Version classiqueVersion mobile

The calf became an orphan

Robert J. Zydenbos

Indian womanhood

The fate of the fair sex

Texte intégral

11.1 The social differences which exist between men and women in India are something special, and when we read Indian literature, it seems that the outer female elegance of which Indians are so justly proud has demanded a price. Mahatma Gandhi said that India knows two types of slavery which must be abolished: that of the untouchables and that of women, and this largely holds good still today. The reasons for this are culturally specific, and so are a number of the ways in which the position of women in India is revealed and reflected in Kannada fiction. The inequality which Indian culture has created between the sexes is so great and at times so oppressive that it should not come as a surprise that a very great deal of modern Indian literature, especially in Kannada, is concerned with the problems of Indian womanhood.

2Women's studies have become fashionable in the West, and they are becoming so also in India; but there is a better reason for beginning the main body of the present study with a discussion of Kannada fiction dealing with womanhood. In these works we are confronted with a problem which for the Western reader is less complex and difficult to grasp in outline - insofar as any of the problems which we will discuss in the present work can be considered less complex than the others. For those readers who are not familiar with the status of women in India, it will be appropriate to give some background information here before we move on to the discussion of what Kannada authors have to say about women and how they discuss women's problems.

3Self-appointed apologists for Indian society often say that in India, women have always been respected as the pillars of the family and of society, as mothers and sisters. Dreaming about a mythological past is a common, easy and pleasant way of forgetting a shameful present, and this sort of talk is so common that it is not necessary to give any references here. The subordination of women in India has a very long history and the sanction of religion, as we see in the well-known passages of the Manusmti, the most authoritative Hindu religious law-book:

  • 1 Manusmṛti V, 147-8 (Georg Buehler's translation, Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 25).

By a girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her own house. In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent1.

  • 2 Ibid., IX, 2.

Day and night women must be kept in dependence by the males of their families, and, if they attach themselves to sensual enjoyments, they must be kept under one's control2

  • 3 Mehta 1970: 13.
  • 4 Ibid., pp. 16-7.

4The joint family system, where everyone's individual liberty was limited, meant for the woman "self-control, reserve and modesty, acceptance of male authority and respect for the female hierarchy3." "A woman was expected to hold no independent views nor demand more freedom than her husband thought fit to give her. This frame of mind was not difficult to achieve: a marriage took place when the mind was still immature and capable of imbibing new ideas4." Girls were also kept away from new ideas by withholding education from them, and this changed only with the coming of Christianity: only after the Christians had established their educational institutions for girls did any innovation on the part of Hindu bodies take place. In the words of an angry Hindu author from Tamil Nadu:

  • 5 Subramanyam 1970: 60.

Women's education in India was - and still largely is - in the hands of the Christian sisters... The example of Christianity gave rise to rival organisations which, in their turn, led to heartburning, rumour-mongering, character assassination and the like - all in the name of Hinduism which in three thousand years was wholly innocent of any attempt at reform from inside, especially from the community or social side5.

  • 6 "In the widening gender gap in India the female literacy rate - 24.88% - is... half that of males - (...)
  • 7 "The impact of western education and modernization among Indian women is often limited to the adopt (...)
  • 8 Sharma 1985: 2.
  • 9 Venkataramani 1986: 30 mentions how nearly 6.000 baby girls have been poisoned to death in one part (...)
  • 10 Ibid., p. 26.

5Though now there are more and better opportunities for girls in India to receive education, there is still a very clear favouring of boys when it comes to sending one's children to school6. If at all this new education reaches girls, there are factors which limit its effectiveness7. And many girls never get an opportunity to see a school building because they do not live to see them: a recent Bombay survey revealed that out of 8,000 foetuses aborted following sex-determination tests, 7,999 were female8. In some parts of the country female infanticide is common9, and girls are more likely to suffer from malnutrition than boys10.

6The two main reasons for this gross inequality are a religious and a socioeconomical one. The traditional Hindu religious reason is the idea that a son will open the gates of heaven for his parents by ritual means after their death, which a daughter is considered unable to do; hence there is a need for at least one son. Indian families are strictly patrilinial (with some regional exceptions, notably in the state of Kerala and southwestern Karnataka). Sons are considered to remain within the family, whereas daughters will be married off and from then onwards be part of other families. We see this sentiment reflected very strongly in S.L. Bhyrappa's novel Vamśavka (§§ 1.16-1.18), where widow remarriage is denounced because the widow belongs to a new family, from which she cannot separate herself. Daughters are not part of families in the same way that sons are.

  • 11 In an interview for Radio Netherlands, 15.1.1986, English program for South Asia at 1430: utc. Cf a (...)
  • 12 Cf. the new subsidiary practice called 'bride-burning': a man murders his wife (or has her murdered (...)

7The socio-economical reason is the notorious dowry system: the practice which demands that the family of the bride should give money and certain goods to the bridegroom. Marriages are arranged by the elders in two families, which will consider a number of things, such as sectarian affinity, family gods, birth horoscopes of the children, their financial situation, the reputation of the families. Along with these matters, the varadakṣiṇe or 'donation to the bridegroom' (dowry) is discussed, which can assume the form of any amount of money and any number or nature of goods. In the words of one worker of Saheli, a women's self-help group in Delhi, a man 'does not marry a woman, but a variety of consumer goods'11. Marriage is business, and matrimonial advertisements, such as one finds in practically every Indian newspaper, usually express a craving for material possessions which the average Westerner would consider shamelessly vulgar in such a context. The dowry system is forbidden by Indian law, but this has not prevented a worsening of the situation12.

8After all this, it should be clear that in the position of women in India we have a culturally specific problem.

9Not only women writers have dealt with questions of womanhood: numerous male authors have turned their attention to them, out of commiseration with the women around them whom they see suffering, and also because they realize that a woman who can develop her talents more fully and becomes able to think and express herself more freely, is a valuable social asset that benefits everyone, including a husband.

10There are of course several aspects to the problem of the position of women in India, any of which can be taken up as providing the main approach to the problem by a writer. This chapter begins with a presentation and discussion of a few works of fiction which deal with the problem of widowhood in the higher Hindu castes. The kind of life that Hindu orthodoxy imposes on widows is very harsh: they are not permitted to remarry; the hair of the head is to be shaven off; they are expected to dress very simply and not to wear personal ornaments of any kind, including the typical dot on the forehead, which is the insigne of the non-widowed woman. Widows are barred from participation in certain rituals and ceremonies, and in general they are expected to lead a sober life of renunciation. In the treatment of widows we see gender inequality buttressed by religious and quasi-religious tenets as well as by certain motives which we may call economic (cf. M.K. Indira's Phaiyamma) in its ugliest and most glaring form, which more than anything else has incited writers to express themselves on the position of women. Precisely because we see the cultural inequality between the sexes at its most extreme in the case of widowhood, many key notions concerning the manner in which the sexes are supposed to differ from each other come out very clearly from these works of fiction. Once we have become familiar with these ideas it will also be easier to appreciate in detail the implications of other works of fiction dealing with womanhood, and also the ways in which women characters behave in Kannada fiction.

11In order to understand what Kannada authors of fiction think and have to say about the position of women in general in their society, it is necessary to refer also to a number of other works which, however, deal with something else as their main theme but contain valuable statements concerning womanhood, which often figures as a subsidiary theme of the work. This I will do in the conclusion of this chapter. This chapter will also be longer than the other ones, because we will first come across matters here which will need no further elaboration in later chapters.

121.2 The novel Banaśankari by Niranjana, which first appeared in 1954, is a modem classic dealing with the difficulties which widows face in orthodox society, and it is a suitable starting point for the present chapter.

13Niranjana (nom de plume of Kulakunda Shiva Rao, 1924-1992) was a rather prolific writer: his collected works were to appear in an edition of thirty volumes, but his recent demise has come in the way of this. He was perhaps the most representative author among the littérateurs who have been labelled Pragatiśīla ('progressive') by Kannada literary critics and historians. The Pragatiśīla movement as such was of course not restricted to Karnataka and Kannada writing, and the authors of this group have their counterparts in all the other modem literatures of India. What the Pragatiśīla-s have in common is that their adolescence fell in the period immediately preceding Independence, the 1930s and 40s; that they were critical of a number of fundamental features of the social order that prevailed at that time and hoped that the withdrawal of the British from India would create a situation which would allow dramatic changes in society; and that their preference for certain literary themes and their treatment of those themes was to a greater or lesser extent influenced by Marxist thought. Many of them were active members in the communist party and looked towards the Soviet Union for examples of social reform; but disappointments with communist practice, the course which the party took or the policies of the Soviet Union (e.g. the invasion in Hungary in 1956) caused a number of them - like Niranjana - to give up their membership. The Pragatiśīla-s were educated and open-minded people, as their interest in Marxist thought implies.

14These authors were not blind to the shortcomings of their society and hence felt no need to glorify the real and imaginary past glories of India, as their forerunners of the Navōdaya group did. On the contrary: they were highly critical with regard to the Indian cultural heritage (which does not mean that they did not recognize its positive features) and to what the generations previous to theirs had made of the country. In Marxist thought they saw a tool for analysing and understanding the contemporary social situation and improving it. They had a certain cosmopolitan attitude and expressed frank self-criticism. They broke with a tradition of vaguely romantic dreaminess and strove after realism, which was not always appreciated by the general reading public of their time (and hence A.N. Krishna Rao, the most prolific writer of the group, took to a more sentimental manner of writing for a livelihood). As regards their style one can say that because they were writers with a mission, their writing at times suffered from didactic tendencies.

15The writers of this group came from a variety of social backgrounds, though in general they came from the higher castes. This is not really surprising, since the higher castes have always valued intellectual life and have always been more open to contacts with other environments, and hence they were the most easily exposed to and influenced by the new trends in social thought that came from abroad. Novelists like A.N. Krishna Rao and Tarasu were from Brahmin backgrounds; Chaduranga is related to the royal family of Mysore; Niranjana is special in that although he was of Brahmin parentage, he was born out of traditional wedlock and therefore treated as an outcaste.

  • 13 Personal communication, October 1987.

16Of the entire Pragatiśīla group, Niranjana seems the most consistent and the most intellectual author. There is a fair amount of sentiment in his writing, but the sentiment does not dominate and keeps a balance with the composed, rational analysis of the situations which are described. Banaśankari is a good example of this: the author said that it is an approximately 80% autobiographical novel13, and considering the virulence of the discrimination in India against people with a background such as his, we could have expected a much more bitter and emotional piece of writing.

171.3 Niranjana: Banaśankari

  • 14 The 'festival of lights', which is celebrated with fireworks and lighting displays.

18Thirteen-year-old Ammi is an orphan, whose only close relative is her brother; he is elder by four years. At Dīpāvali14 she would like to join her two younger brothers-in-law, who are playing with sparklers, "But as a housewife she was not at liberty to do so" (p. 3), for the sake of public decency. Though her parents-in-law are very fond of her, she has certain responsibilities and duties in the house, hence she also has no time to listen to the stories that are being told by elders on the occasion (p. 5). Then a servant comes rushing to the house in utter consternation, and her father-in-law, "without paying any attention to ritual purity", grabs and shakes him to hear what has happened: her husband Rāmacandra, who works as a clerk in Chikmagalur, has suddenly died of fever (p. 10). Her mother-in-law tries to persuade her to simply accept it as fate ("Don't cry, dear, it's all a matter of the stars" - p. 10), as indeed her life history is marked by deaths: her mother died within a week after her birth and her father a month later. Her mother-in-law takes to bed with grief over her son's death, and Ammi looks after her day and night, thus being unable to overcome her own grief quickly.

  • 15 A muttaide or sumangaḷi is an 'auspicious' woman, i.e. one who is married and not widowed.

19Ammi was married at the age of twelve and left Jīvanahaḷḷi for her in-laws' village Rāyanahaḷḷi, where she was given a new name, 'Banaśankari', as was the custom; but contrary to the custom, the in-laws affectionately kept using her old name (p. 15). Now that she is a widow, some small changes take place in the family, and she becomes a sort of household servant, who is allowed to eat only after the others have finished. Six months after her husband's death, her body matures, and instead of rejoicing, as would have been the case in other households, people are sad and her parents-in-law dream of how things would have been if their son had still been alive (p. 19). "If anyone came and called from outside, she was not allowed to come to the door. She was not allowed to show her face to anyone. She was not allowed to answer any question. With Rāmacandra's death, her independence was done away with" (p. 20). One day two muttaide-s15 (married women) come to the door and call her mother-in-law, and Ammi goes and opens the door; the women are shocked and leave, and the motherin-law is highly upset. Ammi does not understand, but her mother-in-law scolds her (pp. 20-1). Ammi has become inauspicious for everyone.

  • 16 Śāstra: scholarly treatise, here: Hindu canon law.

20The astrologer and the priest bring up the matter of shaving Ammi's head, and her fatherin-law hesitates: "Must one do as is written in the śāstra?16... Who wrote the śāstra?" (p. 22). Her parents-in-law decide that it should not be done. Ammi's brother Rāmakṛṣṇa comes to the village, where he tells that his marriage has been arranged by the śānubhōga (village accountant) and that the wedding will take place soon. Ammi's father-in-law suggests that Rāmakṛṣṇa take Ammi back to Jīvanahaḷḷi, so that the reproaches in their village will stop; it is decided that she will leave, though no one is truly happy with the situation. The cartman who takes them away becomes abusive when he hears that he has to transport a widow (p. 29).

21She stays with her brother and grandmother. Her brother is considered a good prospective bridegroom because he possesses some inherited land, and the early loss of his parents makes people pity him. The village accountant has arranged a marriage with a twelve-year-old girl whose parents want to marry her off quickly because she has already reached what is commonly considered the proper age for marriage (p. 32). Ammi's fatherin-law and one of her young brothers-in-law come to see her; the brother-in-law is fond of her grandmother and suggests taking her to their village, "but as for Ammi, there was no one coming to take her" (p. 35). She strikes up a friendship with Kāvēri, the accountant's daughter, who is happy that she will stay in the village. Just as her brother's wedding procession is about to begin, he is bitten by a snake. A witch doctor comes and tries some spells to save his life, but he dies; he is cremated, and Ammi says to her father-in-law:

"It's a good thing my brother died today, isn't it, father-in-law?"
Her father-in-law opened his mouth to say 'you shouldn't talk like that', but he did not speak a word. What a thing that girl had said! The village accountant understood the meaning. Others also did. All those who heard and understood it kept mum (p. 41).

  • 17 For an explanation of the terms maṭha etc., please see the introductioin to chapter 2.

22Though her grandmother speaks in her defence whenever she hears dirty talk about the childwidow, she is actually a traditionally-minded woman who is interested in preserving established customs and traditions and who believes that young people by definition are a threat to tradition. Ammi is uncertain about how she can maintain herself, and Kāvēri mentions the matter to her father. The śānubhōga is deeply concerned about Ammi, but he comes from a family that adheres strictly to social customs (it is unthinkable that a widow in his household would not be shaven); God should look after her, he feels, for what can people do (p. 46)? Ammi moves with her grandmother to Bāḷemaṇṇūru, where the grandmother has a little house and can lead a life of devotion towards the local god and the matha17; just before leaving, Kāvēri gives her a costly Dharmāvara sari, one of two which she had received on her wedding day.

  • 18 Edibles, usually fruits, which are ritually offered to the god and then distributed among the devot (...)

23In the new village, Ammi's grandmother devoutly goes to the temple of the maṭha and has talks with the swami, who is a good man and can understand that it would be very harsh to shave the head of such a young girl like Ammi and allows them to partake of prasāda18 from the temple (p. 52). The swami asks whether she can stay with any relatives; but to take a child widow into the house would bring the disapproval of the townsfolk upon the relatives, and the future of the relatives'children would be jeopardized.

24Meanwhile Ammi attracts the attention of men of unsteady moral character, such as the cook of the maṭha, who grabs her one day. The news of this incident gets around, and in the maṭha people ogle her less openly; but in the town she cannot go out without her grandmother's escort, and even then men follow them and make catcalls.

25Ammi wonders what intimacies she could have shared with her husband, and she discovers her own beauty. This is confirmed by Sundaramma, the neighbour across the street, who wants to take her to a fair and suggests that she wear the sari which Kāvēri gave her. Ammi is afraid of what people may say, but Sundaramma says that people will talk anyway, and there is no way of stopping them. Ammi cannot understand Sundaramma's wish to bring out her beauty: "What did it mean? A woman with hair, who did not put flowers in it, did not put kunkuma on her forehead..." (p. 60). Sundaramma has things her way, and they go. Ammi weeps with gratitude that Sundaramma has taken her out.

26Ammi's grandmother is ill, and Sundaramma thinks about what may happen to Ammi if her grandmother dies: she may perhaps be forced to enter into service for the temple. Then she remembers her late friend Rādhe, also a child-widow, who was bothered sexually by the 'protectors of religion' in the temple, became pregnant and then committed suicide, and "In the end what happened? The pronouncing of mantra-s purified the temple, that was all" (p. 63). If all this happened to Rādhe, whose head was shaven, then what would happen to Ammi, who still had all her hair? While Ammi is at the temple, a local merchant comes to her grandmother and suggests that if he could have Ammi as his keep, he would take good care of her and keep the grandmother in comfort too (p. 66). Ammi's freedom of movement upsets many people and makes them say that "times have become bad" (p. 67); they wait for her to slip morally, so that they can censure, and malicious gossip has already started: "it won't be long yet. She's casting her net. Did you see how she moves her eyes? Wow!" (ibid.).

27When Sundaramma returns from Hassan town, she brings some novels for Ammi to read. Through the novels, she is confronted with many things which she never experienced or knew about, e.g. the manner in which the heroes and heroines talk with each other, and a kind of dissatisfaction grows in her. Meanwhile Rāma Śāstri (Sundaramma's husband) has to chase off men who come to bother her at night throwing pebbles against her window (p. 69). Ammi envies her neighbours for the affectionate relationship which they have, and she wonders whether it would be better for her to die. One day Sundaramma suggests that she remarry: the idea is so overwhelming for Ammi that she breaks down and weeps, but Sundaramma is serious. Ammi fears what people may say if she would pursues this idea, but a faint hope lingers in her, and she begins daydreaming about how marriage would be.

28Sundaramma and Rāma Śāstri look for a husband in Bangalore, but they meet with no success. Meanwhile the village gossips spread malicious rumours about Śāstri, and people become less inclined to invite him to carry out his priestly work (p. 75). Through the temple priest Ammi's grandmother hears about the endeavours to get Ammi married, and she says: "Oh, Ammi... our life has become the talk of the streets! You've ruined my honour!" (p. 76). The old swami dies, and partly as a result of this, Ammi's grandmother's health worsens. At nights she is bothered by lechers, and Rāma Śāstri is attacked from behind one day and slightly wounded; but in spite of these troubles, he and Sundaramma do not change their attitude towards Ammi.

29One night the pārupatyagāra (manager of the maṭha) Nārāyaṇa Rāya comes and enquires about Ammi's ailing grandmother, and somehow he inspires confidence in Ammi. They discover that her grandmother has already died (p. 85). Rāma Śāstri hears Ammi cry, comes and is somewhat shocked to find Nārāyana Rāya there. Ammi moves in with Rāma Śāstri and Sundaramma, which leads to yet more gossip. "Some fellows thought: somehow or the other we must get Banaśankari removed from Rāma Śāstri's house; after that, all will be easy" (p. 87).

30One day Nārāyaṇa Rāya speaks to Ammi at the place on the riverside where clothes are washed, and she enjoys speaking with him. He is married and has four children, and though he knows that it is wrong to indulge in his sensual weakness, he cannot control himself. Now that the maṭha has been taken over by the new swami, he knows that he must act fast. A message comes from the maṭha, reproaching Ammi for her scandalous independence and demanding that she join the maṭha, but she chases off the messenger. Nārāyaṇa Rāya meets her again and inspires confidence in her, but her living alone is enough reason for the women in the village to believe that she is immoral: she is publicly abused by them at the washing-place, and one of them says "Go away a bit further, you great queen. Why should we become sinners by seeing your show?" (p. 93). In heavy rain her grandmother's house collapses (p. 95). She stays with Sundaramma and Rāma Śāstri, who now have a daughter named 'Banaśankari' after her.

31When Nārāyaṇa Rāya meets Ammi at the riverside again, he offers her another house, and she suddenly weeps (p. 97). Ammi has a sleepless night and overhears how Rāma Śāstri tells Sundaramma that though Nārāyaṇa Rāya is a sensualist, he is not a bad fellow in a way, but he will not marry Ammi, merely keep her (p. 99). When Ammi meets Nārāyaṇa Rāya again and agrees to join him, she is oddly touched by his words "when you say come, I'll come, when you say go, I'll go," for no one has ever spoken thus to her. She has decided to give him liberty to do with her as he likes, to let him give her unprecedented experiences, but he does nothing as yet (p. 102). Ammi takes leave of Sundaramma with a short speech:

  • 19 Akka, 'elder sister'. A term of endearment for a woman older than oneself.

"He said 'come': I'm going, sisterl19. Can I remain here like this? You have always said that it is wrong to die. Then I should live. If I am to live, no other way is open to me. I don't know whether it is good or bad, whether it is dharma or adharma, sister. He has called me to come. I'm going... For so many days I've stayed alive thanks to you, sister. I can't repay this debt in this life... Don't forget me... See me now and then... Forgive me, sister..." (p. 103).

32She is taken in a cart and settled in a house on the other side of the village. To her comfort Nārāyaṇa Rāya does not spend the first night there. She tries to sleep that night, but memories bother her and she thinks about the plight of women in their society: "woman is like a creeper: how can she live without the support of a man?" she thinks, though she remembers how Sundaramma once said that things are different in other countries (pp. 109-10).

33After she has been in the new house for a week, she and Nārāyaṇa Rāya embrace for the first time: it is an overwhelming experience for her, and she weeps with joy. He spends the night there; he is knowledgeable and experienced in these matters and makes her happy; only at dawn she falls asleep. Days pass in bliss. The people's attitude towards her changes: all treat her respectfully, "But Ammi knew: she was not the reason for that show of respect - it was the person who was behind her" (p. 117). Nārāyaṇa Rāya does all he can to make her happy, including putting kunkuma on her forehead and flowers in her hair. One day she sends for Sundaramma as she is not feeling well, and Sundaramma is happy, for Ammi shows signs of pregnancy; but she mentions the possibility that Nārāyaṇa Rāya may not want the child, to Ammi's horror and disbelief. She also utters the wish that the child will be a boy, who will grow up to be respected by everyone, and that his name should be Rāja: he can marry her daughter, if she will have another one (p. 121).

34Nārāyaṇa Rāya is depressed that the swami has reproached him for keeping Ammi; also his youngest son dies. When Ammi tells him about the pregnancy later, he seems glad, but when the boy is born, he is pleased but also worried about the situation; but he does everything he can to make Ammi feel comfortable. Though she is happy, Ammi mentions her worries about the boy's future to Sundaramma (p. 124). Nārāyaṇa Rāya resents Ammi's great attention for their son and visits her less frequently. His wife is jealous that Ammi has a son by him, and whenever she has a chance she blames him for having killed their son by going to Ammi one night instead of bringing medicine or something which might have cured him. Meanwhile Nārāyaṇa Rāya's estrangement from Ammi increases, and one day he forces himself on her sexually, which both of them regret the next morning.

  • 20 The person is represented by an earthen vessel which is ritually smashed, and all ties of the relat (...)

35Ammi is pregnant again. When Nārāyaṇa Rāya is away to Bangalore for two weeks on some legal business, she takes her baby son to the temple one day, where Nārāyaṇa Rāya's wife creates a scene and physically attacks Ammi, who manages to flee safely while the wife curses: "may your lineage go to ruin! may god punish you!" (p. 131). Nārāyaṇa Rāya returns from Bangalore with gifts but blames her for going to the temple, and Ammi feels very bitter about the whole affair. After some time a daughter is born to them, but neither of them is very glad. Sundaramma comes and says that she would be happy to be the baby girl's mother-in-law. She also knows about the swami's intention of excommunicating Ammi from the caste, but she does not know how to break this news to Ammi: for if thus her caste membership, and thereby that of her children, is destroyed, then what will her future be (p. 135)? She names Ammi's daughter Suśīlā. Nārāyana Rāya comes and tells her that the swami wants to perform a ghaṭaśrāddha for her and thus proclaim her officially dead20; also his position as the temple manager is threatened. Rāma Śāstri tells Ammi later that a ghaṭaśrāddha is not possible when no relatives of hers are present: only an ordinary excommunication can take place. All the same, Ammi thinks she should leave the town, and she tells Sundaramma that Nārāyana Rāya "gave me shelter. He gave me two children. Now I shouldn't torment him... It isn't his fault" (p. 140). She leaves for the house of friends of Rāma Śāstri in Hassan, a nearby large town.

  • 21 Forsaking the world in order to follow a career devoted to spiritual pursuits.

36In Hassan Ammi and her children first stay with Kēsavamūrti and his wife Sāvitri, who are very concerned about her plight. To explain their presence Kēsavamūrti tells other people that Ammi's husband suddenly wanted to forsake the world in sannyāsa21 and abandoned them, and therefore she will not wear any kunkuma until he returns. Rāma Śāstri comes for a visit, Ammi praises his friends, but she is disappointed to hear that Nārāyana Rāya was totally unmoved by the news of her departure from their town. She gets a job doing household work in the house of the local judge (p. 147).

37Five years later, when her children have grown somewhat, the boy next door asks Rāja where his father is; he in turn asks Ammi, who tells him that their father is on a long pilgrimage. Rāja is critical of stories of Rāma and other gods, and when Kēśavamūrti has them registered in a school he is critical that the principal notes down only his father's name and not his mother's as well (p. 151). They are poor; she receives an advance from the husband in a house where she cleans kitchen vessels, but one day when his wife is out he grabs her lustily - she escapes and does not return to that house. In the course of time people begin to have doubts about her husband, and she tells one lie after another to keep up her false image. Rāja has a fight in school one day when another boy calls him the son of a whore (pp. 156-7).

  • 22 Initiation of a boy into full membership of the caste, before the onset of puberty.
  • 23 Small ritual performed by men in certain communities three times daily; a form of worship connected (...)

38Rāja studies assiduously in order to get work soon, so that he can help alleviate Ammi's plight. Ammi insists with Kēsavamūrti that they should have Rāja's upanayana22 performed soon, at low cost; this happens, and Rāja begins doing sandhyāvandane23 and the other things that are associated with Brahminhood. The children tell Ammi that they are sad that their father did not come back to attend this important event, and then Ammi decides to tell them the truth about her and their life. This takes all night. They are sad, impressed, but not shocked. Ammi suffers from an indistinct ailment which the doctor cannot identify, yet he continues giving her medicines. Rāja advises her to go see a new doctor, but she is afraid of taking sīme auṣadhi (foreign medicine), at which Rāja ironically says: "Very good Brahmins take it, they say" (p. 164).

39The new doctor jokes that the wearing of a juṭṭu (Sanskrit śikhā, the tail of hair that is worn by orthodox high-caste men) causes fever, and also the new teacher creates a fashion by discarding it and wearing 'cropped' hair. Ammi opposes the idea that Rāja too should do this, but he and his sister persist anyway. After Rāja passes his exam, all of them move to Bangalore, where he wants to enter college. They occupy a small dwelling in Śrīrāmapura, where poor people live. Ammi cannot acquire enough money to arrange her daughter's marriage, and this upsets her very much; however, Rāja strikes up an acquaintance with a boy named Mādhava, who works in a bank, lives on his own, cooks his own food and reads English books (p. 173). Ammi asks Rāja what Mādhava's caste is; Rāja argues that this should not matter, but Ammi says that one should respect one's lineage.

40Mādhava gets some tuition work for Rāja, so that he can earn a little, Ammi gives Mādhava some chutney powder which is prepared by Suśīlā and thus sets a careful sort of courtship going. Mādhava one day proposes marriage to Suśīlā when they meet on the street, Suśīlā tells this to Ammi, and Ammi is dismayed. He then comes to their home and speaks on his own behalf, since he has no senior relatives here to speak for him. Ammi is a bit shocked by his complete disbelief in caste, horoscopes etc. She asks Rāma Śāstri's advice on whether Mādhava is a good match for her daughter or not, and he answers positively. Then Rāja writes a letter to Mādhava, who is in Pune, in which he explains their family background; Mādhava quickly replies that he does not care what exactly their background is, that he still would like to many Rāja's sister and that he has already secured a house in Pune; he will come with some relatives for the wedding when Rāja tells him to (p. 183). Rāja then goes to Jīvanahaḷḷi to collect the money Indian Womanhood that Ammi still has there: there he finds that the old śānubhōga has died, but Kāvēri is still there. Rāja tells her in full detail what has happened to Ammi since she left the village, and Kāvēri gives him Ammi's money along with interest. Suśīlā's wedding takes place in Tirupati, and Ammi's financial problems subside: she finds that after the wedding she still has money left, Mādhava sends a monthly sum and Rāja earns some money by giving tuition (pp. 187-8). She becomes concerned about getting Rāja married off to someone of their caste (p. 188).

41They receive a letter from Rāma Śāstri saying that Nārāyaṇa Rāya has died. Though Rāja cannot remember his father and missed a father in his life, and they do not have as much as a portrait of the man, he is affected by the news (p. 191). He carefully breaks the news to Ammi, who feels widowed again; she feels that the three years which she spent with Nārāyaṇa Rāya were more valuable than the following nineteen, because he made her life complete (p. 193). The news of Nārāyaṇa Rāya's death adds to her feeling of growing old; she goes on a pilgrimage to Tirupati, where she has her head shaven in the manner of a widow.

42Rāja becomes friendly with a girl classmate, and in the course of time their intimacy increases. The girl, Rame, respects Ammi for her selflessness and the sufferings which she went through for the sake of her children, and she tells Rāja that he should not reproach Ammi too severely for her belief in the value of their ancestry etc., since this too is an expression of her concern for him (p. 201).

43The doctor says that Ammi's ailments are largely mental. She wants to go to Jīvanahaḷḷi, and Rāja sends a boy along with her to help her on the way. In Hassan she finds that Kēśavamūrti and Sāvitri have gone out somewhere for the day; a neighbour offers her a meal, but she says that she will not eat anything before she has seen the god in Bāḷemaṇṇūru (p. 207). She travels further and in Bāḷemaṇṇūru she finds strangers living in the house of Rāma Śāstri, who moved away in a year ago; Sundaramma has died, and Rāma Śāstri now lives with his son-in-law. Now, to her horror, outcastes can now enter the temple, and the practice of distributing prasāda has been abandoned. She goes to Rāyanahaḷḷi, where she is received heartily by her brotherin-law Nāṇi. Her parents-in-law have meanwhile died (p. 211). Nāṇi tells her how often they have thought of her and how they would occasionally hear rumours but would not believe them. He wants her to stay, but she insists on going to Jīvanahaḷḷi that same night; he says that he will come to bring her back if she does not return after a week. In Jīvanahaḷḷi she finds Kāvēri and her family and stays with them. She catches a delirious fever, and Kāvēri writes to Rāja, who comes in spite of an examination, in the company of Rame. Ammi recognizes how much the girl loves her son. Then and there she finally gives up her belief in caste:

...the sweet children... How much love and affection they had for each other! How much that Rame loved her son!... No matter how much you harp on caste, horoscopes, religion, traditional customs, what does it lead to? What happened in her life, after she had followed all those things? What kind of happiness did she obtain? (p. 218).

