Monday, April 12, 2010

Kanthapura


Novels are meant to be enjoyed, forget giving a hard time. This is what I had felt all these days, until my tryst with the course- Indian Writing in English. Having stayed away from Modern Fiction, it was hard to escape Modern Literature as the teacher seemed to be obsessed with modernism. Despite critics have acknowledged this phase of literature in many ways, for me it acquired the definition of literature which makes life tough for the readers.


Struggling through the novel ‘Untouchable’ to complete the 147-page piece in 9 hours, my expectations from the following novel- Kanthapura, another short one at 190 pages were low but since the precedent had been the worst ever novel in my life, rated in between 4 and 5, something better was anticipated. Alas, the worst got worse and the lowest rating was updated to 2 out of 10.


Raja Rao- the author- is a clever man, winning some prize exactly 50 years after the release of the novel. To me it seemed after having written the whole piece, he soon realized it was incomprehensible. And then while he was confronted with the choice of re-editing the whole draft or dumping it altogether, he sought the third option. He wrote a 2-page cheap preface, explaining the horrible language through the line- “The challenge for me was writing in a language that is not one’s own, yet in a spirit that is one’s own.” Ah! A nice way to make the readers believe that he was ready to venture into an altogether new journey for the biggest mistake of his life.


Now the core problem with the novel was the almost absence of full-stops, replaced by commas to concatenate short sentences into enormous, impenetrable and awful sentences. Sleep caught over me throughout the novel, and in the middle of almost every long sentence I lost touch with the plot compelling me to restart. Did I say plot?


During reading it, I was time and again contemplating on the absence of a plot. Even after finishing the novel, there is nothing which suggests a plot ever existed. Another of those typical Gandhian novels, where an idyllic village (filled with superstitions) is intruded by the city ways to disrupt the jolly lives of the people, who turn into an absolute foolish lot bearing the brunt of the Police’s lathis for 60 pages, and shouting “Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai”. The ideologies of caste discrimination being illogical, about cultural pride were reiterated as a Brahmin named Moorthy, desperate to be the leader suddenly one day claims to have been inspired by the Gandhian philosophies, mixes with the Pariahs (untouchables) and becomes a rebel to the Government. He waits for truth to escape him from the brunt of the lathis, but finds himself behind bars. To me, the worse part seemed this. Moorthy didn’t seem to see through the Gandhian philosophies, about the reasons Gandhi preached those ways. Just out of lust for self-purification he doled out Charkhas, did strange things and found his stunned mother dead in the process.


I found my namesake- Bhatta, depicted as a mean money-lender, talking politely to the villagers, fooling them in the process. There was an arrogant Swami who excommunicates Moorthy (I don’t know why anyone had to take that seriously). And then, there were over 100 or even 200 characters, from the remote corners of South India, all whose names ended with Amma and Appa. Impossible to keep track of the plot, if there was any. It became the first novel of my life, where I left a 27-page in the middle to reach a quick end, consoling myself it was finally over.


The writing style, we discussed a lot about it. About the superstitious old widow being the narrator, the significance of it, how she rambled on constantly without breaks and pauses. Crap! An error on the part of the writer, getting the critics engaged in unraveling the mysteries of this ‘new form of art’. For the others in the class, i.e. marks pursuers there was no choice other than to try and appreciate what gave them a hard time.

Overall, it was the worst novel of my life and I was relieved to have finally been over with it. That makes it 2 out of 2 awful novels in the course. Being the only course I am serious about this semester, I expect more from it!

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