Beyond divisions and partisans, Bharat speaks to us in the literary work of SL Bhyrappa. Having written primarily in Kannada, this doyen has touched the issues which encompass tradition and modernity
There are very few writers in contemporary Indian literature who cannot be straitjacketed into a particular genre of writing. Kannada literature, in particular, has been a victim of confining works into one of the several genres like Navya (Modern), Navyottara (Post-Modern), Bandaya (Rebellion), Dalita Sahitya, Pragatishila (Progressivism) in recent times. Authors too are either force fit into one of the genres or themselves consider as belonging to a particular genre. SL Bhyrappa is an exception to this unwritten rule of today’s Kannada literature as the wide range of the subjects his works have dealt with do not conform to one particular genre.
SL Bhyrappa himself explains the reason for this. “If you are serious in writing, one has to be very knowledgeable and experienced. Along with original research, it was Bharateeya TatvaShashtra that gave value to my work. Serious study of TatvaShashtra is a kind of training in learning the nuances of any subject. We start with dealing with today’s characters, but the value of our work lies in the fundamental questions we handle while analysing the problems of these characters. Today's writers are not interested in TatvaShashtra and instead are more interested in criticising other’s works.” he said in one of his recent public interactions.
Author beyond boundaries
From historic novels to those that deal with social stigmas to science fiction, SL Bhyrappa’s works have drawn the admiration of the readers in almost every field of literature. Equally popular are his autobiographical works, criticisms and short stories. For example Parva (Epoch) published in 1979 was an attempt at retelling Mahabharata as a historical story rather than an epic with divine interventions.Vamshavruksha (Family Tree) published in 1965 deals with ethics and values in Indian families in the modern world with a lot of external influences. Likewise, Naayi Neralu (Dogs Shadow in 1968) deals with issues of superstition, reincarnation and karma without branding them as good or evil.
SL Bhyrappa being fecilitated with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Mangluru Literature Festival 2018
His works have been translated into several other languages, especially Marathi and Hindi. Each of his work comes with its research and does not fall into any preconceived notions on the subject dealt with in work. Bhyrappa narrates the reason for this. “Philosophies like existentialism emerged in Europe due to its own societal experiences after world wars. Sartre, Camus were the pioneers in propagating this form of existentialism. Many in India found this attractive including me. But when I studied it further, I found it empty. Many of our authors were influenced by reading literary works on existentialism, while I studied the core philosophy itself and did not fall for its lure. I then studied various forms of Bharatiya Mimamsa in art and literature. I studied the reason and the core principles behind art, music, painting, sculpture, dance and drama too. Then I understood that these external philosophies are not permanent and hence I did not come under their influence.”
“My travels showed me that Bharat is about villages and the lifestyles in these villages are more or less the same throughout the country. I have travelled and stayed in villages of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh and many districts of Karnataka. There might be slight differences in the way they perceive issues, but there is no much difference in the lifestyles, practices or traditions in our villages”In 2001, when the so-called progressive literature was a rage in Kannada literary field, Bhyrappa published his much-acclaimed work Mandra (Lower Octave) which narrates the experiments of a singer with classical music and the trial and tribulations he undergoes due to his choice of career. It was a culture shock for many as most expected him to publish another historical work after his earlier novel ‘Saartha’ (published in 1998) dealt with the destruction of institutes of learning in ancient India. His detractors who had foul-mouthed him for ‘saffronising’ Kannada literature, had nothing to criticise. The puzzle that was Bhyrappa remained so at the cost of unsettling the beliefs of his critics.
Idea of Bharat
Bhyrappa might have remained an enigma, but a common strand that emerges in each of his works is the essence of Bharat. It was possible due to his understanding of the fundamentals of Bharatiya society. He says, “After work, I used to go and stay at a village. I did not do anything in the village except listen to villagers and observe them. That used to tell me a lot about the village and the way it worked. People opened up about everything from rains, politics, sports and even relationships!” It tells us the way he involves in understanding people and their emotions which are reflected in the characters of his novels.
Bhyrappa always says that he developed a sense of being not attached to the results of his work by studying TatvaShashtra. He has remained a spectator to the criticisms and books that were written deriding him. He has maintained that whatever he writes is what he senses in his characters
“My travels showed me that Bharat is about villages and the lifestyles in these villages are more or less the same throughout the country. I have travelled and stayed in villages of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh and many districts of Karnataka. There might be slight differences in the way they perceive issues, but there is no much difference in the lifestyles, practices or traditions in our villages”, says Bhyrappa indicating the extent of his travel and the way he understands India which emerges so beautifully in his works so much that every reader grasps it as his or her own experience. It is also the reason as to why readers of his works translated in other languages say that his works are of their language and do not say that it is a work of Kannada. This acceptance comes because they can relate to the story he narrates as their own. The situations, ideas, family values, social ethics depicted in his novel apply to the entire country.
Every time his work is about to release, there is a palpable sense of expectation among his readers as well as his detractors. Reason being no one has a clue as to the subject he is about to deal with in his new work. After Avarana (2007) and the controversies it generated, everyone expected him to follow up with similar work to answer his critics. Instead, he came up with Kavalu (in 2010) which dealt Indian society at the crossroads in the era of globalisation and Yaana (in 2014) which was a science fiction dealing with human life and relationships beyond earth.
Timeless Subjects, Ageless Characters
There is almost no genre Bhyrappa has not covered in his literary life spanning more than six decades. While Bheemakaaya (1958) deftly covered the life and tribulations of a wrestler, Matadaana (voting) published in 1965 narrates the caste-based politics and ground realities while exercising adult franchise in Bharat. Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane (1968) is about conflict of two different cultures using Gou Hatya and eating beef as the crux of the story. His works have also dealt with social evils without falling into the category of progressive or bandana (rebellion) literature. Daatu (1972) narrates the complex social structures prevalent in Indian society and their pitfall while Gruhabhanga published in 1970 narrates the struggle of a woman against societal norms that confined her to societal norms. GrahaNa (1972) explores the struggle a man undergoes when conflicts arise between societal beliefs and his path to realisation.
Apart from his novels, his autobiographical works Bitti (1996) and Naaneke Bareyuttene (‘Why Do I Write’ in 1980) were very well received by the readers as it gave an insight into the life and mind of the author whom they loved and respected so much. Bhyrappa was an enigma for readers and critics alike as he stayed away from public deliberations over his work. It was this detached approach which made him one of the most loved authors in Indian literature today.
He always says that he developed a sense of being not attached to the results of his work by studying TatvaShashtra. He has remained a spectator to the criticisms and books that were written deriding him. He has maintained that whatever he writes is what he senses in his characters. If something is applicable in modern times to his characters, the same will apply to them immaterial of the time or era. That which gives rise to ‘Rasa’ (essence or aesthetics), would be applicable for all times and all genres, he says. It is also reflected in his works, situations and its characters.
The reason for his popularity and unparalleled acceptance is due to the conscientious efforts he puts into his work and its characters. He delves into the situation and character so much so that until he finishes describing it, he doesn’t stop.
His literature is the continuation of the legacy of Bharateeya literature. The themes, arts, philosophy, music that are in his works are all Bhrateeya in nature. It is not just a theory but an experience for him that he has lived. At a time when there are attempts to belittle Bharateeya literature by the cultural left, and before Bhyrappa comes out with his next gem, the best thing a reader of Bharateeya literature can do is to read and re-read works of one of its loftiest sons: Bhyrappa himself.