44She utters the wish that they marry, blesses them and passes away that same night.

451.4 Typically, hardly any person in Niranjana's novel is depicted as fully black or white: Ammi's lot is not the work of any one single villain, but rather of a number of anonymous forces, of which numerous people are victims in varying degrees. One such force is that of superstitions: before Ammi was wed, there was a comparing of horoscopes, according to which she was supposed to become happy; and yet she became a childwidow. What is very striking about Ammi is that in spite of this, she retains her faith in horoscopes when it comes to arranging her own daughter's marriage. While talking with Mādhava about a possible marriage, she says:

"I'll think about it and tell you. Give your horoscope."
"I don't have a horoscope. I don't believe in that." Ammi felt as though a thorn was stuck in her foot. Suśīlā descended from a world of dreams. Rāja felt uncomfortable.
To support his disbelief he said:
"Nothing that an astrologer has said about me after seeing my horoscope is true."
Horoscope and marriage... Ammi thought... Long back her father-in-law had taken her horoscope to Rāyanahaḷḷi and seen it, had he not? The horoscopes matched. And yet what happened? (p. 180).

46However, old beliefs die hard, and the doubt which occurs to her at this juncture does not bring about any lasting change in her views on the matter. After Rāja has introduced the girl whom he is fond of to his mother, she asks about the girl's caste, and a quarrel ensues:

"Why are you hurting me, Rāja? For whose sake am I saying this? The girl's nice... if she's of our people... her horoscope..."
"Ammi! Enough, stop it!" Rāja said and left the house (p. 203).

47But this belief in horoscopes is harmless in comparison with the traditional beliefs in ritual purity and pollution, which are the terms in which the caste system is codified. Ammi belongs to a Brahmin community, a high caste, which implies a traditional belief in the kind of magical impurity which is so typically Indian. Had she belonged to a 'lower' caste, the entire drama of her child-widowhood might never have arisen, since she would have been allowed to remarry. Hence casteism, the irrational adherence to the rules and regulations of the caste, is the immediate, real cause of her tragedy. She is actually excommunicated from the caste and outlawed, but she still identifies herself with the caste by referring to it as 'our people'. In a peculiar way she believes that she is still obliged to follow at least some of its rules, such as having a priest (who obviously does not know about her social status) perform Rāja's upanayana or initiation into adult male Brahminhood, or making the caste of Rāja's fellow-student a criterion for whether he can marry her or not:

"Is she of our people, Rāja?"
Only the sound was soft. But as far as Rāja was concerned, the question was bitter.
"What do you mean by 'our people', Ammi?"
"Why do you talk like this, Rāja?"
"Ammi, didn't you say the other day that they had performed father's
ghaṭaśrāddha or excommunication or something like that?"
"They did something or the other. But you shouldn't talk nastily like this" (p. 203).

48Rāja, who is a second-generation outcaste and is not bothered by casteist considerations, unsuccessfully tries to bring his mother round to other ideas through irony, as we see in a passage where Ammi wonders whether Mādhava would be a suitable match for her daughter:

What modesty! His age could not be more than twenty-six or twenty-seven. A Brahmin... there was no doubt about that.
Taking up the subject of Mādhava once again with Rāja, she said:
"He's a Brahmin... No doubt."
"What does it matter what he is, Ammi? Yes, let us, who are without caste, ask about the lineage and clan of someone else. That's great" (p. 175).

  • 24 An important centre of pilgrimage in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

49When the news of Nārāyana Raya's death comes and she feels widowed again (p. 193: eraḍu sāre tānu vidhave) she wants to bear the external signs of widowhood and has her head shaven in Tirupati24. Naturally, Rāja is shocked when she returns to Bangalore and he sees this:

"Good gracious, what madness is this, Ammi?"
"Really, child. Isn't it proper for me to remove my hair now that your father has passed away?"
"Have you gone crazy, Ammi? Yuck - who told you to do this?"
"Nobody... I was urged by my conscience. This is the atonement I've made."
"Atonement! For what wrong?"
"What does the wrong matter? Only the atonement is real."
"Atonement because you became a widow a soon as you married a little boy. Atonement because Nārāyaṇa Rāya, who loved you, got scared of a few people and abandoned you. This is an atonement for rotten people saying a thousand things and causing you a thousand sufferings. Isn't that so, Ammi?" (p. 196).

50Ammi could easily have been portrayed by the author as a rebel, a revolutionary who is victimized by a social system and therefore denounces it fully - but this would have meant an underestimation of the difficult position of women in Indian society as well as shallow psychology, in other words: we would have had a work of propaganda, not a realistic novel.

51Apart from depicting aspects of the plight of child-widows in traditional society, the novel also documents a society which is in transition. New ideas are entering society, forcing people to take a stand, and the people determine their position in various ways. Some people are aware of the cruelty of the traditional rules regarding widowhood, but are too weak to oppose them openly: one example is the village śānubhōga, who thought he could manage Ammi's affairs but "probably feared nothing so much as he feared the opinion of the people" (p. 47); he silently wonders whether Ammi could marry again in some other town where nobody knows about her widowhood, but he quickly drops the idea and thinks "...god. God alone must protect this helpless girl. What can humans do? What is possible for humans?" (p. 46). Ammi's in-laws love her very much, yet they cannot face the society around them and hence delegate the matter to her brother and send her back to Jīvanahaḷḷi. Her grandmother too is sensitive to gossip (p. 76). (The connection between gossip and personal honour is a matter that deserves special attention in the general conclusions of this dissertation).

52On the other hand, some people are bolder. Nārāyaṇa Rāya looks ambiguous, since he is largely motivated to take interest in Ammi by his sensual weakness; he has doubts about whether he is really doing her a favour by keeping her, considering what the public opinion about her will be, and also expresses this doubt to her (p. 117). One cannot escape from the impression that he actually loves Ammi, as we see by his concern for her wellbeing, the gifts which he brings from his travels, etc., but he remains a man of weak character: he keeps Ammi only because he has an influential position in the village as the pārupatyagāra. Kēśavamūrti in Hassan is a much stronger personality, who shows an active compassion for Ammi and her children; his wife Sāvitri, however, is more conventional and suspicious: she cannot forget that Ammi is a 'fallen woman', and she feels that she must "protect her husband" (p. 143).

53The boldest, strongest characters in the novel are clearly Rāma Śāstri and Sundaramma: they have a strong sense of values, dare to question orthodoxy where they think it wrong and are not afraid to uphold their values publicly, even if this means suffering physical attacks. It is especially Sundaramma who acts as the spokesperson for alternative ideas in the novel. She persuades Ammi to join her in an outing to the fair, though widows are considered so inauspicious that according to the norms of society they are barred from showing themselves at such festive occasions; not only that, Sundaramma insists that she should wear the luxurious sari which Kāvēri once gave her and look pretty.

"What will the people who see me say?" said Ammi.
"They'll say what they want to. Is it possible to shut people's mouths?" (p. 59)

says Sundaramma, and they go. The reactions of people at the fair are varied:

54Everyone nearby kept watching them. The people who knew who Ammi was were amazed. "Times have become bad," some muttaide-s said. Some whose heads were shaven at an early age condemned Ammi within their minds with unspeakable words. Some men gave a sigh of relief, thinking "not bad, she has come out into the street".... So many kinds of looks! Some had the hungry desire to gobble her up. Others had a pleasant aesthetic experience. Again others were impatient to destroy her individuality... (pp. 60-1).

55Typically, Ammi cannot understand Sundaramma's wish to look like her: Sundaramma obviously admires her personal beauty, whereas for Ammi (whose frame of mind is too religiously orthodox to understand such a humanistic standpoint) a woman who does not wear the traditional signs of being a muttaide or married woman cannot possibly be considered attractive (p. 60). But Sundaramma goes much further in questioning traditional norms and tells Ammi that it is not a sin for a widow to remarry:

"It's not a sin to remarry, Banū... Not a sin at all. They're tormenting you in the name of dharmaśāstra, aren't they? That is a sin. Aren't all of us God's children? If that is so, won't He be pleased to see all of us happy?... You don't know, Banū... We've read so many books. They're making propaganda in Bangalore and Mysore. Great scholars have talked with each other. Do you know what they say? That another marriage is not a sin. When a man marries a second and a third time, it's not a sin for a woman - a widow - to marry again" (p. 72).

56Not only Bangalore and Mysore are sources of new ideas about alternative ways of life: Sundaramma is aware that the world is larger than India, and her humanistic bent of mind enables her to compare without prejudice what she knows about the position of women in other countries with their position in India:

"Do you know that in other countries women earn like men?"
"It's said that they give education to women in schools..."
Banaśankari listened to Sundaramma's words with her mouth open and a horrified look.
"They say women become doctors who give medicines..."
"It that so!?"
"Yes... Who do you think was ruling us? A queen, Queen Victoria... Do you know?"
Disappointedly she said:
"Where are they-where are we?" (pp. 109-10).

57Awareness of the contrast leads to Sundaramma's criticism of the Indian treatment of women:

"If you had been educated, would it have been necessary for you to suffer anyone's harangues?"
"But no matter how much a woman says, she's a woman, isn't she, sister?"
"Woman is superior to man. She has greater responsibility than a man. Who is it who protects the offspring to whom she gives birth?"
"Take your own case. They tied a
tāḷi around a little girl's neck and said that she was a woman. After a while, they removed the tāḷi and said that you're a widow because your husband died..."
"Sister! -"
"Think anything you like, Banū. This
śāstra is completely meaningless, it isn't dharma, it isn't justice" (p. 110).

58In this manner, the basic tenor of the novel is a form of humanism, which forms the basis of its criticism of the cruelty of orthodox Hindu society. The cruelty of society is supported by certain beliefs in the supernatural: the caste system is something that cannot be questioned, nor are the rules which impose unnecessary inhibitions on the lives of widows - all this is divinely and irrevocably ordained, just as the courses of individuals' lives are determined by fate, which can be read from an individual's horoscope. Over and over again we see characters in the novel declare themselves not guilty of, nor responsible for anything that happens to Ammi or the many women like her, because they are mere people. Ammi's mother-in-law considers it her 'fate' that she has a widowed daughter-in-law who does not know how to preserve the 'honour' of their house and rushes to the door to open it at "the sound of human voices":

"Don't you know anything? You're ruining the honour of the house! In which evil moment did you set foot in this house, you great queen! After making everyone sad, shouldn't you at least know how to behave? Why has God left me here..." (pp. 20-1).

59When Ammi's grandmother dies, Nārāyaṇa Rāya tries to console her by saying:

  • 25 Generic name for the later schools of Hindu thought. In popular Kannada usage, the word can also me (...)

"You shouldn't cry, dear... you shouldn't cry... Is all that in our hands?"
For Ammi that was no new thing to hear, was it! Previously too, someone or the other had said every time again: 'is it in our hands? is it in our hands?'. Ammi did not need any Vedānta
25... (p. 85).

60Yet this fatalism is so widespread that even Sundaramma succumbs to it when she discovers that finding a new husband for Ammi is not so easy as she had hoped:

"God is there, let's see," Sundaramma said. That was her last weapon of defence, the last word that everyone speaks. Since she had nothing else to say, Sundaramma said the same thing (p. 75).

61The point that the novelist wants to make is of course that gods are nowhere to be seen in all the injustice which Ammi and her children suffer, that it is all human folly and that people are very much in positions to change matters, if only they want to. Mādhava rejects all this and accepts his own responsibility when he expresses his wish to marry Suśīla. Rāja criticizes gods like Rāma for their actions (p. 151; this obviously refers to the god's cruel treatment of his wife Sītā, which was prompted by public opinion and which has been openly criticized by an increasingly large number of feminists and others in India in recent times) and at the end of the novel he is about to happily marry a girl in whose caste, family etc. he is not interested because the girl herself is an admirable individual. Rāja, Mādhava, Kēśavamūrti, Rāma Śāstri and Sundaramma all show that personal opposition to injustice can lead to positive results, be they however small quantitatively. The marriages of Ammi's two children show that the disregard of injust and senseless orthodoxy, be it however widespread and firmly rooted, does not necessarily bring down disaster. In keeping with this outlook, the author says about the protagonist (when the news of Nārāyana Rāya's death reaches her) that she is grateful to Nārāyaṇa Rāya for having made her life complete:

From the day that Nārāyaṇa Rāya caressed her curly hair on the river bank till now - these twenty-two years... The three years that she spent with him and the rest of her life. What was more? What was less?
He was a good man... the person who had made her life complete. She had not always had his proximity, his closeness... Why should she blame him for that? (p. 193)

62she reflects. The author believes that widows too are entitled to desire and obtain some happiness in this life, such as physical union with the beloved and having a family, just like anybody else, and society should not deny them this on the basis of any absurd religiosity. In this acceptance of the fulness of life here and now, in the consistent and open denouncing of the baseless kind of thinking that underlies the caste system and its rules, we see a radical change after the writing of the preceding Navōdaya group, which combined a vaguely mystifying patriotism and worship of what is beautiful with social attitudes that were basically conventional and orthodox.

63The social changes which the author considers desirable are being held back not only by superstition but also by hypocrisy and a fear of 'society'. The reader is struck by the number of passages containing petty, slanderous gossip aimed at the child-widow and malicious public delight, and fear of these same things which inhibits people to take action which in their hearts they feel is just. When Ammi moves about more independently in the village, the gossip is that she is a 'loose' woman hunting for a man (p. 67); when Rāma Śāstri and Sundaramma try to find a husband for Ammi, the gossip is that Rāma Śāstri "has done something to that widow, that's why they are taking all this trouble" (p. 75); women say behind Sundaramma's back that her husband has now taken an additional wife (p. 88); the mere fact that Ammi is living alone after the demise of her grandmother is enough for the village women to believe that she has become immoral, and they call her walking around independently a "show" (nāṭaka, i.e. literally 'drama performance') which is so evil that they run the risk of becoming sinners themselves (p. 93 - perhaps because the idea of greater independence is so appealing to them?). What is central here is the idea that independence on the part of a woman is evil.

64The fear of society, of 'what people may say', can be understood from the nature of the caste system: it is important that one has the basic sympathy of one's fellow caste-members, since the caste is the dominant factor in social life, and if one is rejected by the others (and in the worst case excommunicated), one is practically an outlaw. But the novel tells us that things are changing: Ammi and her children are actually excommunicated, but by that time Ammi is "too far away to hear the proclamation" (p. 141), and from all that follows we see that the swami's excommunication is meaningless, for it has no effect whatsoever on the rest of her life. It is only if one wants to believe in things like caste and its rules of ritual purity that they have any effect, and if a sufficiently large number of people believe in them, the rules become an instrument of brutal social control, which one can circumvent through hypocrisy. As we see also in other novels (like Triveni's Hūvu haṇṇu), widows hold a particular erotic fascination for men, which may be due to the fact that they have no husband to restrain them or to take revenge on the other man. The limit of hypocrisy in the novel is shown in the character of the swami of the maṭha of Bāḷemaṇṇūru, supposedly the preserver of religion and morality. He would have had Ammi for himself if it were not for Nārāyaṇa Rāya, and he publicly censures his behaviour (p. 126). When he sees that he cannot succeed in separating Ammi and Nārāyaṇa Rāya, he carries out the threat of using his ultimate weapon, excommunication.

65It is also noteworthy that the novel tells us that also some men are interested in seeing change in the position of widows in their society: in other words, it is not simply male chauvinism that keeps the widows where they are. We have already seen that some men sympathize with Ammi and others actively try to bring about some improvement in her situation. In the interesting passage which I translated above in connection with the character of Sundaramma, we have read that some muttaide-s say that "times have become bad," and some other child-widows ("some whose heads were shaven at an early age") "condemned Ammi within their minds with unspeakable words." Some men gave a sigh of relief, thinking "not bad, she has come out into the street" (p. 60-1).

66The gossip about Ammi's supposed immorality also comes from the mouths of women. Here we see that women are equally, if not more, to blame for the enforcement of the inhuman rules regarding widowhood than men are, but it is not quite clear exactly why. The vulgar feminist explanation would of course be that the women have been conditioned by society into believing in the necessity of their subordination; one actually can hear this kind of talk in Karnatakan feminist circles, but this is of course a distortion of reality to make it fit one's pet ideas. In the case of the other widows it may be envy, that they themselves are not able to live under liberal circumstances and therefore out of spite wish to destroy the relative happiness which others have (the Dākṣāyini episode in M.K. Indira's Phaṇiyamma gives interesting material for comparison). In the case of the muttaide-s, the not widowed women, it may be a matter of taking pleasure in the misery of others which they have not yet had to suffer; but the psychology of the matter may prove to be more complicated than this.

  • 26 See above, note 20.

671.5 In Banaśankari we see how the young widow is forced into an extramarital relationship due to the rigid mores of society; as a consequence she gives birth to two children, and through her own perseverance and with the help of some people who are sympathetic towards her she and her children struggle and survive. Eight years later, in 1962, the famous short story Ghaṭaśrāddha by U.R. Anantha Murthy (U.R. Anantamūrti 1932b) appeared, which shows a much more hopeless situation. The widow cannot escape from her orthodox environment: the story ends in a tragedy, which evaporates in the semi-comprehension of the young boy protagonist. The title of the story refers to the ritual of declaring dead a person who is excommunicated from the caste26.

68Anantha Murthy is the best known among the writers who together form the Navya school in Kannada literature, of whom we have already seen some characteristics above (§0.6). The Navya movement is a typically post-Independence phenomenon: India had achieved the status of an independent nation, and with this the urgency of cultivating patriotic feelings about the country and its past was lost. At the same time, Indian intellectuals could afford a more relaxed and openly curious attitude towards ideas from abroad; though already the Pragatiśīla movement is clearly indebted to European ideas, the Pragatiśīla authors were most productive during the transitional phase from colonial rule to self-rule, and many of their writings very clearly express the authors' concern about political self-determination and India's position vis-à-vis the rest of the world.

69Already some of the Pragatiśīla authors had expressed disillusionment with Independence in their writings; here the Navyas picked up the thread and began questioning more or less everything, and typically on the level of the individual, starting from the obviously correct assumption that if individuals lack integrity and firmness, one cannot expect much good from a society that consists of such individuals. The Navya generation is the contemporary of the post-World War II generation in Europe, which similarly suffered disillusionment and set out on a ruthless questioning of fundamental values and individual integrity, and thus it should not come as a surprise that the Navya authors underwent a strong existentialist influence through the reading of authors such as Camus and Sartre. Equally typically, the attraction of Marx was replaced by the influence of Freudian ideas.

70With the passing of time and the unavoidable passing away of most of the representatives of the older schools of Kannada literature, the Navya authors now find themselves to be the literary establishment. The representatives of the recent wave in Kannada writing, the Baṇḍāya movement, with their pretensions of being writers for 'the people', habitually ridicule the Navyas as being obscure, highbrow, snobbish, 'un-Indian' and high-caste: and all this says more about those critics than about those who are the target of this ill-founded criticism. No group of Kannada authors after the Navyas has succeeded in attaining a similar level of literary craftsmanship and intellectual seriousness.

71Much of Anantha Murthy's fame is due to his second novel, Samskāra, which was turned into an interesting motion picture, and both the book (which we will discuss in detail in chapter 5) and the picture caused great commotion in Karnataka. His fame outside Karnataka rests almost entirely on the very competent translation of Samskāra by A.K. Ramānujan. Anantha Murthy recently became the president of the national academy of letters, the Sahitya Akademi, and received India's most prestigious literary award, the Jnanpith Award.

72Though the theme of the short story Ghaṭaśrāddha is similar to the main theme of Niranjana's Banaśankari, the differences in approach and style are very illustrative of the characteristic differences between the Pragatiśīla and Navya writers.

731.6 U.R. Anantha Murthy: Ghaṭaśrāddha

74A Brahmin boy, Nāṇi, is staying away from his parents in another village to learn the Vedas from one Śēṣagiri Uḍupa, in whose house he stays; one day Uḍupa announces that he will be away for some time for priestly work elsewhere, and he leaves Nāṇi and the other pupils to be looked after by his young daughter Yamunakka, while the teaching will continue with another teacher, named Upādhya. One of the other pupils, the orphan Śāstri, who is older than he is, habitually teases him, and another one, named Gaṇēśa, who is a distant relative of Uḍupa, tells him how Yamunakka's husband died only a few days after their wedding and she then came to live with her father after the death of her mother (p. 219).

75One day Nāṇi goes to the house of a more elderly widow in the village, Godāvaramma, who asks him why Yamunakka has not been coming to the temple for days; when he tells her that Yamunakka was not well, she laughs and jokes about Yamunakka to her brother. Yamunakka weeps when she hears this later.

  • 27 Bīdi-s are small indigenous cigarettes which look like tiny cigars, with a single tobacco leaf form (...)
  • 28 Traditional Brahmin settlement.

76Another day Yamunakka asks him to go on an errand to a nearby town together with Śāstri. He finds Śāstri secretly playing cards with some other boys in the house of the local merchant, and they go. On the way he sees how Śāstri has hidden a packet of bīḍi-s27 and a box of matches in a hollow tree, and again Śāstri tells Nāṇi not to tell Yamunakka about this, though he is not afraid since he knows about her (pp. 223-4). He takes Nāṇi to the ruins of an old agrahāra28 and through a breach in an old wall they spy on the school teacher of their village, who comes on his bicycle from Śivapura every day, and another man, whom he does not recognize. Back in Uḍupa's house that night, there is a voice at the back door; Nāṇi thinks that it is a demon, and Yamunakka goes to the door and says "go, go, don't come here" (p. 226).

77The next day Śāstri makes fun of him for believing that it really was a demon. They go to Godavaramma's house for bilva leaves, where Śāstri jokes with her about Yamunakka. Another day Godavaramma tries to find out more information about Yamunakka from Nāṇi, but he tells her nothing, and when Yamunakka hears about this later, she tells him not to go there again. For some reason people begin avoiding him and Yamunakka; also Upādhya refuses to accept lemonade from her (pp. 229-30) and does not come to call him to the Veda classes any more. But one day Śāstri and some other boys call him and persuade him to come with them to the forest. Again they go to the ruined agrahāra, and through the breach in the wall they see how Yamunakka and the school teacher meet and talk intimately (p. 233). Nāṇi sees a snake approach them and calls out to warn them: the school teacher jumps up and flees, the other boys run off in another direction, and Nāṇi returns home with Yamunakka.

  • 29 It is a common belief that snakes lie inside termite hills; often this is indeed the case.

78In the night, in the dark of the house, Yamunakka falls to the floor, moans and rolls to and fro; she calls him, he walks in the direction from which her voice is coming and she embraces him. He notices that she is naked; she presses his face against her belly and weeping she says "it burns, it burns" (p. 236). They go to sleep, he wakes up a bit later and discovers that Yamunakka is not there. He leaves the house, comes across the untouchable boy named Kaṭīra, and together they go into the forest, where they find Yamunakka, who is lying beside a termite hill with her hand thrust into it, hoping that there is a snake inside that will bite her29. They go home, and after sitting in the dark for some time Yamunakka scolds him for not having allowed her to die. She leaves the house again, and this time Nāṇi comes with her. They walk for some distance until they reach an isolated house, where the school teacher is waiting for them and scolds Yamunakka for not having come earlier as he had told her to. Nāṇi is appalled by the sordid atmosphere of the house, by the appearance of the people there and the stench of liquor and fish (p. 241).

79Nāṇi enters the house and sees Yamunakka lying naked. The others have smeared dung on her belly and placed a lamp on it, performing a weird operation. He covers her chest with his angavastra (a loose cloth which is wrapped around the torso as an upper garment for men) and tells her to come home with him, but she is unconscious. The school teacher pulls him outside, where he exchanges some words with Parbu, the man whom Nāṇi and Śāstri had seen the teacher meet with at the ruined agrahāra, gives him some money and leaves on his bicycle. Then Kaṭīra enters the courtyard, drinks some liquor and no longer recognizes Nāṇi.

80After some time Yamunakka comes outside, visibly weak and sickly, and though Parbu suggests that she should stay a bit longer and gather some strength before she leaves, she insists on going at once. Just before they leave, a man in a long gown comes. They start walking, and he comes after them, trying to persuade them to come with him to the church, where the Lord Jesus will forgive them for their sins and protect them, whereas the Brahmins of their agrahāra will ostracize them (p. 244). They walk away quickly, but after a while Yamunakka, with a bloodstain on the back of her sari, is too weak to go any further. They are found by the Brahmins of their agrahāra.

  • 30 Cf. ch. 3, n. 13.

81Nāṇi's father comes to take him to their home village, where he undergoes a ritual purification in which he receives a new sacred thread and must drink pañcagavya30. He wonders why it is wrong that Yamunakka becomes pregnant, since his mother too becomes pregnant. After a few days the news comes that Uḍupa has returned and has performed Yamunakka's ghaṭaśrāddha (a formal death ceremony for someone who is or presumably is still living, by which that person is ritual pronounced dead) by which she is excommunicated from the caste. Nāṇi's father and mother speak words of praise for Uḍupa, who in their opinion is "a good man", and condemn Yamunakka for being "a depraved woman" (p. 245). Later they receive the news that Uḍupa is about to remarry; Nāṇi is disgusted by the idea that Uḍupa, who is older than his father, will sit on the wedding platform together with a young girl. His mother asks why, for does Uḍupa not have to continue his household after his daughter became depraved, does he not need anyone to cook for him? And after all, times have become bad (ibid.).

821.7 Ghaṭaśrāddha is possibly the best among of U.R. Anantha Murthy"s short stories. We have already noted in the introduction what the characteristics of the writing of the Navya school are, and Ghaṭaśrāddha is a typical example of the probing, introspective Navya style. Like a number of other stories by him, it is set in the region around the town Tirthahalli, near the author's birthplace, in Shimoga district in central Karnataka.

  • 31 E.g., the Jainas are a non-Hindu religious community that was firmly established in Karnataka since (...)

83The young widow Yamunakka's husband died only a few days after their wedding, as her young, distant relative Gaṇēsa says; religious orthodoxy refuses her a second chance of fulfilment in life as a woman in the company of a spouse, and she is driven to seek intimacy with a man in an extramarital relationship with gruesome consequences. As mentioned earlier, the prohibition against widow remarriage is not pan-Indian, nor is it valid throughout the whole of Hinduism; it is mainly an idea of the higher castes and those who emulate the high castes in an attempt to raise their own social status.31 For the abortion Yamunakka must contact members of another social community with a different moral code, and thus communalism enters the story as a secondary theme.

84As in Niranjana's novel, here too the atmosphere is pervaded by unthinking superstition. Because the story is written in the first person and because the protagonist is a young boy, the descriptions of accepted beliefs and customs lack sophistication. The boy Nāṇi's innocence gives all the descriptions a certain freshness, and social norms are presented as things which simply are there and which are justified by the authority of elders, though at times they may appear odd and the motivations for people's actions are not always clear. The scene where Nāṇi finds Śāstri and the others playing cards in the house of the mercant is a good example:

When I reached the upper storey, I saw a carpet spread out. Round about sat Ranganna, the merchant's son, two other boys from the agrahāra, and Śāstri. They were playing something with little leaves which they held covered in their hands. Gaṇēsa sat and watched. When I asked what kind of a game it was, in which they said "ace, jack, king, queen", threw the leaves on the carpet and glanced at each other, Gaṇēsa said "cards". I told Śāstri what Yamunakka had told me. "A bear in the middle of a śivapūje," he said angrily, gave his cards to Gaṇēsa and got up. "If you tell anyone I was playing here, I'll break all your teeth, got it?" he threatened and walked out with me (p. 223).

85Part of the grip which Śāstri has on Nāṇi is based on the latter's wonder at things which Śāstri says and which he cannot understand, e.g. when they set out for the next town and on the way Śāstri stops to smoke one of the bīḍi-s which he has hidden in a hollow tree:

"You just shouldn't tell Yamunakka, you understand? Don't tell on me."
"All right."
"Even if you tell, I won't be scared, you know? Because I know about Yamunakka. If she scolds me again somewhere, I'll tell everyone. They say the cat drinks milk with its eyes closed."
It was not clear to me what Śāstri meant. But I was afraid. I felt I had to tell this to Yamunakka (pp. 223-4).

86Another part of it is based on the superstition that if one enters a temple dedicated to the god Subrahmanya and touches the idol while one is in a state of ritual impurity one will incur the wrath of the god and will die of snakebite. Śāstri challenges Nāṇi to do this in the ruined old agrahāra after doing so himself: afterwards he shows a particular kind of wart on his hand called garuḍamacce, which is supposed to protect a person against snakes - thus Śāstri becomes Nāṇi's protector in the forest against the snakes which will supposedly come to attack him. When later the boys spy on Yamunakka and the school teacher when they meet again at that ruins of the old agrahāra, and a snake comes crawling towards the couple, Rangaṇṇa says: "If god has sent this snake, it's sure to bite and kill her, the proper punishment for her sin." While Nāṇi anxiously prays to god Subrahmaṇya to protect Yamunakka, Śāstri clutches his hand and says "The proper punishment for her offence" (p. 234). The entire agrahāra, where they live knows that the widow Yamunakka has had trysts with someone and has become pregnant, hence she has become ritually polluted, and this kind of pollution is 'contagious', one can say: hence Gaṇēśa's father comes to take him away from there and refuses to drink the lemonade which Yamunakka offers him (p. 229), and also Upādhya, who has taken over the teaching of the Vedas from Yamunakka's father, says "I don't want that" when she offers him a glass (p. 230) - accepting would mean that he too would be polluted. Thus it is to be expected that when Nāṇi's father takes him home he too must undergo a ritual purification, which entails receiving a new holy thread (janivāra or yajñōpavīta) and drinking pañcagavya (p. 245).

  • 32 An ārati (ārātrikā in Sanskrit) is a part of religious ritual, in which a (usually metal) plate car (...)

87At the same time we see a great deal of hypocrisy around these superstitions and traditional practices. Most of them are exemplified in the character of Śāstri, who does prohibited things like smoking bīḍi-s and playing cards, and though he considers the coming of a snake which may bite and kill Yamunakka the proper punishment for her offence (i.e. having a physically intimate relationship outside marriage, now that she is a widow) his own craving for sexual contact (homoerotic, probably because of the taboo of contacts between the sexes) makes him undress Nāṇi and lay his hand on Nāṇi's underwear at night while they are lying side by side to go to sleep (p. 225). Finally there is also the double standard that widows are not allowed to remarry, whereas Yamunakka's father, after having excommunicated her from the caste, sees nothing wrong in his remarrying with a young girl ('to do the household work', as Nāṇi's mother later says), nor does society; but the young Nāṇi is left wondering what is wrong in becoming pregnant ("But mother becomes pregnant; why is Yamunakka not allowed to become pregnant; I was amazed that there had to be all this commotion" - p. 245), and he feels disgusted by "the idea that Uḍupa, who was older than my father, would perform an ārati32 on the wedding platform with a young girl" (ibid.).

88We see how casteism has been instilled into Nāṇi in the passage where the house of the abortionists is described:

  • 33 A juṭṭu (Sanskrit śikhā) is a tuft of hair, usually on the back of the shaven head, as worn by high (...)

