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The calf became an orphan

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Robert J. Zydenbos

My people, your people

The implications of the caste system

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  • 1 Fuchs n.d.: 90.

13.1 In the preceding chapters we have already seen how relationships between people in India are largely governed by the typically Indian phenomenon known as the caste system. The word 'caste' is derived from the Portuguese casta, the substantivally used feminine form of casto, which is derived from the Latin castus, which has the range of meanings 'pure, immaculate; chaste, respectable; pious, holy’1. The Portuguese showed considerable insight into the phenomenon when they gave it this name, for all these notions enter into the concept of caste. Caste is closely associated with purity of a kind; it involves chastity of a kind; to follow the rules of one's caste makes one respectable; finally, the caste system has not merely the religious sanction of Hinduism, but is one of the key concepts in the system of morals and ethics of the religion, which makes the observance of caste rules a matter of holy observance.

2Practically every Indian belongs to a caste, and this largely determines his or her life. It determines that one may marry someone from that same section of society, that hence one's relatives are all from that same section; one's most intimate friends will be from one's own caste; one will find that the most loyal, trustworthy people will be from one's own caste; one's political allies are from one's own caste; caste may determine whether one has access to higher education or not, and it may determine one's profession. The caste system is a totalitarian system in which the individual counts for practically nothing and the group means almost everything.

  • 2 The people themselves call this name cosmetic, and preferably refer to themselves as dalita-s ('do (...)
  • 3 The Kannada-English Dictionary by F. Kittel, p. 625, vol. 2, 1969 repr. (Univ. of Madras); the wor (...)

3Casteism resembles racism, because of the great stress that is laid on maintaining the (quasi-) biological purity of the group. Bhyrappa's novel Tabbaliyu nīnāde magane links racism and casteism, as we have already seen. The 'untouchables', whom Mahatma Gandhi gave the cosmetically beautifying name harijanas, "people of god"2, were called thus because their touch was and still is considered to bring about dire consequences to the 'caste Hindu' (one of a social group that is ranked higher in the system, above the untouchables) who is touched, through magical means. This ritual pollution always takes place when there is contact between people of different castes, but this is considered particularly bad in the case of a caste Hindu and an outcaste. Just as the word for 'widow' is used as an abusive term in Kannada, the word caṇḍāla is used to insult a person: a caṇḍāla is supposed to be the lowest and most despicable sort of outcaste, born of a Sudra father and a Brahmin mother3.

4In the chapter on the position of women in Indian society we have seen the special place of fiction which deals with Hindu widowhood, because it is in the treatment of widows by orthodox society that we see the implications of womanhood at their clearest. Similarly there is one situation in which the implications of the caste system come out clearest, viz. in the case of an intercaste marriage. We have already seen in the chapter on the position of women that if a woman has any sexual relationship outside her own caste, she is "ruined" and has lost her "honour". In orthodox society she will be excommunicated, and whatever children are born out of the relationship are excommunicated with her. Hence marriages between people of different castes are basically out of the question, though there are some exceptional cases, and nowadays in urbanized environments intercaste marriages can occur between people who belong to the same varṇa (e.g. an urban Brahmin can marry another Brahmin, even if the other is from a different caste). Marriages across varṇa boundaries, interreligious marriages, and any kind of intercaste marriage in rural areas are extremely rare. An additional problem is that such marriages will be decided by the bride and bridegroom themselves, and not arranged by their elders. This means that the young people disregard the authority of their seniors, for which one is severely blamed in the traditional Indian social environment. Apart from incurring this social censure, the culture does not instill in the people the kind of individual independence which is necessary if one wants to take such decisions (this is reflected very clearly in e.g. the character of Vēdavaḷḷi in Anupama Niranjana's Snēhapallavi…

5Much more can be said about the caste system and its underlying mentality, and a huge mass of anthropological and sociological writing has already appeared on the subject. But now we shall turn our attention to what has been written about caste by our Kannada authors, who have experienced the workings of the system directly in their own lives and have expressed their thoughts and feelings in their writings.

63.2 An example of a work of fiction in which caste conflict is highlighted through love between two people of different castes is the novel Janivāra mattu śivadāra (1954) by Basavaraja Kattimani (Basavarāja Kaṭṭimani, 1919-1989). Kattimani, who lived in Dharwad, was the most prominent north Karnatakan representative of the Pragatiśīla movement, and at the same time one of the most important writers of the region. He is the prolific author of more than 60 books, in which he has expressed disgust with hypocrisy and falsehood of various kinds: the turn of politics in India after the country attained independence, or the manner in which Virasaiva religious leaders exploit the gullibleness of their followers, or the wickedness inherent in casteism.

7The janivāra or yajñōpavīta is the sacred thread which is worn by Brahmins and members of other high Hindu castes; the śivadāra is a cord or necklace by which a Virasaiva wears his personal linga on his body; the word mattu means 'and'. Thus the title already hints at the confrontation between Brahmins and Virasaivas which is the main theme of the book.

83.3 Basavaraja Kattimani: Janivāra mattu śivadāra

9Rāmacandra is a Brahmin clerk in an insurance company, and his Virasaiva superiors Lingappa and Gurubasappa are constantly looking for an excuse to fire him, the only Brahmin, or at least bully him. He has family responsibilities, and what weighs heaviest is the search for a husband for his sister Śāntā while his financial situation is very bad. He thinks of all that Śāntā needs: new saris, new sandals and a husband, and about what society will say if she stays unmarried much longer (p. 7). He talks about his problems with his only friendly colleague, Vīraṇṇa, and tells that his main problem is the dowry, for one must pay dearly to get an educated bridegroom (p. 8).

10He hears of a new possible groom for Śāntā and suggests that his brother Venkaṭēśa go and show Śāntā to that person's family. Śāntā overhears their conversation and again feels disgusted that she must go through the whole humiliating exercise of displaying herself to critical glances again (p. 19-20). While they have dinner in the kitchen, Rāmacandra's wife Jānaki tells Śāntā how she suffers from the rebukes of neighbouring women that Śāntā is still unmarried. Śāntā asks her what she should do, and Jānaki, choking on her food, says: "What is my mistake in this? The important thing is that we were born as women; that's our first mistake." Śāntā feels revolted by such a slavish statement (p. 21). She pities the uneducated Jānaki, who mentally could never come out of the traditional system. Later, from her room she sees a light still burning in the room across the courtyard, where the student Koṭabāgi stays, and she thinks of him: small, thin, weak, dark-skinned, already wearing thick glasses and having greying hair, writing ridiculous love-letters over which she laughed with her friends Līlā and Kumudā. She pities him.

11Śāntā remembers her academic ambitions: to get degrees and then a fellowship for studies in the UK or USA. Her younger brother Venkaṭēśa had laughed when she once told him this wish, but Līlā asked why men should have a monopoly on such things (p. 27). Śāntā had beautiful dreams before entering the college: how she would be in an intellectual atmosphere with writers and poets as her teachers, among boys in suits and girls in thin saris, where she would defeat everyone in debates and become queen of the college. She thinks of her present position: a Brahmin girl who in the eyes of society has already passed marriageable age, who according to the old woman next door "already could have had three children" (p. 29). She is beautiful, has the right skin colour, knows English, music and embroidery, and hence she should be good 'ware' in the marketplace, if only there would be a big enough dowry to go with her (p. 29). 'Customers' who would come for her would ask sums up to Rs. 5000, which her father could not afford.

12Just then she sees a visitor come to Koṭabāgi's room, tall, fair, simply dressed and handsome. She looks at him for a while but is called away to breakfast. Śāntā thinks of Koṭabāgi's visitor again, hoping that she will see him again. She is angry with herself for behaving like a dumb high-school girl, for who knows who he is, from where, of which caste (p. 34)? While bathing she remembers she had seen his picture printed with a poem by him in a magazine when she was still in high school. It was admired by all the girls who saw it, and their conclusion was "byūṭiphul pōyem, hyāṇḍsam pōyeṭ" (beautiful poem, handsome poet). Śāntā had been very impressed by this Sadānanda and had remembered the poem and picture ever since (p. 36). She tells herself to forget about him and thus avoid difficulties in society (ibid.).

13Sadānanda is from a poor family and could not expect any financial aid for his further studies in the city. He suggested to his father that he could approach their distant relative Lingappa for help; his father knew that Lingappa and his wife look down upon them, poor relatives, whom they meet only at weddings, but he did not dissuade Sadānanda to write to Lingappa (p. 40). Without hearing anything in reply from Lingappa, Sadānanda went to the city, where he was shocked by the harshness and stingy lack of hospitality of Lingappa's wife. He then went to his friend Śivaṇṇa's house, where he was heartily welcomed and could stay.

14Śāntā and Līlā are having some girlish talk about boys, and Līlā hints that there are possibilities of a special relationship arising between Śāntā and her admired poet, on the basis of their age. Śāntā says it is highly improbable, since she needs the approval of one's elders and she does not even know yet to what caste he belongs, etc. Līlā says that a time will come when the backward women of Karnataka will become as advanced as women elsewhere in the world and disregard such matters (pp. 53-4). Līlā's parents have two daughters as their only children, hence they were brought up in an intimate atmosphere where the father could say publicly that he would like to see Līlā enter the law profession (p. 55). Venkaṭēśa introduces them to Sadānanda in his room.

15Śāntā's father looks admiringly at the newcomer in the vaṭhāra (an enclosed compound where a number of families live, similar to a Dutch or German 'hof'), musing that he may be a good match for Santa, but he is disappointed when he hears from Venkaṭēśa that Sadānanda is a Virasaiva (p. 61). One day Śāntā sees him wash himself at the compound well, sees no sacred thread and only then realizes that he may not be a Brahmin (p. 62). She mentions this to Līlā, but Līlā says: "So what, there are so many outcastes who look like Brahmins" (p. 63), and tells that she knew all along that he is a Virasaiva. Śāntā is visibly upset, and Līlā asks why, for Sadānanda is not a casteist; but Śāntā is not convinced of how great her courage is to pursue a further deepening of their acquaintance. At the college they are pestered by boy classmates who refer to Śāntā as a 'juicy sweet', and on the blackboard in the Kannada classroom someone has written a doggerel on her. The class is childishly unruly, to the extent that Śāntā is wounded by a paper airplane with a pin in it (p. 70). Afterwards a boy named Naragunda comes and apologizes to them for the incident on behalf of all the boys. He invites them to join a small poetry society which they are just starting. When in the evening Śāntā again sees Sadānanda come to the well to wash his face, tears come to her eyes and she thinks that it would have been better if she had known much earlier that he is of another caste (p. 74).

16Vīraṇṇa suggests a bridegroom for Śāntā to Rāmacandra: the local faujdar (a high-ranking police official), a widower with children, without bad habits, who is twice Śāntā’s age. Rāmacandrais thrilled by the idea that no dowry is required. Rāmacandra's father says that Santa's opinion must be asked, and Rāmacandra is troubled again, for Śāntā is no uneducated village girl and may refuse this match (p. 78); "In a way it would've been better if she hadn't studied till now", he thinks (p. 79).

