains 68 reports, divided into ten sections, and the long article on “Poverty, Development and Media” concludes the narrative. Though each report narrates an ‘incident’, Sainath is interested not in ‘incidents’ as such but in the ‘process’ which bred these incidents. Through these reports, Sainath intends to demonstrate that while ‘India shining’ is true only for a small chunk, about ten per cent Indians, for the remaining 90 per cent. consisting of mostly tribals and dalits, “India is dark and nightmarish”. Sainath drives home the hard truth that the majority taken for granted by the bureaucrats and ignored by the media, are not merely numbers in reports, but are human being struggling to eke out an existence. As instances of muddle-headed planning and bureaucratic apathy, we can consider a few ‘stories’. The very first story narrates the introduction of jersey cows into Nuapada (Orissa) and mass-sterilisation of the local Khariyar bulls to ensure the ‘purity’ of the breed, only to realise later that these cows do not yield any milk or calves while all the local bulls are impotent. The ‘Duruva’ tribe in Malkangiri (Orissa) cannot get any benefits earmarked for scheduled tribes because, in official notifications, that tribe is spelt as ‘Daruva’ and none is willing to change the single vowel. The teacher in Adro (Godda, Bihar) hasn’t seen his school for two years; but he regularly gets his monthly salary and the school is used as a storeroom for corn and tendu leaves.

The most appalling are the stories of ‘Development-refugees’—a phrase coined by Sainath to refer to those unfortunate tribals and dalits forcefully evicted to acquire land for some project or another. According to Sainath, since 1951, 21.6 million people have been displaced in the name of development ; if one adds to this number the 2.1 million people affected by mining, it amounts to the entire population of Australia and Canada. The most heart-rending instance of forceful eviction is the 400-500 families of Chikapar (Koraput, Orissa). This entire village was first evicted in 1968 to make room for MiG Fighter Project; after they were resettled in another place (which also they named Chikapar), they were evicted again in 1987 to make room for a multi-purpose Hydel Project; and, in 1993, again, they were evicted from Chikapar-3 so that Military Engineering Service could be established there. ‘Arguably, no other village anywhere in the world has been evicted three times, in the name of development,’ comments Sainath ruefully. To add insult to injury, most of the promises of ‘resettlement’ are never fulfilled.

However, even amidst such gloom, a ray or two of light is visible, says Sainath. Total Literacy Mission has ignited sparks of awareness and protest, here and there. The poor and backward women, working in the quarry mines in Pudukottai (Tamil Nadu) have formed a society which runs these quarries on lease, thus driving away the old, corrupt contractors; another women’s organisation at Pudukottai has begun a movement against illicit liquor. Members of the local forest committee at Latehar (now Jharkhand) have risen against illegal timber business; organised farmers at Nuapada (Orissa) have begun to grow Babul tress in the place of Nilgiri trees. A poet-journalist, Mohan has done an excellent job as a translator; though he hasn’t taken any liberty with the original, he has found a style suitable for Kannada – precise and emotive. Kannada readers are indebted to both Sainath for his daring ‘counter journalism’ and Mohan for making it available for them.



Preethi Mruthyu Bhaya by U.R. Ananthamurthy

Ankita Pustaka, Rs. 100

The publication of this novel, written in 1959 and resurrected accidentally, has generated considerable interest among the cognoscenti, because of its historical significance as well as its contemporary relevance, even though the former would be restricted to academics. The introductory remarks by the author describe the novel as a creative attempt aimed at purgation from the trauma caused by intense experiences such as death and love, as also the emotional and intellectual responses released by them. It delineates the journeys undertaken by Shekhara into his past and the inner recesses of his psyche. It also deals also with the alienation of the protagonist from his social and familial moorings; it also interrogates his relationship with Shyamala – is it physical, is it ideological or is it love itself. However, this oft repeated theme acquires an added dimension because the novelist perceives the problem as cutting across generations and cultural idiosyncrasies.

Ananthamurthy, among the most important writer of our times, has maintained a critical distance from the protagonist. This is the portrayal of a predicament rather than a worldview. Shekhar’s inability to understand the inner compulsions of other characters and the consequent intolerance should be perceived as lacunae introduced by the novelist himself. The interface that is created among primal forces such as love, death and fear leads to the evolution of Shekhar’s psyche. The sudden death of his younger brother propels him to transcend his limitations and make the ‘right’ choices. He feels that his relatives and friends are denied this privilege because they are sentimental and exploitative. This of course is typical of the Navya (Modernist) writing.

Hatred and intolerance often borne by ‘sensitive’ persons towards an ‘insensitive’ world result in various reaction patterns such as renunciation, struggle, masochism, compromise, resignation and unwilling participation. Shekhara exhibits all of these at various junctures in the novel. His self righteousness is tempered by an untold respect for others and a genuine awareness of his limitations. Surprisingly, his ire is directed more at his mother and other women in his life, rather than male characters with whom he vibes reasonably well. Most of these characters serve a functional purpose – they foster the evolution of Shekhara.

The novel employs the stream of conscious technique with certain modifications. Chronological narration makes way for discrete units of experience that are held together by emotional and cerebral continuum created in the protagonist. The novel may not entirely satisfy artistic expectations, but its disarming honesty and intensity captivates the reader.

This novel is historically important for two reasons. Firstly, it contains within itself the birth pangs of the modernist fiction in Kannada. It illustrates the process of transition from the realistic modes of structuring and narration to the modernist mode which is characterised by panache for poetic quality, foregrounding the narrative and relegating the story to the background, and being richly symbolic.

Secondly, this novel contains many major preoccupations of Ananthamurthy’s oeuvre in their embryonic form. This represents a stage at which the individual and the family are at the nucleus and society forms a peripheral backdrop. Later on, Ananthamurthy focused on the philosophical and socio-political dimensions of life, although never at the cost of sacrificing the sanctity of individuals. In celebrated classics such as “Samskara” and “Avasthe”, an artistic merger of these concerns is manifested very competently and artistically. The intellectual positions taken in this novel are genuine because the author was bothered neither by a desire to be politically right nor driven by compulsions to cater to the reading public. The fact that the novel ends rather abruptly may also indicate the tentative nature of the author’s ideological positions at that temporal juncture.

However, the significance of this work lies in the fact that it reflects on the angst indigenous to youth. However, the travails undergone by other age groups, as furtherance to what sets in during youthful years are given ample representation. It creates a sombre and contemplative mood in its readers. It could become a perennial favourite, evoking similar responses in decades to come because it addresses issues that are for all times.

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Printable version | Mar 26, 2020 1:34:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/pathbreaking-works/article3811723.ece

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