I felt disgusted because it did not look like a Brahmin house. It was the first time that I had gone to such a house and sat there. After my bath I would not as much as speak with Sudra boys. Somehow I was afraid to sit there.... I was sad that I, with my juṭṭu33, sitting in my angavastra, had come here (p. 240).

  • 34 Konkani is an Indo-Aryan language spoken along the western coast of India from Bombay to Kerala. It (...)
  • 35 "...a man in a long garment and with a beard" - p. 243 - who speaks biḍisi biḍisi, i.e. 'separated (...)

89That the abortionists are Christians is indicated by their speaking Konkani34, the absence of kunkuma on the woman's forehead although she still has all her hair (i.e. in spite of wearing no kunkuma she is not a widow - p. 241) and their friendliness with the Christian clergyman35. They are not Hindus, hence it is out of the question that Nāṇi accept any food or drink from them, for fear of being polluted. While the abortion is taking place, the leader Parbu comes:

Parbu came, said "Sleep - if you wake up and go early tomorrow morning, it'll be all right," placed a glass in front of me and said "drink." "Oho," I said. "It isn't booze - milk," he said and laughed. I did not accept it. I sat and whimpered (p. 242).

90The dietary restrictions of his caste cause a feeling of disgust with regard to the practices of others: "From inside a woman came and brought something foul-smelling on a leaf. The thing with the bad smell could be fish,... it had to be bangaḍe-fish, I thought with disgust" (p. 241), and later, when the clergyman steps out of the house shortly after Nāṇi has heard the sounds of a chicken being butchered: "The man came out with some red pieces packed in a leaf. When Yamunakka and I saw the pieces which protruded from the leaf, it was as though we had to vomit" (p. 243).

  • 36 All castes in Karnataka have such mocking or abusive verses about other castes.

91Some of these feelings are mutual. A drunk customer in the courtyard of Parbu's house recognizes Nāṇi as a Brahmin and laughs "Brahmin, hey Brahmin, pūje-Brahmin" (p. 241), and the next morning a boy of his age sees him and says the satyrical rhyme "Brahmin, Brahmin, he roasted a chicken-he made the whole house next door smell" (p. 243)36. However well intended it may be, there is mockery in the words of the clergyman:

"God protects sinners. You need not be afraid." Yamunakka became afraid and began to walk. He came after us and said:
"Have no fear. The people of your
agrahāra will keep you away. But if you believe in our Creator, he will protect you. Come with me to our church. We will give you shelter there."
The thought that Yamunakka would go somewhere with him gave me a feeling of helplessness. But Yamunakka looked with fright at the man with the beard, covered her entire head with the end of her sari and walked with me without speaking. Then he said:
"Your god of stone has a heart of stone. But our god protects those who believe in Jesus. Listen to what I am saying, and come to the church" (p. 244).

92Nāṇi and Yamunakka have no reply besides walking away quickly. Only in one case does Nāṇi for a moment forget his upbringing and almost do a forbidden thing: when he is in the forest with the outcaste Kaṭīra he is overwhelmed by the sinister darkness, in which only Kaṭīra's torch gives light, and by Kaṭīra's appearance:

Then something fluttered away into the bushes. "Let's go back, Kaṭīra," I said. I began to cry. "Look here, we've arrived," he said. We had arrived at something like a clearing. "Take my hand, Kaṭīra," I said. "How is that possible, sir?

Aren't I an untouchable?" he said and stood with the torch still a bit farther away from me. I was afraid of his black, long, naked body, dressed only in a loincloth, in the torchlight. With his loose-hanging hair he reminded me of Pañcurli [a spirit worshipped mainly by the lower castes in that region] (p. 238).

93In spite of the disparaging remarks which are made about Christians and the fact that the shady, Konkani-speaking people who perform the abortion are Christians, we cannot say that the story is anti-Christian. The author's sympathy is wholly on the side of Yamunakka. We see that the Hindu community to which she belongs has first imposed restrictions on her life and afterwards, when she attempts to get around the social restrictions and thereby gets into trouble, the community does nothing at all to help her. On the contrary: people take a malicious delight in what she does - the boys of the village enjoy spying on her and the school teacher; the older widow Godāvaramma delights in hearing bits of news about her moral lapse; the Brahmins pronounce the excommunication unhesitatingly, and her own father declares her dead; when this news reaches Nāṇi's village, his mother says "Why did the dirty widow have to get pregnant?" (hāḷu muṇḍe, literally 'mined woman with a shaven head' - p. 245). In these circumstances the Christians, however crudely, are the only people who offer help. The primitive abortion is a miserable affair, just as the surroundings with the outcastes who come to buy liquor and get drunk are miserable, but these people at least do something else than merely declaring her sinful and staying away from her. The clergyman who comes towards the end of that story and tries to persuade her to come to his church may seem a dubious fellow on account of his association with the abortionists, but at least he holds out an offer of remaining in a social community, of not being a mere outcaste without social ties. More importantly, his religion recognizes that the flesh is weak and that people who have fallen into a moral lapse are not necessarily totally evil and deserve another chance to prove their worth also in a religious sense.

  • 37 Personal communication, May 29th, 1987.

94Very typically, when I asked the author why he had chosen to make the abortionists in the story Christians, he had no immediate answer, and only after thinking about the question for a short while he said that this had to be because in that region Christians are not the mainstream of society, do not follow the rules and norms of regular Hindu society and also do not form part of the village community with Hindus37 - an important point, since in the story Yamunakka must leave the village to have this forbidden thing done. But in my opinion there must be more to this, if we compare this story with Anantha Murthy's other writings. The opposition of conventional, orthodox, high-caste Hindu society versus the shadier sections of society, the people who traditionally belong to the lower castes, who are not the bearers of high culture, who have a less rigid moral code (and therefore are less merciless and less hypocritical), keeps recurring. We see this clearly exemplified in the character of Candri in Samskāra or in the character of the swami of the maṭha in the short story Mūḷa. Similarly the Christians in this story, whatever shortcomings they may have, are basically positive characters.

95A student of comparative mythology may consider finding out to what extent Christian imagery has been used in the story through the snake symbol. Śāstri makes Nāṇi touch the god Subrahmanya, which according to the superstition means that Nāṇi will be bothered by snakes, whereas Nāṇi has no reason for fear because of the garuḍamacce on his hand. "I feared that wherever I sat or stood a snake could come," Nāṇi tells us (p. 228); a snake appears when Yamunakka meets with the school teacher (pp. 233-4); there is another snake when Nāṇi and Yamunakka flee from that spot (p. 236); Yamunakka tries to commit suicide by trying to provoke a snake to bite her (p. 239). Of course there is a highly elaborate snake-mythology in India; snake-worship is widespread; yet it would seem that in the incident of touching the god Subrahmanya, resulting in Nāṇi's fear, but not in Śāstri's, we see something of the Old Testament symbol of the snake which is the cause of knowledge of good and evil, with its sexual connotations. Considering that Anantha Murthy is married to a Christian, is a professor of English literature and has spent considerable time in Britain and the United States, we must assume that he is familiar with this symbolism, and it could have played at least a subconscious role while writing the story.

961.8 Having seen the writings of two male authors on the subject of widowhood, we should now turn to what a woman author has to say on the subject.

97Triveni (Trivēṇi, pseudonym of Anasūya Śankara, 1928-1963) is considered one of the most important women authors in modem Kannada, who could no doubt have contributed much more to the development of literature by women in the language if she had not died young in childbirth. Despite the limitations of her time, contemporary women writers in Kannada consider her an important forerunner and example. Stylistically her writing is not very ambitious, which is a trait we see in nearly all women writers in Kannada. Earlier she had studied psychology, and this explains the prominence of psychological questions in many of her writings. Often she argues that mental disease is curable, like physical diseases, and she pleads that society should show an understanding for human weaknesses and realize how it itself is to a large extent responsible for the hardships which are suffered by the people whom it condemns morally. In this last respect, her novel Hūvu haṇṇu ("Flower and Fruit") is very representative of her writing. The young widow Ramā is a respectable, affectionate woman and mother, who because of her widowhood, in her particular social circumstances, is driven into prostitution and falls into ever deeper misery.

981.9 Triveni: Hūvu haṇṇu

99Ramā, a young widow, has kept the recent death of her husband a secret from her daughter. She remembers the last phase of his illness, how he had died due to a lack of medical facilities and how in his last words he had hinted at the kind of life that she would be forced to lead. He was very concerned about Śīlā's future, as Śīlā is ever prettier than Ramā. He said: "When I'm gone, she'll be my representative. Marry her to a worthy boy. Then you too can stay in their house...." (p. 7). After he dies, the little money she has is spent on the funeral.

  • 38 Name of a particular Telugu-speaking merchant community in Karnataka; not to be mistaken for the Tu (...)

100Ramā cannot turn to her in-laws for any support because all ties with them are broken. One day they fell out with his brother and the brother's wife over an alleged theft, the elder brother turned them out of the house and said that he did not care whether brother Vāsu would turn a thief or Ramā a whore to earn a living. Vāsu later repeated this to Ramā, who covered his mouth and said: "You mustn't say that bad word again. I can't hear it. Let's think of gods Ramā and Kṛṣṇa" (p. 10). They moved to Mysore, where Vāsu looked for a job in vain until a Telugu-speaking Śeṭṭa38 jeweller took pity on them and gave Vāsu a bookkeeping job. After Vāsu's death the Śeṭṭa comes to Ramā's house in his beautiful gray car and gives her Rs. 50-what Vāsu earned as a month's wages (p. 20). The Śeṭṭa is struck by her beauty and after a while gives her some more money (p. 22).

101She has great fear about her financial future. The Śeṭṭa comes again and gloats over her, wondering how she would look wearing some jewellery, gives her another Rs. 25 and asks whether she needs anything else; she declines the offer. He talks about her torn saris saying that she could use new ones, but Ramā, feeling that his interest is becoming obnoxious, says "A torn sari is enough for poor people", and turns him out of the house. All the same, at 8 p.m. he returns saying:

"When I saw you mending that torn sari this morning I felt very bad. When I'm there you..."
"You have a very compassionate heart," Ramā said sarcastically. The Śeṭṭa did not understand the sarcasm.
"Therefore I thought, 'Let's give you these two... hee hee... two...'" (p. 31).

102Still Ramā refuses the new saris and turns him out, and he feels that his painting his moustache in the afternoon has been in vain with this "somewhat arrogant woman" (p. 31). Then the rent-collector Rangayya comes, who previously, when Ramā's husband was alive, would playfully ask Śīlā whether she would marry him; Śīlā would reply "yuck, you're black". Now he looks at Ramā "with hunger". Suffering from the sharpness of his stare, Ramā now realizes that a woman needs a husband for a decent, peaceful life. He tells her to pay the monthly rent promptly, 'or else'; Ramā cannot bear how he looks at her. Meanwhile dozens of people in the street eye her front door with curiosity.

103Neighbour Subbamma, who once had a quarrel with Ramā over something trivial, tells her son to report all that he sees around Ramā's house. The neighbourhood women's gossip club gathers in Subbamma's house, where they 'discuss' a variety of scandals concerning unmarried people. Subbamma remarks about Ramā's outrageous behaviour; another says that she is a horse without a bridle now, without her husband; another says that her youth makes her fool around like this. Subbamma expresses her moral condemnation of Ramā's way of living alone (p. 37-8). Nobody seems to notice Ramā's presence.

104The gossip and dirty thoughts about her spread further. Again the Śeṭṭa comes, offering "whatever help he can give", and Ramā tries to chase him away. He is shocked that this woman dares to reject him (p. 47), but her beauty is irresistable. He becomes explicit about his desires and asks her to stay in his house till his wife returns; she grabs a kitchen knife and chases him out.

105She goes in search of a job and ends up in a silk factory, where male workers make obscene remarks about her. An old woman says "This isn't a place for girls, my child. Old women like me, women whose youth is gone, only crones without beauty can be safe here..." (p. 50). But Ramā is intent on getting work, and she gets it there through the intermediary of the foreman, who takes liberties with her, such as pushing his body against hers while showing her how to work. On pay day she gets her weekly salary of Rs. 6; the foreman says that he will pay another Rs. 6 if she pleases him sexually. She refuses, and when he threatens to fire her she quits the job (p. 53). Then she is employed as a household aid by a good couple who have a rotten son, a disobedient, dissolute idler who spends much time eyeing girls in front of a girls 'college and one night sexually assaults her. She resigns from that job too. Hunger is beginning to show its effects on her body when she gets a job in a nursing home, but her appearance is still a feast to the eyes of the patients, and also of the doctor's assistant, Murugappa, who is quite popular there. One day he assaults her, she frees herself from his grip and resigns from the job (p. 61).

106She fears Śīlā may die of starvation, hence she decides to make the sacrifice and goes to the Śeṭṭa's shop. The Śeṭṭa wants to take her home, but she thinks of dying Śīlā and first demands that they bring her some fruit. At her home she takes four photographs from a box, keeps that of Śīlā and burns the other three of her with her husband. She tells the Śeṭṭa that her prostitution must remain a secret from Śīlā; also he cannot stay there, because she cannot be a whore in her husband's house. He agrees to find quarters for her (p. 68).

107For the first night the Śeṭṭa pays her the huge sum of Rs. 50. This relieves her of financial worry, but her relationship with her daughter changes. She speaks as little as possible with her, and after some time Śīlā stops talking. They move to the new house, from where Śīlā can go to school. The Śeṭṭa comes for his first night, decked out like a bridegroom, and is disappointed to see Ramā without any ornaments. He has brought flowers for her hair and wants her to wear kunkuma; and she feels revulsion that she as a widow should have to do that. She asks things for Śīlā: clothing, a slate, books; in the afternoon he has them brought, plus a sari and kunkuma for her. She feels gratitude, helplessness, insult and hatred all at once, and uses the kunkuma only when Śīlā is away.

108At school Śīlā gets into fights with classmates who pester her, saying that the Śeṭṭa has taken her father's place, and one girl's mother has forbidden her to come to the house again (p. 76). The Śeṭṭa suggests that she send Śīlā to an orphanage or a convent (p. 78).

109The next day Ramā finds the convent and speaks with the person in charge, the Mother. Ramā explains her situation and her wish for Śīlā, moving the Mother to tears, who offers both of them a place to stay, but Ramā wants to sever the link between her and Śīlā for Śīlā's benefit. Ramā spends the last evening playing with her daughter, and wants to spend the last night next to her, but the Śeṭṭa, whose wife is due to come, comes and demands her for the night. Ramā does not dare refuse. The next day she takes Śīlā to the convent and leaves her there.

110The Śeṭṭa will no longer come, because his wife has returned, but Ramā has no reason to worry: her business flourishes as the reputation of her beauty spreads. She has more clients than she can physically bear. She suffers from insomnia, but one customer brings her a good 'medicine' - strong liquor - which has a soothing effect on her. She asks him to bring it daily (p. 91).

111Ramā no longer comes to the convent to see Śīlā, and Śīlā is distressed by this. The Mother tells her that her mother has gone to her home town and will stay away for a long time. Śīlā's friend, the orphan Mary, tells her that she once overheard the Mother explaining to someone that Śīlā is the daughter of her elder sister, who died; Śīlā calls this a lie, but Mary insists that the Mother never lies. Śīlā directly asks the Mother, who with great difficulty repeats the lie for Śīlā's sake. With the passing of time, the image of her mother fades away from Śīlā's mind (p. 96).

112Ramā's business runs smoothly, but with this work and heavy drinking she deteriorates. After six years she wants to see Śīlā again and goes to the convent: the Mother at first does not recognize her; for the fresh, bright rose which Ramā once was has now become a faded flower. She believes that Śīlā will not recognize Ramā any more, so she calls her to her room on a small pretext. A little later Ramā exchanges a few words with Śīlā as she is playing. When Ramā has gone, Śīlā vaguely recollects having seen her somewhere, sometime (p.104).

113Ramā's business deteriorates with the emasculation of her body. One night one of her regular clients comes late, she is too tired, and he shouts abusive remarks about her fading beauty (p.106). Then she becomes worried about her appearance, compares herself with other thirty-year-old women in her street, buys cosmetics but is disappointed with the result (p. 109). She must be content with less wealthy clients because of competition from a young girl in the next street. She desperately needs money because she has become an alcoholic, so she sells her possessions and moves to other quarters, with a rent of Rs. 8 per month. There too life is difficult. Her appearance no longer attracts but has become an object of ridicule. She develops red blisters all over her body and goes in search of a physician: the nearest one proves to be Murugappa, who has set up a private clinic and is a father now (he is doing well: his wife and child come in a car). Taking a phial of medicine from him she strokes his hand, and Murugappa, who once had passionately assaulted her, tells his assistant: "Bring the Dettol. That filthy woman's hand touched mine" (p. 124).

114The junior girls' college has a new chemistry teacher, Jayant, who is somewhat shy and uncertain, hence a target for the girls' cheeky remarks and pestering. Śīlā too joins in the malicious fun. Due to an incident in class when Jayant picks out Śīlā to set her as an example, a closer contact between them develops, and he falls in love with her. One day he follows Śīlā home at a distance and sees that she lives in the convent where his aunt Clara is a nun. Clara introduces him to the Mother, and on the pretext of wanting to see Clara he visits the convent once a week, and on those Sunday afternoons Śīlā finds pretexts for seeing Clara too, so both of them, without speaking, can enjoy each other's proximity. But Clara is not a fool, and when one day Jayant carefully asks her about Śīlā's family, she says that Śīlā is a lucky girl and that he should ask the Mother's permission for marriage, which he does. The Mother consents, but says that the more important consent must come from Śīlā (pp. 143-4) and suggests that he take Śīlā for a walk to discuss the matter. Jayant and Śīlā go to the nearby park; about her future plans she says that if the Mother tells her to marry, she will. He proposes, and she accepts (p. 146).

115In the same park Ramā tries to attract Jayant, but when Śīlā comes he jumps up to meet her and points out the harlot who was after him, jokingly. Ramā, thinking that her daughter is about to follow her path, rushes to the Mother to demand an explanation. The Mother again does not recognize her and thus discovers what prostitution makes a woman look like. She then explains the whole matter; Ramā is overwhelmed with joy (p. 153) and waits outside the convent to see Śīlā and her future son-in-law at a distance. As soon as Śīlā finishes her exams, the wedding is performed in a simple way in a church. She wears a white silk sari and as only ornament a thin necklace with a cross, given by the Mother (p. 154).

116Whatever was left of Ramā's beauty deteriorates still further as years pass. She can no longer get interesting clients, so she turns e.g. to the short, dirty worker who is constructing a house in the compound next to her, where a teacher will come to live who previously was working in Tumkur but has been recently promoted by a transfer to Mysore. At night she hears a car come with the family to inspect the house: Sîlā, Jayant and their 4-year-old daughter Śaśi, a somewhat spoiled child. Later Śaśi sees Ramā and in some way feels attracted to her. At last someone has come into Ramā's life who is not only interested in her body for a few fleeting moments but with whom she can have a bond of affection. She often waits anxiously at the compound wall for Śaśi to come. Śīlā's servant Simon becomes Ramā's customer.

117The next day Ramā sees Śaśi again, who complains about boredom: Jayant is always at the college, Śaśi either cooks or sleeps. She invites Ramā in to see her colourful book of butterflies, but besides being taken aback by her granddaughter's invitation, she realizes that this could lead to problems, so she says that she is hungry and must go home to eat. Śaśi wants to give her some bread, but Ramā says that she does not like bread. Soon Śaśi comes to her door with the book. Inside she remarks on Ramā's poverty. Śaśi cut her finger while helping Śīlā in the kitchen, and Ramā would like to help her dress the cut, but she does not want to touch Śaśi's tender fingers with her hands full of sores and blisters (p. 169). The affectionate relationship grows day by day: Śaśi, neglected by her parents, needs an affectionate person to listen to her, and Ramā enjoys every minute of her company, disturbed at times by the customers who come. Śaśi invites Ramā for Christmas.

118In Śīlā's house there is a nicely decorated Christmas tree, and they are writing cards to people. Śaśi asks a card too, for her, 'friend' Ramā, of whose existence her parents were not aware. Śīlā tells Śaśi to invite Ramā, but Śaśi says that Ramā has already said that she will not come. Śaśi goes to Ramā's house, gives the card and explains what it is. Śaśi asks which god is Śaśi's, and after first saying that she has no god, Ramā says "food". The next day Śaśi comes dressed like an angel, bringing cakes in a box. She goes to church with her parents and Ramā goes to the market in search of a customer. She sees the Śeṭṭa with his bejewelled wife; he looks at her a few times without recognizing her. Śaśi sees and calls her; Śīlā is shocked, telling her that she should not talk like this to everyone she meets. Ramā understands the situation and, deeply hurt, rushes off. Jayant asks Śīlā why she had to hurt Ramā so and what is wrong if Śaśi knows her; Śīlā says that Simon told her that Ramā is a whore. She forbids Śaśi to see Ramā again and threatens: "If you go, I'll break your legs" (p. 179). She tries to convince her, along with Jayant, that Ramā is a bad woman, but in vain. From that day onwards Śīlā keeps a close watch on her daughter, but Śaśi escapes one day to Ramā's house and asks her what a whore is, because that is what her mother says that Ramā is. Ramā hears Śīlā call Śaśi with a voice full of anger and anxiety, and Ramā feels how the end of her meetings with her grandchild, the one light in her wretched life, is drawing near. Finally Śaśi does go home, and finds it hard to understand why her 'aunty', who does not scold or beat her, is a bad woman.

119Śīlā suspects that Śaśi is with Ramā again, but feels that she cannot go up to Ramā's door and ask for her, since she is the wife of a college teacher who is about to become an assistant professor, and this could be a blow to their prestige. She wonders why Śaśi goes there at all, as if Ramā is a relative (pp. 183-4). She sends Simon to get Śaśi, and in a dramatic scene the little girl is separated from her grandmother. Later Śaśi does go home and is beaten heavily by her parents. Ramā hears the beatings and Śaśi's screams, is about to go and tell the truth about who she is, but stops: if she tells the facts, what will be the result? Ramā shudders at the thought (p. 185).

120Ramā accuses Jayant of having spoiled Śaśi into being disobedient (p. 185). Still Śaśi does not give up. One day she finds Ramā's door locked, another day she sneaks in, and another dramatic separation follows - Simon comes and carries Śaśi out; Jayant is waiting at the gate to beat her. Śaśi screams, and it takes a long time that night for Jayant's house to become quiet. Then Simon comes. He tells how Śīlā and Jayant gave Śaśi a tremendous beating. Śīlā says that by living next to Ramā Śaśi's mind will be ruined, hence she wants to move to another house. That is difficult, but Jayant says: "Let anything happen. As long as we can avoid living next to a whore" (p. 187). Ramā looks at her few belongings and realizes that it is easier for her to move out than for them. Tears gather in her eyes at the thought of having to leave Śaśi, and she thinks that it may have been better if she had never cultivated this affection. The whole of the next day she watches Śaśi's house but sees no trace of her.

121Jayant has looked in vain for a house in other parts of Mysore, but meanwhile Śīlā has heard from the shopkeeper across the street that the whore next door has moved out and that that house is empty, so their worries are over.

1221.10 In certain respects the novel shows similarities to what we have already seen in the discussion of the problems of widowhood by Niranjana and Anantha Murthy: the plight of widows is largely the result of superstition and is aggravated severely by malicious gossip and slander. Shortly after Ramā's husband dies the women of the neighbourhood gather at the house of Subbamma (who considers herself Ramā's enemy on account of a trifling incident which Ramā has already forgotten and forgiven), apparently because they have nothing better to do than think of themselves as paragons of virtue whose moral obligation it is to seek out the faults of others and condemn them. They 'discuss' how a Brahmin girl was bound and thrown into a well by her father to avoid a scandal over his twenty-five-year-old unmarried daughter having harmonium lessons from a man, and so the father saved the family honour. Another girl had run off with a Christian, as if the family could not find a suitable Brahmin bridegroom (p. 36). Soon Subbamma grabs the chance to slander Ramā and asperses her character, suggesting that now that her husband is no more, there is no one to serve as a moral check on her:

"Must one dance around like that just because one's young? They say my aunt became a widow when she was twelve. They say even old people were impressed by her pious purity and ways. My! The slut. Twenty-four hours a day she has work to do in front of the mirror. Another thing is her pride about her long, braided hair. Still having it, she's pushing her husband into hell" (pp. 37-8).

  • 39 Literally 'outcaste'. A term of abuse.

123Thus Subbamma demands that Ramā adopt the manners of previous generations on the basis of the belief that if a woman does not have her head shaven after being widowed, she is tormenting her late husband's soul. Soon enough it becomes clear to the reader that all this moral indignation is not much more than a façade to cover up the uglier aspects of these women's personalities: in the case of Subbamma it is a lust for petty vengeance, in other cases it is jealousy of Ramā's beauty. Thus Ramā's friend Lalita, who because of her black skin colour and small eyes, nose and eyebrows cannot get a husband and has always been jealous of Ramā, says that Ramā has taken the loose end of her sari from her head (i.e. she has abandoned feminine modesty) after her husband's death and tries to attract glances (p. 38) - which is simply not true. Lalita's mother has told her not to visit Ramā any more: "'You're a girl who has to marry and lead a proper life. Don't set a foot in thatṇḍāli's39 house. If you do, you too will get a bad name,' I said." Shame is spoken that Ramā receives the Śeṭṭa at 8 p.m. 'at night': "She isn't ashamed of having a gay time with the Śeṭṭa." Also Rangayya is seen as "a customer." One girl at the meeting, Vijayā, speaks up in defence of Ramā against these wild accusations, but the argument of seniority, traditionally very strong in India, is used to silence her: Subbamma says "Enough, keep quiet, Vijayā. You're still a girl. You don't understand anything" (p. 41), and after Vijayā has left she says "Did you see,... she's a kid. Look how she tells me what to think." Lalita adds "Sure. Ramā, Vijayā are all of the same kind. When her husband's friends come she talks, laughs, goes walking, plays cards... She's of the same kind.... Vijayā, her husband, a friend of her husband, all three of them were sitting on a rug playing cards. What business does she have with him? Another day I was coming from the temple. Vijayā, as if she was dressed up to go to a movie, was going with her husband on one side, the friend on the other, in between them" (p. 42).

124Dirty thoughts are not the prerogative of women: men too can have them, e.g. the shopkeeper on p. 45 who takes the liberty of pawing her when she comes to buy something; from whispered fragments Ramā can hear that he considers the gossip that is spreading about her sufficient justification for treating her thus. Her great beauty (which is largely based on her skin colour: "Why do I have this awful skin colour? Why can't Lalita have my colour and I hers? Then at least Lalita would be married. I'd be bothered by no one" - p. 54), which incites sensualists to assault or otherwise approach her sexually. Finally,

In the view of Subbamma and Pātamma she had been a whore for who knows how long.... Why should she not make people's words come true? Then she and Śīlā might be happy. If she made up her mind, she could make all men her slaves. By selling her honour she could bring back her daughter, who was on the brink of death (p. 62).

  • 40 "Eternally auspicious woman" (p. 116): one who cannot become inauspicious, i.e. a prostitute, becau (...)

125In a way, mis step outside tne confines or me morality to which she has stuck till then liberates her from the torment of the neighbourhood gossip. She begins leading a sordid, cynical life in which she repeatedly meets with hypocrisy. One of her regular customers is a police inspector; after she moves to new quarters and is laughed at by two men in the street as obviously a nityasumangali40, one of them returns later to spend some time with her, anxiously hoping that he will not be spotted by anyone who knows him (p.118); towards the end of the book, when her daughter with her family comes to live next to her, their family servant Simon becomes her customer and at the same time condemns her in front of Śīlā for being a prostitute. After her final painful separation from her granddaughter, there is a knock at the door, she opens it hoping to see the little girl but finds a drunk with a Rs. 5 bill, laughing madly. He says "Know where I got this? My wife put it aside saying our child's ill, we must give medicine. I beat her up pretty well, took it from her and came..." (p. 188). She cannot refuse him, since she needs the money, and as she approaches him, "in the distance a dog was howling falsely" (p. 189).

126Though Triveni is critical of how mercilessly society treats its women, she is too discerning to paint a black-and-white picture in which women suffer and all men have a jolly time. For instance, the Śeṭṭa, who comes across as a half-hearted sensualist, is himself to some extent a victim of circumstances, i.e. his terrible wife: it is only because she is a shrew that he desires to be with another woman and wishes to imagine that she is his wife (p. 75). Through Ramā he obviously wants to have an experience of romance which he could not have in real life, and he makes a sad impression on the reader.

127Ramā sees a solution to the problem of how to secure a good education for her daughter in a suggestion by the Śeṭṭa to send her to a convent, and consequently Christians and Christianity play an important role in the novel. The Śeṭṭa does not think very highly of Christians and obviously offers his suggestion merely as an easy way out of a problem: "they bring up orphaned children. After bringing up the children and giving them education, the people of the convent use them for spreading their faith" (p. 78). In other words, the work of the convent is motivated not by social concern but by the cynical design of using children for strengthening the position of the church by an increase of its membership. (We must keep in mind here that the modern Hindu has a typical, ambiguous attitude towards missionary work by Christians. This matter will be discussed in detail below in the chapter 2, on interreligious conflict.) Here, as in other works of Kannada fiction, we see the typical Hindu aversion towards Christianity which emphasizes the trivial fact that Christianity is non-Indian in origin. Ramā goes to the convent and speaks with the person in charge of the institution, the 'Mother' (madar):

In a room in the front portion of the upper floor the Mother sat in a rattan chair.... Ramā was surprised seeing the strange dress which the Mother wore. Seeing the Mother's merciful eyes and beautiful smile Ramā gained courage.
"Who are you?" Kannada did not come clearly from her mouth (p. 79).

128The Mother is thus obviously not a local woman. But Ramā is won over by her kindness, convinced that her intentions are good, and she leaves her daughter in their custody.

  • 41 This is of course not really true: in the coastal region it has been known since the early days of (...)

129Śīlā is not only brought up and educated there, but we see her marry and become settled in life in that same environment, whereas her mother moves from bad to worse outside that environment. The opposition of Ramā with the predominantly Hindu environment which ruins her life on the one hand, and Śīlā with the Christian environment which accepts her wholly and provides her with conditions for a much happier life on the other, is highly significant here. Christianity is generally regarded as something new, recently imported from abroad41, and Śīlā's acceptance by the convent as well as the Mother's offer of a place for Ramā must be taken to symbolize a new attitude which is a viable alternative to the conventional Hindu attitude towards widows, fallen women and their children. Like in Anantha Murthy's Ghaṭaśrāddha, the Hindus are depicted as merciless and devoid of understanding for the 'fallen' woman: in Ghaṭaśrāddha she is excommunicated, here she is exploited. The notion of mercy and forgiveness, which figures so prominently in Christian doctrine, is important here too. Hūvu haṇṇu is a story of sacrifice: Ramā is an innocent victim of society, as becomes explicit in a passage of dialogue between and her granddaughter towards the end of the novel:

"Mother and father said you're bad. Are you bad?"
"Yes child, I'm a bad woman."
"And you haven't scolded or beaten me?"
"I haven't done anything to anyone, child. This world has done bad things to me and now calls me a bad woman" (p. 183).