17One evening Sadānanda accompanies her home from their college, they sit down for a while in a quiet place, talk about the ugliness of money and the beauty of the evening, and Śāntā has silent fantasies of love on the spot: how it would be to find out whether he loves her, to embrace, to kiss, to merge her person with his. That evening, Sadānanda thinks of Śāntā and only then becomes fully aware of his desire to be with her (p. 91). Koṭabāgi returns from his teaching job and tells Sadānanda that he is thinking of giving up the job because the headmaster is a Virasaiva casteist who wants to see all Brahmins removed from the staff by pestering them away (p. 93). Koṭabāgi says his mistake was that he was born a Brahmin; Sadānanda tells him that it is the task of their generation not to cultivate casteism as their elders did. But quite in general Koṭabāgi is a dejected person, who sees little future for his attempts at poetry and is also disappointed in love, though he does not say that Śāntā is his distant longed-for beloved (p. 100). Sadānanda recalls how he did not respond very eagerly to a proposed marriage in Bijapur with the daughter of an assistant deputy educational inspector; Koṭabāgi knows the man, a cultured person, who "though he is a Virasaiva has no casteism in him at all" (p. 100), but somehow Sadānanda is still not interested in the proposal.

18She goes for the first time to a tea-shop with a boy whom she knows (viz. Sadānanda), and she fears what people may say if someone sees them there. She feels it is a sign of intimacy that he notices that something weighs heavily on her mind. She tells him about the proposed marriage to the faujdar, and he feels that she should steer away from that, remarking: "If we would have been born in one caste, and not in different ones, how nice it would have been" (p. 108).

19The ferocious-looking faujdar comes to see Śāntā at her home; he has a low opinion of college students and praises Śāntā's father for his orthodoxy. She is appalled by more or less everything about him, including that he is not thirty-five, as they were told, but nearly fourty-five (p. 111). Afterwards Rāmacandra, who is happy with the prospect that a relationship with the faujdar may influence his relationship with his casteist bosses, suggests that the marriage should be accepted at once. Seventeen-year-old Śāntā of course has something else in mind for herself and firmly opposes it. "Since you began going to college you've become very bold, Śānti. It's as if you pay no attention to what we say any more," Rāmacandra complains (p. 114). Śāntā goes to Līlā's house, where she, Kumudā and Līlā agree that Śāntā must oppose the marriage, but Śāntā feels that she does not have the courage which is necessary for that. Līlā hints at Śāntā's secret love and the possibility of a lav myārej ("love marriage"), and now Śāntā feels that indeed she must develop that courage.

  • 4 The expression sanātana dharma ('the eternal religion') is used by many conservative Hindus as the (...)
  • 5 See ch. 2 n. 15.
  • 6 Kumāravyāsa (15th century CE) is the author of a popular version of the Mahābhārata in Kannada.

20The 'Kāvyakūṭa', their little poetry society, becomes a great success, except for Koṭabāgi. Whereas everyone comes and admires the creations of Sadānanda, which win the praise of journalists and begin appearing in various magazines, Koṭabāgi enjoys none of all that: people tell him that he still writes like a highschool boy. He then falls prey to the coaxing of Dēśapāṇḍe, who unlike progressive persons like Sadānanda and Naragunda has a "sanātana mentality",4 is connected with the RSS5 and tries to draw more students into that organization. The progressives have kept away from it, but he does not give up, has joined the Kūṭa and "casts his net" there. He tells Koṭabāgi that the Kūṭa leaders are dangerous leftists. He bears Koṭabāgi's insipid verses and praises him as the greatest Kannada poet since Kumāravyāsa6 (pp. 121-2). Dēśapāṇḍe's father is a big landlord, and at their house Koṭabāgi is feasted on a variety of refreshments (p. 122).

21Dēśapāṇḍe brings Koṭabāgi in touch with the casteist publisher Kēśavarāya, who is peeved that Sadānanda, unlike other young poets, has not come to him to beg him to publish some of his verses in his magazine. He cultivates Koṭabāgi's friendship by printing his poems regularly. Dēśapāṇḍe tells Kēśavarāya that the secretary of the Kāvyakūta, Naragunda, is a Muslim who under the cloak of his secretary-ship actually wants to cultivate intimacy with all the Brahmin girls. Kēśavarāya, who is actually a sanātani, of course cannot approve of girls' participation in public activities in the first place, for he believes that in the name of equality and women's liberation all girls go astray. He asks about their morality, and Dēśapāṇḍe informs him that Sadānanda has infatuated Śāntā, just as Naragunda has Kumudā (p. 126).

22Dēśapāṇḍe decides to write to Rāmacandra about Śāntā's having some sort of relationship with Sadānanda. He also awakens the curiosity of the faujdar, whom he knows well, about Sadānanda by referring to Śāntā and plays on the man's orthodox sentiments by saying that he ought to keep an eye on communists like Sadānanda who are out to destroy religion, caste and culture together with the country (p. 129).

23Dēśapāṇḍe's anonymous letter to Rāmacandra at his office does not miss its effect: he writes that Rāmacandra has made a mistake by sending Śāntā to college instead of marrying her off as was his duty, and also by not keeping an eye on her behaviour, so that now she has grown intimate with the Virasaiva Sadānanda, goes to his room where they chat and sing poetry, and they go together to solitary places; "in the whole college people have discussed your younger sister's self willed behaviour", and "It is not necessary for us to tell you that the result of this will not be right", hence Rāmacandra is advised to arrange Śāntā's marriage as soon as possible (pp. 131-2).

24Because Lingappa opened the letter to see for whom it was meant, the rumour spreads through the office fast. Vīraṇṇa advises Rāmacandra to marry off Śāntā soon and thus avoid further bad rumours. Rāmacandra shows the letter to his father, who is far more reasonable: for him, the fact that the letter is anonymous and that the writer has not come to tell him these things face to face shows evil intent. He believes that Śāntā is an innocent and responsible girl, calls her and asks her, for Rāmacandra's sake, whether she goes walking (vāking hōguvudu) with Sadānanda. She confesses that she does go vāking with him, and her father is shocked (p. 137), but she stresses she hasn't gone astray, as the letters suggests. Venkaṭēśa supports her, vouching for Sadānanda's good character. Rāmacandra flares up at him, saying: "Don't you need at least a bit of practical knowledge! Who lets girls who have reached puberty go vāking with young men in strange places?", and Venkaṭēśa replies: "What harm is there in going vāking? You person of bygone times, you don't understand anything.... As for vāking, I also go, with the subhedar's daughter Saraḷe. When some prankster who can't come and see you writes a letter, you say whatever comes to your mouth" (p. 138).

25A policeman comes to Koṭabāgi's room to call Sadānanda to the police station, where he is gruffly interrogated by the faujdar. He denies that he is a communist, but the faujdar registers his name anyway, to Sadānanda's amazement: till then he had thought there was nothing wrong in being friendly with communists, or with anyone for that matter. The faujdar then warns him not to be friendly with leftists and not to "ruin college girls" (p. 143). Līlā suggests to Sadānanda that he and Śāntā should marry soon. Sadānanda wavers, for which Līlā taunts him (p. 145), and she tries to talk his doubts about 'what society may say' out of his head (p. 146). Later Śāntā too tells Līlā that a marriage is not as easy as she says (ibid.).

26Dēśapāṇḍe and Kotabāgi do not appear at the Kūṭa meeting, and there is some speculation about this among the others. It becomes clear to them that Dēśapāṇḍe and his RSS friends, including the faujdar, cannot tolerate the existence of a group like theirs and are trying to sabotage it (p. 147). Līlā tells them that there is nothing to fear, for in the worst case her father will take all those pests to court; and in the gay atmosphere that arises the members shout that in order for the Kūṭa to survive they must destroy the RSS and fight against reactionaries (p. 148-9).

27Sadānanda and Śivaṇṇa go for a walk, and Sadānanda feels disturbed by Śivaṇṇa's insinuations that his and Śāntā's relationship is purely based on physical attraction (p. 152). Śivaṇṇa refuses to believe that if two young people like Sadānanda and Śāntā go for a long walk, nothing more happens than a walk and a talk, because he is older than Sadānanda and has gathered 'more experience' (p. 153). He then tells Sadānanda about a sexual affair which he had had before his wedding with a Brahmin typist who was not very pretty (because she was dark-skinned), and thus he had had some 'training' before his marriage, such as philosophers like Bertrand Russell recommend: a philosophy that is put into practice by many boy as well as girl students now (p. 157). Sadānanda is convinced that Śāntā is not such a svēcchācāri ("self- willed person"; cf. §6.1). He accepts that it is undesirable to hurt the feelings of all their relatives by an intercaste marriage, so Śivaṇṇa says that he should forget about Śāntā, as there is no shortage of women - in fact, Śivaṇṇa has already written to the family in Bijapur (cf. p. 100) concerning his marriage.

28While Sadānanda has been warned by the police, Naragunda says that he and Kumudā have received warnings directly from the RSS, and shows two letters. Both letters are in the same handwriting (p. 161). Instead of being worried, Kumudā and her father had a good laugh about the matter. Sadānanda sighs that narrow-minded people will always try to hinder people like them in their personal liberties. Naragunda says that they must always fight such forces; he is not afraid, but he does not want his friend Kumudā's name to be besmirched, for she has still to marry (p. 162). Sadānanda and Naragunda go home for holidays. Naragunda gets off the train at a station near his village and invites Sadānanda to come some day.

29At home his mother urges him to many the girl from Bijapur, Mīnākṣi, who sings beautifully and "though she has learnt English, there's not a bit of arrogance in her" (p. 175). Sadānanda thinks that there is no harm in going to see this girl whom everyone admires, for he can always say no to a marriage or postpone it. The family goes to Bijapur. He is impressed with the educated atmosphere in the house, and though he has a good understanding with her parents, he does not speak with Mīnākṣi even once.

30Back in the city Sadānanda meets Śāntā, who tells him that Dēśapāṇḍe and Koṭabāgi have begun a Kāvya Kalā Sangha as a rival to the Kata. Now that the daughter of an official has been promised in marriage to Venkaṭēśa, he too will naturally become a casteist like those people, Līlā says. Dēśapāṇḍe and Koṭabāgi are trying to persuade people to leave the Kata and join the Sangha, saying publicly that the Kata is for people wearing a śivadāra and the Sangha for those having a janivāra. Sadānanda is amazed and says that their members are of all castes, but Śāntā says: "Even so, Naragunda is in charge of it, isn't he? I've heard that Dēśapāṇḍe says that people with śivadāra-s and people with beards [i.e. Muslims] always form one group" (p. 187).

31That evening, in their room (where Sadānanda is still staying), Koṭabāgi speaks his mind to Sadānanda, accusing him among other things of using the Kūṭa for his own selfish purposes, like getting a book published thanks to the publicity which he got through the Kūṭa. "In name of the Kūṭa you're elevating and parading Mussulmans and communists. You don't remember people like us. Look at what small fry we've become in your eyes! In the end you haven't forsaken the characteristic of your caste" (p.187). Sadānanda earnestly pleads his innocence of all casteism, but Koṭabāgi says he cannot believe what Sadānanda is telling him (p.188). Under these circumstances, Sadānanda decides to move out, and he finds a new dwelling with Parasaṇṇavar, a rich man's son whose main interests are sports, social life and girls, rather than studies.

  • 7 Girl students' hostels usually have a warden to keep males out of the building and to keep an eye (...)

