Friday Review

Saga of a community and nation

Na. Mogasale, a medical doctor by profession, is an established novelist-poet, and a committed social worker. About four decades ago, he moved to Kantavara, a small rural town in coastal Karnataka, and chose it as the centre of his creative and cultural activities. In course of time, with the combined efforts of scores of people, he has been able to establish ‘Muddana Bhavana’ at Nandalike, the native place of the famous writer Muddana (Nandalike Lakshminaranappa), ‘Vardhamana Prashasti Pitha,’ through which annual awards are being given to young and established writers, ‘Kantavara Kannada Sangha’ and ‘Allamaprabhu Pitha,’ through which monthly and annual literary and cultural programmes are being regularly conducted. Mogasale is not an individual but a ‘cultural institution’ in coastal Karnataka.

Mogasale has written to date 16 novels (including two sagas), five collections of poetry, two short-story collections, and a collection of his weekly columns. One of his major novels, Ullanghane (2008), is a saga of five generations of a Bunt family. His recent novel, Mukhantara is also a saga of seven generations of a Havyaka Brahmin family in coastal Karnataka. The two major motifs running through all of his works are: a) Life is beyond an individual’s control; it runs its own course; and b) whether or not one accepts, change in any society is inevitable.

A saga is a long and ambitious narrative which aspires to be a family story and a social history, simultaneously. In a saga, narration moves on two inter-connected planes: it traces the changing fortunes of a family, the community the family belongs to, and, simultaneously, it registers the painful changes a society experiences over a specific period of time. Mukhantara documents the lives of seven generations of a family, beginning with Ishwarimule Tirumaleshwara Bhat and ending with Narayana and Srinivasa; and these seven generations occupy, roughly, a period of 100 years before independence and fifty years after.

The major characters of this novel belong to a community called Havyaka Brahmins, whose main occupation, traditionally, is agriculture. The novel begins with the youngest generation of this family, Srinivasa and Narayana, and then traces the beginning of that family through the story of Tirumaleshwara Bhat, and then in the last part reverts to the present generation. Of course, in addition to these Havyaka characters, there are representative characters of all other communities including the Bunts, the Konkanis, and the Byaris.

Famous families, like kingdoms, have often ridiculous origins. T. Bhat’s ‘Ishwarimule’ family also is one such. Bhat, a poor landless Brahmin, ekes out a meagre livelihood conducting religious ceremonies for Brahmins. He once saves a government official’s face and is in turn rewarded with a small land grant by the official, which Bhat develops through hard work. Gradually, he buys up the adjoining lands also, and in course of time he becomes a respectable landlord in that vicinity. In the succeeding generations, while a few of them (like Venkappaiah) go astray and ruin themselves, others (like Shankara) join the Freedom Movement and lead ideal lives.

Very patiently, the novel registers the reluctant way in which the Havyaka community opens itself to the outside world through the sweeping waves of modernity-- from insular and male-centred traditional Vedic studies to agriculture and later to other occupations like medical and engineering practices. While men seek new openings, women also get education and change from being docile domestic workers to self-assertive members of the society. Simultaneously, the novel documents the movement of the traditional Indian society from British bondage to Freedom Struggle to Independence and the democratic institutions slowly finding their roots in India. Significantly, Mogasale’s two sagas unequivocally register the watershed, the process of change both for the community and society; it begins with the opening of secular schools in villages. Secular (or ‘English’) education is the marker of modernity in these novels.

Interestingly, most of the representative novels in Kannada are such sagas which objectively register the complex negotiations of Indian society through the many-faceted modernity: Shivaram Karanth’s Marali Mannige, Kuvempu’s Malegalalli Madumagalu, Rao Bahaddur’s Gramayana, Vyasaraya Ballal’s Hejje (1 & 2), to name a few.

Na. Mogasale, Mukhantara

Manohara Grantha Mala, Rs. 550

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2020 7:11:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/saga-of-a-community-and-nation/article7329481.ece

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