130She sacrifices herself twice: once for the sake of her daughter, and a second time for the daughter and her family, the daughter with whom not only are all ties ultimately broken, but who detests her, as we see after she hears that Ramā has moved out of the dwelling beside their house: "Let her go and rot anywhere, what does it matter to us? It's good she went off far away.... The filthy woman, she must've run off with somebody" (p. 190). Only in the unquestioning, spontaneous, innocent and intensely happy acceptance by her granddaughter Śaśi does Ramā receive a shortlived reward for her life of sacrifice.

131Though Triveni's style of writing in this novel tends to be somewhat flat and naively direct, the motive of a person's sacrifice which saves others, who do not recognize it, is probably universally moving and is elaborated here in a touching way.

1321.11 One of the best-known works of fiction in Kannada on the theme of Hindu widowhood is the short novel Phaiyamma by the woman author M.K. Indira (M.K. Indira, 1917-1994). Indira was a highly prolific author (she had approximately sixty titles to her credit) of a kind of literature which in Kannada is produced mainly by women writers: although the subject matter of the writing may be serious, its treatment is rather light, without any thorough analysis, at a very modest intellectual level, carefully avoiding any statements that might be considered offensive. Often this kind of writing lapses into plain pulp literature. It is this kind of writing that is generally associated with 'women writers', and Indira was one of its more popular authors. A few of her books have been turned into motion pictures.

133Phaiyamma has been received in very different ways by the Kannada readership, numerous readers feeling that the author has treated the subject too lightly and has not taken a firm enough stand in denouncing those aspects of Indian culture which are to blame for the miserable treatment of widows. Perhaps the popular opinion about the book has not been formed so much by the book itself as by the motion picture, which has also been broadcast on national Indian television. Prema Karanth's film is technically very well done, but it does seem to portray the protagonist as innerly more timid and conformistic than the novel does. About the style of the novel one could also argue that it is precisely because of its almost total lack of sophistication that much of its social criticism comes across clearly. Despite its shortness, it is rather wordy; the narrative is rather vague and feeble in comparison with Niranjana's much more forceful Banaśankari, and some questions which arise in the course of the narrative are left unsatisfactorily unanswered. In spite of this the book has enjoyed considerable popularity, has gone through a few reprints and has recently appeared in English translation as well.

134Phaṇiyamma is set in and around the town of Tirthahalli, in roughly the same region as Anantha Murthy's Ghaṭaśrāddha, and at first sight shows some very clear and obvious similarities with Niranjana's Banaśankari: in both novels the protagonist is a child-widow, a woman who was married as a child and has already lost her husband before puberty, after which she is condemned by religious orthodoxy to lead a life of austerity and subservience to relatives. But where Niranjana's Ammi rebels against what society imposes upon her and shapes her own life with the help of a few sympathizers, Indira's Phaṇiyamma does nothing of the kind. Only once does she do something which is disapproved of by her relatives (helping a Muslim woman deliver her child), for the rest she remains obedient, except for a short verbal protest or two, and she does all that is expected from her. She cannot agree with much of what she sees happening around her, but her condemnation remains almost entirely confined within her mind; there is no probing whatsoever into what the reasons for the social inequities might be, and she continues her life till well over the age of one hundred devoted to the practices of the religious orthodoxy in whose name her long life has been stunted.

1351.12 M.K. Indira: Phaṇiyamma

136The story is situated around 1840 in a household with 'innumerable people' (a joint family) in a village near Tirthahalli named Hebbalige. There were only five Brahmin households there, which were governed in all their social affairs by the maṭha of Sringeri. Life was hard, especially for the women: even when pregnant they had to work. A beautiful girl, Phaṇiyamma, was born into this family: the moment of birth was noted down at once, and the horoscope said that she would live to an old age, experience undisturbed good fortune, marry a wealthy husband, "et cetera" (p. 8). Everyone in that household was continuously busy doing household chores, performing religious duties, getting married, becoming initiated into Brahminhood - all in conformance with the rules of rigid orthodoxy.

  • 42 Rangavalli or rangōli is a design laid out in (usually) rice flour, often very intricate and artist (...)

137From the age of two onwards, the girls in the household all got the same training, which consisted of singing, learning household religious rituals, laying out rangavalli42, learning all the rules about ritual purity, etc. In time their house was turned into a post office; though this meant an increase in the family's wealth and status, it did not mean that its hoary orthodoxy, superstitions, caste-bound sense of ritual purity etc. became any less-on the contrary, all these things became worse (p. 15).

  • 43 Cf. n. 23.

138Phaṇiyamma is a beautiful, soft-spoken girl. In that time, boys were initiated into Brahminhood with the sacred thread at the age of five and girls had to be married off between the ages of seven and nine. If a girl was not yet married by the age of ten, this would be a cause for ridicule, and a husband had to be sought for Phaṇiyamma at that age. If the boy knew how to perform sandhyāvandane43 and worship the gods, and if he was healthy, he was considered an eligible husband. Horoscopes were compared, and a match settled; at that time it was unthinkable that a girl could say that she did not want to marry (p. 22). Phaṇiyamma, who is nine years old, marries a fifteen-year-old boy.

139Soon after the wedding (the husband has returned to his village, and the couple will be united only when they have reached puberty) there is an annual fair at Tirthahalli. The family goes to see it, and Phaṇiyamma comes too, wearing golden ornaments in her long, braided hair. While buying some bangles at the fair, a thief cuts off her braid with the gold. If the loss of the gold in itself is not already bad enough, the loss of her hair is considered an evil omen: Phaṇiyamma is rushed off home and hidden in the "dark room" (small windowless room which is kept aside for women who have just given birth) until her hair has grown again (p. 33). But one day, when Phaṇiyamma's uncle is delivering mail in the neighbouring villages, he hears that Phaṇiyamma's boyhusband has been bitten by a snake and has died.

140Her father goes to the maṭha at Sringeri to ask what religiously appropriate things should be done in this situation. The verdict is that on the eleventh day all the signs of her wedded status should be removed, but her hair should still remain. She may not show her face to anyone. She may not do any work that demands ritual purity. On the fourth day after the onset of puberty, her head is to be shaven; if there is any deviation from these prescriptions, the entire family shall be excommunicated (p. 39).

141With the arrival of puberty Phaṇiyamma's head is shaven. Phaṇiyamma must drudge in the household like all the other widows, providing all the others with food and serving themselves last of all. By the time she is thirty, she has acted as a nurse for her mother after her mother has given birth to four more children; also her mother's younger sister gives birth every year. Then there are also her father's sisters who give birth and need looking after (p. 45).

142When she is forty she witnesses that her younger cousin Subbi is sent back by her husband on the charge of barrenness. Subbi receives the special attention of Puṭṭā Jōyisa, a good-looking youth who is generally popular for his humorous stories and riddles. He keeps coming to the house for rituals and festivals and on other pretexts. One night, when Phaṇiyamma is having her monthly period and therefore has to stay in the special room for that purpose, separate from the main house, she sees and overhears Subbi and Puṭṭā Jōyisa. He tells her that this is their chance for some sexual enjoyment, and that she should jump at it while she is still young enough to attract men (p. 49). Phaṇiyamma peeks through the window, trembles and in thought calls out the names of the gods, though "one should not contemplate the gods while in a state of impurity due to menstruation." She is shocked into an awareness of the connections between the shameful behaviour of men and women and childbirth, which do not fit into her old familiar scheme of marriage, deliveries, initiations, worship, ritual purity, et cetera, and she thinks: "It is a good thing that my husband has already died. Otherwise I might have got into the same situation, or who knows what!" (p. 50). The thought that she cannot talk about this experience with anyone oppresses her.

143By 1917, things have changed radically. The mail is brought around by motor car to the towns. Bus services are introduced, and villagers go as far as Shimoga to eat at an Udupi restaurant, just for the fun of it. Christian missionaries fan out to all comers of the countryside and win converts from all sections of society except the Brahmins. Hospitals, middle schools and high schools spring up everywhere, yet this does not mean that there is any change in the way of life of the Brahmin family (p. 55). But Phaṇiyamma has turned her interest away from worldly life because of three traumatic experiences: the theft of the gold in her hair, the shaving of her head, and seeing Subbi and Puṭṭā Jōyisa. This does not mean, however, that she is cut off from all worldly activities: she is still in demand with the entire family to assist the other women after childbirth.

  • 44 A ṛṣi ('rishi') is an ancient sage, object of great reverence.

144Another innovation is that one can now travel to Benares, the holy city, by train, and Phaṇiyamma and a number of relatives make a pilgrimage. Phaṇiyamma takes the vows that are appropriate for widows, such as not eating cooked food, using only cold water for her bath, not sleeping on a bed, observing certain holy days et cetera. Back in the village, she is called upon to help in a difficult delivery: the Muslim villager Baira hesitates to ask this "Brahmin woman who is like a rishi"44 for help, but because she has slender hands she may save two lives. Everyone in the house objects to her helping the Muslims, but she goes all the same. At Baira's house she must insert her hand into the woman's vagina to help out the child; the delivery is a success, but she is deeply disgusted with life after witnessing directly how childbirth takes place, with all the loss of blood and human waste, and she is amazed how other women can tolerate living with a man and producing ten to fifteen children (pp. 69-70). She purifies herself elaborately and begins wondering about ritual purity: it is said that giving birth is as good as a pilgrimage to Benares, but the loss of blood means impurity, just as when a woman menstruates and is not allowed to have any contact with a man nor to do any work that demands purity (pp. 72-3).

145Numerous things which she sees happening around her in the household disgust her, especially the hypocritical double standards for the moral behaviour of men and women, which are already there in purāa-stories: there Rēnuke and Ahalye are severely punished for as much as looking at a man, whereas "Men are said to be always pure as fire, even if they sleep with a thousand women" (p. 74). One day she notices how Subbarāya, one of the men in the family, takes a purificatory bath and changes his janivāra (sacred thread), though there is no case of birth, death or anything of the kind in the family. He makes a show of piety in the temple, loudly ringing the temple bell. She asks his mother-in-law, who is a straightforward woman, for what reason he does this; though it is not nice to tell this to Phaṇiyamma, who is "like a rishi", she says that the man is a horrible womanizer and removes his sacred thread before his nightly escapades. When he returns in the morning he purifies himself, puts on his janivāra and tells some he as an explanation. Phaṇiyamma cannot concentrate properly during worship and cannot sleep that night (p. 76).

146Her elder brother Kiṭṭappa asks her to come stay with his family in Tirthahalli, she moves and feels quite comfortable in that big town. She cooks nicely and tells stories to the novelist (Indira herself) and other girls. While some admire her old age, she bemoans it, longs for death and thus upsets the others.

147Then her beautiful, sixteen-year-old niece Dākāyini loses her husband, and pressure is put to bear on her to have her head shaven, et cetera. She refuses, and Phaṇiyamma argues in her support. Phaṇiyamma pleads for at least a delay in shaving Dākāyini's head, but others are obstinate and she is told to remain silent. Dākṣāyini runs up to Phaṇiyamma, grabs her and says that she cannot be like her; her mother-in-law Gauri, shocked that her daughter-in-law (who is now in a state of impurity, due to her husband's death) has touched Phaṇiyamma, drags her away and gives her a beating, to Phaṇiyamma's horror. Ultimately she is shaven, but she creates an outrage by the manner in which she rebels against her condition. The story of Dākṣāyini spreads as far as Shimoga through Bhattayya; father-in-law Kiṭṭappa, who usually is quite orthodox, says that he thinks the girl has done a good thing. One evening Bhattayya, who feels that he has been put to shame by Kiṭṭappa, asks him why he did not object to Phaṇiyamma's being shaven at the age of thirteen, and Kiṭṭappa answers that he is only a month older than Phaṇiyamma and cannot be held responsible now for what he did not do at the age of thirteen (p. 90).

148When the novelist's sister's marriage is being arranged and their mother says that a certain boy's horoscope looks good, Phaṇiyamma tells her not to consider it, since twenty astrologers will give twenty different readings (p. 92). The novelist remembers how time and again Phaṇiyamma would criticize the religious epics, asking what good Sītā ever experienced from being married to the god Rāma and what kind of a person Rāma was to send her into the forest while she was pregnant, or what suffering Draupadi had to undergo (p. 93).

  • 45 A tuasī kaṭṭe or bndāvana is a hollow, short, square pillar in which the sacred Tulasi plant (ass (...)

149Cousin Kiṭṭappa is full of praise for Phaṇiyamma, who lives the life of a true, good widow; but when he dies, Phaṇiyamma cannot shed a single tear for him, for she remembers how badly he treated his wife Sītā, who had born him four children, had put up with his terrible temper and died before he did. She passes the age of a hundred and becomes something of a living myth, respected for her recluse-like life, until on a holy day she is found dead, with the same calm expression on her face as always, her head resting on the tulai-stand45 where she usually performed her worship.

1501.13 Phaṇiyamma does not make any attempt to take her life in her own hands, as we have seen in the case of the protagonists of the previously discussed works, but this does not mean that she is not critical of the society which victimizes her. Superstition is again written large here, in many forms. Just as is the case with Banaśankari in the older novel, Phaṇiyamma is married off under favourable stars, according to the astrologers in whom everyone believes; when her husband dies, her in-laws accuse her parents of having lied to them about what her horoscope was really like (nor did they tell the truth about her cut hair), so that the marriage was ill-matched and thus magically caused their son's death (p. 40). When the question of the arranging of the marriage of the novelist's sister (who enters the story towards the end) is brought up, Phaṇiyamma says "Banaśankari [here the name of the novelist's aunt], don't you look too much at horoscopes and all that. It's enough if you see the people's clan and so on. You know what was said when my father saw my horoscope: an undisturbed married life. All of you are seeing my life, aren't you? It'll do if the boy is healthy and good-looking. Just have the wedding performed. Don't show your horoscope to hoards of people" (p. 92). Unfortunately her husband's death is preceded by the incident at the fair, where a thief cuts off her braid of hair for the gold ornaments in it (it obviously evokes the idea of widowhood; in some communities in Karnataka it is taboo to do as much as point in the direction of a woman's hair with a pair of scissors), and this together with the husband's death reinforces the fatalistic idea that Phaṇiyamma's hardships in life are a matter of her fate, which no one can alter. Similarly, the many cases of belief in ritual purity and pollution, scattered throughout the novel, hardly ever seem meaningful and at times are considered by Phaṇiyamma to be senselessly cruel. One evening the daughter of her niece asks her for a sweet and touches her; the child's mother becomes furious that by touching Phaṇiyamma, she has ruined the old woman's ritual purity, and she beats her daughter in such a way that the child vomits up the part of the sweet which she has eaten.

151All this is easily perpetuated in a general atmosphere of ignorance: "no one had either the intelligence or the courage to question whether this was right or wrong" (p. 9). Also,

  • 46 The expression kūpamaṇḍūka,'well-frog', which is found also in other Indian languages, carries the (...)

All of them were frogs of the same well46. And the women knew nothing about the outside world. Constant cooking, work, weddings and initiations, pregnancies and nursings, having their heads shaved as soon as their husbands died and then eating particular food-thus their entire lives were spent in the kitchen.

  • 47 Mālēra-s are said to be people of mixed Brahmin-Sudra parentage, or whose ancestors were of such pa (...)

If inadvertently some young widow became pregnant, she was finished. Ridicule, tumult, the firm final verdict that the entire fault was hers, excommunication by the maṭha of Sringeri. After that she would be the free property of everyone in the village. She would have to work gratuitously in all the people's houses, would have to eat whatever they gave. Her progeny would be included in the Mālēra47 caste (p. 15).

152The maṭha of Sringeri (Śngēri) in central Karnataka, not far from Tirthahalli, is one of the maṭha-s which is traditionally believed to have been founded by the important Hindu reformer Śankarācārya approximately a thousand years ago. The maṭha has a tremendous influence on the lives of the members of the castes which owe allegiance to it, and the swami does not hesitate to take severe action in retaliation against disobedience, for instance if anyone would doubt the correctness of the ruling with regard to what must be done with Phaṇiyamma after her husband's death: "In the case of a lapse the maṭha of Sringeri would pronounce the excommunication, wouldn't it?" (p. 41). And yet the maṭha too is not altogether above what is morally reprehensible:

At that time the Reverend Śri Śri Śri Nṛsimhabhāratisvāmi had come to the throne. If you spoke up, you were excommunicated... If any child-widow became pregnant, she was finished. The very people who were the cause for that would go to Sringeri, tell the swami about her and have her thrown out of the caste.... He [the swami] would listen and with a gesture of his hand delegate the matter to the dharmādhikāri [an assistant to the swami] of the maṭha.... As soon as a few pure silver rupees were passed on to him, excommunication would befall the destitute widow (p. 6).

153With this we are introduced to the idea that the maṭha is not only an institution of great authority but may be corrupt as well. When Phaṇiyamma's father goes to Sringeri to ask what he should do about his daughter, we are told that one does not get to see the swami when one's family is in a state of impurity: one has no certainty that this ruling has indeed come from the swami, for one who comes from a house that is in a state of impurity - in this case due to a death - does not get to see the swami but only the pārupaṭṭegāra or manager of the maṭha. Moreover one only gets a reply after a few rupees have been pocketed by this 'minister': "Whether wrong or right, there is no solution to it" (p. 39; in passing Indira draws a parallel to political corruption by calling the manager of the maṭha a 'minister' - saciva). Corruption here serves the sexist hypocrisy of men who morally denounce the widows with whom they themselves have had sexual contact.What is unfortunate is that here too the author has not gone more deeply into the underlying psychology.

  • 48 I have not been able to find out the number of reprints; it was taken over by another publisher, wh (...)

154Structurally the novel is quite weak, and it makes rather dull reading; it is largely a series of loosely stringed anecdotes, kept together by the character of the protagonist and documenting the passing of a certain period of time, starting from the middle of the previous century. The stress on historical details throughout the book (e.g. a remark that coffee was not yet in use in Brahmin homes at the time of Phaṇiyamma's childhood - p. 19) may be meant to communicate to the reader that Phaṇiyamma and her experiences are phenomena of a cultural situation that is now past, or should pass quickly; but one cannot escape from the impression that many of these irrelevant details are meant as compensation for a lack of more substance. Phaṇiyamma herself is quite a flat character: she is generally quiet, obedient, finds it hard to understand all that is happening around her, is kept ignorant about those aspects of life which are declared out of bounds for her. She loathes her life, but takes no decisive action to do anything about it, nor do we see her develop any firm inner attitude for dealing with her condition besides the outward expressions of her obedient serving of others and her religious observances. Here too there was a vast scope for delving into the psychology of the character, thereby making her more lifelike and significant, which the author has left untouched. Nevertheless, the novel has remained popular among Kannada readers, as the number of reprints and the making of the movie testify48.

155The one major upheaval in the novel occurs on pp. 83-90, when Phaṇiyamma's sixteenyear-old niece Dākṣāyini becomes a widow. Dākṣāyini refuses to be shaven and become like Phaṇiyamma, who is already past the age of seventy, but enormous pressure is put to bear on her and ultimately she gives in and allows the shaving. The widows of the town come "to talk sense" to Dākṣāyini, telling her about heaven, hell, sin, merit, rebirth et cetera. Dākṣāyini raves madly but finally tells all of them to enjoy themselves by shaving her head, which in their opinion strengthens the impression that she has lost her mind (p. 87). However, she does not not lead the life of a model widow. She and her brother-in-law take a liking for each other, and she becomes pregnant. She is laughed at, and the people in the house want to return her to her parents' house, but she refuses to go: "It's your son who made me pregnant. Why should I go to my parents' house? You must take care of me. Instead of that son it's this son, isn't that all right?" Some elderly people want to go to Sringeri to have her excommunicated, but she threatens to tell the swami what has happened, which would lead to the excommunication of all of them, and this threat is so dreadful that the family remains silent. No one comes to offer a daughter in marriage to Dākṣāyini's brother-in-law; no one comes to perform community rituals; a beautiful boy is bom, and Dākṣāyini's mother-in-law nurses Dākṣāyini and her son. - This episode is highly significant, for though Phaṇiyamma does not rebel, Dākṣāyini does, and we see that though she must conform to some extent, she also succeeds in turning the social weapon of excommunication against her oppressors and in achieving a measure of personal fulfilment.

156That the authoress wants us to think of oppressors and exploiters in this context is beyond doubt, for she is quite explicit about that: while helping himself to some snuff uncle Bhaṭṭayya says about Dākṣāyini, as though it is perfectly natural and just, that they need someone for work which demands ritual purity (maḍi kelasa), such as all the preparations for holidays, festivals, commemoration ceremonies for the dead, etc. (p. 84), in other words: they can use a widow who can be confined to the kitchen and according to the rules of orthodoxy has no alternative but to do as she is told. The episode on pp. 74-6, in which Phaṇiyamma is critical of the double standards for men and women as found in religious writings and as becomes visible in the behaviour of Subbi and Jōyisa, is also significant here. Of course it is also very convenient for others that there is a widow who can always help when there has been a childbirth in the family: thus Phaṇiyamma helps her mother and her aunts, though she herself is no longer allowed to become a mother (p. 45). In that same passage, the remark that the producing of ever more children "was going on like a factory" (ondu kārkhāneyante jaruguttittu) also stresses that in this environment women are not considered wholly human.

157To conclude, we must note that Christians again appear in a typical role, as in Ghaṭaśrāddha and Hūvu haṇṇu. Here the Christian is a young woman who comes to work as a midwife: she visits their house, and when she hears the story of Phaṇiyamma's life from one of Phaṇiyamma's nieces, she comments on the harshness of the Brahmin mind that demands such things from widows, while among Christians a widow is free to remarry after her loss. The blunt niece cannot tolerate the criticism and launches a rather silly counterargument. Later she confesses that she spoke angrily out of resentment at missionary activity and the conversion of lower-caste people to Christianity. Here too, the author does not go into any discussion as to the reasons for the words of the niece, but we may presume, considering the orthodox background of the novel, that the underlying notions are similar to those which we will come across in Bhyrappa's novel Dharmaśrī. But the Christian midwife is here depicted as a sympathetic character, and we may assume that the author created this episode to let another voice of protest against the orthodox treatment of widows be heard, without wanting (or daring) to let the argumentation draw on for very long. We will return to the role of Christians in Kannada fiction in the concluding chapter of this study.

  • 49 This genre has been made known to readers outside Karnataka mainly by Ramanujan 1979.

1581.14 The average Indian believes that the one feature which distinguishes Indian culture favourably from any other culture is its religiosity or 'spirituality', though popularly this spirituality tends to be identified with merely external ritualism. There is a huge tradition of hagiographie and popular religious writing in the many languages of India, and indeed to this day this tradition fulfils a need among the people: thus e.g. the Rāmāyana is still taken seriously in debates concerning the correct relationship between husbands and wives, Śītā being an example of supreme wifehood (we see an example of this in Phaṇiyamma, where the protagonist briefly discusses Śītā on p. 93). The various religious sects all have their own lore which supplements the motifs and characters of what we may call the pan-Indian, Sanskritic, 'big' tradition. Among the Virasaivas the memory of the people who began the Virasaiva movement in the 12th century is a cultural factor of immense importance. These religious and social thinkers left behind their thoughts in the form of vacana-s, prose-poems of varying length.49 The most outstanding woman personality in this movement is Akka ("elder sister") Mahādēvi, who is poetically one of the greatest among these authors and who has been made the protagonist of the novel Kadaḷiya karpura ("The Plantain Camphor") by H. Thipperudra Swamy (H. Tippērudrasvāmi, 1928-1993).

159Kadaḷiya karpura has been included in our discussion as a typical example of the popular hagiographical style of writing in Kannada: a style which does not analyse or probe into anything very deeply but rather seeks to celebrate the past through a commemoration and glorification of well-known personalities. H. Thipperudra Swamy was a Virasaiva author who produced a number of such popular hagiographical novels on Virasaiva personalities, and his books (a few also in English translation) have been published by Virasaiva institutions.

1601.15 H. Thipperudra Swamy: Kadaḷiya karpura

  • 50 Cf. n. 18. Among the Virasaivas, the meaning is slightly different: the substances may be offered t (...)

161Mahādēvi, daughter of Lingamma and Ōnkara Śeṭṭi and a very pious girl, is full of excitement when the local Virasaiva guru and maṭhādhipati, Gurulingadēva, returns from his pilgrimage to Śrīśaila to their town Uḍutaḍi. She too wants to go to Śrīśaila to see the Lord, Mallikārjuna, and her parents do not realize how serious this yearning is. That same day, when the learned and kind guru comes to their house to partake of prasāda50; he says that in Śrīśaila he realized Mahādēvi's relation with the Lord, and the parents ought to consider themselves blessed (p. 10). Also, he wants to initiate Mahādēvi that evening. He tells of this trip to Śrīśaila (Mahādēvi is enrapt while listening), which is a special place. The description which he gives of the place (which he has not seen himself) sets Mahādēvi dreaming.

162Mahādēvi is her parents' only child, who was already initiated earlier by the great saint Maruḷasiddha at the time of her birth. It is also Marulasiddha who appeared before Gurulingadēva in a vision at Śrīśaila and said that Mahādēvi was to become a devoted wife of the Lord. At Gurulingadēva's initiation ceremony of Mahādēvi, Gurulingadēva tells her to be the Lord's wife, and she feels immense joy.

163Once when Mahādēvi is out with her friends, they talk about marriages; Mahādēvi feels anger when she hears about the subordinate status of women as it is reflected in the manner of arranging marriages. Mahādēvi is a bright pupil in Gurulingadēva's school, one of the few girls there, and she zealously learns vacana-s by heart. Gurulingadēva told about Mahādēvi to Basava, the leader of the Virasaivas in Kalyāa, and Basava gave a sheaf of vacana-s (vacanagaḷa kaṭṭu, a manuscript) for her (p. 43). Gurulingadēva tells of the many female devotees that Basava has and gives her spiritual training. Mahādēvi is fascinated by Basava's writings and wants to write similar works.

164Her father is very sensitive to silly remarks by society and feels that she should marry, but Mahādēvi questions marriage and public opinion (pp. 49-50), thinking that there must be other alternatives for women than (worldly) marriage. She says that she has only one Lord, for she does not want two, one for worldly and another for spiritual life (p. 53: "laukikakke obba pati, pāramārthakke obba pati - idu nanna manassige hidisadu."). She is supported by Gurulingadēva, who says that the place of women in society is the outcome of "the narrow outlook of man" and "the frailty of woman" who believes that she must tempt males with beauty, ornaments and coquetry. In a vacana Mahādēvi gushes out her disdain for "worldly husbands, easily spoilt by death" (p. 57: "sāvu keḍuva gaṇḍaru”). Gurulingadēva tells her to follow the call of her conscience rather than what they consider the madness around her. When some women openly mock at her in the street; she tells them how little they can pride themselves on, and she pities them.

165Gurulingadēva tells her about the greatness of Allama Prabhu, the seniormost of the Virasaivas, and how Allama occupies the śūnyasimhāsana ("throne of infinity") in the anubhavamaṇṭapa, an assembly of spiritual seekers. Mahādēvi tells Mahādēvi about her problem concerning her parents' pressure that she marry; he tells her to be firm.

166One day, a royal procession passes by Onkara's house and the young king Kauśika sees Mahādēvi's beauty (she is standing on the roof, watching the procession). He wants to marry her and has a friend pressure Mahādēvi's parents to make them agree. Mahādēvi fears for her parents and consults Gurulingadēva, who says: "A worldly kind of marriage is not for you. You know that. But this world cannot accept that easily" (p. 92). He tells the parents to let Mahādēvi decide and act on her own, so that they are not responsible. The king's friend returns: Mahādēvi consents, giving some conditions which she knows the king cannot fulfil. She tells Kauśika about her divine marriage, but he scoffs at it. She tells him her conditions again, especially about her devotional freedom and that he too shall practise devotion; after three lapses, she will leave him. Kauśika appears to be a person of æsthetic sense, and this with his social position tempt her for a moment to be a devoted worldly wife to him (pp. 116-7), but soon she discards the thought as "unnatural" (p. 118: manassina sahajapravṛtdyalla). She prays "Let this Lord Linga with whom I first fell in love accept me" (p. 119: "nānu moṭṭamodalu olida ī lingapad, nannannu svīkarisali"). Kauśika rushes at her once, and she responds to this by reciting a vacana about the filthiness of the body (p. 131). Once Kauśika sends out the jangama-s (wandering Virasaiva saints) who came at Mahādēvi's bidding (because they are singing after midnight) and later rushes at her again, pulling off part of her dress: after this third offence, she pulls off the rest of her sīre defiantly and goes to Gurulingadēva. He tells her to put on a simple cloth for her own good and that of the public. Mahādēvi says that she will go to Kalyāṇa. Her parents come, she takes leave of all of them and goes, though not unaffected by sentiment.

167On her way, at a Śaiva temple, she meets people from a neighbouring town, and she hears how the truth about her last days in Uḍuṭadi is being twisted; but when she tells her version, they believe her. Further onwards she begs for her food and spends the night in a temple, where a false mendicant approaches her sexually, but he is beaten by the jangama Sangamadēva, sent after her by Gurulingadēva for her protection. Together they go to Kalyāṇa, discussing Virasaiva ideology. On the way they meet devotees from Kalyāṇa sent by Basava to look for them.

168Mahādēvi feels great joy while entering Kalyāṇa and many await her there. At the anubhavamaṇṭapa she receives a great welcome from the śaraṇa-s (Virasaiva devotees), but she must face questioning by Allama Prabhu (their debate is partly reproduced in the novel in the form of vacana-s). She is then welcomed by him too, and people call her 'akka' ('elder sister').

169In Kalyāṇa Mahādēvi progresses in yoga under the guidance of Allama (p. 224), who sees in a vision that Mahādēvi should unite with God in the cave of the Plantain Grove, which he too once visited. In his description (pp. 228-9) the place seems to symbolize the essence of life, the source of all things, and Mahādēvi's desire to go there only increases, though she has no idea about what actually is there (p. 227). The Plantain Grove, to Mahādēvi. appears as "the heart-temple of Cannamallikārjuna" (p. 229). All the devotees at Kalyāṇa admire her development; Cennabasavanna even writes how one of her vacana-s equals five by Ajagaṇṇa, ten by Allama Prabhu, twenty by Basava or sixty by the ancients (ādyaru, p. 237). Mahādēvi merges spiritually more and more with the Linga, until one day she is found in godrealization (p. 243: arivu). Vacana-s on her experience gush forth. Though she has not yet seen the Plantain Grove, she expounds its mystic symbolism in a vacana (p. 248). Allama is thrilled and says in a choking voice "You have shed fragrant light, having become plantain camphor" (ibid.). Soon she decides to go to the Plantain Grove and leaves after an emotional goodbye. She has language problems in Andhra (the Telugu-speaking region, to the East of the Kannada region, where Śrīśaila lies), till to her delight she meets some pilgrims from Karnataka on their way to Śrīśaila. Enjoying fully the beautiful surroundings, she tells the pilgrims that she will not return with them. Fortunately a high priest is from Karnataka: he arranges that some cuñca-s (local forest-dwellers) will guide her to the Plantain Grove.