32Parasaṇṇavar has no shortage of girl friends, and a throng of Christian and Sārasvata girls comes to his room every evening to guzzle biscuits, cakes and other sweets, sing cheap film songs and chatter like idiots (p. 189). He had expected Sadānanda, the poet, to be a sort of romantic loafer like the poets Byron and Shelley, and he is a bit disappointed that this poet behaves so respectably (p.190). One night Parasaṇṇavar returns with a girl who speaks English, so Sadānanda concludes that she must be a Christian. The sounds of their activities on the bed in the adjoining room keep Sadānanda awake, and he is amazed at their audacity (p. 191). After the girl has left, Parasaṇṇavar, who has a few such relationships, tells Sadānanda that this girl's name is Lucy, that she is from Goa, stays in the girls' hostel and gives the hostel warden Rs.1 or 2 if she wants to stay out late at night like this (p.193)7. Sadānanda asks whether Parasaṇṇavar loves her, and in a speech Parasaṇṇavar tells him how old-fashioned he is and that he (Parasaṇṇavar) and Lucy are modern and natural (pp. 193-4). This sets Sadānanda doubting: love has not the same purity and greatness as before.

  • 8 Addressing a person in the singular in Kannada is comparable to 'tutoyer' in French or to 'duzen' (...)

33Parasaṇṇavar wins a sports event and celebrates it with a series of parties, on account of which Sadānanda cannot study. He tells Śāntā about it, and she says this trouble is all due to his excessive politeness. He realizes this; for the same reason he did not want to hurt the feelings of Mīnākṣi's parents and hence he is now half tied to her, he reflects. He says that Parasaṇṇavar no longer comes late at night lest he be disturbed, and Śāntā says that everyone in the college knows Parasaṇṇavar spends the nights with girls. Sadānanda is shocked that all the college girls apparently talk about such things, and Śāntā tells him that he should not think that all the girls are like mythological virtuous women (p. 199). He expresses his doubt that Parasaṇṇavar may be right in living the way he does, and that perhaps there is nothing wrong in that sort of behaviour. Then he puts his arm around her and asks whether she is angry that he spoke thus. She is thrilled that he asks this in the singular (p. 200)8 and says no; at that moment he loses his self-control and embraces and kisses her. But can they marry? He has his doubts about that, and Śāntā thinks that Līlā perhaps is really right: he may not have the courage to cross the caste barrier, and she may have to take him by the hand and lead him across it (p. 202).

  • 9 A tāḷi is a golden ornament worn by women on a necklace, which indicates the woman's married statu (...)

34Parasaṇṇavar is angry about what he sees as Sadānanda's sissiness. "Here the people with courage stay alive. Nobody'll listen to weaklings. Their desires won't bear fruit either. Their fate is just to moan and moan and die some day. It looks like you're a sissy too" (p. 203). He tells Sadānanda to run off with Śāntā and have a registered marriage (i.e. a secular wedding). Sadānanda wavers and Parasaṇṇavar continues his pep-talk, telling him to enjoy life since World War III has not yet begun (pp. 204-5). Sadānanda wonders whether indeed sexuality is made pure only by first tying a tāḷi9 around a girl's neck (p. 206).

35Śāntā meanwhile remembers their embrace and how she wanted to be totally one with him, but she decides it is better to wait until he shows more courage to face other people.

36Venkaṭēśa's wedding-date is fixed and Rāmacandra hopes that Śāntā's wedding can take place at the same time. Just then he meets the faujdar again, who has become a bit impatient, and Rāmacandra agrees to the marriage (p. 211), fearing that he will elsewise have to continue his search for a husband for Santa. His father disagrees strongly, saying they should not take any such decision against Śāntā's will. Rāmacandra says that he too is concerned about her happiness, but that they must think of their position in the Brahmin community, and that they have insufficient money for obtaining a more suitable bridegroom (p. 212).

37Sadānanda tells Śivanna that he cannot marry Mīnākṣi. Śivanna volunteers to go to Bijapur and explain this personally to the family there. But actually Śivaṇṇa believes nothing good will result from Sadānanda and Santa's relationship, for he does not believe that she can oppose her own people for Sadānanda's sake: she will marry someone else, and Sadānanda will recover from his folly and marry Mīnākṣi after all-"how many times, in how many places, hasn't it been like this?" he thinks (p. 220).

38That night, Śāntā comes to Sadānanda's room. She feels shy when she sees that Parasannavar is there too, but he puts her at ease by saying that he is their well-wisher, and he advises them to leave town at once, go to Bombay, Bangalore, Pune or Madras and have a registered marriage. Sadānanda takes the quick decision that they should go to Naragunda's village; they go to the station, where Parasaṇṇavar sees them off and at the last moment gives Sadānanda an envelope full of banknotes, saying that they must send him a telegram if they are in any trouble (p. 225). Līlā has also given Rs. 200, Śāntā says, in case any emergency occurs.

39The next morning the faujdar has found them at Naragunda's village. He says that he has not come to arrest anyone, nor is he interested in Śāntā: "Even if you fall at my feet, weep out loud and beg me, I won't marry you." He has come to call them for her father's funeral: "His body was worn out with many years-not being able to bear his daughter's romance, it's natural that he had a hārṭ phēl. Hari ap phreṇḍs! [heart fail. Hurry up, friends]" (p. 232). At home, Rāmacandra shows her their father's suicide letter, which says that he decided to die so that they would get life insurance money and use it as a dowry for obtaining a suitable bridegroom for Śāntā (p. 233).

403.4 Janivāra mattu śivadāra may be considered an excellent example of Pragatiśīla writing, with its concern for an improvement of society, its openness of mind, its insistence on a rethinking of the culture of public life as it has been handed down by tradition, and an approach to the problems with which it deals which shows some influence of Marxist ideas.

41This last characteristic comes out most clearly in the many remarks that are made throughout the novel with regard to wealth. People who already are wealthy remain greedy: thus Rāmacandra's bosses use their positions of authority in their company in cormpt manners to multiply their income (p. 14), and Sadānanda's uncle Lingappa does nothing to help him after he arrives in Dharwad besides writing a letter of recommendation so that he may get a room in a free boarding house (p. 48), and his wife similarly shows a highly inhospitable attitude when Sadānanda first comes to their house. Wealth perverts people, as Naragunda says after Śāntā is wounded by a mischievous classmate: "Some such deformed brains are there. Most importantly, the reason why they become bad like this is their wealth" (p. 73). There is also a link between wealth and immorality, also regarding sexual behaviour, as we see e.g. in Parasaṇṇavar, a rich man's son, who leads quite a dissolute life, sleeping with a different girl every night and spending a great deal of money renting hotel rooms where he can spend nights with his various girls; all this does not matter, since his father will send him any amount of money he wants (p. 196). The connection between wealth and vulgar sexuality is also illustrated in an incident when Sadānanda and Naragunda take the train to their respective villages. The train stops at a station for a while, they get down and notice that some fellow students of theirs are on the train on their way to Goa. The giggling girls are indecently dressed, in transparent saris and blouses that accentuate their breasts. Just for fun a boy strikes a girl on one of her breasts and pats her back. Sadānanda continues the journey thinking of how modest his and Śāntā's financial means are, whereas these dissolutes are all from wealthy families (p. 167-72).

42In the character of Dēśapāṇḍe we see the sort of wealthy folk who in the name of religion, culture and the purity of caste oppose the exercise of any sort of personal liberty. After Naragunda makes his remark about wealth perverting the minds of youngsters, Līlā (whose father is a well-to-do lawyer) mildly protests that though she is from a wealthy family she is not like the mischievous classmate, and the discussion quickly ends in some friendly laughter; but the number of remarks in the book in support of the idea of the connection between wealth and moral depravity is a sufficiently clear indication that Līlā should be seen as an exception to the rule. Thus the villains of the book (Lingappa, Dēśapāṇḍe, the faujdar) are wealthy, while the heroes like Sadānanda, Śāntā and Naragunda are poor, though Kattimani was not so naive as to believe that the rule is absolute. Though Parasaṇṇavar has a strange sense of ethics, he is Sadānanda's well-wisher and appears as a very positive character towards the end of the novel.

43Positive and negative characters can be distinguished with regard to their attitudes towards the role of individuality in society. Although the two main characters, Śāntā and Sadānanda, are basically individualists who believe that their personal judgments carry more weight than any notion they have inherited through tradition, they waver for some time when they have to take a definite decision about the future of their relationship. The struggle within them between social traditions (casteism, the authority of elders and the subduing of personal desires and ambitions) on the one hand and what their own conscience tells them is correct on the other, creates most of the tension in the narrative, and this is naturally where the chief interest of the novel lies. Certain characters represent two poles. Līlā stands for the progressive individualism that recognizes the evils of the traditional mores of society. A far more extreme form of individualism, extreme to the point of becoming undesirable for its unmitigated, self-centred hedonism, is found in Parasaṇṇavar. The opposite of individualism, viz. the collectivistic traditionalism which is inspired by a fear of society and of 'what people say', is represented by Śāntā's brother Rāmacandra, and less extremely by their father. Then there also other characters who stand between these two poles but go through a development in the direction opposite to that of Śāntā and Sadānanda: brother Venkaṭēśa is a progressively minded fellow in the beginning, but changes his attitude at the prospect of marrying the daughter of a wealthy and respected family (p. 207), and Sadānanda's friend Śivaṇṇa, who seems a less radical version of Parasaṇṇavar, ultimately is a convinced casteist (p. 220).

44We see that there are basically two reasons for being a casteist: one reason is superstition and a clinging on to traditional norms for their own sake, and the other is that casteism may hold out a promise of either an increase of wealth or the preservation of one's advantageous position in society. In Rāmacandra's employer Lingappa we see the casteism that is economically and / or politically motivated, when he tells his accomplice Gurubasappa:

"All institutions are in their hands. All banks, all companies are in their hands. Just this one insurance company is ours. Here too they haven't stopped trying to sow their own grain..." (p. 12).

45For Lingappa, castes are social battle units, and since he is born a Virasaiva, he takes it for granted that he must wage war against Brahmins, as we see again later in his pep talk to Sadānanda, who has just arrived in Dharwad:

"...our society was backward. Our Lingayata boys should get B.A.'s, M.A.'s, get very big jobs. They should come up in all fields.... All our boys should get higher education and shove back those Brahmins" (p. 48).

46We find the same attitude referred to in Koṭabāgi's Virasaiva boss in the school where he works (p. 93). This of course contrasts very strongly with the devoutly liberal attitude of Sadānanda's father, who says to himself (when Sadānanda suggests writing to Lingappa): "Śiva is in all people. He's in Lingappa too. If through Śiva's mercy Sadānanda becomes an M.A., it's all right" (p. 40). We see the superstitious kind of casteism in the faujdar, who does not relish his food if he does not perform his worship twice daily (p. 110), and worship is connected with caste, which according to him has survived thanks to the orthodoxy of people like Śāntā's father:

"Because of people like you Brahminhood has survived. If such people hadn't been there, the whole country would've been ruined by a mixing of castes (dēśadallellā varṇasamkaravāgi hōguttittu – p. 111).

47This "mixing of castes" - varṇasamkara - occurs when people of different castes intermarry. Here we see the typical sexual attitude that goes with casteism: not only extra-marital relationships, but also marriage outside the caste is considered scandalous. Dēśapāṇḍe (about whom Śāntā says "He's a frightful casteist, he fumes when he sees people who aren't Brahmins" - p. 185) plays upon this sentiment of the faujdar when he tells him that he ought to keep an eye on "communists" like Sadānanda: "Today or tomorrow they no doubt will destroy our country, our religion, our culture, everything" (p.129), and he says much the same thing in his letter with the death threat to Naragunda: "You, a Muslim, are playing with fire by having laid eyes on a Brahmin girl.... If you value your life, you shouldn't turn and look at Hindu girls any more. If you fail in this, you'll be sent straight to the presence of your Allah." The letter to Kumudā's father describes the magnificent tradition and supreme culture of Hinduism, which to protect is the duty of all Brahmins, and it further says that Naragunda is trying to rob Kumudā, hence her father should be careful. When speaking with the casteist publisher Kēśavarāya, Dēśapāṇḍe tells him that the Muslim Naragunda is the secretary of the poetry society only in order to cultivate intimacy with Brahmin girls (p. 125).