170When she is almost there, she is caught up with by two people who are dressed as devotees: the former king, Kauśika and her dear maid-servant in his palace. Kauśika says "Who are you, great mother? Mahādēvi, rid me of the sin that I thought you are a woman. You are not a woman. You are clearly a great goddess ("mahādēvi"). Protect your child, mother" (p. 282). The three of them go to the Plantain Grove, which is "invisible to ordinary mortals" and find a beautiful cave "symbolic... of the mystery of life." Mahādēvi decides to stay there alone; Kauśika and the servant leave, looking back one last time to see Mahādēvi's figure disappear, its place taken by light: "a circle of unparallelled light seemed to be rotating there" (p. 292).

1711.16 Kadaḷiya karpura can be taken as a representative specimen of religious fiction in Kannada, which as a rule is bound to the representation of a certain sect and relies on references to sectarian history and beliefs for appealing to the readers'sympathies. This means that this kind of literature demands from the reader a degree of familiarity and sympathy with the sectarian culture in question. Also in this novel, there is no attempt at discussing Virasaiva doctrine and evaluating it: it is simply there and is venerable, as we see from the numerous passages in which Mahādēvi, other śaraṇa-s, Virasaiva institutions and god Śiva are praised. The novel tells us almost nothing about this form of religion; but what makes it interesting for inclusion in the present dissertation is its attitude regarding the position of women in Karnatakan society.

172In certain characters and their statements in the novel we see that the author consciously wanted to assume a position which we may call feminist, in that he criticizes the traditional, subordinate position of women in society and demands an alternative to what is traditionally open to them. For instance, there is the character of Mahādēvi's first guru, Gurulingadēva, who supports her opposition to her parents' wish that she should marry and be a housewife, which was the only way of life open to women: he tells her that Basava, the historical leader of the Virasaiva movement, has a number of women devotees (i.e. there is an alternative to marriage), and he tells her that the call of her conscience is more important than social conventions. The conversation which Mahādēvi has with her friends about marriage likewise underscores dissatisfaction with the manner in which women are dealt with in these affairs. We see Mahādēvi and Gurulingadēva agreeing that women should have the same opportunities of receiving formal education as men, and both reject the idea that marriage and housewifehood can be a woman's only destiny.

173But for all these idealistic statements, the novel offers no concrete illustrations of alternatives for ordinary women who do not happen to be inclined towards the same spiritual heights as Mahādēvi. She speaks like a feminist with her servant-maid (p. 128), denouncing the idea that woman is a doll in the game of lust, leading a life of luxury and pleasure of the senses, having sold her soul and having no individuality, but the only alternative seems tānu vilāsiniyalla, tapasviniyembudannu kaṇḍukoḷḷabēkāgide heṇṇu - "woman must realize that she is not a flirt, but an ascetic"! Whatever she does, society remains unaffected. She does not develop her own way of life in the world: she turns her back on the world altogether, and the world remains the same.

174This leads us to the question of what, in the author's opinion, Mahādēvi's real significance is. The psychology in the novel is very disappointing, and the complete lack of all analysis of the protagonist's character is an important flaw in the book. From the very beginning we are told that she is wonderful - but why? We see a naīve young girl who accepts blindly all that her religious teacher tells her. Her only pious deeds are learning vacana-s by rote and being thrilled by words and names of which she does not know the meanings. The śūnyasimhāsana and the anubhavamaṇṭapa remain mere words; Allama Prabhu occupies that throne, and the role of Basava is unclear-in fact, the entire symbolism of the kadaḷiya bana, which is already referred to in the title of the novel and keeps recurring throughout it, remains ungraspable. In a discussion between Mahādēvi and Allama (p. 227) the Plantain Grove is said to symbolize Mahādēvi's (and mankind's?) final goal, where one unites with the godhead. She is fascinated by Gurulingadēva's description of Śrīśaila and tells it to her friends, but it is hardly a description at all: all we are told is that it is a wonderful spot, that there is no other place like it anywhere, et cetera. As if by magic she is drawn mentally, and finally bodily too, to the Plantain Grove, but it is not clear why: she already reaches her supreme arivu or enlightenment in Kalyāṇa, so there should be no need for her to go to the Grove. Its fascination is not explained.

175Her mother remembers the circumstances before her birth: she has a dream in which a woman in a white sari comes and tells her which kind of baby she will give birth to (p. 32: "This is one aspect of my power: the pure power to promulgate the worthiness of womanhood... You must become the means for that"), but what the nature of that sātvika śakti is, remains unclear. We cannot see where Mahādēvi's sudden opinions about the just status of women come from, unless she is an emanation of the goddess, that "auspicious married woman (muttaide) who gave birth to all worlds" of p. 32; but then her curious mixture of ignorance and opiniatedness looks very odd, and one wonders why the emanation of a goddess must take such a long time to attain spiritual enlightenment. Another problem is what is meant by the phrase "heṇṇutanada sārthakate". Sārthaka generally means 'useful' or 'profitable', but these meanings seem hardly applicable here. It could, etymologically, mean 'meaningful', but in that case too the story misses its mark, because as a woman Mahādēvi achieves nothing. The 'usefulness' or 'meaning' of womanhood thus remains vague. Much the same can be said about the psychology of other characters in the novel: e.g. king Kauśika's sudden realization that his wife is actually a goddess whose blessing he wants. After this sudden conversion, she can at last touch him: "That yogic, unworldly touch of a Śivayōgiṇi [sic] brought an unprecedented experience to Kauśika" (p. 281).

176The book makes light reading in which many original vacana-s are introduced for the lovers of that literature. But the popularity of the novel (five reprints have appeared) may probably be explained by the large number of Virasaivas in Karnataka, for it is doubtful whether it can really mean much to anyone who has not grown up in that particular religious atmosphere.

1771.17 Until now, the works dealing with the problems of high-caste Hindu widowhood which we have seen have been critical of the demands which tradition makes, and the authors sympathized with the women. But of course there is a possible alternative view, one that sees meaning in the traditional attitudes and defends them. We shall now look at the one work of some literary significance which represents this point of view.

178Though statistics about Kannada book sales are not available, all my informants agreed that S.L. Bhyrappa (S.L. Bhairappa 1934b) is the single bestselling author in Kannada. He is a contemporary of the Navy a authors, but it is difficult to imagine an author who differs more from the Navy as in outlook and intentions, although he uses modem narrative forms and techniques.

  • 51 His novel Gṛhabhanga has been tranlated into fourteen Indian languages, including Tamil, Gujarati a (...)

179Bhyrappa is the recipient of a number of literary awards. All the more than fifteen novels which he has written so far have been successful with the reading public; all but the most recent have been reprinted more than once, some of them are available in translation in other Indian languages51 and two of them have been made into motion pictures. At the same time, Bhyrappa is the most controversial personality in Kannada letters. He is a man of strong opinions, which he does not hesitate to put into writing, and the extreme nature of his views generally makes it impossible for his readers and critics to be indifferent to him and his writings. He is considered either a champion of what certain people consider 'Indian culture' or a representative of all that is reactionary and hateful in conservative Hinduism. His novel Vamśavṛkṣa ("The Lineage") is a good illustration of the kind of writing which has made him popular.

1801.18 S.L. Bhyrappa: Vamśavṛkṛa

  • 52 Nanjangud is approximately 20 kilometres south of Mysore.

181In the city of Nanjangud52, on the Kapile river, lives the traditional religious scholar Śrīnivāsa Śrōtri, who loses his son during a flood. He bears his loss stoically. His son leaves behind a wife, Kātyāyani, and a little son.

182One evening he has a visit from the thirtyfive-year-old Dr. Sadāśiva Rao, who comes to show his book in English, newly published from London, with the title "The Religious Foundation of Ancient Indian Politics" (Prācīna bhāratīya rājyasāstrakke dharmada ādhāra). Rao hears of Śrōtri's son's death, and Śrōtri's equanimity increases the respect which he already has for the man still more. He tells Śrōtri that he wants to write a much larger work, which will demonstrate how religion was the basis of all aspects of life in ancient India. For this work, he again needs Śrōtri's help as well as his blessing.

183Rao was an orphan when his maternal uncle decided that he should marry his daughter Nāgalakṣmi, who was fourteen years old at the time and studying in middle school while Rao was already twenty-four and working for his doctorate. Because Rao was so immersed in his studies, no intimacy developed between him and his wife. Six years later, their son Prthvi was born. Rao's younger brother Rāja has studied in Oxford, is interested in drama and after his return to Mysore has engaged himself in various drama activities. Rao is an assistant professor of history in Mysore University (p. 28).

184Rao goes on a study tour to historical places, including the caves of Ajanta. He sees some other people there, whom he suspects are Sinhalese, for they are dressed in white and have dark skins (p. 30). The father, Mr Jayaratne, asks Rao some questions about the place. His daughter Karuṇāratne (later called Ratne) is a student of history and has read Rao's book. They are a family of pious Mahāyāna Buddhists who have come to see places that are historically connected with their religion (p. 33). Rao and Ratne visit some of the caves together, develop appreciation for each other, and Ratne, who has studied at Cambridge, says she will send him the notes which she has made for her present bit of historical research.

  • 53 'The eternal religion' - an expression used by conservative Hindus to denote Hinduism. Cf. ch. 3 n. (...)

185Śrōtri is a man who lives in agreement with the sanātana dharma53 and married only because he understood it to be his duty towards his ancestors to marry and to continue the vamśavṛkṛa, the lineage. His daughter-inlaw Kātyāyani, however, finds it hard to find complete solace in the old traditions. A daughter of a lawyer in Śrīrangapaṭṭaṇa, she earned a name for herself as a bright student in college, stopped her studies after her marriage and now, after her husband's death, sees no future for herself besides one like that of the maidservant Laksmi, who is a widowed orphan.

186At home Rao does nothing but sleep, bathe, eat and work. Rāja can understand his brother's situation somewhat better than his sister-inlaw, since he has seen how scholars in England work, and he also realizes that the English wives of scholars do not have Nāgalakmi's problems: he knows that the wives of his Oxford professors are themselves scholars and not only have much to talk about with their husbands, but also their cooperation is necessary for their husbands' work to be successful. Furthermore, the English way of marriage is different; Rāja cannot decide whether the English or Indian way is the better one (p. 62). Rao receives a letter from Ratne in which she says that she wants to finish her research work under his guidance (p. 67). She comes to Mysore, goes to Rao's house but does not find him there; Nāgalakṣmi cannot understand her English, and Ratne does not know Kannada (p. 68). Rāja takes her to his brother in the library.

  • 54 Cf. n. 42.

187In Nanjangud, Kātyāyani expresses the wish to study again, which Śrōtri discourages, for he thinks she should remain at home till Cīni has grown up. Śrōtri's wife too opposes the idea: after all, there are so many things to do in the house, such as cleaning the chapel, drawing the rangavalii54 in front of the door, cleaning the gods etc. (p. 75). Rao comes and supports the idea of Kātyāyani's studying again, and she goes to Mysore and enrols as a student. At the university she meets her fatherin-law's friend Rao with Ratne, who invite her to their home, where she meets Rāja.

  • 55 Brindavan Gardens is an artificial flower garden, approximately 15 kilometres northwest of Mysore. (...)
  • 56 See n. 15.

188While the distance between Rao and his family increases, so does his intimacy with Ratne, and they go for an outing to Brindavan Gardens55, where they have a very personal conversation and discuss what marriages are and what they ought to be (p. 100). Kātyāyani becomes friends with Nāgalakṣmi, visits the house frequently and thus also sees Rāja regularly, with whom she discusses literature and drama. She starts wondering about her own future, how she is studying for a B.A., but how will this be of any help to her in Nanjangud? And she also envies her friend Nāgalakṣmi, who, though her husband is obsessed with writing his magnum opus, can at least say that she is a sumangaḷi56, whose lord is nearby in the library (p. 110). Gradually she becomes dissatisfied with what traditional Indian widowhood means.

  • 57 Prakṛti literally means 'nature', but in the ancient Sānkhya school of philosophy becomes a term fo (...)

189One night Rāja has a dream, in which he sees a naked girl make flower garlands, and hundreds of people stand nearby and say that no one will accept the garlands from her, because she is a widow. He recognizes that girl as his student Kātyāyani (p.l 16). He meets her at the college again and then requests her to play the main part in an English drama which he has written; in the experimental religious play (which is based on his dream); she plays the role of prakṛti, Nature57, in dialogue with the god Bṛhaspati, and she asks him what the fate of men will be who are not allowed to associate with her on account of her impurity due to widowhood, if it is only through her that all men will attain liberation. The play is performed and is a big success.

190The day comes for Ratne to leave for Sri Lanka again. Rao cannot sleep the previous night, nor can she, as she admits her love for him the next day when they go for a walk to the nearby tank, where they embrace and she urges him to start work on the second volume soon. After she leaves, Rao begins the work and finds it hard to carry on without her knowledge of Sanskrit, Prakrit, shorthand and typing (p.130). Meanwhile the first volume of "A Cultural History of India" is brought out and receives favourable reviews in international journals.

191Kātyāyani is strangely troubled by memories of the play in which she acted the main role, and she notices how Rāja pays special attention to her. He asks her to come and see him on a holiday to discuss 'an important matter', and after a while he says that they are not like a teacher and pupil (like his brother Rao said to Ratne on p. 134). He realizes that she is a widowed mother, but says that should not deter her from remarriage (p. 144). For Kātyāyani, however, the matter is not so simple, for she has the sentiments and the local standing of her parents-in-law to think of; but also she tells Rāja that she cannot live without him. And yet, when she returns to Nanjungud, she has the feeling that she is betraying her in-laws. Only after quite some time does she go to see Rāja again. He admires her beauty and skin-colour, and he confesses that he had seen her in the dream which inspired him to write the drama. They elope to a hotel in another town (p. 154).

192Ratne returns to Mysore, and Rao proposes marriage to her. Ratne is afraid of what people may say, but Rao is convinced that the gossip will last for only a short while, and "When we are together we'll be able to work much better." Later Rao goes for a walk with his brother Rāja and tells him about his intention to marry Ratne (p. 162). Rāja is astonished: "In the lives of great scholars, writers, other artists, scientists and others, this was quite possible. But it upset him that his own brother would do this" (p. 162). He volunteers to console Nāgalakṣmi. Nāgalakṣmi cannot eat or sleep for three days after hearing the news of Rao's decision, and she supposes it is her karma (p. 164). Rāja tells her to accept this marriage, for Ratne has nothing else in mind but study, she is already the mother of a child, no one will look down upon her, and Ratne is not a bad woman. Nāgalakṣmi takes it as a sign of Rao's having lost his mind that he wants to marry that girl, who is dark-skinned and hence ugly (p. 165).

193Rao sets Ratne up in a suitable house in Saraswathipuram, a western suburb of Mysore near the university campus. When all communication between him and his family breaks down, he moves in with Ratne. Rāja takes over the responsibility for the old household.

194Rāja tells Nāgalakṣmi that he wants to marry Kātyāyani, and Nāgalakṣmi has her doubts about the advisability of such a thing, since it is against dharma. Rāja however says that he should marry a woman whom he likes, otherwise there may be trouble later on; Nāgalakṣmi remembers what happened to her own marriage and consents. Kātyāyani is torn by an inner conflict, since by marriage she has already been ritually grafted to the tree of the lineage of the Śrōtris, and she does not know how to tell her decision to her father-in-law. She has a talk with him, and he says that he has authority over her only as long as she recognizes him as the master of the household to which she feels that she belongs. She tries to justify herself before him by saying that their society is cruel towards women, not taking their feelings and desires into account by forbidding a widow to remarry while a man may marry as often as he likes; Śrōtri stops her and says that this is purely her personal matter, nothing social, for all must act according to their own dharma and responsibility. She asks whether it is not dharma to lead a family life at the appropriate time, and Śrōtri says that family life has the continuation of the lineage as its only goal (p. 178).

195Later he recalls what happened to him a few years earlier, when the doctor prohibited any further physically sexual relationship between him and his wife Bhāgīratamma, for she would surely die if she were to become pregnant again (p. 187). The prohibition greatly upset him, and he changed his diet and took to hard physical labour to subdue his sexual urge. His father-in-law, who had four wives, suggested that he marry another of his daughters, but Śrōtri rejected this on the ground that it is adharma, since a son had already been born to him. Bhāgīratamma saw Śrōtri languish due to his repressed sexuality, thought and finally suggested that he have sexual relations with their maid-servant Lakṣmi, who also missed these things in life and is beautiful (she is once described as milk-white - p. 183 - and once as having the colour of a Coorg orange - p. 195), being also in other respects a suitable partner for Śrōtri He fought the temptation and remained firm in his belief that dharmo rakṣati rakṣitaḥ (Sanskrit for "the dharma that is protected protects") and spent the night without joining with Lakṣmi. Lakṣmi suffered psychosomatically due to her sexual desire; but he persuaded her that they should not throw away the religious merit they had gathered for the sake of some passing pleasure. He also gave her a piece of land, so that she is provided for in case something happens to him.

196Nāgalakṣmi wants to perform the meritorious act of writing the words "Śrī Ramā" ten million times in order to attain a good rebirth; she recommends it to Rāja too, as a way of helping him forget Kātyāyani (p. 215). Kātyāyani wavers between whether to abide by her promise of marrying Rāja or to do what she knows her father-in-law expects of her; she decides she will marry Rāja after all. Śrōtri is disappointed, and Bhāgīratamma is infuriated with Kātyāyani's decision and angry that Śrōtri told her nothing about it. She threatens to go to Mysore and create a scene, but Śrōtri does not approve of the use of force in such matters.

  • 58 The word supposedly means 'what saves from hell' - a reference to the idea that male offspring is n (...)
  • 59 A ritual in commemoration of forefathers. At a śrāddha two Brahmins, one representing the deceased (...)

197Rāja and Kātyāyani marry, and afterwards she longs for the presence of her son Cīni and goes to Nanjangud to bring him to Mysore, forgetting that that very day is the death anniversary of her previous husband. Her father has also come, and he and Śrōtri have an ostentatious discussion in front of her about how the commemoration ceremony is to be performed and what the meaning of the word putra ("son") is58. Bhāgīratamma abuses her, accusing her of ignorance of the noble notions of descent, and then her father joins in the condemnation (p. 238). Śrōtri chases Bhāgīratamma and Kātyāyani's father out of the room and then has a private talk with Kātyāyani, in which he says that motherhood, fatherhood, brotherhood etc. acquire meaning only against the background of the lineage. He asks how Cīni will be able to perform śrāddha59 in the new environment and fulfil his obligations to his ancestors; Kātyāyani says that she does not believe in all those things. He says that remarriage is unnatural, but he also says that she is free to decide for herself. He then leaves her alone with the feeling that he did not give her a proper hearing. She flees from the house without Cīni and returns to Mysore.

198Kātyāyani gets her M.A. degree in English. She is pregnant and hopes the child will be a boy, who will continue the family name (p. 269). She and Rāja enjoy the happy expectancy of having a child, but one day she experiences a peculiar pain: a lady doctor is brought in, who says that there are signs of an approaching miscarriage. This indeed happens. They try again to have a child, and once again this results in a miscarriage (p. 273).

199Rāja moves to Bangalore with Kātyāyani, Nāgalakṣmi and Pṛthvi to become an assistant professor there. Nāgalakṣmi continues writing 'Śrī Rāma'. Kātyāyani also becomes an assistant professor and again becomes pregnant. In spite of following the lady doctor's orders, she suffers a third miscarriage, after which the doctor suggests sterilization. Kātyāyani wonders why the three miscarriages took place, remembers all that Śrōtri's had said when she last visited Nanjangud and fears that there is much meaning in his words (p. 283).

200Śrōtri, who is still in excellent health, is approaching his seventieth year and would like to take sannyāsa (i.e. formally renounce worldly life) and devote his remaining time to religious contemplation, but it would be adharma since he still has worldly obligations to other people. Cīni has his upanayana (caste-Hindu initiation) but suffers from the mockery of classmates in school, who say that his mother ran off with another man.

201A telegram arrives in Bangalore from Rao's cook, saying that Rao and Ratne are in a bad condition. Rāja and the others rush to Mysore. The cook says that Rao and Ratne are both in hospital, where both of them lie unconscious. It appears that they had caught a flu, which worsened and got out of hand due to their hard work (p. 305). Rao recovers only very slowly and in delirium calls out Nāgalakṣmi's name. She stays and nurses him; when after a few days he has regained full consciousness, she offers to stay with them and do the household work for them (p. 310).

202Nāgalakṣmi stays with Rao and Ratne in the bungalow: Nāgalakṣmi never leaves the kitchen, Ratne never enters it. Though she has read a great deal about kings and commoners in Indian history who had two, three or more wives, Ratne resents the idea. She has seen the custom in Europe, where if one finds that one's spouse is not suitable to one's personality, one can have a divorce and remarry, and in a case such as that of Rao, he would have had to divorce his first wife before marrying a second time: "Besides being a matter of government law, it is also the custom of the people." She then tells Rao that she cannot tolerate the situation and demands that there be two households, one for her and one for Nāgalakṣmi. Rao does not understand her insistence, but he agrees grudgingly (p. 319).

  • 60 Lawbooks of dharma. Cf. §2.1.

203Rao wants to go and see Śrōtri again, who for him is a symbol of Indian culture, and so does Ratne. Rao gives him a complete set of volumes of his latest work, as far as they have already appeared. Not only that: the fourth volume has the dedication to him printed in it in English. With the help of books in his personal collection Śrōtri gives the proper retorts to the criticisms which were given by a German scholar on the dharmaśāstra60 section of Rao's third volume. Rao asks Śrōtri's opinion about his second marriage, and Śrōtri can agree with it only to some extent (p. 333). Rao tells Śrōtri that Ratne condemns bigamy, and Śrōtri's reaction is that "this too is an aspect of modernity."

204Rao thinks over Śrōtri's words about marriage and concludes that Śrōtri had he been in his place, would never have got into the troubles that he now faces with his two wives: he would rather have simply hired a typist. Intuitively he feels his death approaching, and he weakens gradually without illness (p. 345). He accuses Ratne of cruelty by refusing Nāgalakṣmi to share the household with them (p. 347). He realizes that he has no time to lose, so soon he and Ratne are engrossed in their work on the fifth volume again (p. 353).

205Kātyāyani thinks of Nanjangud, Śrōtri and what he said about woman being the field in which the seed of a lineage is sown; she feels how much truth lies in those sentences, and she regrets that she was not there when her mother-in-law died, so that she could help her aging father-in-law (p. 355). The next day in college she discovers that her own son has become one of her pupils. She wants to speak with him, and she creates such a situation that he cannot run out on her: she takes the reluctant boy to her house and mildly interrogates him about his family. He first says that both his parents are dead; she says that she has heard that his mother is still alive, and asks whether he has no desire to see her; he says no. She cannot get an admission from him that he would like to see his mother again, and he leaves the house. She wonders whether this harshness is part of his nature or whether this is his grandfather's imperturbability, already instilled in him at this age (p. 369). But actually, Cīni had first gone to college with his high school classmate Cakrapāni and both of them were curious about how it would be to have lessons from a 'woman master'. One day Cakrapāni told him what he had found out about their teacher Kātyāyani: her husband is an English teacher in Maharaja's College, both of them had first taught in Central College in Bangalore, and theirs was a viḍō myārej ('widow marriage'). They suddenly realized that this must be Cīni's mother. Cīni wondered how his mother could have done such a thing as remarrying. He was also afraid of cultivating any closer relationship with Kātyāyani and Rāja, for how could he belong to two lineages? When he left Kātyāyani house that day, tears came to his eyes; he wanted to see her again, but he also remembered his grandfather's words: by association with objects one gets attached to them, and it is difficult to part with them, hence one should not associate with bad objects. He obtains a transfer to another college under the pretext that the teaching there is better, which his grandfather accepts (pp. 371-7).

206Kātyāyani's health deteriorates, she sleeps uneasily and talks in her sleep (in English). She begins sleepwalking, and one night in her sleep she actually says that the three miscarriages are the punishment for the sin of remarrying (p. 382).

  • 61 Harikathe is a traditional form of folk entertainment, comprising the telling of religious stories (...)

207Śrōtri prepares for a grand śrāddha ceremony; while searching for a book with instructions on how to conduct the ceremony, he finds an old letter written by one Kiṭṭappa Śrōtri to his father, in which Kiṭṭappa says that on account of what his father did, the seven previous generations of the pure and honourable Śrōtri lineage will go to hell. Śrōtri tries to remember what his father could have done; he vaguely remembers that there was enmity between his father and his uncle Kiṭṭappa and asks Laksmi about this (p. 399). Hesitantly she tells the story: in order to prevent uncle Kitttappa from inheriting anything, his father arranged that the travelling harikathe-performer61 Śyāmadāsa would spend a night with his wife, because he himself was sterile; his wife gave Śyāmadāsa five silver rupees, and he never returned. Soon Srinivasa was born, a bright boy who at the age of eight was initiated as a Brahmin boy in the Śrōtri lineage (pp. 401-8). Śrōtri feels that the foundation of his faith in life is shattered. For all these years he has followed an orthodox religious life, he married in the belief that he had to serve his lineage; where is the purity of his lineage now? To which lineage does he really belong? He wants to call off the śrāddha ceremony, but Laksmi makes him change his mind. The guests come, and during the ritual he faints; it is completed in his name by someone else.

208Śrōtri feels that he is not entitled to the wealth that he has, and he wants to give half of it to the descendants of Kiṭṭappa; he goes to the town Edatore, where he hopes to find them, with Cīni and tells him about his intention on the way. In the village where Kiṭṭappa had lived, his name is no longer known, except by an eighty-five-year-old man who remembers that the family moved away a long time ago, but no one knows where. They return to Nanjangud without achieving their aim, and there Śrōtri considers that Kātyāyani had no evil intentions by remarrying, unlike his own parents, who did adharma only to keep their wealth out of Kiṭṭappa's hands.

209Rao finishes his work, and thinking how many more days he may still have to live, he again desires Nāgalakṣmi to join him. Rāja persuades her to come and take over the kitchen in Rao's house. Experiencing the happiness of being united with Nāgalakṣmi again, Rao has another heart attack and dies. Ratne finishes their work and sends it to the publisher. She wants to return to Sri Lanka, and Rāja has already written to her brother. Just as he tells this, a taxi stops in front of the house and Ratne's brother-in-law steps out: he has come to take her to Madras, where the Sri Lankan representative will issue her a certificate stating that she is a Sri Lankan, after which there will be no difficulty in getting a passport (p. 438). She apologizes to Nāgalakṣmi for whatever wrongs she has done, but Nāgalakṣmi cannot understand Ratne's English.

  • 62 It is customary among devout high-caste people to keep some water from the river Ganges in their ho (...)

210Śrōtri decides that it is still better to give away all that he possesses to the descendants of Kiṭṭappa Śrōtri and Cīni agrees. He also asks Cīni for permission to take sannyāsa; he has arranged financial securities for Cīni and Laksmi. He arranges a simple wedding for Cīni with the daughter of a schoolmaster whom he has known for a long time. He becomes a sannyāsi and wants to take leave of Kātyāyani too before he continues on his way to Benares, where he wants to spend his last days. In the rain he finds Rāja’s house only to find Kātyāyani dying from a psychosomatic illness, her mind spinning with notions of dharma, karma and the like, as Rāja explains: her subconscious has resolved that she must die. The doctor has said that she will die that same evening. Rāja asks Śrōtri to sit down and keep his feet close to Kātyāyani, on which Rāja places Kātyāyani's hands; a tear appears in her eye. Pthvi has brought Cīni in a taxi, just in time for Cīni to pour the ritual last water into his mother's mouth before she dies62 (p. 455). By chance, through a bit of casual talk just before leaving, Śrōtri finds out that the Raos are the lost relatives whom he has been searching for. He tells Rāja the whole story, and Rāja feels a kind of fear sitting opposite a man with such a strict adherence to principles. Śrōtri leaves in the rain, walking towards to the railway station through the dark because the rain has caused a blackout. Cīni comes running after him one last time to ask whether he should perform the cremation rites for his mother. Śrōtri says yes, because we should not judge the rights and wrongs of others, and he leaves.

2111.19 Vamśavṛkṛa first appeared in 1966, i.e. between Dharmaśrī (1961) and Tabbaliyu nīnāde magane (1968), both of which we will discuss later in other chapters. The novel consists of three stories, dealing with three sets of characters, and because of the individual ties between these characters the three stories are brought together within one narrative framework. There is the story of Śrōtri, the powerful individual who dominates the entire novel, with his personal tragedies and his way of dealing with them. Quite different seems the story of Rao, the ivory-tower scholar who respects Śrōtri for his traditional scholarship and consults him regularly. The third story is that of Rao's younger brother Rāja and Śrōtri's daughter-in-law Kātyāyani. What binds these stories together is the question of what a vamśa is, and what attitude to it dharma demands of us.

212The question becomes largely one of what kinds of marriage are legitimate, and why. If we consider Bhyrappa's own socio-cultural background, it is not surprising that he views the question against the background of what high-caste Hindu orthodoxy has to say on the subject, and the foremost character in the novel who expresses this outlook is the śāstri Śrīnivāsa Śrōtri. He is also by far the roundest character in the book. The other character that receives elaborate description of its inner life and outer circumstances is Kātyāyani, and, to some extent, her son Cīni. This is highly significant, since all three of them basically agree on what dharma is and how this ought to be realized in life. Kātyāyini goes astray, but the inner crisis which ultimately leads to her death shows that in her heart she still believes in all which Śrōtri stands for.

213Kātyāyani's second husband Rāja remains to some extent vague. We know that he studied at Oxford and that he had seen something of the nature of the relationships which exist between men and women in Britain: how they select their spouses, can give each other up if they find that better, and how divorcees and widowed people can remarry at will, without society taking any offense. Also Ratne, the other person who has studied abroad (at Cambridge), has seen all this, and similarly this plays a large role in her personal view of what marriage means. About the character of Rāja we can furthermore say that his role as a character is rather one of bringing other characters together and placing them in situations in which they have to take decisions, rather than his going through any major moral dilemnas as would demand soul-searching on his part. Rao's first wife, Nāgalakṣmi, is an uneducated, ignorant woman, whose main role is that of an innocent victim who never meant any harm.

214What is very striking is the flatness of the remaining two main characters, Rao and Ratne, who seem utter freaks. We find no real analysis of what motivates them: they are caricatures of academicians obsessed with the idea of making a lasting contribution to their field of scholarship. That their work demands so much of their attention and physical strength that both of them end up unconscious in a hospital, presupposes immense gullibility on the part of the readers of the novel. Rao loses all human contact with his first wife and son, and with that contact all interest in them as well. His forgetfulness about his wife takes a turn only when he notices the discomforts of her absence: his fellow freak Ratne cannot cook like his wife can, nor does she know how to look after him when he is ill. When Ratne returns to Sri Lanka the first time, what he misses most is her mastery of English, her stenography and her typing. Rao seems obsessed by one single idea and obviously feels justified by it to lead a morbidly selfcentred life, in which everything is valued in terms of its practical convenience to him, either as contributing directly to his work or as contributing to his personal comfort, so that he can work more easily. When Nāgalakṣmi offers to join him and Ratne in the sarqe household after his heart attack, so that she can look after him, and Ratne rejects the idea, he says:

  • 63 Śamskāra-s are impressions in the mind, made either in this life or in a previous one, which compel (...)

"When I was ill she came and nursed me so much. That was not a service done purely from the point of view of duty. That is the worship that is performed by a Hindu wife with the devotion of all her samskāra-s63.... From the consciousness of being a wife she has gone another step higher. I felt that she has reached the stage of becoming a mother to the two of us. When I asked you whether she could stay with us, you said no. Do I have to hear any other thought more cruel than that?" (p. 347).

215All through the novel, he has not shown much consideration for Nāgalakṣmi, and the consideration which he shows for Ratne is that of a friendly employer. He suddenly starts calling Nāgalakṣmi a potential mother to the two of them when her coming would serve his interests. That he accuses Ratne of cruelty when she threatens to thwart this, seems rather cruel on his part.

216In the depiction of the character of Rao we must also note a peculiar view of scholarhood and academic work. It seems unlikely that a historian at a university should rely almost entirely for his views on a small-town pundit like Śrōtri, or that he cannot defend his views, as he has put them down in his book, against the criticism of a foreign scholar without having Srōtri tell him how to reply to this criticism. The only thing that Śrōtri possesses which would qualify him as in some way superior in knowledge to Rao is his religious orthodoxy and way of life. It is also precisely this that Rao (and later also his associate Ratne) admires in the man, and we see this same mentality reflected a few times in passages which tell us something about Rao's scholarly views. "Many have written about the history of this country," he says, "but all of them are only political histories.... It's well known that a change took place in culture after the Brahmin, Buddhist, Jaina and other religions had come to flourish. But the reason why the cultural edifice of this country has remained under the influence of these three religions without major upheavals after the Muslim onslaught is that the essence of these three religions is from the same source" (p. 11).

  • 64 Cf. e.g. Pande 1978.

217What this source is, is explained nowhere - simply because there is no such single source, of course -, but this does happen to be the sort of idea which one comes across in Hindu revivalist literature of the Vivekananda type: the kind of revivalism that is religious in name but carries political overtones. (Bhyrappa's novel Dhaimaśrī, to which we will turn later, will show us in full detail the author's political views and how these are linked with his ideas on religion.) The idea that a culture is entirely based on the religion of a people is popular in India, where 'dharma' means much more than 'religion' does in the West and includes details of social practices and legal matters. But any serious historian knows that cultures continuously change. Rao asks Śrōtri what he thinks of the idea, put forward by some European scholars, that the worship of images, snakes and natural objects are not mentioned in the Vedas and Upanishads, are therefore not Aryan and hence were introduced into Hinduism at a later time: Śrōtri says there is no reason to believe that these were not Aryan, and that in fact if one reads the scriptures in the proper way, one sees that the worship of nature is very much there (p. 77). In other words: orthodox scholasticism ranks higher than critical historical analysis. As for the basic unity of the three religions, the current mainstream theory is that Jainism and Buddhism represent a cultural pattern (termed the 'śramaa tradition') which is basically different from that of Vedic Hinduism.64 At Ajanta, Rao reflects on how the British acted as if the caves there were found by a British army commander, and wonders:

were there no people at all in America before Columbus? There is evidence that there were Hindu idols in America before him. America was known to people from other parts of the world before Columbus (p. 30).

  • 65 Lai 1966 and VenugOpālācarya n.d. In such writings we see the confluence of two preoccupations of t (...)

218Here again we see Bhyrappa catering to popular wishful thinking, as is reflected in publications like Chaman Lal's Hindu America or Venugopalacharya's America as Ruled by Kannadigas65 rather than his seriously trying to create the character of a lifelike historian. A serious historian would flinch at seeing Rao's new book begin with the statement: "The beginning and base of Indian culture are the Vedas and Upanishads, which do not have human authors" (p. 77), or that India and Sri Lanka form a cultural unity because Rāvaṇa, the demon-king of Lanka in the ancient epic Rāmāyaa, believed in the Vedas.

219Ratne is a worse freak than Rao. The development of her feelings about marrying follows a haphazard course. Her "modem mind" revolts when Rao asks her to leave the hotel where she is staying and move in with him, Nāgalakṣmi and the others. She says that she wants her own house, but he can stay at his present home and have his dinners and sleep there, and she will feel no jealousy because "the reason for our uniting is different, isn't it?" (p. 168). Her desire to have a child with her husband comes only after some time, but Rao's failing health makes her forget it: if she becomes pregnant and later a mother, she will not be able to assist him well in writing his book. She is not as completely heartless as Rao, for she does show concern about his well-being. The passages towards the end of the novel which depict her sentiments when she finishes the typescript of the final volume and prepares to leave Mysore forever show a different side of her personality, as a sort of corrective to the impression that we might have of her as a cold-blooded, highly educated stenotypist, and they are among the best written passages in the book, though their inclusion comes very suddenly and is an obvious flaw in the composition of the novel.

220In Kātyāyani we see a character who is presented in much greater detail and obviously with more involvement by the author. Despite being brought up in quite an orthodox milieu, she is critical of certain restrictions that traditional Hindu society imposes on women which it does not impose on men: she sees no cogent reason for this, and she rebels. But it is precisely because of her background that rebelling is difficult, and in her we see the central ideological clash of the novel reach a climax: should one accept as authoritative what traditional high-caste Hinduism tells us, or can one individually and rationally criticize the old rules and live in accordance with one's own ideas? Emotionally, the past is too much with her, she cannot rationalize about certain concepts and free herself completely from traditional authority as found in persons like her father and father-in-law. Her mental crisis leads to psychosomatic illness (this seems to be a stock event in Bhyrappa's novels: we will see it again in Dhaimaśrī and Tabbaliyu nīnāde magane) and culminates in her death. She tries to break away from orthodoxy, fails, and the failure proves fatal.

  • 66 Govindaraj 1978: 289.

221Śrōtri is the pivotal character of the novel, as the critic Giraddi Govindaraj has also remarked: "Śrīnivāsa Śrōtri represents the central consciousness of the novel. Besides being the standard for value judgments in the novel, he is the one who offers the discursive foundation to the problem [viz. of man-woman relationships and the question of lineage]. All the other characters are totally immersed in their own passions and feelings, they do not in the least think about the essential background of their experience66. He is the one whose influence is felt by all and who undergoes practically no influence himself. He is well educated in the orthodox manner and firmly rooted in his religious tradition, which he finds understandable, reasonable, just and satisfying. For him his religion, his dharma, is not a formality or a thing to which one pays lip service: it is something that shapes his life. He is a typical type of character that appears also in other Bhyrappa novels: the man who is rooted in orthodox Brahminical tradition, aloof from new developments in society around him, who remains unshaken while everyone else suffers moral and spiritual crises; he is always there with his store of traditional wisdom from which people may profit if they so wish; he shows the way to all who wish to follow. We see exactly the same kind of character in the RSS propagandist Śankara in Dhaimaśrī and in the village priest Venkaaramaa in Tabbaliyu nīnāde magane. The other characters who come into contact with him undergo a metamorphosis, to some extent or the other. When Rao and Srbtri have their conversation on bigamy and Śrōtri tells him what is inferior about marrying a second time as Rao has done, Rao accepts Śrōtri's viewpoint without much deliberation, convinced that Śrōtri must be right in such matters: a book is an accomplishment of the mind, the mind too is a state of prakṛti or matter. We have already noted how the academician Rao can neither write his scholarly works, nor defend them against criticism, without Śrōtri's help - which seems to imply that Rao is actually an intellectual weakling whose world - view would collapse without the backing of Hindu priestly orthodoxy, personified in Śrōtri.

222Grandson Cīni is under Śrōtri's influence from the beginning, and when he has reached the age of a college student he is still so full of respect for his grandfather that he blindly accepts anything that Śrōtri suggests or tells him to do, e.g. when Śrōtri decides to give away their wealth to the descendants of his uncle: "If it is dharma that we must give it to them, then I'll agree gladly. What you say is always dharma" (p. 415). Kātyāyani is first a member of his household, then severs herself from it, but ultimately she realizes how right Śrōtri has been all along, and she touches his feet as a sign of respect when she is on her deathbed and only half conscious.

223There is only one episode in the entire novel in which Śrōtri has any fundamental doubt about his system of beliefs, namely when he leams about his biological origin from Lakmi; but of course the tradition has its solutions for everything, and all is solved when he renounces the world by taking sannyāsa, which is what he had already wanted to do for a long time anyway. The problem is solved so smoothly that we can hardly make out when exactly this solving takes place. Dharma tells us what our place in the system of things is, and it is 'eternal' (sanātana, p. 51). When his only son dies in the opening pages of the novel, he bears his loss stoically, much in the same way as Kāingē Gowda in a parallel situation in the beginning of Tabbaliyu nīnāde magane: both Śrōtri and Gowda are representatives of the 'eternal' and 'unchanging' India, although they are from different castes and therefore have different ways to follow. The sexual crisis in Śrōtri's life, caused by his wife's state of health, is solved simply by repressing his sexual urge - as if contraceptives and sterilization were unknown at that time.

224The central question of the desirability and legitimacy of marriage is seen in terms of dharma. Dharma is manifested at its best in the character of Śrōtri, the traditionalist; the people who become entangled in unsolvable problems are all 'modern' in some way or the other. Kātyāyani grew up in the traditional atmosphere, but rebels; despite her mother-in-law's strong opposition, she enters college again, where she meets Rāja, whom she later marries, to the horror of her mother-in-law, who actually threatens to go and disrupt the wedding ceremony (p. 225). Śrōtri's outward patience with her is not quite what it seems, as we read about his inner turmoil earlier: there had been other women in the family who had lost their husbands,

But previously no one had ever done what Kātyāyani had done. All the women who had been given as virgins from other lineages and been accepted by this lineage lived as people of this lineage and died thus. Just as it is impossible for tributaries which join the main river to maintain their individuality when they join, it was impossible for any girl who had joined this lineage to go and join some other household. Now an indelible stain had been made on the history of this lineage by what Kātyāyani had done. Can the purity of the lineage which she had newly joined remain intact? Do the people who have now taken her have any proper consciousness of their own lineage? (p. 223).

225Interestingly, Rāja, Kātyāyani, Rao and Ratne, all of whom deviate from the norm of dharma and end up in various difficulties, are in some way or the other associated with the English language. Rāja is a teacher of English, Kātyāyani is a student of English, one of Ratne's great attractions for Rao is that her English is so good, and Rao's books are written in English and are published in Britain. In several passages in the novel there is a significant reference to English as something more than just another language: it develops into a symbol. This begins when Rao shows his first book to Śrōtri, published from London, written in English, which Śrōtri cannot read. Nāgalakṣmi's simplicity is stressed when Rao mentions that he has an interview with the maharaja, which he has noted in his diary, and she says: "If you write it in your diary, is that like telling your wife? Never mind. Do I know English, that I can read your diary?" (p. 17).

226The notion of English being the language of scholars and other people who have had higher education is further strengthened when Ratne appears in the story: Rao is impressed with the correctness of her English in the letter which she has written him from Sri Lanka (p. 66). Very peculiar is the passage where Kātyāyani visits Śrōtri's house and finds her father there (invited by her mother-in-law, who of course knew what would happen if the two would meet face to face): the lecture which he gives his daughter on the greatness of dharma and the maintaining of the purity of one's lineage, and also the vicious bout of verbal abuse which follows, are in English, which he masters well because of the pleas which he has to make in court:

  • 67 The English word 'rascal', for some obscure reason, is considered a very bad term of abuse by India (...)

"Also in the land of England the authority over children lies with the family of the biological father. Also if the widowed mother remarries, the family name of those children will be that of the biological father".... Finally, referring to the stain which she brought upon his pure lineage, he stooped to abuse: "Yu ār a rāskal, a ḍisgrēs ṭu di phyāmili. Beṭar iph sac en anvardi ḍāṭar Is nāṭ bārn...." ("You are a rascal67, a disgrace to the family. Better if such an unworthy daughter is not born" - p. 238).

227Here English is a way of creating a gulf between himself and his daughter, of stressing that he and she differ fundamentally, of casting her out. Of course Rao and Ratne always speak a sort of English with each other ("Lend kindly hand in climbing up steep hill," Rao says when they walk up a hill. This is printed in Latin script in the Kannada text-p. 263). In the middle of her crisis Kātyāyani talks in English in her sleep (p. 378). English is used as a device to stress again and again that Ratne is a foreigner.

228This symbolic function of English becomes still more prominent when we see that it is placed in opposition to other languages, viz. Kannada and Sanskrit. After Rao and Ratne have visited Śrōtri in Nanjangtid they see Kātyāyani, and Ratne tells how she has spoken with Cīni: he could understand her well, but apparently did not have sufficient active mastery over the language to speak it himself, and instead he replied to her in elegant Sanskrit (p. 338). And Śrōtri, the paragon of high morality and correctness in the novel, is the one main character who knows no English but has mastered Sanskrit besides his mother tongue Kannada.

229Thus by stressing a connection between modernity (deviation from the traditional norm) and English, the suggestion is awakened that deviations from the conservative norm are foreign, un-Indian. And a comparison with the other two novels which we will take up for discussion later, Dharmasrī and Tabbaliyu nīnāde magane, will show very quickly that for Bhyrappa foreignness is practically synonymous with evil. I have already mentioned in my introduction that Indians commonly identify foreignness with Englishness and tend to take whatever they consider English as a model for what is foreign. When Cīni's classmate Cakrapāi mentions the sensational fact that Kātyāyani is a remarried widow, he uses the supposedly English expression viḍō myārej (p. 373), and not a Sanskrit or Kannada expression like vidhavāvivāha or marumaduve, which suggests that a widow marrying again is some-thing new and originally foreign; this is of course not true, even though one might think so if one comes from a self-centred highcaste Hindu environment that considers itself the centre of Hinduism, Indianness and civilization in general. That Cīni eats at Kātyāyini's house with his fingers, whereas she no longer does so and uses cutlery, similarly stresses a cultural gap.

230In spite of the fact that foreignness plays such a prominent part in the novel, the author did not know much about other parts of the world, nor about the rules which govern the stay of foreigners in India: see e.g. his ignorance of Sri Lankan Buddhism, passport formalities, or even the grotesque specimens of the paradigmatic foreign language, English.

231In contradistinction to Bhyrappa's two other aforementioned novels, the deviations from dharma here are not viable and disappear of their own accord, without any necessity of violent opposition. Rao dies; Kātyāyani dies too; Ratne packs and leaves for her foreign country again. The younger generation is too estranged from the deviant elders to be affected. That the two representatives of the younger generation, who have had nothing to do with each other throughout the whole novel, suddenly arrive together in a taxi on p. 455 in time to witness Kātyāyani's death (Pthvi has gone to Nanjangud to bring Cīni) seems to underline this point.

  • 68 Personal communication, spring 1986.

232So what is dharma, that all-important thing that is in danger of being disrupted or transgressed against by foreign influences? Vamśavṛkṛa is still more vague on this point than the other two novels are. In my summary I have generally translated the word by "religion", which is the Western concept that comes closest to it. The concept may be specific to Indian culture, and defies any quick translation into a non-Indian language. Dharma often becomes a vague subject of discussion about which it is difficult to make generally valid statements, which is also why certain politicians love to speak about it. When I once asked Bhyrappa what he means when he writes about dharma, he characteristically found it difficult to explain; he considered it 'the harmony of all things in life', the natural order of things, according to which we ought to lead our lives68. Some aspects of Bhyrappa's idea of dharma stand out clearly in the novel. It is something traditional, and there is something totalitarian about it: it determines much, if not everything, in life. The whole of Indian culture is the result of dharma, as Rao tries to point out in his magnum opus. For Bhyrappa, it is fixed. It seems that he does not distinguish clearly between dharma and the "mūla samskṛti”, and he typically never explains what that "basic culture" is.

233Dharma is an ominous power, and because Śrōtri lives an exemplarily dharmic life he inspires fear in Cīni (p. 371) and Rāja (p. 458). Śrōtri tells Kātyāyani that widow remarriage is against the law of creation (sṛṣṭiya niyamakkē virōdha - p. 242):

"For the sake of continuing the seed of one lineage people of another lineage give a field. That field finds its use in letting the seed of that lineage grow in itself and making it a tree. A woman who has once become a mother is a mother forever. How is it possible to begin a new wifehood like a virgin? It is against the law of creation to experience the return from one stage in the course of development to a previous stage. It is a sin to again desire a stage in the path of development which has already passed" (p. 242).

234Bhyrappa as the narrator does not explicitly state that Kātyāyani's three miscarriages were because of her breach of dharma, but the suggestion is clear enough, and what Kātyāyani says in her sleep while she is gradually being consumed by a feeling of guilt does explicitly tell us that the miscarriages were the result of her "sin":

"It is a sin for a field which has carried the seed of one lineage to go and carry the seed of another lineage. As a result of that sin three children were lost before they were born" (p. 382).

235Thus dharma is a metaphysical force which claims its toll when trangressed against. It makes no difference whether Śrōtri makes statements here and there in the novel (particularly to Kātyāyani) which seem to support a notion of individual freedom to deviate from the norm of dharma, for dharma is not a matter of merely human agreement, like secular law, but a cosmic law that knows no compromise. And if one deviates, one has a price to pay.

  • 69 Todorov 1981: 19.

236The fact that in spite of all the shortcomings which we have noticed, the novel has remained popular with the Kannada reading public, is in itself most interesting. We should remember, "Aristotle... had already perceived that the verisimilar is not a relation between discourse and its referent (the relation of truth), but between discourse and what readers believe is true69." In other words: if the novel is an essentially realistic literary form, then the popularity of a novel may serve as an indication of what Kannada readers believe is real, or want to think is real.

2371.20 As I have mentioned earlier, literature by Muslims in Kannada is relatively recent, partly because the majority of Muslims in Karnataka have not Kannada, but Urdu as their mother tongue. The number of Muslim Kannada writers is still very small, and among them women writers form a remarkably large percentage.

238The best known Muslim woman author in Kannada is Sara Aboobacker (Sārā Abūbakkara 1936b), who has come forward with stories and novels which are remarkable for the outspokenness with which she criticizes social inequities, and we may consider her one of the most significant women writers in Kannada today. Her home is in the southwestern comer of Karnataka, where the Muslims are the descendents of migrants from Kerala and have Malayalam as their mother tongue, unlike the Muslims in the rest of Karnataka. Because of her criticism of the way in which society treats women and of conservative (quasi-) religious ideas which stifle personal development and fulfilment, she is often reckoned among the recent authors who are labelled the Baḍāya group, whose only common characteristics seem to be that they are not from high-caste Hindu backgrounds and that they write social criticism. A few writers in this group, notably Baragūru Rāmacandrappa, have tried to give this trend a kind of Marxist ideological turn, but until now these authors have not shown much interest in an ideology-based analysis of the inequities which they describe. Sara Aboobacker's criticism of society is based more on humanistic considerations than on anything else: she insists on individual integrity and denounces ideologies which in the name of religion deny dignity to the individual.

239In the story Dharma bale bīsidāga ("When Religion Cast Its Net") we read that also Islamic social institutions can be corrupted and manipulated by unscrupulous elements in society.

2401.21 Sara Aboobacker: Dharma bale bīsidāga

241A jeep fitted with an amplifier and loudspeakers comes through the street where Khatījābi lives, drawing much attention, and a voice announces that she has disobeyed the order of the community council at the mosque: hence all other community members should sever all ties with her and her family members. Nobody is allowed to supply them with food or anything else, nobody may give them water, cut their hair, assist at funerals in the family etc. Rather than acquiescing, she decides to teach the council members a lesson, and she recalls the events that led up to this situation (p.10).

242Her husband Karīmsāb works in Bombay and used to return home only once in two years, but she did not complain, since she was at least provided for now, after being poor earlier in life. Every time when her husband came, she would show him their latest oneyear-old child, and in this manner she had already given birth seven times. Now though Kañmsāb returns once a year, she no longer bears children; the eldest son had married and left to help his father in the business, and three younger sons remained at home. The village strong man is one Ibrahīm Hāji, a hoodlum who had stolen enough money to finance his pilgrimage to Mecca, besides enough to afford "sufficient training in liquor and women". Through his financial influence he has become the chairman of the community council (pp. 11-2). He had always had an eye on Khatījābi, but one day, while passing by her house in his car, he sees her sixteen-year-old daughter Naphīsā buying vegetables. She has exactly the same beauty as Khatījābi had twenty-five years earlier, and he thinks up a plan (p. 12).

243He calls on Khatījābi every now and then, much to her displeasure, and says that she should not hesitate to ask for any help which he can give. Thus he begins coming regularly, but Khatījābi feels that she cannot tell such an influencial man not to come. At the same time she has someone write a letter to her husband about Naphlsā's marriage, in which she tells him that she knows of two suitable boys, either of whom will be a good match.

244A friend of Ibrahīm Hāji named Kādar is sent to Khatījābi's house on Ibrahīm's orders to have a talk with her about Naphīsa's becoming married: she can marry a good man without Khatījābi having to spend as much as one paise, he says (p. 14). Khatījābi is eager to hear more; first she thinks that Kādar is suggesting Ibrahīm Hāji's son, but he corrects her, saying that Ibrahīm has so much wealth that he would like to enjoy it with a second wife, for whom he will have a separate house built, etc. (p. 15). Khatījābi finds the idea that Naphīsā marry a man of her father's age disgusting (p. 15). She tells Kādar that Ibrahīm Hāji can enjoy his money with the wife and children whom he already has, or if he wants more children, he can adopt some from an orphanage, and that she will not accept such a marriage for her daughter. The same day, she has someone write a letter to her husband saying that they should hurry in arranging Naphīsa's marriage, without mentioning this incident (p. 16).

245But Kādar comes again on the same mission; she tells him to leave in dignity and not come again, for she will beat him out with a broom if he appears once more. He utters the threat: "Are you aware with whom you're striking up enmity?", and she tells him to inform Ibrahīm Hāji that not everything and everyone is for sale (p. 17). Later Ibrahīm Hāji himself comes to ask whether she will give her daughter while he is still interested, adding that she should bear in mind that "If I make up my mind I can do anything" (p. 17), but she refuses vehemently. He leaves, uttering a vague threat. Afterwards, Khatījābi finds out that someone is depositing empty bottles in her yard.

246Then a meeting is called in the mosque, to which all the prominent townsmen come and where it is said that "a woman with children in the town has turned immoral. In this way, dharma won't remain." Evidence is brought forward that Khatījābi has taken to strong liquor and has visits from men at night, and a punishment is determined by the council (under the chairmanship, of course, of Ibrahīm Hāji): 101 whiplashes for adultery and a fine of Rs. 50 for drinking, to which all agree; but no one asks who the men are who visited her, or how they ought to be punished (p. 19). Khatījābi finds it revolting, thinking: "Am I in the Gulf states, that I must be summoned to the mosque and whipped? Aren't both a man and a woman needed for adultery?" She rejects the ruling, and persists despite a further increase of the punishment with which she is threatened. Then the council decides that "Khatījābi, apart from committing grave sins like drinking and adultery, has blemished the name of the mosque by ignoring the ruling of the community council," and she is excommunicated, to the delight of those who have gossipy tongues and enjoy others' misfortunes (p. 20).

247Her husband returns from Bombay, hears the story and asks her to comply with the council's demands, for life in this town will be hard for those who are excommunicated. But Khatījābi feels hurt in her sense of honour, says that she will never give in to the wishes of those inferior beings, and scolds him (p. 21). Because he and their eldest son are not permanently in town, Karīmsāb fears for the family's safety if Khatījābi does not comply; but she is firm, saying that she would rather drown herself than be whipped in the mosque, and she suggests: "Go to the police station and file a complaint. Has this country become more rotten than a Gulf state?" (p. 22). Karīmsāb agrees that something ought to be done, also in order to prevent this sort of thing from happening to others; he consults a lawyer whom he knows and files a complaint with the police, saying that it is a punishable offence for a religious institution to punish an individual in this manner. After this, the community council is upset and tries to save face in a panic: a new meeting is held to investigate Khatījābi's case, and it is now found that she is innocent. The mullahs then call Karīmsāb to the mosque to apologize for their mistake, after all mistakes do happen now and then, and they promise that Khatījābi will no longer be troubled (pp. 23-4). He graciously accepts the apology, embarrasses them a last time by asking how a woman can commit adultery alone, unless in this modem age some machine has been invented to enable her to do so, but finally shows his goodwill by offering them some cloth which he has brought with him from Bombay (p. 24).

  • 70 Although bigamy is now forbidden by law, there is a great deal of social tolerance for it. In recen (...)

2481.22 Dharma bale bīsidāga is largely a story of hypocrisy and double standards. We have already become familiar with the degree of inequality between men and women in Indian society. There are some differences with regard to this matter between Hindu and Muslim environments, though, and one obvious difference is the legality of polygamy (polygamy does occur among Hindus too, as we see in Bhyrappa's Vamśavṛkṛa, but this is not an officially approved modem practice70. Thus in this story the strong man of the community, Ibrahīm Hāji, can openly approach the protagonist and request (here it becomes a demand) her daughter as a wife in addition to the one he already has. When she refuses to give her daughter in marriage to him, vengeance is easy: it is sufficient that some empty bottles, obviously deposited there by someone else, are found in Khatījābi's yard in order to accuse her of drinking alcohol, and the mere fact that some men come and visit her at night, however much against her will (she feels compelled by politeness towards Kadar, an acquaintance, to tolerate the visits) is enough to convict her of adultery (p. 20).

249Ibrahīm Hāji's influence is based solely on his wealth, which he gathered by crooked means, and the religious authorities are quite willing to cast their authority to the winds at his bidding. Twice in the story we come across the remark by the protagonist that the situation in the village has deteriorated so seriously that it has begun to resemble a state on the Persian Gulf; but since this is not a Gulf state, the protagonist's husband can lodge a complaint with the police. Thus the authority of the community council can be easily overruled, if one wants this, by the secular authorities, who here prove to be untainted by the kind of petty corruption that prevails within the community with all its religious pretences.

250The strength of social control within the community is very great in this story: for a while Ibrahīm Hāji's manipulating of public opinion through the community council, of which he is the chairman, seems a real threat, as we also see in husband Karīmsāb's initial advice to Khatījābi that it is best she bear the punishment that the council has imposed upon her, otherwise life in the village will be hard (p. 21). Without recourse to the secular authorities, justice must make place for the despotism of a corrupted kind of religiosity for the sake of appeasing society.

  • 71 Personal communication, January 9th, 1987. In some areas police stations are dangerous places, and (...)

251The character of Karīmsāb is a weak point of the story: he has never shown much concern for his wife, lives far away in Bombay, has her produce one child after another for him (which she thinks is all right, if in return she is financially taken care of), first asks her to submit herself to the injustice of the council and then suddenly is persuaded by her to complain to the police about what is going on. One reason for this sudden volte-face is that in that environment it is not considered decent for a woman to go to the police71, but perhaps the author also thought it necessary to introduce at the very last moment a positive male character, as though to show that not all men are bad.

2521.23 A connection between the position of women in society and religion is made in a simple yet striking story by Anupama Niranjana, Dēvarē baralilla ("God Just Did Not Come"), of which the meaning must be read across the three miniature stories which together make up a little triptych.

253Anupama Niranjana (nom de plume of Venkaalakmi, 1934-1991), was the wife of Niranjana (whose Banaśankari we have discussed above) and in outlook and ideals was a typical member of the Pragatislla group (see above, §1.2). She was in fact the only typically Pragatiśīla woman author. She was a physician by profession, and besides her prolific literary output she produced a number of books in which she explained medical matters to the general public in very simple language. Also her literary style is very simple, almost fairy-tale-like, and this has probably contributed to her great popularity in a land where the road to general literacy is still long. Her achievements in literature and in her life have made her something of an ideal for the younger generation, and there exists also an annual literary award for Kannada women writers in her name.

2541.24 Anupama Niranjana: Dēvarē baralilla

  • 72 The month of āāḍha is considered inauspicious for weddings.
  • 73 Kunkuma (the red powder used for the well-known dots on foreheads) and arasina (turnmeric powder) a (...)

2551. On a stormy evening, Śāradamma hears the sound of a vālaga (a small band of musicians, usual in processions) and wonders whether a wedding is taking place, but her neighbour says that that cannot happen in this month72. Śāradamma's daughter Nalina comes running to tell that a god's procession is coming their way, and she describes what a splendid sight it is. Śāradamma prepares a plate with offerings to the god, lays out fruits and a coconut, kunkuma, arasina73 and camphor, and in the distance the image of the god comes in sight. Nalina pulls her mother's sari and says that the priest is a bad man, who sits behind the god and puts all the coconuts which he receives in a basket. Nalina asks why people do pūje for a god, and Śāradamma says "God gives us all we ask for. That's why" (p. 31). Nalina asks whether god can help her pass to the next grade in school, or give her a new skirt, and Śāradamma says yes: he gives money too. Nalina then asks why her classmate Santa's family is poor, and Śāradamma gives no answer. Nalina no longer finds it possible to have any sympathy for a god who is so unfair towards her friend, and she says "God is a bad man, mother." Śāradamma cannot tolerate bad talk about god and tells Nalina to keep quiet. Just then the procession turns away from them, and Śāradamma must disappointedly accept that the god did not come into their street.

2562. Nāgaratna is being prepared for wedding rituals while outside the music of the vālaga is heard. There is the excited commotion of friends about her who tell her not to be bashful and that some others have gone out to meet the groom's party in advance. Her mother combs her hair and says "You shouldn't be shy... a husband is like a god!" (p. 33). She recalls the first day when the groom's party had come to see her and how she felt thrilled by 'his' lovely voice when he asked: "She knows how to sing, doesn't she?" Only after a while did she feel enough courage to look at 'him', and "'he' was handsome, even though dark. There was some glow in his eye. He's good, he's good, Nāgaratna's inner voice was saying." Her mother says "As far as you're concerned, your husband's like a god, girl! You mustn't overstep the line he draws any day," and Nāgaratna accepts this in silence (p. 34). The women joke more as they wait; finally the music stops, for the bus with the groom's party has not shown up, and Nāgaratna's "god did not come" (p. 36).

2573. One evening the widow Sumangalamma waits for her daughter Vimala, lights a lamp and prays that god will be good to her daughter. She badly had wanted Vimala to get a proper education, but in their position there was no money for that. Now she has grown into a young woman, and not a cringeing one like most. She ought to be married, but every bridegroom wanted money. Vimala had said that she did not want to marry but would find a job somewhere and look after Sumangalamma, who had then wiped tears from her eyes and thought how happy Vimala would have been, had her father still been alive (p. 37). She went out that day in search of a job, but was turned down, and Sumangalamma is apprehensive of the future. Vimala however is not so despondent and says that if she could not get the clerical job today, she will get something tomorrow, though her eyes too become moist at the memory of her father when Sumangalamma mentions him. Vimala enters the kitchen to get a meal, sees the lamp on the wall which her mother has lit for god, but she feels no devotion at all (p. 38). Sumangalamma wonders aloud when god will show favour towards them; Vimala laughs and says "It's cowardice to wail before god when life has become difficult and you see no other way, mother." But Sumangalamma cannot tolerate such talk: she waits firmly till god will do something good for them, "But it was simply not possible for god to come down to earth" (p. 39).