  • 10 "A Hindu's public is his caste. His responsibility is only to his caste. His loyalty is restricted (...)

48B.R. Ambedkar's remarks that morality is caste-bound10 are exemplified in Śivaṇṇa's story about the Brahmin secretary, with whom he had a sexual affair: because she was the only woman in the office where he worked, the eyes of everyone were on her, and everyone "tried to ruin her" (avaḷannu keḍisalu yatnisuvavarē). He too desired her and believed that she had enjoyed many more men before him. He had also understood that it is impossible for a girl who works in an office to safeguard her character (p. 154). Finally he ditched her: "Who'd think of marrying a girl like her? She was good for having a few days of fun. Could one lead a married life with a girl like this? How many friends like me she must have had!" (p. 155). He then suggests that Sadānanda should have some sexual "training" with his Brahmin girl Śāntā, as the philosopher B. Russell advocated and as so many youngsters are having nowadays, before marriage (pp. 156-7). He tells Sadānanda that he is a fool in that for Śāntā's sake he does not accept marriage with the girl from Bijapur: "Right. Right. You're a fool. Not the least bit of practical knowledge. Shouldn't you give at least some attention to what today's society is like, Sadānanda? Will it ever be possible for janivāra-s and śivadāra-s to come together? There's implacable hatred between the two. Let's suppose you marry her some time: what will your fate be? The Brahmins will hate you. The Lingayatas will ridicule you and laugh. No [part of] society'll look at you with any concern. You'll be condemned. Later both of you'll regret it" (p. 218). He is utterly convinced of the unavoidability of Sadānanda and Śāntā eventually marrying within their own castes (p. 220).

49The faujdar looks genuinely traditionally superstitious, but Dēśapāṇḍe and his rightwing extremist friends in the RSS are more vicious, as they deliberately use these traditional superstitions to stir up hatred against people along caste lines and while doing so also create new mythologies to support this. Thus in Dēśapāṇḍe's house one can get all kinds of refreshments, but no tea, for this "ruins our morality", and cigarettes are not allowed either, not because they are injurious to health but because "all this is a lesson learnt from foreigners" (p. 122). Yet Kēśavarāya takes snuff, not cigarettes, because "he has great respect for our culture" (p. 123) - as if snuff is not a tobacco product, equally foreign as cigarettes are; which shows how whimsical and ridiculous the notions are which these people have about their culture. The remark that Dēśapāṇḍe's father is a big landlord places this extremist political activism in a socioeconomic context: the preservation of the status quo guarantees the continuation of the privileged position of these high-caste, moneyed people in society. Superstitious traditionalists (like the faujdar) are drawn into the RSS for support (p. 130), and other dissatisfied highcaste people become easy victims, like Koṭabāgi, when Dēśapāṇḍe exploits his jealousy of Sadānanda by saying: "This Sadānanda looks like a real communist, Koṭabāgi. Naragunda too is a socialist party member. These are the parties which will eradicate the lofty culture of our country. These people's scheme is to use poems, stories and novels as propaganda for their party. True poets and patriots like you shouldn't fall into the net of troublemakers" (p. 121).

50In a character like Rāmacandra we see a sort of mix of the two motivations for being traditionalistic: as a Brahmin, he feels threatened by the casteism of his Virasaiva bosses and believes that his only hope of social security lies in keeping good ties with the rest of his own community. The idea of having the faujdar as his brother-in-law appeals to him, obviously because with this he may be able to intimidate his bosses and thus achieve more decent working circumstances for himself; but the faujdar is, as we have already noticed, a highly orthodox sort of Brahmin, and Rāmacandra hopes desparately that Śāntā has not become so modern through her academic education that she will reject the arrangement. Already before she is asked her opinion he is apprehensive and believes it would have been better if she had not studied till then (p. 79), and when later she indeed rejects the idea, he says that she has become "very bold" (bahala diṭṭe) since she began going to college (p. 114). Yet in other places it seems that Rāmacandra's traditionalistic clinging to the norms of the community is less realistic and rational, as when towards the end of the novel he discusses the issue of Śāntā's marriage and how to marry her off properly and soon with his father: "We can't keep her in the house like this till then. She's a Brahmin girl. And then there's her bad company at the college. Already people are saying anything that comes to their minds. If we leave things like this, no one will be ready to marry her in future, even if we give a dowry. The Brahmin community is the first thing..." (p. 212). She must marry within the community; if she is not married soon, people will gossip; if people gossip, the matter will get worse and her chances of marriage will diminish still further. But why Śāntā must marry within the community, if she has already developed a satisfactory relationship with Sadānanda, is nowhere elaborated - it is simply taken for granted that it should be so. We see a similar result of traditional upbringing in Śāntā's initial sadness when she finds out that Sadānanda is Virasaiva and then believes that she must give up all hopes of greater intimacy with him because "If you follow any wrong path irresponsibly, the result will be very bad. Ruin to both you and your elders...." (p. 36). And 'ruin' here is not only a matter of social stigmatization, but also of dire metaphysical and transcendental consequences.

51In Rāmacandra's words we have seen that to the traditionalistic mind, higher education for women is bad. Śāntā's ambition is to study hard, get a doctorate and afterwards a postdoctoral fellowship for further studies in the UK or USA, for which Venkaṭēśa laughs at her; but Līlā supports the idea (p. 27). When later the two girls touch upon the topic of Sadānanda, a significant conversation develops (Śāntā speaks first):

"Who is he, of which caste is he, what's his character? Already you've begun matching us, haven't you!"
"What use is all that. Who looks at things like caste nowadays?"
"Even if we don't look, will society not look?" "Who listens to that society?"
"We should at least listen to our folks, shouldn't we, Līlā?" "Listen if you like. Just don't give much importance to it."
"If I listen to what you say, it sounds to me as if you're really going to marry someone from another caste."
"Let's see whom I'll marry. Whether I will or not."
"Eh?"
"Shall I really tell you, Śāntā? I think I should stay the way I am, without marrying. Marriage means getting caught in another bond, doesn't it? Husband, home, family life, children... Besides that we'll become like everyone else. So how much better it is to be independent without marrying!.... The women in Europe, America and Russia are in no way inferior to the men, Śānti. We Indian women are the backward ones. And none are more backward than the women of Karnataka. You were seeing Maharashtrian women, weren't you - how advanced, how improved they are. They become M.B.B.S., L.C.P.S., hundreds of them have become doctors, story writers, novelists, poets. There's no count of female musicians either-and in Karnataka? Don't listen to anything!"
"What can the reason be, Līlā?"
"What other reason could there be? Our men are the reason for our backwardness. To begin with, they don't have to strength to advance. Then how can they allow us to advance? If we advance further than they, it'll be a blemish on their honour [ivara maryādege kundu], won't it? But I'll be the one who won't listen if anyone gets in the way. I'll go my way" (pp. 53-4).

52What Līlā says here about the role of men in keeping women backward is corroborated by what we read about the sanātani Kēśavarāya, who cannot approve of girls' participation in public activities at all (p. 125). The prototype of the traditional woman, Śāntā's sister-in-law Jānaki, is thrilled with the idea that Śāntā may marry the faujdar, because he has a monthly salary of Rs. 250 and has Rs. 23,000 on his bank account, and Śāntā thinks: "She's a woman of the old mentality. In her view money is greater than all else" (p. 80).

  • 11 A basavi originally was a temple prostitute, but the word is now used loosely to mean 'whore'. A b (...)

53Though Śāntā's father has somewhat more liberal ideas and believes that they should consult her before they fix her marriage, Rāmacandra represents the more conservative view and believes that the responsibility and authority for the matter lie with the elders, more particularly with him, apparently because he is the earning member of the family. When later they discuss the matter of her marrying the faujdar again, a quarrel ensues. Śāntā says that she is no longer a small girl and now cannot be forced into a marriage, and Rāmacandra yells: "You've grown up the way a bīdiya basavi [whore]11 grows up... So you won't marry. Has your eye fallen on anyone?" (p. 118). For him, a girl who selects her own husband is something like a prostitute. When Līlā suggests the possibility that Śāntā may marry Sadānanda, she significantly uses the apparently English expression "love marriage" [lav myārēj - pp. 60], and when she breaches the topic again on p. 117, the expression lav māḍuttāle is used (literally "she makes love", meaning 'she is in love with'), and she suggests that Śāntā may have an inṭarkyāsṭ myārēj (intercaste marriage). In both cases the context suggests that something scandalous is taking place, and the scandalousness is due partly to the overstepping of caste boundaries, but hardly less due to the exercise of a girl's free will in selecting her spouse.

54In several places Śāntā severely criticizes the culture in which she has grown up for its treatment of women, e.g. when she expresses her disgust over the manner in which girls are displayed before prospective bridegrooms and their elders:

Going to see a groom, returning after having shown herself - like taking a cow to the market. At least in the market the people who buy the cow must give money. In this marriage-market everything is the opposite. Those who bring the cow called 'woman' must pay money. They must buy a husband for her. What despicable traditions... what a society.... (pp. 19-20).

55Her personality is completely disregarded in this strange "market":

...In the market, she was the quality 'goods' that were hard to get. Still, the customers would not consider her.
They [the prospective bridegrooms] do not want quality 'goods'; they want a big dowry...
A thousand... two thousand... three thousand... Even customers asking up to five thousand would come and go. Even the youngsters who would make a show of being highly educated and modern desired a dowry (p. 29).

56The situation becomes so serious, in the opinion of Śāntā's father, that he prefers committing suicide for the sake of the life-insurance money (to provide for a dowry for her) to continuing to live with the shame of having an unmarried daughter. At the beginning of the novel we read how Rāmacandra suffers from what the neighbours say:

Śāntā has already passed the age of seventeen. Already three years have passed since her body matured. She has grown still taller than I. It is frightening to see her body. The neighbours have already been laughing for four or five years, seeing her. "Who'll marry this poor girl!" they jeer (p. 7).

57Humiliation follows upon humiliation, and when Jānaki one day complains about the gossip of neighbouring women that Śāntā is not yet married and that it is their mistake that they were born as women, Śāntā reflects:

This too is one of the many empty proclamations made for selfish reasons by a society that has kept womankind in slavery for centuries: to be born a woman is a sin, a crime-actually there is no sin, no crime in this. It is just as natural to be born a woman as to be born a man. A woman must have all the rights that a man has.... Having seen all the injustice perpetrated upon women in the world, especially in India, and especially in Karnataka, she became angry, infuriated. She was convinced that there must be a fight to free women from their enslavedness to men. As days passed, as years went by, as age, experience and understanding increased, this notion became ever more firm (pp. 21-2).

58Things are still worse outside Karnataka (if e.g. female literacy is an indication, then the so-called 'Hindi belt' is much worse), but the author is of course primarily concerned with his native state and is particularly upset with what he sees in his immediate surroundings.

59In the dialogue between Śāntā and Līlā on pp. 53-4, which I have quoted above, we see hints about where inspiration can be found for solving their problems: models for the improvement of the position of women can be seen in Europe, America and Russia, where women are not considered inferior to men, and in comparison with whom the women of India are backward. That their situation can improve is proven by the progress which has been made by the women of Maharashtra, the state bordering immediately on the north of Karnataka. Thus we see here the characteristic outgoing attitude of the writers of the Pragatiśīla generation: they can overcome narrow chauvinism and provincialism and can accept a good thing whenever they see one, irrespective of its origins.

60Also in this novel we notice the typical emphasis on whatever is Anglo-American (even though Līlā does mention Europe and Russia). Thus Śāntā's academic ambitions include further studies in the UK or USA (other countries are apparently not interesting). The English language is a symbol of education and sophistication, as we see in the description of the house in Bijapur which Sadānanda visits with his parents to see the prospective bride: there he is impressed by the educated atmosphere in the house (there is a table in the hall on which "all the important magazines that are published in England and America were to be seen" - p. 177), in which "the simplicity of oriental culture and the neatness of occidental culture were evenly mixed" (p. 178). In the train which takes them to their villages, Sadānanda and Naragunda discuss English poets (p. 166). When the girls in high school saw Sadānanda's poem and photograph in the magazine, their appreciative remarks were in English (p. 36).

61But not all that is associated with English is necessarily good: in the expression lav myārēj we have something that is considered positive by some, but is dreaded by others, and when it comes to vāking ('going for a walk') we again have something that is considered morally dubious. When one night Sadānanda hears that Parasaṇṇavar has brought with him a girl who speaks English, he concludes that she must be a Christian, and in this novel Christians are depicted as not exactly fine people.

62We read about Parasaṇṇavar, the hedonistic cynic, that he has no shortage of girl friends, and in the beginning every evening there will be a throng of 'Christian and Särasvata' girls coming to his room. The Sārasvata-s are a Brahmin caste and have Konkani as their mother tongue. We have already seen, in our discussion of Anantha Murthy's Ghaṭaśrāddha, the significance of the association of the Konkani language with Christians and shady dealings, and here the association of Christians and Sārasvata-s with censurable behaviour is a parallel. We may note that when Parasaṇṇavar tells Sadānanda how one can rent a room for a sum of Rs. 1 or 2 to spend the night with whomever he likes ("Why only Lucy? Suzy can come too... Anybody can come" - p. 196), the two feminine names which he uses are of the English diminutive type, which in Karnataka are associated with Christians. Added to this is the significance of Sadānanda's well-to-do and indecent fellow students making a trip to Goa, which is the state that has Konkani as its official language and has a large Christian population.

63Hence what we see in Kattimani's work is a firm criticism of several basic aspects of traditional Indian society, and his strong feelings about the necessity of social change show themselves in the sometimes bitter and sarcastic statements of the characters. He criticizes mainly two elementary flaws of his society, viz. its institutionalized greed, as is seen in the dowry system, and its collectiveness, in which individual worth is disregarded in the face of what is considered the good of the caste. These two social shortcomings can combine viciously, and then we get the economically inspired casteism of Lingappa and the sudden volte-face of Venkaṭeśa for the sake of marrying the wealthy daughter of a casteist family. Casteism is accompanied by corruption, hypocrisy, the preserving of unfair economic advantages (and the acquiring of still more), fear of individual freedom and also fear of society (of 'what people say').

64Change can be expected only from the younger generation, which is not yet spoiled by having become part of the social establishment and being tied by social obligations. But the youth of the country must realize its limitations and not reach too high: Sadānanda and Naragunda in one passage talk about the usefulness of student action to fight poverty and reactionaries, but Sadānanda cautiously says that students need degrees, otherwise they will find no employment, hence they must be careful not to be dismissed from the university (p.164). Opposition comes from sanātani-s, who pretend to uphold the continuation of ancient Indian civilization but are actually mere self-seeking opportunists. Meaningful change comes through an open-minded, unprejudiced examination of society and comparison of it with what has been achieved elsewhere, whether in India or abroad, and through the offer of equal opportunities of self-development to all people, irrespective of caste or sex. (It is not out of place here to note that although Kattimani was born a Virasaiva, he does not spare his own community in his criticism.) But Kattimani is careful to stress that this emphasis on the importance of the individual in society does not mean a plea for unbridled self-indulgence. This comes out very clearly in a dialogue between Sadānanda and Parasaṇṇavar, when Sadānanda asks him whether he loves the girl Lucy. Parasaṇṇavar breaks out in laughter and says:

"Love! Love... love... love... In which century are you, Sadānanda?... Aren't you talking like a pure sanātani, Sadānanda? Who asks anything like this in this age? Besides that, is there anything wrong in this? This is quite natural. Just as we drink when we feel we must drink water, just as we smoke when we feel we need a cigarette, just as we speak when we feel we need to speak, like that when Lucy feels she needs me and I feel I need her, the two of us unite. What's wrong in that?... Didn't you know at all, Sadānanda? Lots and lots of this happens in the college. Not only boy and girl students. How many professors too are like this..."
"That means... You're saying there are no good people at all?"
"Where did I say there aren't? There are at least a few people like you, aren't there? Till the very end you won't know what the joy of living means. This is the age at which to have fun. If you don't enjoy any happiness now, then when will you? What's the use of just sitting and weeping and saying 'love, love, pure love' when you can't marry, and then committing suicide? When you can't marry you must enjoy some happiness for at least a day or two. You may have at least that much satisfaction" (pp. 193-4).

65Though Parasaṇṇavar is shown as a less harmful character than e.g. Dēśapāṇḍe and towards the end of the novel shows that he stands above material possessiveness by giving a large sum of money to Sadānanda when the latter leaves with Śāntā (as does Līlā, thus giving the couple also their moral support), Sadānanda and Śāntā do not choose to follow his ideas: it would obviously not agree with their notions of human dignity.

663.5 In Anupama Niranjana's Snēhapallavi ('Refrain of Affection') we see how a lady author of the same generation treats the same subject.

673.6 Anupama Niranjana: Snēhapallavi

68Śivaśankarayya is a schoolteacher in Bangalore with a modest income who lives with his absolutely shrewish wife Pārvatamma and his two daughters Girije and Saraḷe. Girije is not a very pretty girl, especially because of her dark skin colour. When one day people reject her as a possible daughter-in-law because of this Saraḷe comes home. They show interest in beautiful, fair Saraḷe, but Pārvatamma says: "Without the first daughter being married, we cannot do this for the second [i.e. marry her off]. Get out of here" (p. 11).

69Pārvatamma hates Saraḷe for not being a son, and also blames her for a disease of the uterus after her birth; she favours Girije, whose character resembles hers, whereas Sivasankarayya tends to be protective towards Saraḷe, who both inwardly and outwardly resembles him more. Girije is madly jealous of Saraḷe, with whom she is constantly compared for her appearance, and Saraḷe is also more industrious and intellectually gifted, so that she can go to college. Two or three other prospective families-in-law come to look at Girije, and they reject her because "the girl is black" (p. 16), so she takes up a job in a factory. She wants to give the others in the family gifts which are paid for with her first salary and offers saris, but with regard to Saraḷe, Pārvatamma says she can buy one for herself with her scholarship money (p. 17).

  • 12 Smārta-s adhere to the religio-philosophical doctrine of advaita-vēdānta, whose best-known exponen (...)
  • 13 Ayyangars (sometimes also written 'Iyengars') are Srivaishnava Brahmins, for the most part origina (...)

70Saraḷe is from a Smārta12 family, but her best friend is her classmate Vēdavaḷḷi, who is an Ayyangar13. At her house, Saraḷe learns to speak Tamil. One day they talk about a novel which Vēdavaḷḷi has just read: the heroine loves a man from a different caste, they do not have the courage to marry, and her parents also say that love is meaningless; but in her desperation the heroine commits suicide. Vēdavaḷḷi thinks that the heroine did the right thing, but Saraḷe disagrees.

71The two friends pass their college exams and one day Vēdavaḷḷi says that her marriage is being arranged, which may mean that she will leave Bangalore. Saraḷe says that she wants to apply for a job in order to leave home, where her mother and sister treat her meanly. Saraḷe says this at home too, and though Pārvatamma dotes on Girije (also because she earns money now), she forbids Saraḷe to work anywhere but in the house, ostensibly because she fears what people will say about her (p. 28). However, Śivaśankarayya finds her a temporary teaching job with a small salary. With her first salary she buys material for a suit for her father and saris for her sister and mother (who complains that the material is too thin - p. 30).

72When again prospective in-laws for Girije come, Saraḷe volunteers to go to Vedavaḷḷi's house. Vēdavaḷḷi's marriage, so she hears, is practically decided, with a bridegroom from Madras. Later Śivaśankarayya comes to fetch Saraḷe and tells that no marriage has been arranged: the boy's family demanded too high a dowry, Rs. 3,000, for marrying Girije.

73Vēdavaḷḷi's wedding date is settled, and Saraḷe goes to Madras to attend the event. As the wedding ritual takes place, Saraḷe feels disturbed by a fellow who is staring at her. She has a good look at him, thinks he is "a typical Madrasi" in appearance and that he has bad manners, looking at her without coming and speaking to her (p. 38). Later, at the reception, she hears that his name is Mādhavan (the name quickly becomes Kannadized to 'Mādhava' in the course of the book). He calls her away on a pretext so that he can speak with her in private. Saraḷe is angry at first, then relents, and at night she wonders why he chose her, of all the people present, to speak with so affectionately. The thought excites her.

74The next day, Mādhava comes and invites Vēdavaḷḷi, her husband Śrīnivāsa and Saraḷe to his house for tea. When Mādhava has left, Vēdavaḷḷi explains to Saraḷe that he is a wealthy industrialist, the only surviving son of the owner of a big factory for automobile parts, and that he is expected to marry soon. They go to his house, and Saraḷe is impressed by the luxury there. Mādhava's half disabled mother is impressed by Saraḷe, thinks she is nice and that "She must be from our side" (namma kaḍeyavarē irbēku - an idiom meaning "she must be of our caste", p. 46). Mādhava comes and joins them for tea, sitting down next to Saraḷe, who feels shy but happy (p. 48).

75Vēdavaḷḷi and Saraḷe return to Bangalore, and Mādhava cannot get Saraḷe out of his mind. Meanwhile his mother is urging him to marry soon (p. 50). After a while he decides to see Vēdavaḷḷi's husband to ask whether he knows Saraḷe's address. Mādhava tells him that he intends to marry Saraḷe, and the husband says "Saraḷe? Don't you know about her, then?... She isn't of our caste. A Smārta Brahmin" (pp. 55-6). To Mādhava this is "a blow. No, he had not known this. He too had not thought that a girl who did not belong to their own group would come with Vēdavaḷḷi to the wedding. Besides, Saraḷe's Tamil was also good. No, such a doubt had not occurred to him" (p. 56). But finally he remains undaunted in his decision to marry her.

76Meanwhile Saraḷe is utterly listless, and Śivaśankarayya believes that this can be solved by marrying her off, which should not be difficult. His wife, however, says: "Are you just going to sit around? Leave that responsibility to me. Tell me, how can I get it into your foolish head that if we marry off Saraḷe, Girije won't be married in this life?" (p. 58). Saraḷe becomes taciturn and irascible and suffers from wishful delusions, such as mistaking someone else at the bus stop for Mādhava.