2581.25 In all the three parts of the story we see persons of authority, viz. the mothers of the protagonists, who predicate something or the other about a god and tell their daughters what they may expect, but in each case their beliefs are proven wrong. In the first part Śāradamma cannot answer for the priest's doings or why god seems partial towards certain people; she waits for the religious procession to enter their street, so that she may gain the merit of making an offering to the god, but the god does not come. In the second part we read how a husband is considered as a god by his wife (this is also reflected in a common expression like patidēva - "the god who is a husband"-for husband, which one finds throughout India) who must be obeyed in all circumstances; the bride and her relatives, who have no doubt incurred heavy expenses to organize the wedding, wait for this 'god' in vain, for he simply does not come. The third part is the most explicit: the daughter cannot marry because she and her widowed mother are too poor to afford a suitable bridegroom (who is a 'god', as the second part told us), and now that the father is no longer with them they have little hope of improvement in their situation. The mother has placed all her hopes on the bountiful intervention of her god, but her daughter laughs at this feeble devotionalism, and by way of a conclusion we read that it was "not possible for god to come down to earth." Though the story can be read as a criticism of naive theistic belief in general, the last two parts of the story make it sufficiently clear that the author was mainly concerned with speaking her mind on how religion can work as opium in the lives of women, as a salve when times are hard and one suffers and fails to see a solution to one's situation.

2591.26 Though his literary output has not been very prolific, Chaduranga (Caduranga; nom de plume of M. Subrahmanye Raj Urs 1911b) is widely admired for a style of writing in which the narrative progresses slowly and in which there is an intense emotional involvement. In spite of being a relative of people who have held and still hold some of the highest positions in Karnatakan society, he has always remained aware of his rural background, and one of the ways in which this awareness expresses itself is his use of rural dialect as the medium of many of his writings. His concern for simple, humble folk, humaneness and justice, as well as age, have made literary critics usually classify him as a Pragatisîla writer, but he does not regard himself as one of them: although he belongs to that generation and in his early writings has shown some affinity to the Pragatisllas, his writings lack the Marxist orientation and on the other hand show a greater concern for the inner feelings of the characters. His well-known story Kwāṭe ("The Fort") can be taken as a typical example of his writing.

2601.27 Chaduranga: Kwāṭe

261The protagonist, a girl, is massaging her father's back while he is having his oil bath, and he comments that her arms are stronger than those of her late mother. She reflects on how hard it must have been for her mother to have lived for more than twenty years with such a huge man; she herself has still not married, for her father thinks that he has not yet found a suitable bridegroom for her. He too could remarry, and some people have actually suggested it, but he considers remarriage damaging to his honour, and whenever anyone again makes the suggestion, he silences the person gruffly (p. 70). He greatly enjoys the sankrānti festival, on which cows are decorated. He asks his daughter whether his cows are decorated well, and then she wonders why he cannot be similarly concerned about how she looks: he expects everyone to look at his cows and admire them, but if anyone looks in her direction his eyes burn with rage (p. 71).

  • 74 'Lingāyata' is another word tor Virasaiva.
  • 75 In Virasaivism, a jangama is an itinerant religious teacher. Cf. Malledevaru 1973: 69-70 and Zveleb (...)
  • 76 A basavi is a woman who is ritually wed (usually while still a girl) to a god and thereafter lives (...)

262It was also at the time of sankrānti, she remembers, that she had her first menstruation, which horrified her because no one, including her mother, had told her in advance that such a thing could happen. She remembers how once the peculiar woman Ōnkarāmma had kissed her, to her disgust, had commented on her physical beauty, said she had become someone to bite into and eat and had hinted that perhaps she had become interested in boys. Ōnkāramma was always cheerful. She is not of their village but from somewhere north, near Dharwad, and the villagers are not sure about her caste and identity: she could be a Lingayāta74, or a jangama75 or a basavi76 of a village goddess, some suggest. No one is very curious about her background either, and she is commonly considered an eccentric; only the girl's mother referred to her as a dirty bitch (hallaḍe hādaragitti, 'a dissipated woman given over to debauchery'). With all her eccentricity, people recognize that she does have a charming appearance, but her father behaves as though he is sitting on thorns until she is out of sight (p. 72).

263Her elder sister and brother-in-law come, with their two children, on the occasion of the festival, and the brother-in-law comments that it is time they found a husband for her. He himself shows a certain keen interest in her (he had also once said that he would have married her instead of her sister, if he had known her earlier) and follows her around, although her sister does not like it (p. 73). He suggests that she marry his younger brother, but her father is against it, since the brother is a loafer who is addicted to playing cards and he disapproves of giving both his daughters to the same family. At night she feels something fall and press heavily on her; she is terrified, but when she does manage to call out, the weight is immediately lifted from her and she hears the sound of someone running away. A little later her sister too shrieks that it was as if someone fell on her, and her husband tries to make her believe it was a cat. Then, in spite of her presence, her sister and brother-in-law shamelessly do something that embarrasses her, and she realizes that "what had fallen on me afterwards went over to sister and fell on her" (p. 74). She cannot understand why, since her sister is only five years older than she, and she feels disturbed by this incident till dawn.

264Her father goes to another town a few days later, and upon his return it is discovered that he has caught the plague. She brings a pundit who lives outside the fort to see what can be done; he prepares a paste to be put on her father's boil, and when he returns the next day he says that he is certain it is the plague. She is distressed. The pundit prepares a different paste, tries to comfort her with friendly words and comes to wipe her tears with his shawl; she turns away from him shyly but does feel that at that bad moment he is like a god to her (p. 75). Her father's condition worsens and the pundit stays with them in the house. He keeps a close watch on her father and speaks kindly to her, calling her 'daughter', but his eyes seem to tell her something else, and she has her doubts about him (p. 76). At night, while rain is pouring down outside, she dreams that she is the princess in a story which her mother used to tell her, and that her prince comes on his white horse and dismounts; the pundit comes and tells her not to be afraid and that her father is sound asleep while he unbuttons her blouse. She sinks back into her dream and imagines herself the princess riding the horse. When later the pundit leaves the house, she feels childishly happy. Meanwhile her father is on the brink of death (p. 77).

  • 77 Cf. n. 27.
  • 78 Eleyaḍike (known in northern India as pān) is a betel leaf with bits of areca nut (and usually othe (...)

265She remembers what her mother, a sickly woman, had told her about their married life: her father was a huge, strong man, and if they slept together one night it would take her three months to recover. They were physically totally unfit for each other, but his father had agreed to the marriage because of the amount of gold that was offered as a dowry. Later her father complained that he was not destined to enjoy the physical pleasures of marriage (hāsige suka nanna haēli barīnilla - "the pleasure of the bed is not written on my forehead" - p. 78). Later Ōnkāramma, a woman hefty like a buffalo, came and opened a shop, where she giggled when her father went there to buy bīḍi-s77. She invited him inside for tea, gave him eleyaḍike78 and spread her bed-so her father had openly told her mother.

266Not long afterwards her father dies. Her sister comes and stays for some time, and when she misses that month's menstruation and tells her sister all that has happened, her sister is distressed, exclaims that their honour (maryāde) is lost and has Ōnkāramma give some drug to cause an abortion, but the drug does not work. After four months her brotherin-law writes, insisting that her sister come home again; the villagers start suspecting something and the pundit flees from there one night. Her sister tells her that she will return at the time of the delivery, that she should not be too upset about what people may say and that in the meantime Ōnkāramma will look after her. The girl stays behind in Ōnkāramma's company and while stirring some concoction she says to herself: "If it's a male, I'll wear myself out bringing it up." Ōnkāramma hears her and says "If it's a female, give her to me, and I'll raise her."

  • 79 Implying that she is sort of outcaste, whose touch will spoil the таḍi of others.

2671.28 In this beautifully written, though basically simple story, we come across a few problems which recur throughout Kannada fiction dealing with women's problems. The protagonist is a young woman of marriageable age who also feels the desire to marry and become established in life, as is hinted by her thought about why her father enjoys seeing people admire his cows though he cannot tolerate anyone looking at her - she would like to be appreciated for her appearance, and from Ōnkāramma's words we gather that she looks attractive ("You, who were like a skinny lizard, have become nice and plump, like something to bite into and eat, haven't you?... Yes, if I kiss you you're polluted79. But if some nice young fellow kisses you?..." - p. 72). Her father is approached by people with marriage offers for her, but he finds none of the offered bridegrooms acceptable, and because the father is the authority in matters concerning the marriages of the children, the matter of her marriage rests there. What we read about the time when she experienced her first menstruation tells us that she was kept ignorant about sexuality and physical changes in puberty. She knows that there is such a thing as sexual contact, but she is unaware of what it implies: after her sister and brother-in-law, "people without shame" (nāciggeṭṭōru), engage in some sexual activity at night in her proximity, she realizes that the weight that had fallen on her a little earlier was that of her brother-in-law, who had obviously wanted sexual contact with her; but she cannot imagine why he would want that, since her sister "is about five years older than I am", i.e. she is not physically incapable of fulfilling his desires. Yet when later the pundit, who is the village doctor, approaches her much more slowly and subtly and stealthily, while she is in a half-slumber, enough desire is aroused in her for her to allow him to have intercourse with her, and she thus becomes the victim of her ignorance. Her sister blames her for ruining the honour (maryāde) of the family, but one may of course wonder to what extent she is guilty, if her parents have kept her ignorant for so long.

268Interwoven with this main story is the story of her parents' ill-matched marriage, to which her father's father had agreed solely on the basis of the dowry that her mother's family would give, and not on the basis of the young couple's suitability for each other. Thus the dowry system is to blame for difficulties which they have to face later on. She remembers that her mother once told her how physically illsuited they were for each other, and as a result of this her father began an extramarital relationship with the village eccentric Ōnkāramma.

269In a typical way, Ōnkāramma is the one hope-giving character in the story. The protagonist, both her parents, her sister, her brother-in-law (who says that he would have preferred to marry her, if he had had the choice, and now apparently finds his marriage to the protagonist's sister physically, and perhaps otherwise, so dissatisfying that he tries to force himself on her at night) are all victims of circumstances, of the ways of the society in which they have grown up; Ōnkāramma is the only person who is not affected by social norms, because she disregards them completely. When towards the end of the story the protagonist says aloud to herself that she will do her utmost to bring up her child if it is a boy (thus implying that she will not do so if it is a girl), she is admitting defeat: not merely her own, but that of her sex, whereas Ōnkāramma, by saying that if it is a girl she will bring her up, expresses a much more positive attitude towards life.

270The 'fort' of the title refers to the locality where the protagonist and her father live: their house is said to be inside a fort, whereas e.g. the pundit lives outside. But more than just a topographical indication, the word 'fort' suggests that they are living in a bastion that shields them from the outside world, as personified by the pundit. And just as in times of peace it is not necessary to live within a fort, the over-protected life of the protagonist proves not appropriate either: the girl's strictly maintained ignorance makes her not only innocent, but also vulnerable, whereas Ōnkāramma, who is from far away, lives on her own and has no one to protect her but herself, in her own style finds her way through life and remains positive towards it.

2711.29 If in the traditional method of selecting marriage partners the personalities of the people who are to be wed are not considered to be of much importance, then obviously there must be other criteria. The criterion of physical appearance is in itself of course not typically Indian; but it acquires more importance in a situation where the other person is unknown. In Avivāhite ("An Unmarried Woman"), a short story by the Bombay-based urban writer Vyāsarāya Ballala (Vyāsarāya Ballāa 1923b), we see how a flaw in the physical appearance of the protagonist, in a society in which matters such as marriage are not in one's own hand, creates constant misery in her life. In her case, she suffers from the skin ailment known as leukoderma or vitiligo, which causes white patches to appear on the skin due to a lack of natural pigment. Ballala is of the Pragatislla generation, and in his novels and stories he criticizes social inequities and follies (the title of one of his recent novels, Baṇḍāya, seems quite revealing in this respect). In spite of his mature literary style, he has not received the attention he deserves from critics in Karnataka.

2721.30 Vyāsarāya Ballala: Avivāhite

273Already for ten years Nirupame has led a mechanical sort of life in an office, working there till 6 p.m. and then returning to her brother's home, where she is expected to do more chores. As she waits in a queue for the bus that will take her home, she is bothered by a Sikh who obviously feels attracted to her, but when he sees her face he turns away. She remembers how four years ago a European in the office had requested the manager not to send her to him for any kind of work (p. 177).

  • 80 However popular Gaēśa, the elephant-faced god may be, one can imagine that it is difficult to find (...)

274A flower seller catches her attention and tells that her husband will be pleased if she brings home some roses. The allusion to her non-existent husband hurts her, and she knows that her sister-in-law will criticize her for spending money on flowers, as usual, but she buys some nevertheless and waits for the bus to their suburb Kurla (of which her brother had once said: "If I were in charge, I'd dynamite all the houses in Kurla"). She thinks of how in their small apartment the balcony has been turned into a ten by eighteen feet room for her, where she does not really feel privacy. From there she watches the couples below on the street and feels depressed. She is thirty-one years old and her brother sees no chance of getting her married, and her sister-in-law has commented innumerable times that she ought to have been born a man. The matter of how difficult it is to have her married off is a source of regularly recurring sarcasms, her brother saying that marrying her is like marrying Gaēśa,80 and her sister-in-law saying that god Brahma must have created a man for her, as he would not leave a girl who is suffering from leukoderma unmarried. But then her brother is not really in a hurry to see Nirupame marry and leave, since she is a working girl (p. 179). - The bus arrives, she boards it and the Sikh who had first bothered her sits ten seats behind her, as she expected.

275And as she expected, her brother sees the flowers in her hand and asks whether she has been to a wedding, and her sister-in-law comments that it is a waste to spend money on flowers which will have withered away the next day. She retires to her balcony, where she keeps her few possessions and a ten-year-old photograph of herself in which the marks on her face have been covered up. Innumerable times her father had said that if it had not been for the leukoderma marks, successfully established men like big doctors would have fought each other for the privilege of marrying her. Her brother had brought her from their village to Bombay, where she could study and work, and where he thought it would be easier to find a husband for her (p. 180). Her mother said that her father had died worrying about Nirupame's marriage; her brother finally thought that nothing could be done for her before a thing called 'plastic surgery' would come over to India from America (p. 181). At night she overhears her brother say in bed to his wife that Nirupame will be able to marry only a cripple or a blind person.

276The only person with whom she can speak somewhat freely in the office is her Christian colleague Mary, who has never spoken a word about the deficiencies of Nirupame's physical appearance (p. 183). Mary insists that she too should come to her wedding, and she encourages Nirupame not to give up hope that she too will marry, for they are of the same age.

277Nirupame has to share her balcony / room with her ten-year-old nephew. Her sister-inlaw is pregnant again, and one night she overhears her say to her brother that it would be convenient for her if Nirupame would take some holidays so that she could be of help at the time of the delivery, but then Nirupame also has the plan of going to their village to see her mother again; her brother says that there is no reason to worry, for he knows that if his wife asks Nirupame to stay she will stay and go to the village some other time (p. 185).

278She asks her brother to place a matrimonial advertisement in the newspaper, as Mary has suggested, and he does so, saying that she is a twenty-eight-year-old young working woman of a respectable Brahmin family and that merciful persons who will ignore some leukoderma spots are invited to correspond (pp. 186-7). Nirupame eagerly awaits the response which she hopes will lead her to conjugal bliss, but the only response which they receive is from a war veteran, also a Brahmin and a vegetarian, who lost an arm and a leg in Burma, trusts that they will ignore this and receives a pension, which together with Nirupame's income should be sufficient for them to live on. Nirupame does not finish reading the letter but tears it up and throws it out. What she cannot possibly guess is that her own brother wrote the letter (p. 187).

2791.31 Leukoderma is not contagious, nor does it seem heriditary, nor does one suffer any further physical difficulties either: it is merely unaesthetic. Amongst the dark-skinned population of India one of course notices it more easily, and if a sufficiently large number of people make comments or react in ways such as we read in the story, a person may suffer mentally. In the story, not only Indians make Nirupame suffer: also a European who is working in her office asks the manager whether he can avoid having to work with her. The European seems to have been brought into the story to show that the light patches on her skin were so light and striking that also a 'white' person abhorred her. Though the disease is harmless, it ruins Nirupame's marriage prospects, either because of superstition or of the norms by which people go about selecting a wife for their son. If it had not been for the white patches, her beauty would have won her a doḍḍa doḍḍa ḍākṭararē ('a very big doctor'), i.e. a husband who is financially and socially successful.

280Nirupame's brother hopes that her chances will improve if she moves to Bombay, which is obviously seen as the big city where people are educated and have more liberal views; but however true that may be, the difference with regard to matters of marriage is not great enough for them to find a husband for Nirupame, and she remains with her brother's family. The repeated sarcasms of her brother and sister-in-law show us that they have already given up all hope; but for them there is a bright side to Nirupame's tragedy, viz. that she is employed, hence can contribute financially to the household, and at times can be a convenient domestic aid whom they take for granted (p. 185). How wickedly intense this exploitation of an unmarried girl in the house can be is shown in the very last sentence of the story, after she has read and torn up the letter that has supposedly come from the war veteran: "The idea that her own brother could have written and brought this kind of a letter could not occur to her even in a dream" (p. 189). In order to keep his sister as a convenient household aid, he dashes whatever hopes of marriage she still has by writing a phony reply to the advertisement, which he at first did not want to place, as we can see from his attempt at discouraging her (p. 186).

2811.32 What we have not yet paid attention to in this chapter is fiction of a clearly feminist bent, by which I mean literature about the problems of women which lays the blame for these problems squarely on men and sees the solution to the problems in the securing of rights for women which are considered equal to those of men.

282The feminist movement is, as one would expect, not very strong in India, and insofar as it is present at all it is largely limited to the middle-class environment in larger urban centres. Given a social situation which is in several respects radically different from what we find in the West, Indian feminism to a large extent deals with different problems (the problems connected with the dowry system are an obvious example), and the expressions of feminism in India are often such that a casual Western observer may see nothing typically 'feminist' in them. There is correspondingly little writing in Kannada which a Western reader would consider typically feminist.

283The lady author of fiction whose name is most often associated with assertive female protest is Veena Shanteswar (Vīnā Śāntēśvara, née Yelaburgi. 1945b), who writes under her first name 'Vīnā'. Mainly known as a writer of short stories, she has also written a novelette with the programmatic title Gaṇḍasaru ("Men"). She teaches English in a college in Dharwad and also was the head of a centre for women's studies at Karnatak University at Dharwad.

2841.33 Veena: Gaṇḍasaru

285As a high school pupil in Satara (in the southwestern part of Maharashtra state) protagonist Śānti Kāmat is in love with Śankara, who goes to Delhi for studies. After some time she receives a letter from him, in English, with which she is thrilled, but she tries to suppress her exuberant emotions by writing in her diary about the restrictions which society imposes on its women. At the same time she worries about what could happen if her father or brother would see the letter, for

is there anything greater for one who is a girl than honour (maryāde)? Once one's honour (māna) is gone, [one acquires] a bad name, nothing can be repaired - isn't that what my mother says? I cannot create a situation in which my honour is lost or in which I get a bad name (p. 7).

286All this takes place two years before her matriculation. She writes a return letter to Śankara in crooked English in which she urges him not to think too much about her and to study well (pp. 8-9). Later they meet in Satara, where he wants to touch her, but she refuses to be touched, saying:

"I become disgusted when I think of the physical relationship between men and women. Are we dogs or pigs? When we are born as humans, should we behave differently from animals or not?" (p. 10).

287All the same, he unconditionally promises her that he will marry her later.

288In college Śānti gives a speech on the position of women in India, for which she receives personal compliments from one of the professors, Mahada. Śankara hears of the speech and tells her not to do that again, because his mother does not approve of such a thing (p. 13). Later Śānti overhears her father tell her mother how Śankara's father has rejected the possibility of a marriage between her and Śankara because she is too "bold" (p. 14). Meanwhile Professor Mahada seems to look at her with more interest than before, and to her surprise she discovers that he is her favourite novelist, who describes himself as "a strong supporter of Women's Lib" (p. 17). He says that because men in their society cannot tolerate any intellectual or moral independence in women they will brand the women who show any such tendencies "self-willed" (p. 19); he and Śānti talk more about his feminist views, and she admires him. He begins writing love letters to her, they have trysts, and she tells him of her appreciation for his maturity and understanding. This, he says, is love, and he wants a "take all, give all" relationship with her (p. 24). While she is staying with her aunt in Bombay she has another passionate letter from him, which again insists that their relationship should become physical. Back in Satara she meets her friend Jayaśrī, who tells her: '"I've become bad, Śānti, I'm ruined"' - Jayaśri's whole body shakes as she weeps (p. 26) because she has been betrayed by her married lover, who has an affair with another girl too; Śānti sees one of the letters of Jayaśri's lover and immediately realizes that it is Mathada (p. 28). She thereupon tears up her own romantic letter, which she wanted to hand over to him and in which she declared that she would offer herself to him.

289She becomes a receptionist in an industrial showroom in Bombay, where her protective colleague Sindhe warns her about the manager, who is a habitual drunkard. She has to become accustomed to the lifestyle of Bombay city, where everyone drinks, including her girl colleague Lucy Fernandes, and she wonders whether perhaps all this is not so bad as it seems (p. 32). She sees Lucy moving around with the manager daily, and also other girls there have their boy friends; she wonders whether there would be anything wrong in cultivating a closer relationship with Sindhe, who admires her for being unlike all the other girls, just as she admires him for not being a typical Bombay man (p. 34). They begin going for outings together, and though Śānti cannot really care very much about her reputation, he says that she should, since they are living in a society that cares about such things. He has neither relatives nor friends in the city (p. 37). Later she receives a wedding invitation from Śankara with a short note saying that he and his wife will soon move to America, a note from Sindhe asking her to see him in the evening and a telegram from Satara saying that her father has died (p. 39). She goes to see Sindhe in the evening, he comforts her and she spends the night with him (p. 41). A year of great intimacy passes, and Śānti asks Sindhe whether they can marry; that night he confesses with great difficulty that he already is married - a marriage against his will, since at the time he had a love affair with another woman. Hence he cannot officially marry her and have their marriage registered with the authorities, but they can have a simple marriage performed at a temple somewhere, for themselves (p. 45). She agrees to this, but then one day Mathada sends back all the letters which she ever wrote to him, she tells Sindhe about this episode and as a result he abandons her and leaves Bombay on three months' sick leave (p. 47).

  • 81 'Scheduled caste' are the low castes, (outcastes and others) for whom special provisions for their (...)
  • 82 Malabar Hill is an upper-class residential area in central Bombay.

290Colleague Lucy is a member of the Svatantra ("Independent") Party and persuades Śānti to work for it too and meet the leader, Jān (John) Aśōk Kumār, "a wonderful man", whose ancestors belonged to a 'scheduled caste'81 before they underwent conversion to Christianity one generation ago (p. 49). Śānti begins reporting for the party paper, which is devoted to the cause of safeguarding personal freedom; John, the editor, is an idealist who also runs an orphanage and a residential primary school for boys. One day he receives an anonymous letter stating that Śānti is unreliable and caused one man to flee abroad, a professor to go crazy and a colleague to attempt suicide, hence she will give the party a bad name. However, John refuses to believe all this, since he knows that whenever there are personal differences the woman is always blamed (p. 53). From then onwards she brings her work to his residence in Malabar Hill82, where she feels very much at ease and free with him; later he makes her drunk and she agrees to sleep with him (pp. 57-8). Then they spend two weeks at Khaṇḍālā: "Whiskey day and night, his embrace warmer than whiskey, the experience of another world that made one forget this one." In the car on their way back to Bombay he proposes marriage to her, and she accepts flippantly, though the wedding will have to wait until the elections are over. She already stays with him, and one night he becomes angry when she returns at 9 p.m. from a press conference, because he feels it is not right for ladies to roam about alone at night. She agrees. He is jealous when another party worker takes her out canvassing (pp. 63-4). When she is accepted as the co-editor of a Calcutta-based women's magazine, a position for which she applied months earlier, he becomes angry that she told him nothing about this and orders her to refuse the job and stay at home to look after the house; again she agrees to his demand. Four days before their wedding is to take place he says that there are some small formalities, e.g. the next day they will have to go and see the local priest to discuss her conversion. This time she does not immediately accept what he tells her to do, they quarrel and he becomes abusive:

  • 83 Since the protagonist is not yet married, we see here how the word for 'widow' as a term of abuse d (...)

"The Christian religion is the best religion in the world."
"Maybe," Śānti said, shaking off his hand, "but not for everyone."
"Śānti!" John's voice screamed. "If you talk like this about our religion, I'll break all your teeth."
Śānti looked at him with amazement at the praise of his religiosity.
He shivered with anger and said "I brought her, who had fallen somewhere like a beggar into this house, fed her well, gave her clothing, gave her ornaments. I slept with her, and thinking that wasn't enough I gave my word in some cursed moment that I'd marry her, she says she - she doesn't believe in my religion. The dirty widow
83..." (p. 69).

291Śānti has never bowed before any religious authority, will not do so now either, and she decides to leave for Calcutta.

292In the airplane to Calcutta she talks with the handsome Irish fellow who is sitting next to her and who makes various vague but enthusiastic compliments about Indian culture and Indian women and says that he would like to marry an Indian. She comes with him to his hotel room in Calcutta, where he kisses her intensely and suddenly asks:

"My dream girl, I love you. Do you love me too?"
She brusquely freed her head [from his grip] and said: "No."
"But why?"-he was astonished.
"Because I don't know what that means" (p. 72).

2931.34 The story is simple enough: Śānti is a woman and on account of that one fact runs into one disappointment after another. She grows up in a prudish small-town environment where there is an immense stress on women's 'honour', which apparently is seen solely in terms of the distance which a woman keeps from men and of female submissiveness: Śānti has overstepped the line of proper understanding of what a woman's submissive position in society should be by giving a public speech on the position of women, hence she is "bold" (the English word is used in the text) and the father of her beloved rejects the idea of her marrying his son. From that moment onwards we see the protagonist drift further away from the traditional home environment, trying various relationships with men, and in each case we see the good girl become the victim of wicked or fickle men. Śankara and Sindhe are fickle and basically tradionallyminded, Mathada is a rake, John is an enlarged version of Sindhe: he is a social reformer, a non-conformistic altruist who ultimately suffers from sexist and quasi-religious / casteist frustrations which make him bully Śānti. The story ends with Śānti in a situation which seems the beginning of yet another affair, now with a foreign tourist, though by now she is so disillusioned with men that she tells him that she cannot answer the question whether she loves him or not, since she does not know what love means.

294The style of writing is quite lively and at times witty, for example, when Professor Mathada writes novels under his Kannada initials 'Kā. Ma.' as a pseudonym (the Sanskrit-Kannada word kāma means 'eroticism'). The flatness of the characters, however, especially of the protagonist, is disappointing. Characters are either bad or good, and all men are wicked. Śānti is no more than a very nice and innocent girl, intending harm to no one, who is nevertheless victimized by a series of men: she is merely a sort of screen on which the wickedness of men is projected.

2951.35 In Gaṇḍasaru we see the protagonist Śānti drifting from one relationship with a man into another; no man can offer her a relationship that is personally fulfilling, and at the end of the book it seems that she does not really know where she stands in life and just continues drifting, though less naively and not with the high expectations which she had earlier. In Veena's short story Avaḷa svātantrya ("Her Independence") the protagonist is a married working woman with three children, a husband and an aged father-in-law to look after.

2961.36 Veena: Avaḷa svātantrya

  • 84 Hubli and Dharwad in northern Karnataka are twin cities, and many residents of Dharwad commute to H (...)

297One Saturday evening the protagonist Vimalā rushes from the bank in Hubli84 where she works as a clerk to the railway station in order to be home in Dharwad quickly, since that evening her husband Śankara will be back home for the weekend from Belgaum, where he works. She is stopped on the street by her friend Śaśi, who wants her to come to Hubli again on Sunday evening for a special meeting of their women's association, in Hubli town hall. Vimalā says that she cannot do anything on Sundays, since Śankara will be at home, thus she has neither time nor interest (p. 85). Still Śaśi tries to persuade her, saying it is a special occasion (to mark International Women's Year): it is necessary for women, especially middle-class women like themselves, to speak openly about their problems and create an awareness of the problems among themselves (p. 86). Vimalā again stresses that her husband is returning from Belgaum and jumps into the train.

298She suffers great stress at home with three children who quarrel while her father-in-law merely sits and says his prayers and she has her kitchen work to do; she wants to go and discipline the children when Śankara arrives and complains about the noise which the children make:

"What's this noise, Vimalā? You can hear these kids' racket on the street. I married you and took a small dowry thinking that if my wife's a graduate she'll bring up the children nicely. Look how you haven't taught the children any discipline" (p. 88).

299Her duties weigh heavily on her and she wonders:

  • 85 A variety of flat bread common throughout India.

These children, this father-in-law, this cooking, this work - whose are they, for whom are they - though she thought she had to ask this, she kept quiet and began rolling the chapāti-s85 (p. 90).

300Śankara, meanwhile, does nothing to demand a transfer to Dharwad, to which he is entitled and after which he perhaps could do something to alleviate her plight somewhat. At night he forces sexual intercourse on her, and immediately afterwards he tells her not to bring up her pet subject of asking for a transfer. He says that he is too tired to talk about anything at all (p. 92). Various pressures make her feel emaciated, bodily and mentally. The next day she asks Śankara whether he can take his father to the nearby doctor, since his father has complaints about his health, but he refuses to do so and calls her inefficient; he furthermore complains that he experiences no peace or happiness on the two days in the week that he is at home. His father speaks up on Vimalā's behalf, asking him whether he cannot be a little more cooperative towards his wife, who does everything alone, but Śankara does not answer.

301She has prepared food for the whole family, but suddenly Śankara decides to leave early for Belgaum since he can get a ride in his boss'car, which is far more comfortable than a seat in the bus, for which he will have to stand in a queue for two hours (p. 96). He leaves, and that night she goes to Hubli, where she speaks before a meeting of the women's association on the problems which women face, and she receives a good response from the audience (pp. 97-8).

3021.37 The story appeared two years before the novelette which we have seen earlier, but the outlook is basically the same. The main male character in the story, husband Śankara, is blunt, insensitive, unreasonable and utterly selfish, and apart from these unpleasant characteristics we read nothing about him. His father merely hangs around the house and says his prayers. Once he speaks up in Vimalā's defence when Śankara again accuses her unreasonably, but without effect. As in the novelette, we see here that men are rather free in their behaviour because they are not restricted by social rules: in Gaṇḍasaru, it was the woman protagonist who had to see to it that her honour was maintained, who was expected to undergo conversion to another religion, and so on; here Vimalā has to look after the children, is expected to bring them up properly, look after her father-in-law, do the household work, have her job in Hubli and be available for her husband at the weekends, whereas he seems not bound by any particular sort of rule and can demand and do whatever he likes.

303Like in the novelette Gaṇḍasaru, all the characters are flat, the male as well as the female. We read that Vimalā suffers in her situation (we are told so, quite plainly), but we would have liked to see what exactly goes through her mind when she makes the transition from being a loyal traditional wife to being a militant speaker at public meetings, which comes suddenly on the last half page of the story. Also here we have a mere sketch of the protagonist's personality at the beginning, another sketch at the end, we see that she has gone through disappointing experiences with men which have left her disillusioned and somewhat cynical, but there is no analysis of the situation. Men are bad, women are victims, and there seems not much more to say.