77Vēdavaḷḷi receives a letter from Mādhava with the request to pass on the envelope that is enclosed with it to Saraḷe. She goes for a walk with Saraḷe and gives the letter, which is written in English and says "My dear Saraḷe, I love you. Will you agree to marry me? Affectionately, Mādhavan" (p. 61). Saraḷe weeps with happiness and relief that now, after three months, she can speak about her feelings with Vēdavaḷḷi. But she realizes that her parents will not accept the idea of such a marriage. Vēdavaḷḷi says that Mādhava's parents too will not consent, but that Saraḷe must keep up her faith all the same. That same evening, Saraḷe overhears a story about a colleague who has eloped with her beloved, which Girije tells their mother. Her mother's reaction frightens Saraḷe so much that she burns Mādhava's letter and does not dare to reply when she receives a second letter from him either.

78Then Mādhava comes one day in his car while Saraḷe is walking home from school (Vēdavaḷḷi has told him to find her there, and not to go to her house); she gets into the car, they drive out of town and Saraḷe tells him that their situation is hopeless. Mādhava says that if their parents do not agree, he will simply take her and go, like Arjuna did in the Mahabharata. She says that they belong to different castes; he says that he does not care about that, for caste will not stand in the way of their love. She feels happy.

79When she arrives home, her mother interrogates her about where she has been; she says that she went to the market with a friend. Girije howls "What friend? Don't lie!", but Saraḷe remains unshaken with self-confidence after her meeting with Mādhava. Girije tells Pārvatamma the continuation of the story of the scandalous colleague, who has been abandoned by her lover, and Saraḷe thinks: "Is it then wrong to love? If the parents are there, isn't the responsibility for the children's marriages theirs? When it is so, and they do not consent, is it right for one to devote one's heart to another?" She decides that she would not be able to live if Mādhava would abandon her like the fellow in Girije's story.

80Saraḷe thinks of Girije, who may have no chances at all of marrying if she is married first, and though Girije is a permanent source of torment for her, she would not forgive herself for ruining Girije's chances. She is also mortally frightened of Pārvatamma, who may actually kill her if she hears about her love for Mādhava. Then she thinks, considering the difficulties which her marriage would bring for the family, that it is better to renounce this love and forget him. He may be sad for a few days, then marry some other girl. But then she decides to marry no one but Mādhava (p. 72).

81Mādhava's retired father Pārthasārathi was poor once, but through earnest studies and diligent work he gradually raised himself and his family to prosperity. He is very religious by nature, in a very liberal manner, strongly influenced by the ideas of the Theosophical Society, of which he became a member. Mādhava had an elder brother, Govinda, who had set his mind on marrying a certain girl from a poor family, but mother Rukmiṇamma had opposed the idea. Pārthasārathi had said "What does it matter if the bride's people are poor? Were we not poor ourselves once?" Rukmiṇamma however had retorted: "That may have been. Now it isn't so, is it? If we don't look for a girl suitable to our standing, where will our honour [maryāde] be, tell me?... That won't be possible as long as I live. What will things come to if a son shows so little respect for the words of his mother?" Govinda had seemed to acquiesce, and his father too thought that he would forget all about the matter by the next day (p. 78). But that afternoon he had gone to the beach to swim and did not return: he was an excellent swimmer, and therefore the family believes that he committed suicide (p. 79). Rukmiṇamma suffered a stroke due to the shock of losing her son, from which she never completely recovered.

82When Mādhava tells his father about his desire to marry Saraḷe, Pārthasārathi thinks "Oh God, what kinds of tests are you sending my way?" and advises Mādhava not to go through with this, considering Rukmiṇamma's state of health, but instead to look for a nice girl of their own caste. Mādhava however has decided that he will marry no one but Saraḷe (p. 83). Pārthasārathi talks about the problem of his friend Paramaśiva, saying that he is worrying about how Mādhava can face the relatives. His friend says that Mādhava's character is strong enough for that, and he points out to Pārthasārathi that if they take their theosophy at all seriously, Mādhava must be allowed to marry a girl from another caste (p. 85). Pārthasārathi agrees and later tells Mādhava that he will tell the news to Rukmiṇamma. But Rukmiṇamma resists vehemently when she hears this, and when Mādhava comes to see her he says he recomfirms his decision and leaves. He catches a heavy fever and on his sickbed calls "Saraḷe, Saraḷe". Thinking that she may lose Mādhava in the same way as she lost Govinda, Rukmiṇamma prays for his recovery: "Throw caste into a fire... Let him stay. He is still young. He must live and be happy. I am an old log, of no use, of no use to anyone" (p. 90). Mādhava recovers.

83Pārthasārathi writes a letter to Śivaśankarayya, asking his consent to this marriage and offering to pay all expenses. Śivaśankarayya translates the letter for Pārvatamma, who is enraged and says: "Does an Ayyangar have the arrogance to ask for our daughter?" (p. 91). Saraḷe says she met Mādhava at Vēdavaḷḷi's wedding. Pārvatamma snorts: "Asking to marry on the basis of just being acquainted? What a scum." Saraḷe says that Mādhava is a good man, and Pārvatamma strikes her on the cheek, saying: "Don't you feel any shame? Says whatever comes to her mouth. Go and sit quietly, or I'll beat you up." Saraḷe says that she will marry Mādhava nevertheless, and Pārvatamma gives her a beating, screaming: "Is this the reward I get for bringing up a little girl?" Girije joins in beating Saraḷe, saying: "You've ruined all our honour, haven't you?, supported by Pārvatamma who says: Hit her. Until she says 'I've got smart, stop, mother'." Śivaśankarayya wants to stop them, for it looks as though they want to kill Saraḷe. "Let her die. Rather than having a daughter like this, it's better that she dies" (p. 92). Śivaśankarayya takes Saraḷe to his room and tries to dissuade her from the marriage, but she remains determined and decides not to eat in their home unless and until they consent. The next day Pārvatamma, with Girije's help, locks up Saraḷe so that she cannot do anything against Pārvatamma's will, and Girije is told to take two days' leave, so that she can guard over her sister.

84Due to her fasting, Saraḷe faints and is rushed to a hospital, where she must remain for a while, Śivaśankarayya and Vēdavaḷḷi go to see her, and on the way Śivaśankarayya begins to doubt the correctness of the family's attitude towards Saraḷe's desired marriage: "Why do we keep harping on kula, kula'? To which kula [lineage] does God belong? What community does life belong to? Didn't man create this thing called caste?" (p. 100). Later, when they have left the hospital, Vēdavaḷḷi's brother comes there and gives a note to Saraḷe which says that she should wait near a certain tree in front of the hospital at 6 p.m. There she meets Mādhava, and they elope to Madras at once. They arrive there at night, and Saraḷe stays with Paramaśiva Ayyar and his wife Gauri, who welcome her affectionately. The next day they discuss the matter with Pārthasārathi; at Paramaśiva's suggestion, they decide to have the wedding performed as soon as possible, at the Theosophical Society, and they buy wedding finery downtown. Only after the wedding is performed on the next day does Saraḷe step into her new home to be introduced to Rukmiṇamma, who understands the situation and gives her blessings to the couple.

85When Śivaśankarayya and Pārvatamma find that Saraḷe has suddenly vanished from the hospital, they panic and notify the police. Later they receive a telegram from Saraḷe with the news of the wedding, asking their blessings, and Pārvatamma says "For all I care, it's as if she's dead from now on." Śivaśankarayya is happy and prays to God that Saraḷe may be happy too (p. 111). At the wedding reception in Madras, there is some grumbling among many other Ayyangars, who say: "He could have found a nicer girl among our own people. Who knows what sort of spell she has cast on the boy?" (p. 115). Also Rukmiṇamma is still not quite free from such feelings, and she does not touch any food that Saraḷe brings. Though Saraḷe feels hurt, Rukmiṇamma is so much kinder than her own mother that is she is happy (p. 118). But Pārthasārathi is not like his wife at all: he actually wants Saraḷe to bring him his food, to her great joy. The charwoman, on the other hand, does not approve of Saraḷe's belonging to a different caste, and when one day she answers her impudently, Saraḷe dismisses her from her job (p. 119). Saraḷe and Mādhava will teach each other Kannada and Tamil respectively: she wants to read to Rukmiṇamma and he wants his family to be bilingual (p. 121).

  • 14 The use of the word munde, 'widow', for the sister who recently married looks somewhat ridiculous, (...)

86Girije's colleagues at the factory have problems with her extreme orthodoxy. One fellow tries to converse with her, mentioning that Saraḷe, that outrageous girl, is in Madras. Girije says "She became a widow14 for her courage. What a disgrace for her whole family," and thinks "Why did he ask a question like that? Thinking that one sister like the other will marry someone from another caste? Tss! Even if they cut me into pieces I'll refuse." She believes that the reason why only few people talk to her is her skin colour, and she is angry that Saraḷe is no longer at home: "As soon as she got home, she could deride Saraḷe. She could abuse her. Now she could only talk with her mother" (p. 123). Girije and Pārvatamma decide to appropriate Saraḷe's dresses for Girije's use, as Saraḷe is not allowed to enter the house again anyway (Pārvatamma: "Let her come to the house, I'll cut off her legs."). Girije wonders: "How many days will this pretence of a love-marriage last? What will she do if one day he kicks her out?" and she feels happy with that prospect.

87One day, when he sees Saraḷe worship the family god, Mādhava says that Krishna did not prevent Rukmiṇamma's infirmity, and that all these superstitions keep the country backward (p. 128). But when he sees that Saraḷe feels hurt, he allows her to continue her worship. One day Rukmiṇamma's brother comes; Saraḷe respectfully wants to touch his feet, but he pulls them back saying that she will thus ruin his state of ritual purity (maḍi). Mādhava takes Saraḷe, who is terribly upset, to the beach, where they decide to be proud of belonging to a new section of society, without the rules of caste or religion (p. 136).

88Meanwhile, a strike is brewing in Mādhava's factory. He finds out that the leader of the employees, Naṭarāja, is a Smārta Brahmin from Mysore: he then decides to solve two problems at the same time - to placate Saraḷe's family by suggesting that Naṭarāja marry Girije, and to curb the strike by making its leader his wife's sister's husband and thus personally binding him. Mādhava will bear the wedding expenses. Naṭarāja goes to Bangalore with his widowed sister to see Girije, and (not surprisingly, as the prospect of becoming his employer's relative attracts Naṭarāja) the marriage is arranged (p. 143).

89Saraḷe strongly desires to see the family again, and Mādhava agrees to drive her to Bangalore. She brings gifts for the family but is turned away from the door by her mother, who says: "Who told you to come? Go away, you shouldn't see my face" (p. 151). Saraḷe is not invited to Girije's wedding either, but she buys gifts for Girije and gives them to Naṭarāja, telling him that he should not tell Girije who gave them (p. 153).

  • 15 Most Indians use no cutlery, only the bare right hand. The reason which is commonly given for the (...)

90After returning from a romantic outing to Mahābalipuram, Mādhava and Saraḷe learn that Rukmiṇamma has suffered another stroke and is in hospital. Rukmiṇamma cannot use the right half of her body, so Saraḷe feeds her. This is difficult for Rukmiṇamma, who has still not quite overcome her casteism; but her orthodoxy does not allow her to eat with her left hand15, and Saraḷe has a pure heart (p. 159).

91Girije moves to Madras with Naṭarāja. One day Mādhava and Saraḷe come to visit them: Girije locks herself in a room and Saraḷe and Mādhava soon leave. Girije then has a quarrel with Naṭarāja and his sister. She feels that Saraḷe came only to show off her wealth, and that she behaved with honour (sariyāgi maryāde māḍde nānu); on the other hand, she feels pained by the consciousness that she is indebted to her sister for her marriage (p. 165). She wants Naṭarāja to find a job elsewhere and believes that in order to establish her authority in the house, she must get rid of her sister-in-law Vimalamma, which she does by accusing her falsely of theft (p. 168).

92Girije later suffers a miscarriage, and a son is born to Saraḷe. Girije leaves for Bangalore because Naṭarāja has not given up his job as she wants him to. Naṭarāja later indeed gives up his job and comes to Bangalore (p. 180).

93Girije has a daughter, and Vēdavaḷḷi's husband reports that she looks just like Saraḷe. Saraḷe is surprised, since Girije is dark, whereas she herself has the fair complexion of her father. She is happy that Girije has such child of 'good appearance' (guṇarūpa) and hopes that Girije will not hate the child for resembling her (p. 191).

94Some members of the local Kannada Society in Madras come asking for a donation and ask Saraḷe to become a member and join their cultural programs, to which Saraḷe happily agrees (p. 193). Rukmiṇamma suffers another stroke and dies (p. 197). Saraḷe bums a lamp in front of Rukmiṇamma's portrait and prays with deep devotion "May you always be a guiding light in my life, mother!" (p. 198).

95Seeing how Girije terrorizes her husband, Śivaśankarayya realizes how history repeats itself; he feels that he has had more unhappiness than happiness in his life. He thinks "If Girije's complexion is dark, what does it matter? She could have developed a rich heart. No, cruelty, jealousy, hatred boiled in every drop of her blood. She hurt her sister as much as she could." Pārvatamma has cancer; doctors say that only an operation can help, and when Śivaśankarayya asks why she does not go in for that, she replies: "Can I live after they've cut open my belly?" (p. 202). Śivaśankarayya has already decided that when Pārvatamma is dead, he will not stay with Girije but buy a train ticket to Madras (p. 203). Pārvatamma takes an extremely bitter traditional medicine that is supposed to cure cancer, and she makes him drink it too, saying: "If you don't have cancer, so what? This will see to it that you won't get it. Drink." The taste is intolerable. Śivaśankarayya runs to the kitchen to put sugar in his mouth.

963.7 What is somewhat disappointing about Snēhapallavi as a novel is the flatness of almost every character. It does not coincidental that the two utter villains, Pārvatamma and Girije, have names that refer to mountains (symbolizing their overbearing personalities), nor that the heroine's name means 'the simple girl'. The whole story turns around the love Saraḷe and Mādhava feel for each other, which leads to their marriage, but the way in which the development of their love is described is too fast and simple. The plot of the first part of the novel, up till Saraḷe and Mādhava's wedding, immediately recalls to the Western reader the fairy-tale which is known in English as Cinderella. In the second part the plot becomes less steady, and the novel grows weak towards the end: the one-page episode in which people of the Madras Kannada Society visit Saraḷe seems not really to fit in the story (though it may have been meant as a quick contribution towards a happy end: Saraḷe is not cut off wholly from the culture of Karnataka), and as though the author felt that the story of Saraḷe and Mādhava's marriage was moving a little too smoothly, a sudden disharmony is brought in, sparked off by a possible strike in the factory, which is too quickly and unconvincingly solved - all within four pages.

97But the author's intention in writing this novel was obviously not to make it a psychological novel with any deep analysis of the minds of individual characters. The problem which the author had set before herself was not the nature of human love which leads to marriage: she entirely accepted the validity of such an idea (as she also demonstrated in her own life) and set out to show the reactions of society to the wishes and decisions of two such people. We can see this from the fact that soon after the beginning of the book, after the decision to marry is made, Saraḷe's thoughts ebb into the background: the ground has been prepared for society to react, and the thoughts of others begin to dominate the narrative, notably those of Pārthasārathi, Rukmiṇamma, Pārvatamma and Girije.

98The movement of the story shows a progression away from a form of social thought that is communal and leaves no room for personal judgment and commitment, towards a form that is more individualistic and based on personal responsibility. The individual is more concrete and real than concepts such as caste, sect etc., and therefore, in his or her search for happiness in marriage, a person must give more importance to particular, personal characteristics of the prospective spouse than to the rules and customs of any caste. In this manner, the message of Snēhapallavi has much in common with that of Banaśankari by Niranjana (Anupama Niranjana's husband) and Kattimani's Janivāra mattu śivadāra, and the novel is characteristic of the writing of the Pragatiśīla generation.

99In the interest of conveying such a message, the persons who actually move through this progression (Saraḷe and Mādhava) are made to appear likable. The author has tried to make the protagonist Saraḷe a good person, and, as Walter Allen has said in his The English Novel, creating a good character is the most difficult task an author can face. Anupama Niranjana has partly solved the problem by deliberately keeping Saraḷe flat. At times she becomes simply too good, unrealistically good; and because she is not allowed to offend any reader's sensibilities, she cannot appear too anti-traditionalistic. She rejects casteism, but is still very traditionally pious; she is respectful, helpful, altruistic, modest, soft-spoken, honestly emotional and believes she must maintain family traditions. She is so good that at times she becomes utterly dull.

100The character of Mādhava is not so burdened with 'goodness' as Saraḷe's, first of all because he is not the protagonist and secondly no doubt because he is a man, which gives him more liberty in a society where women are clearly very much more the object of social control. He too rejects caste, but simultaneously he rejects the whole religious background which feeds and maintains casteism: "We must be proud that we belong to a new section of society which does not have the restrictions of caste and religion," he says to Saraḷe on p. 136, and on p. 128 he says that foolish beliefs in caste, god etc. keep India backward. But he allows Saraḷe to perform her worship, because he sees that he hurt her feelings. Yet he repeats his views about caste and god a few pages later, as we already saw, and there Saraḷe does not object in any way. He rejects casteist traditionalism and directly transforms his views into action, unlike Saraḷe, who feels trapped in her Bangalore home. He is a still flatter character than Saraḷe, and represents the ideas and possibilities by which one can escape from the traditional social framework. He is the ideal partner for Saraḷe, who can pull her out of her oppressive situation.

101The roundest character of the novel is Pārthasārathi. Not only does he play an important part in mediating between the old system of things and the new liberties to which Mādhava and Saraḷe lay claim: we also learn most about him as a personality. We know how once he lived in poverty but worked his way up to being a wealthy self-made man, we know about his theosophical religious beliefs, about his idealism and reasonableness; we know the story of his first son and that son's tragic death, which has apparently made a deeper impact on him than on his wife. More than anyone else, he consciously thinks about what he sees happening around him and tries to come to terms with it; this he can do precisely because of his liberal outlook on life.

102In Pārvatamma we have the enemy: blind orthodoxy in a distilled, extreme form. She is cruel, authoritarian, greedy, anti-rational and casteist, and these aspects of her character seem rooted in her fear of society - an important point, which we will have to discuss in more detail below. The only justifications which she can give for her cruel authoritarianism are, firstly, that tradition supports her and, secondly, that she is senior to others. These two supports for her position are of course very easily threatened by education, and so it comes as no surprise that she does not favour further education for her daughters (pp. 14 and 125). Girije is for the larger part nothing but a younger version of her mother, with opportunistic inconsistency added: she insists on her seniority over Saraḷe, but rejects this reason for authority vis-à-vis her sister-in-law Vimalamma. Girije differs from Pārvatamma in that she belongs to the generation in which things are changing, but she does not want to be aware of that (cf. the remarks of her colleagues at the factory about her orthodoxy - p. 122) and expects that she can simply follow her mother's lifestyle: when Pārvatamma tells her to "keep a close eye" on her husband, Girije almost proudly says "Don't worry about that. Am I not your daughter?" (p. 161). Characteristically, she is not at all interested in further education of any kind.

103Śivaśankarayya is a kind-hearted father who is also a weakling. One day he gives sīre-s (saris) to his wife and daughters, and Pārvatamma demands:

"Where was all this money? Didn't you tell me?"
"The money for September’s paper correction came."
"Give the rest here!" said Pārvatamma and stretched out her hand (p. 73).

104At Saraḷe's question whether he has bought anything for himself, he replies that he wants them to be happy, and he can do without (p. 74). But in the concluding pages of the novel we see the prospect of Śivaśankarayya liberating himself from his suffering under Parvatamma in a nicely symbolic passage. Pārvatamma suffers from cancer; doctors say that her only chance of survival lies in an operation; but she cannot believe that anyone can live after surgeons have cut open her belly, so she swallows a bitter, traditional concoction which supposedly will cure her. She also forces Śivaśankarayya to drink it, even though he is not affected. Here the cancer of course stands for the misery that Pārvatamma inflicts upon herself through her own fear, aggressiveness and cruelty; instead of taking the advice of modern doctors (i.e. realizing that times are changing and that they require a more liberal and rational outlook) she takes the bitter concoction (i.e. she clings to outdated modes of thought). Not only that: she forces it on Śivaśankarayya, who does not need it (i.e. she forces her views on people who have already advanced beyond them). Śivaśankarayya runs to the kitchen to put sugar in his mouth (i.e. he refuses to accept any longer what Pārvatamma forces on him) and sees God (liberation) below the sugar-box, or presumably as a picture on the shelf below the one on which the sugar stood, as is very common in Hindu households (i.e. he realizes that his way to liberation is through rejecting Pārvatamma's perverse authoritarianism).

105From this survey of the main characters in the novel we can already see some of the social and ideological intricacies of the theme. The traditional arranged marriage is satisfying in the kind of society which A. Toffler has called 'first-wave', which consisted of small communities which were geographically immobile and had a lively social activity within themselves. Saraḷe and Mādhava live in a different age, in which people live with a different knowledge of things; they live in an urbanized industrial society, where they come into contact with many people from a large number of communities or castes. It is only natural that Saraḷe and Madhava, and others, have a different understanding of who and what they are, what their values and goals in life are and how they ought to live. This new and different understanding necessarily clashes with old social institutions and old concepts that ruled in the society of previous generations. There is a new evaluation of the individual and of responsibility for the major decisions in an individual's life. The issue of whether love-marriages are acceptable or not is connected with the institution of caste, with honour (maryāde), religion, and the concept of love and the role which it plays in marriage.

106We see a number of explicit statements in the book, either utterances or reported thoughts of the characters, which confirm the exclusiveness of caste. Many characters abhor the idea of marrying outside one's caste. The Ayyangars are just as casteist and exclusivistic as the Smārta-s, as we see from a woman's remark "if a crow takes some feathers and puts on airs, will it become a peacock?" (p. 129, emphasizing the presumed superiority of the Ayyangars over the Smārta-s) and from the remark that Rukmiṇamma's brother makes when he fears that Saraḷe may touch him and thereby ruin his purity: "Don't touch me. I'm in a state of purity," and a little later he says "what next, sister? Is it not possible for my children and grandchildren to come to this house? Your excellent caste is adulterated and ruined, isn't it! Couldn't you have stopped such impropriety, while you are still alive?" (p. 131). Other passages reveal the link between caste and religion: Mādhava thinks that "From the start, he was not blind about caste. But his parents? His mother had an unshakable religious faith" (p. 57), and when Rukmi-ṇamma thinks about her son's wish to marry Saraḷe, she worries whether lord Krishna will be angry (p. 88). Pārvatamma believes that Saraḷe's wish to marry Mādhava shows that she has no faith in religion (p. 97). In the minds of the people the caste-system is linked to the supernatural and divine.