3041.38 Conclusions

305Having thus seen a number of representative literary works dealing with women's problems in Karnatakan society, we must see what conclusions can be drawn about what Kannada authors have to say about these problems.

306First of all, it cannot escape our attention that most of our authors strongly emphasize the role of religion in the subordination of women in society. Here we must immediately add, however, that what the authors criticize is not religion in the sense of a person's desire for a genuine experience and understanding of ultimate reality: it is religion in its institutionalized, ritualistic, dogmatic, totalitarian and superstitious forms - indeed, what the vast majority of the world's population consider important about religion, and in this respect India is not basically different from other countries, only in intensity.

307More than anyone else, Niranjana stresses the pernicious influence of religion in his Banaśankari. Religion demands that Ammi, the orphaned child-widow, will never marry again and will not know the happiness of family life. Meanwhile members of the religious establishment look for opportunities to exploit her sexually. No one realizes that it is society that imposes restrictions on her life: everyone ascribes her plight to fate, to the stars, and even her well-wisher Sundaramma relies more on the will of god than on human beings for a solution to Ammi's man-made problem. The positive characters in the novel reject the authority of religious orthodoxy (e.g. Ammi's son and son-in-law) or at least have liberal religious beliefs (e.g. Rāma Śāstri and his wife Sundaramma). Nevertheless, Ammi cannot free herself from faith in the very concepts which have caused her life's tragedy: after she hears of Nārāyaṇa Rāya's death, she feels that she should have her head shaven in Tirupati; she keeps believing in caste (we must remember that the prohibition against widow remarriage is limited to certain castes); when the question of her daughter's marriage arises, she first wants to see the prospective bridegroom's horoscope as a matter of course, although astrology is a part of the whole set of superstitions on account of which she has had to suffer. It is only at the very end, just before she dies, that she gives up her casteism and blesses her son and the girl he wants to marry, without caring about the question to which caste she belongs. Most of the ideas in Niranjana's novel can be found also in M.K. Indira's Phaṇiyamma, which in many respects can be considered a milder, less penetrating version of Niranjana's work. No one gives any thought to the notions according to which they lead their lives, no matter how absurd those notions may be.

308Wherever our authors make any pronouncements on the role of religion in determining the position of women in society, they almost always plead for liberalization and rationalization. This will benefit not only the women: in H.V. Savithramma's short story Gurupīṭha (which we will discuss more in detail below, in §§2.14-2.16) we read that religious rigidity and hypocrisy ruin not only the life of the childwidow Gauri but also that of the young maṭhādhipati, who actually should never have entered monastic life.

309H. Thipperudra Swamy and S.L. Bhyrappa are notable exceptions among these authors. Bhyrappa's attitude is very simple: he supports orthodoxy as regards what it demands from women. The rules are there, and a transgression of the rules means a transgression against a cosmic law. Thipperudra Swamy's attitude is not simply conservative like Bhyrappa's. In the historical situation which he sketches in his novel on the life of Akka Mahādēvi he recognizes certain shortcomings, and he has Mahādēvi and her teacher Gurulingadēva state that it is unjust that women have unequal opportunities with regard to matters such as education. Here religion actually serves as a means of liberation from the oppressive situation in which Mahādēvi finds herself: her renunciation of the world and joining the other śaraṇa-s at the Anubhavamaṇṭapa are her way to escape from her humiliating position as Kauśika's wife and also to find self-fulfilment. But no attempt at all is made at finding alternatives for women within samsāra or wordly life, or even recognizing that such alternatives can exist.

310Another matter which is considered religious is the threat of excommunication from the caste if widows do not adhere strictly to the rules governing their conduct that are imposed on them. Wherever this is mentioned, the excommunication is ridiculed (as with Niranjana and Indira) or implicitly condemned (as in Anantha Murthy's Ghaṭaśrāddha).

311One would expect that since only widows, and not widowers, are coerced by society to lead lives that resemble renunciation, also when they are obviously unfit for such lives, non-widowed married women (muttaide-s) would take pity on them. But with the exception of a rare character like Sundaramma in Banaśankari, this is precisely not the case. The pattern which we see is rather that especially the non-widowed women demand the strict traditional practices from the widows, more so than the men. In Bhyrappa's Vamśavṛkṛa Śrōtri condemns Kātyāyani's remarriage but is not interested in preventing her from acting according to her wishes, whereas his wife becomes abusive, threatens to create a scene at Kātyāyani's wedding and calls her father to their house, knowing that he will rebuke his daughter. After Ramā loses her husband in Triveni's Hūvu haṇṇu, the neighbourhood women condemn her for what they consider her 'loose' behaviour, by which she supposedly will push her husband into hell, and we see no man in the novel express any similar sentiment. In Anantha Murthy's story Ghaṭaśrāddha the protagonist's mother is abusive more than anyone else about Yamunakka, who in her view is a "depraved woman", a "dirty widow who had to get pregnant". In Niranjana's Banaśankari, some married women are shocked when in her in-laws' house widowed Ammi comes to open the door for them, and the author comments that she had "become inauspicious for everyone"; but later a number of men feel pleased when they see that Ammi has dared to come out to the fair with Sundaramma.

312The idea of the inauspiciousness of widows is no doubt the main factor in the behaviour of these other women, as in general we see that women are religiously more conservative than men (see below), but there is probably more than that. There is probably a degree of malicious joy involved; but also a comparison with the attitude of other widows to those who are newly widowed seems revealing. In Phaṇiyamma it is the widows more than anyone else who insist that Phaṇiyamma and later Dākṣāyini should let their heads be shaven etc., and while in Banaśankari Sundaramma tries to make Ammi enjoy life more, Ammi's widowed grandmother, with whom she lives, wants her to be a model widow and is concerned because of the gossip that is circulating about her. Perhaps it would not be wrong to conclude that the widows are aware that they have been leading lives of hardship and cannot tolerate the sight of liberation from that hardship in others, for this would mean that they have suffered for nothing. The non-widowed women may be apprehensive of their own possible future widowhood and may want to prevent any liberalization which may not be universally accepted, in other words: they do not want others to enjoy a more liberal situation which they themselves may not be able to enjoy.

313Widows must be controlled because they are sexually attractive, not only when they are fair-skinned and hence beautiful (Vamśavṛkṛa, Hūvu haṇṇu) but also when society has taken measures to make them look unattractive, like shaving their heads. Thus the shaven girl Rādhe in Banaśankari is used sexually by members of the religious establishment and driven to suicide. Ammi in Banaśankari and Ramā in Hūvu haṇṇu are considered highly attractive, but very significantly in both cases their lovers demand that they wear kunkuma on their foreheads and flowers in their hair, i.e. look 'auspicious' like muttaide-s. Shantinath Desai in his novel Vikṣēpa (discussed below, §§ 5.11-5.13) actually has the protagonist tell his friend, who has fallen in love with a widow but hesitates to propose to her because of the simple fact that she is a widow: "A widow is a good, tasty fruit that is ripened with experience, boy! Go ahead - bowl until the wicket falls!" (with reference to the game of cricket). One obvious reason for his attractiveness is the idea that the widows are easy prey for men who want an extra-marital adventure, since society demands that they cannot have any regular relationship with a man after they have lost their husband. Also, there is no husband who can be cuckolded and may desire to take revenge. In Phaṇiyamma we see a similar situation when the protagonist's cousin Subbi is sent back from her husband's house because she is said to be barren, and Puṭṭā Jōyisa comes to take advantage of the situation.

314Not only widows need to be controlled, however. Throughout our corpus we see that the norms of society with regard to the behaviour of women are far more strict than with regard to that of men. In a few works we read that women can be 'ruined' (keisuvudu), i.e. lose their virginity out of wedlock (Kattimani's Janivāra mattu śivadāra, Veena's Gaṇasaru, Shantarasa's Sambandhagaḷu). This expression is never used with reference to men (this is also my personal observation in conversations, and many people have confirmed this), and this single observation should suffice to show that there exists a very clear set of double standards of sexual morality. The character Śivaṇṇa in Kattimani's novel does not at all mind having a sexual affair with the typist in his office, whom 'everyone wanted to ruin', but apart from the fact that she is of another caste, he did not at all consider marrying her because he had an affair with her, which testified to her loose morality. In Gaṇḍasaru the weakling Sindhe is obviously deeply affected that he married an unknown girl and not the girl with whom he had a sexual affair, but his relationship with Śānti is not at all disturbed by the fact that she is the third woman with whom he has had sexual relations; yet when he hears that she had a short flirtation with a man, without any further physical involvement, he has no qualms about abandoning her at once. Also if a girl's ignorance of sexual matters is exploited at a moment when she is helpless and innocent, the honour of an entire family can be ruined, as we see in Chaduranga's Kwāṭe.

315Thus the question of maryāde('honour' or 'respectability') is of immense importance for a girl or woman. She and all those who are close to her must see to it that her reputation remains impeccable, and this involves more than the Western reader may expect. In Vyasaraya Ballala's short story Bhāva bandhana (discussed below, §§5.8-5.10), a father believes that one of his daughters has gone astray morally by merely travelling in a general compartment (i.e. not a compartment that is reserved for women only) on a suburban train in Bombay, and he actually creates a scene by slapping her in the face in public at one of the railway stations and dragging her home.

  • 86 Cf. n. 71.

316Still less comprehensible for the non-Indian reader is the relationship between a woman's honour and caste. In Anupama Niranjana's novel Snēhapallavi there is an episode where the protagonist Sarale discusses with her friend Vēdavaḷḷi a novel which the latter has read, in which a girl loves a boy from a different caste and for that reason kills herself; Sarale says that she would not have done so in such a situation, but her friend is of the opinion that the heroine did the right thing, because "without caste, we can't go out, you see. Then we'll have no honour at all." We also see a particular sensitivity to opinions of other social groupings. In Janivāra mattu śivadāra the Brahmin Rāmacandra desperately tries to marry off his sister Sāntā because she has already reached the age of seventeen: in their environment this is considered already quite late for getting married, and this fact alone is already a reason for worrying about the honour of the family, for the neighbours have begun gossiping about how scandalous it is that the girl is still unwed. (Also in Phaṇiyamma we read that the protagonist is married off as a child, for similar resasons). When the villainous Dēśapaṇḍe writes his anonymous letter to Rāmacandra saying that Sāntā is having an affair with a Virasaiva, and the contents of the letter becomes public, Rāmacandra feels that the crisis about finding a husband for his sister has reached a climax. When the young widow Kātyāyani decides to remarry in Vamśavṛkṛa, this is a blemish on the honour of two families: of the one in which she was born, as we read in her father's tirade, and also of her in-laws. And a widow need not even go that far: it is enough if Ramā in Hūvu haṇṇu receives male visitors whom she actually does not want to see. In Sara Aboobacker's Dharma bale bīsidāga the protagonist feels that hospitality demands she let some male acquaintances enter her house, also when her husband is not there, and this is enough for the community religious council to pronounce her guilty of adultery, as though only a woman and not a man can be guilty of that. Khatījābi also cannot go to the police herself because it is not considered decent for a woman to do so86.

317Higher education is dangerous for girls, because it puts new ideas into their heads which endanger their 'honour'. In Janivāra mattu śivadāra Rāmacandra regrets that they have let Śānta study for so long, for he sees this as the reason why she has become "very bold" and rejects marriage to the faujdar (a police official who appears in the novel), who is more than twice her age. In Vamśavṛkṛa Kātyāyani's mother-in-law is furious with her husband because he allowed the girl to pursue further studies after her husband's death, and if she had not gone to Mysore the idea of remarriage would not have occurred to her. In both these cases we see that the female protagonists turn against traditional characters of authority (father, elder brother, father-inlaw), which is not at all in keeping with the subordinate position of women. Līlā in Janivāra mattu śivadāra tells us that opportunities for women to develop their abilities are withheld from them by men, because men in Karnataka cannot tolerate the idea that their women may become their equals.

318A number of works stress women's subservience. Vimalā in Veena's Avaḷa svātantrya leads a life of perpetual drudgery for her children, husband and father-in-law while her husband is not even there most of the time, just as Khatījābi in Dharma bale bīsidāga leads a relatively satisfying life with all her children in the village while her husband is away in Bombay, because in this way she is at least provided for. When her husband does come, he is so little concerned that personal justice should be done to his wife that he actually first suggests to her that she accept the punishment which the community has unjustly declared. Mandākini in Shantinath Desai's story Kitija (discussed below, in the chapter on foreigners) has led a life of servitude to the family and to the school where she is employed and wants to believe that it is "a great joy to devote one's entire life... to selfless service", but it is clear that she cannot really believe this. If a girl has ideas that do not fit into the traditional scheme of things, she is declared "bold", which means that her prospects of getting married become slim, as in Veena's Gaṇḍasaru. In Anupama Niranjana's Dēvarē baralilla we come across the Hindu belief that for a wife her husband is like a god. Finally, in Khasnis'story Tabbaligaḷu the daughter-in-law, who traditionally must be obedient towards her mother-in-law, suffers so much under the latter's torments that she commits suicide.

319From subservience it is only a small step to exploitation. We have seen how in Phaṇiyamma it is convenient to have a widow in the house: she can do menial chores without receiving a salary, while not consuming much, and since she has nowhere else to go she is bound to the family; in other words, such a person is more convenient than a servant, hence Dākṣāyini's uncle Bhaṭṭayya is quite keen to have her shaven and declared a widow in the orthodox sense. Also before marriage such exploitation can take place: thus in Ballala's Avivāhite Nimpame's own brother dashes her last hopes of marriage by writing a fake letter to her, so that she will remain with him and his growing family as a convenient household aid who, by the way, also is an earning member of the household out of doors during daytime.

  • 87 Kakar 1985 writes about the psychological problems of a Hindu bride.

320We also come across the notion that it is better to have sons than daughters. This is very explicit in Chaduranga's story Kwāṭe, where the innocent protagonist, accused of having ruined the honour of the family and recently orphaned, cannot succeed in having an abortion, and she reflects on her child and when it will be bom. If it is a son, she will wear herself out bringing him up: in other words, she hopes she will not have a daughter, no doubt because she does not want her child to run the risk of suffering like she has. In Vamśavṛkṣa we read about the orthodox Hindu ritualistic notions as to why a son is preferable: male offspring is needed for the perpetuation of the lineage, sons must perform śrāddha, and at the same time great responsibility rests upon them: their immorality will cause ancestors and descendants to suffer in hell, whereas daughters are passed on to other families, become a part of those lineages and serve merely as soil for the seed of the other lineage to grow in87.

  • 88 Nowadays, hundreds of thousands of rupees may be required for buying a well-placed bridegroom.

321But another reason why sons are preferable is that when it is time for them to marry, the parents need not pay a dowry, as is the case with daughters. The dowry system is as strong as it ever has been, in spite of the Dowry Act, which has prohibited the demanding or paying of dowries. It seems likely that the matter of dowries receives relatively little attention in our literature because it is seen as something that can be solved in the broader context of the overall improvement of the status of women: if women can more easily gain access to higher education and enter professional life, alternatives in life become open to them, they will be able to escape from their traditional subordination to men and the men (and the men's elders) will no longer be in a position to demand dowries. The matter of dowries does figure very largely in Janivāra mattu śivadāra, where Śāntā is still unmarried at what is considered the indecently old age of seventeen because the family cannot afford to pay the dowry that is necessary for acquiring a suitable bridegroom. In several passages she expresses her disgust with the perverted system in clear terms. In Snēhapallavi one family is willing to accept Girije as a daughter-in-law but demands a dowry of Rs. 3000 along with the girl, which Sarale's father cannot afford. (Vēdavaḷḷi comments that in her caste things are worse, for dowries there will go up to Rs. 20,000, with jewellery and other items added)88. In Kwāṭe the protagonist's parents were married because her mother's parents had offered such a good dowry, though the two people to be wed were not suited each other; as a result, her father began an extramarital affair with eccentric woman Onkāramma. Presumably his over-protective attitude towards his daughter is another result. Whenever any of our authors ouches upon the subject of dowries, the dowry system is denounced as a social perversion.

322In passing it ought to be noticed that not only women can suffer in the traditional system in which marriages are arranged. Of course the bride's party must bear wedding expenses and is expected to pay the dowry, and the wife is subordinate; but this does not necessary mean that there are only benefits for the men. In two works (Kwāṭe and Vikēpa we see how men dare not act against the prevailing morality that demands obedience towards elders in the family, and both end up in unsatisfying marriages which are the cause of personal unhappiness. In Vikēpa the family is so afraid of losing its grip on the protagonist that his aunt insists that he marry before going abroad, because marriage will bind him to the family group. Thus the social group controls not only its women but also its men, even if the men retain a much greater freedom.

323After this listing of problems which our authors have pointed out, we should turn our attention to what they consider possible ways in which to solve these problems. Since the problems can basically be grouped in two categories, two kinds of solution are advocated, and usually together.

324As said earlier, the problems connected with womanhood are seen as intimately connected with (quasi-) religious or superstitious beliefs, and the obvious way to combat such beliefs is through an enlightened form of education. The modern kind of education that is basically secular, teaches people to think for themselves and gives them an individual sense of dignity helps undermine the superstitions that bind the individual to the outmoded group morality that is manipulated by certain persons for their own benefit. This is most strongly advocated by Kattimani in Janivāra mattu śivadāra and condemned on the other hand, for the same reasons, by Bhyrappa in Vamśavṛkṛa. Here we must note that Kattimani gives some explanation of his attitude, while Bhyrappa's arguments do not go beyond a sterile glorification of social norms of the past supported by tales of psychosomatic disorders which occur when one dares to deviate from those norms and which in the case of Kātyāyini ultimately result in her mysterious death. We will see that also in the works which primarily deal with religious and castebound problems, education is considered of immense importance in dealing with them. 'Education' should not be understood here in too narrow a sense, e.g. merely as what is imparted to people through special institutions for this purpose (schools, colleges). What matters is that one is confronted with alternative ways of thinking which inspire one to critical thinking of one's own: thus the protagonist's belief in orthodox ritualism in T.G. Raghava's Śrāddha (discussed below, in §§5.14-5.16) is undermined by reading certain kinds of books.

325But education and exposure to other ideas alone will not suffice. What we see in numerous works is that the individuals who suffer under the traditional system must renounce the traditional group morality in favour of an individualistic morality that makes individual action possible. This is emphasized in varying degrees by various authors. Not surprisingly, the Pragatiśīla authors are most emphatic about this. All the main positive characters in Kattimani's novel refuse to judge people on the basis of their belonging to one caste or the other, denounce the caste system and claim the right to associate themselves with whomsoever they like to, and such association includes marriage. Such marriages can only be based on personal appreciation of the other person, hence the questions of caste loyalties and dowries do not arise. Also the young woman enters marriage freely and without a sense of subordination. Niranjana's Banaśankari in a way does not want to free herself completely from tradition, but in effect she does so to a large extent by becoming Nārāyaṇa Rāya's mistress and simply moving to Hassan when the local maṭhādhipati excommunicates her. The protagonists in Snēhapallavi and Dharma bale bīsidāga openly flout what society demands of them and go their individual ways, though Khatījabi of course remains within the Muslim community and Sarale conforms to some degree to the social forms of the new environment which she has chosen.

326In a few works we see incomplete or frustrated rebellion. Veena's protagonists rebel, but we do not see them achieve any lasting, desirable goal. Triveni's Ramā in Hūvu haṇṇu disregards what society says about her and becomes a prostitute in the first place for her daughter's sake; indeed her daughter becomes well settled in life, but apart from the very short period that Ramā can enjoy the secret company of her grandchild, her life is tragical and she remains a victim of society. The two main characters in Savithramma's Gurupīṭha are aware of the suffering that society has imposed on them, but when the young maṭhādhipati has decided to renounce his pontifical seat in order to join his widowed childhood friend, he shrinks back at hearing his assistant's death threat.

327To summarize: with one exception all the authors agree that the social position of women is unjust. There are no quick and easy solutions to the problem, and the women may not succeed in attaining justice in spite of their efforts. What is needed to combat the social evils to which women are subjected is a combination of higher education and the kind of individual courage that makes one ready to make personal sacrifices.


1 Manusmṛti V, 147-8 (Georg Buehler's translation, Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 25).

2 Ibid., IX, 2.

3 Mehta 1970: 13.

4 Ibid., pp. 16-7.

5 Subramanyam 1970: 60.

6 "In the widening gender gap in India the female literacy rate - 24.88% - is... half that of males - 46.74%. And the gap continues to widen. In the 6-14 age group, nearly 84% of the boys are enrolled in schools, as against 54% in the case of girls." Venkataramani 1986: 27.

7 "The impact of western education and modernization among Indian women is often limited to the adoption of the outer model only. The modern values here often seem to be adopted outwardly without an understanding of their real implications; or even when there is an aspiration for the modern values, the emotional attachment to the old values is not easily parted with." Sinha 1979: 36.

8 Sharma 1985: 2.

9 Venkataramani 1986: 30 mentions how nearly 6.000 baby girls have been poisoned to death in one particular community in Tamilnadu..

10 Ibid., p. 26.

11 In an interview for Radio Netherlands, 15.1.1986, English program for South Asia at 1430: utc. Cf also Srinivas 1984: 15: "There is a 'cargo cult' aspect to dowry marriages... because one can secure] the many and much-desired products of modem technology."

12 Cf. the new subsidiary practice called 'bride-burning': a man murders his wife (or has her murdered, e.g. by his mother), remarries, receives another dowry, etc. In one year, the Delhi police knew of over 500 reported cases of such dowry murders in Delhi alone (cf. n. 12). Though North Indians like to speak of the South as orthodox and backward, the South has proven itself much more civilized also in this respect.

13 Personal communication, October 1987.

14 The 'festival of lights', which is celebrated with fireworks and lighting displays.

15 A muttaide or sumangaḷi is an 'auspicious' woman, i.e. one who is married and not widowed.

16 Śāstra: scholarly treatise, here: Hindu canon law.

17 For an explanation of the terms maṭha etc., please see the introductioin to chapter 2.

18 Edibles, usually fruits, which are ritually offered to the god and then distributed among the devotees for consumption, through which the god's blessing is conferred on them by the priest.

19 Akka, 'elder sister'. A term of endearment for a woman older than oneself.

20 The person is represented by an earthen vessel which is ritually smashed, and all ties of the relatives with the person are formally broken. Ghaṭaśrāddha is also the title of Anantha Murthy's short story, which will be discussed later.

21 Forsaking the world in order to follow a career devoted to spiritual pursuits.

22 Initiation of a boy into full membership of the caste, before the onset of puberty.

23 Small ritual performed by men in certain communities three times daily; a form of worship connected with the sun.

24 An important centre of pilgrimage in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

25 Generic name for the later schools of Hindu thought. In popular Kannada usage, the word can also mean humbug', which is obviously meant here.

26 See above, note 20.

27 Bīdi-s are small indigenous cigarettes which look like tiny cigars, with a single tobacco leaf forming the outer leaf.

28 Traditional Brahmin settlement.

29 It is a common belief that snakes lie inside termite hills; often this is indeed the case.

30 Cf. ch. 3, n. 13.

31 E.g., the Jainas are a non-Hindu religious community that was firmly established in Karnataka since very early times, and they had no prohibition on the remarriage of widows. Yet later, after the influence of Brahminical Hinduism was felt, there occurred a split in the community: those Jainas who thought that their widows ought not to marry again (i.e. who wanted to imitate the Brahmins) considered themselves superior to the others, who still had not adopted this practice (personal communication from Prof. Dr. M.D. Vasantha Raj, retd, head of the Dept, of Jainology and Prakrits, Univ. of Mysore, summer 1986).

32 An ārati (ārātrikā in Sanskrit) is a part of religious ritual, in which a (usually metal) plate carrying several objects (e.g. fruits, burning camphor, a small oil lamp) is waved as an offering before the idol of the god.

33 A juṭṭu (Sanskrit śikhā) is a tuft of hair, usually on the back of the shaven head, as worn by high-caste Hindu men.

34 Konkani is an Indo-Aryan language spoken along the western coast of India from Bombay to Kerala. It is the mother tongue of mainly two communities: a certain Brahmin caste and Roman Catholic Christians. Popularly it is associated with Christians and the state of Goa, where it is the principal language.

35 "...a man in a long garment and with a beard" - p. 243 - who speaks biḍisi biḍisi, i.e. 'separated separated' or clearly enunciated, so that the words do not run over into each other as happens in native colloquial speech, and who then tries to persuade them to come to church (p. 244).

36 All castes in Karnataka have such mocking or abusive verses about other castes.

37 Personal communication, May 29th, 1987.

38 Name of a particular Telugu-speaking merchant community in Karnataka; not to be mistaken for the Tuluspeaking community of the same name in the coastal region.

39 Literally 'outcaste'. A term of abuse.

40 "Eternally auspicious woman" (p. 116): one who cannot become inauspicious, i.e. a prostitute, because she constantly has 'husbands'. The term was originally used for dēvadāsi-s or temple courtesans.

41 This is of course not really true: in the coastal region it has been known since the early days of the Portuguese presence. Further south in Kerala it has an older history than in most of Europe.

42 Rangavalli or rangōli is a design laid out in (usually) rice flour, often very intricate and artistic, at the gate in a compound wall or at the front door of the house, to ward off evil spirits.

43 Cf. n. 23.

44 A ṛṣi ('rishi') is an ancient sage, object of great reverence.

45 A tuasī kaṭṭe or bndāvana is a hollow, short, square pillar in which the sacred Tulasi plant (associated with the goddess Lakmi) is grown. Circumambulating the kaṭṭe is considered meritorious and is mainly done by women.

46 The expression kūpamaṇḍūka,'well-frog', which is found also in other Indian languages, carries the meaning 'ignorant, parochial person'.

47 Mālēra-s are said to be people of mixed Brahmin-Sudra parentage, or whose ancestors were of such parentage, and who are therefore considered to belong to a special caste of their own which is held in low esteem.

48 I have not been able to find out the number of reprints; it was taken over by another publisher, who brought out three reprints during the period 1979 to 1984.

49 This genre has been made known to readers outside Karnataka mainly by Ramanujan 1979.

50 Cf. n. 18. Among the Virasaivas, the meaning is slightly different: the substances may be offered to the linga, to the guru or to a jangama (cf. n. 75). Cf. Malledevaru 1973: 71 and Zvelebil 1984: 159.

51 His novel Gṛhabhanga has been tranlated into fourteen Indian languages, including Tamil, Gujarati and Assamese. As a rule, one impression of a novel by him will have 5000 copies, which is considerable in a market where it is often difficult to sell 1000 copies of a book (personal communication from Mrs Bhyrappa, June 5th, 1988).

52 Nanjangud is approximately 20 kilometres south of Mysore.

53 'The eternal religion' - an expression used by conservative Hindus to denote Hinduism. Cf. ch. 3 n. 4.

54 Cf. n. 42.

55 Brindavan Gardens is an artificial flower garden, approximately 15 kilometres northwest of Mysore. Flirtatious dance-and-song scenes in many commercial Kannada films are shot there.

56 See n. 15.

57 Prakṛti literally means 'nature', but in the ancient Sānkhya school of philosophy becomes a term for all in the cosmos that is not spirit. Many ideas from Sānkhya were later incorporated into other schools of thought. Metaphorically, the 'soul' in Sānkhya (puruṣa, lit. 'man') is depicted as a spectator who watches a dance performance by prakṛti and is enamoured by it, until he realizes that it is a mere show, and then he has attained liberation from rebirth. Because puruṣa in Sanskrit has the masculine grammatical gender and prakṛti the feminine, and because of the imagery of the man and the danceuse, worldliness was later thought of as a feminine, while spiritual pursuits came to be considered masculine.

58 The word supposedly means 'what saves from hell' - a reference to the idea that male offspring is needed to open the gates of heaven for the parents. This explanation is of course bad etymology.

59 A ritual in commemoration of forefathers. At a śrāddha two Brahmins, one representing the deceased ancestors and another representing the gods, must be fed full meals: these meals are called brāhmaārtha.

60 Lawbooks of dharma. Cf. §2.1.

61 Harikathe is a traditional form of folk entertainment, comprising the telling of religious stories and singing of illustrative songs.

62 It is customary among devout high-caste people to keep some water from the river Ganges in their homes in small, sealed metal containers, and this is poured into the mouth of à dying person by that person’s son.

63 Śamskāra-s are impressions in the mind, made either in this life or in a previous one, which compel a person to certain thoughts and actions.

64 Cf. e.g. Pande 1978.

65 Lai 1966 and VenugOpālācarya n.d. In such writings we see the confluence of two preoccupations of the modern Hindu mind: on the one hand the ancient notion that India is the centre of the world and of civilization, and on the other the modern preoccupation with the United States and whatever is American.

66 Govindaraj 1978: 289.

67 The English word 'rascal', for some obscure reason, is considered a very bad term of abuse by Indians, who usually associate sexual immorality with it.

68 Personal communication, spring 1986.

69 Todorov 1981: 19.

70 Although bigamy is now forbidden by law, there is a great deal of social tolerance for it. In recent years Samatā, a women's organization in Mysore, has been receiving many complaints about bigamy and has helped the first wives in bigamy cases to obtain legal aid.

71 Personal communication, January 9th, 1987. In some areas police stations are dangerous places, and there have been numerous reports of cases in which women who went to police stations have been raped by the police. In March 1981 there was a public demonstration in Mysore after such a report came from Hassan, and early in 1988 there were some newspaper reports in the Karnatakan papers about a case involving an American woman who was harassed in Mangalore. However, this must not be taken as a specifically Karnatakan phenomenon: one can hear still more disturbing stories coming from North India.

72 The month of āāḍha is considered inauspicious for weddings.

73 Kunkuma (the red powder used for the well-known dots on foreheads) and arasina (turnmeric powder) are standard offerings to a god.

74 'Lingāyata' is another word tor Virasaiva.

75 In Virasaivism, a jangama is an itinerant religious teacher. Cf. Malledevaru 1973: 69-70 and Zvelebil 1984: 159.

76 A basavi is a woman who is ritually wed (usually while still a girl) to a god and thereafter lives as a sort of temple prostitute; also known as dēvadāsi.

77 Cf. n. 27.

78 Eleyaḍike (known in northern India as pān) is a betel leaf with bits of areca nut (and usually other flavourings) wrapped inside. Giving this is a traditional sign of hospitality.

79 Implying that she is sort of outcaste, whose touch will spoil the таḍi of others.

80 However popular Gaēśa, the elephant-faced god may be, one can imagine that it is difficult to find a bride for such a person; in other words, Nirupame's appearance will make it difficult to find a husband for her.

81 'Scheduled caste' are the low castes, (outcastes and others) for whom special provisions for their upliftment have been made through reservations of government jobs, seats in colleges etc.

82 Malabar Hill is an upper-class residential area in central Bombay.

83 Since the protagonist is not yet married, we see here how the word for 'widow' as a term of abuse does not refer to the actual marital status of the woman at whom it is aimed.

84 Hubli and Dharwad in northern Karnataka are twin cities, and many residents of Dharwad commute to Hubli daily.

85 A variety of flat bread common throughout India.

86 Cf. n. 71.

87 Kakar 1985 writes about the psychological problems of a Hindu bride.

88 Nowadays, hundreds of thousands of rupees may be required for buying a well-placed bridegroom.

© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 1996

Conditions d’utilisation :

Cette publication numérique est issue d’un traitement automatique par reconnaissance optique de caractères.


Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search