107Also, caste is linked to maryāde, which is usually variously translated as 'honour', 'dignity' or 'decency'. From what Vēdavaḷḷi says in connection with the novel which she has read, in which the heroine loves a man of another caste and for that reason ultimately kills herself, we see that this notion of 'honour' is linked with keeping the rules of the caste. Vēdavaḷḷi believes that the heroine did the right thing, but Saraḷe strongly disagrees: "If you think about it, what is there in caste? Look, we are Smārta-s. You are an Ayyangar. But look at how strong our [mutual] affection is! How many people have asked us'are you sisters?'In the face of affection and love, it looks like we should do away with caste." But Vēdavaḷḷi smiles, clenches Saraḷe's hand and says: "it's not as easy as you say. Without caste, we can't go out, you see. Then we'll have no honour at all" (p. 20). Saraḷe says "You're an old hag. We read so much about science in college. In such an advanced world it looks so ridiculous that we quarrel about empty things... Had I been the heroine of that novel, I wouldn't have committed suicide" (p. 21). That Pārthasārathi writes to Śivaśankarayya asking his consent to the marriage is, in Pārvatamma's view, a sign of insolence of one caste towards another (p. 91). Girije beats Saraḷe when she hears about the relationship between her and Mādhava, saying "You've ruined our whole honour" (p. 92; here the word māna is used, a synonym for 'honour'). If Saraḷe marries Mādhava, according to Pārvatamma, the excellence (śreṣṭhate) of the family will go to ruin (p. 97). After Saraḷe is married, Girije calls her "a disgrace" (avamāna, p. 123), and fears that this disgracefulness will also rub off on her and negatively affect her own chances of marriage (p. 124), which for her of course must be arranged in the traditional way. Rukmiṇamma's brother chides her for having permitted such an impropriety (anyāya, p. 131). From all this it follows that maryādeor māna, 'honour', is not a quality showing a personal desire for general, impersonal justice, with reliability, strength of individual character and personal integrity, as is the general Western view. Rather, it is the opposite: it means subjection in deference to the rules of the caste, into which one is born not through one's own will.

108Also, we see that the caste system makes people feel insecure: people live in fear of the opinions of others with regard to their 'honour'. Even Mādhava feels this fear for a moment after he hears that Saraḷe belongs to another caste: "All his fellow caste-members might become angry at him. Shouldn't he fear them?" (p. 57). Pārthasārathi is afraid to consent to his son's marriage, for "the relatives and caste-fellows may say 'Pārthasārathi is crazy'" (p. 84). Pārvatamma shows fear about Saraḷe's desired marriage: "will it be possible for us to move with relatives and caste-fellows on the same footing?" (p. 95), and she thinks "What will people say? Will the kulabāndhavaru [family relations] come near us after this happens? This girl doesn't understand these problems" (p. 97). Girije would herself have liked to take bolder steps in search of a husband, "but fear of society kept her from proceeding" (p. 124).

109In a society where social relationships are governed by caste rules, and where groups are considered more important than individuals, the individual has only very limited scope for establishing his or her personal contacts with others. It is tolerable that Saraḷe and Vēdavaḷḷi, two girls from different Brahmin castes, are friends; but when Vēdavaḷḷi receives the letter from Mādhava with the envelope for Saraḷe, she feels "fear": "What is there for Mādhava to write about to Saraḷe individually (pratyēkavāgi)?" (p. 60). Privacy gives scope for individuality and makes social control more difficult, hence one is brought up to mistrust privacy and personal contacts that have not received the fiat of the authorities.

110In India the partner in marriage is found by senior relatives, belongs to the same caste and is judged mainly by others who hold positions of authority within the social group. The decision-makers look at the horoscopes of the couple-to-be; and when Saraḷe dares to ask whether all the people who married after their horoscopes had been compared are happy, her mother simply barks at her that she must keep quiet (p. 70). Elsewhere Parvatamma says to herself: "Are we not seniors (hiriyaru)? Is the responsibility of marrying off the girl not ours?" (p. 97). Her authority has no rational basis, hence she sees no need in justifying her actions rationally and in answering a reasonable question.

111We see that the parents claim the right to decide their children's adult lives, as a debt which the children owe them. "Is this what you give in return for my having brought you up with so much difficulty?" Rukmiṇamma asks Mādhava when she hears that he wants to marry Saraḷe (p. 87); Pārvatamma screams almost exactly the same accusation at Saraḷe (p. 92). "Having brought her up, is this the reward for having her educated? Why does she need parents after she has grown wings?" Pārvatamma thinks (p. 125) in perhaps the only passage in the novel where she shows any bond with her second daughter which is not wholly negative in character. Pārvatamma's thought reveals an attitude towards education which differs from the one generally accepted in the West today: in her view, education should not serve the development of young people into independent, knowledgeable, responsible people who can make their own decisions in life. This becomes understandable if we take Pārvatamma's thought as another expression of the idea that the social group (caste etc.) is more important than the individuals of which it consists, and that therefore the individual has hardly any right to think or act individually.

112The book also gives hints about the kind of thoughts that feed the fear of individuality, by referring to the concepts of "love" and "love-marriage", e.g. in Girije's stories about her colleague's love affair. Pārvatamma adds with parental authority: "This is what happens if you don't listen to what your elders say... Nobody who knows about this matter will marry her in future" (p. 70), namely because the girl was not docile enough. After Saraḷe and Mādhava are married, we find a similar doubt about the durability of love-marriages expressed by Girije: "How many days will this pretence of a love-marriage last? What'll she do if one day he kicks her out?" (p. 124). With her characteristic malice she revels in that idea, as though it is not just a possibility but a desirable probability.

113The question of what love (prīti) is arises a few times in the book. A number of passages express doubt about the strength of personal commitment vis-à-vis social pressure. Saraḷe thinks of the difficulties that will arise for Girije's getting married if she marries Mādhava; she thinks: "I must forget all about Mādhava. He too may be sad for a few days. After that he'll forget and marry another girl" (p. 72). But soon she feels the sincerity and rightness of her emotion again. Thinking about the possible problems with the rest of the caste after Saraḷe's wedding, Pārvatamma thinks: "She dances around saying 'love, love'. This isn't love, it's sexual desire. It would have been good if we had married her off earlier. How many times have I thought that her beauty will become her enemy" (p. 97). This thought shows that for her, marriage is not a psychological relationship between a man and a woman, but for the most part is nothing but a social channelling of the sexual instinct. Śivaśankarayya seems to show a similar thought on p. 58, when he thinks that by arranging Saraḷe's marriage he can get her out of the long spell of listlessness into which she has fallen.

114If we take into consideration what we have just now concluded about Pārvatamma seeing the social control of the sexual instinct as the major function of marriage, and if we combine this with her casteism and utter disregard of the significance of the individual, it becomes clear that for her, marriage is not based on any personal affection and commitment but merely on sexual urges and group loyalties. Naṭarāja hardly knows anything about Girije when he marries her, so he can hardly have loved her before marriage, and after marriage most of their time is spent in fighting, a struggle for power which the ruthless Girije wins by exploiting his sexual weakness ("His body was restless because he could not sleep with her at night" - p. 176). In her mad hatred of Saraḷe, Girije forces him to give up his job by leaving Madras for Bangalore and thus depriving him of sexual contact. Not surprisingly Pārvatamma says "What you did is right, Girije. If the son-in-law loves his wife, he'll come" (p. 177), using the word "love". Love as a form of deep personal affection is something which Pārvatamma is incapable of understanding. In the light of all that has been said in this paragraph about Pārvatamma's way of thinking, it seems that for her sexual desire is just that (kāma) when one is not married, but is love (prīti) when that sexual desire is aimed at the person to whom one is married (who is of the same caste, etc.).

115Thus Snēhapallavi, being actually much more than just a story of a love-relationship which is successful in spite of all the attempts made by villains to sabotage it, is a novel about the clash of two fundamentally different views of life. Saraḷe and Mādhava's marriage is individualistic and is based on personal love, i.e. their personal respect, appreciation, active concern for, involvement with and commitment to the other person, and it is therefore successful, while Girije and Naṭarāja's traditionally arranged marriage is not. Individual judgment reigns supreme over the traditional authorities of seniority and caste-rules; liberalness wins against rigidity. The 'problems' which the elders fear from their fellows caste-members after Saraḷe and Mādhava's wedding are never described and apparently also never arise - which again shows how vapid the idea of caste can be, if only one wants to reject it.

  • 16 I happen to know that the author and her husband addressed each other in equal terms.

116After recent events such as the Hindu slaughter of Sikhs in 1984 and the destruction by Hindus of the Babri Masjid in 1992, no intelligent person in the world can continue believing the myth of Hindu tolerance. Today it is still considered almost a crime by the vast majority of Indians if one marries outside one's caste, even though the government offers a cash reward as encouragement if people dare to do so. We may assume that in 1967, when Snēhapallavi first appeared, the situation was worse. I believe that therefore the author felt that she had to compromise with the sensibilities of most readers by incorporating bits of traditionalism which do not fit in the story. For instance, there is the formality that the husband addresses his wife with the informal singular personal pronoun nīnu whereas the wife speaks to the husband using the honorific plural nīvu (cf. pp. 134 and 156), a difference which looks somewhat odd in a relationship which is based on love and mutual respect rather than conventional family hierarchy16. Saraḷe's religiosity is another example of catering to popular sentiment (in real life, the author cared very little about religious practices). Still stranger is the last thing which we see Saraḷe do in the novel: she shows respect to her late mother-in-law by placing a light in front of her portrait and saying: "May you always be a guiding light in my life, mother!" (p. 198). Rukmiṇamma was a casteist who opposed their marriage and who refused to accept food from Saraḷe until her health had deteriorated so much that she was more or less forced to rely on her. Can Saraḷe not find a better "guiding light"? Her act seems not more than merely a traditionalistic obligation. The fact that this episode is inserted as a separate section of four lines, without any cogent connection with the rest of the story, seems proof that its insertion was purely for the sake of appearances.

1173.8 Nagathihalli Chandrashekhara (Nāgatihaḷḷi Candraśēkhara) is a writer of the new generation who in a short time has managed to earn popularity for himself through his stories, which have appeared in different magazines. No doubt his modest background and the hard life he has led have contributed to his style of writing, in which he pleads for gentleness and tolerance in human relations. He tends to be very simple and outspoken in his stories and articles when he points out human deficiencies in society around him, and in the past this has caused him some trouble with groups of people who thought they were the object of his accusations. Sarasvatipuradallondu hebbeṭṭina gurutu ("A Thumbprint in Saraswathipuram"), one of his better-known stories, is a good example of his kind of writing.

1183.9 Nagathihalli Chandrashekhara: Sarasvatipuradallondu hebbeṭṭina gurutu

119Saraswathipuram is one of the western suburbs of Mysore, near the university. The narrator, curious to know how the suburb got this name, rings the doorbell at one of the houses and asks the man who opens the door for the reason of the name. According to the man, it is because of the high level of education of the inhabitants of the area, where many people hold academic degrees and where even the vegetable seller knows English, where there is a swimming pool, a video cassette rental library and not a single illiterate person (p. 11). Apart from that there is the story that goddess Sarasvati herself, the goddess of learning, once passed by here, fell and broke her leg. But the narrator knows better, and he lists the crimes and vices of the suburb, ranging from pornography which is rented from the video cassette library to rape and murder. The man who spoke to him shuts the door in his face (p. 12).

120The narrator remembers his friend Ravi, who belonged to the Gowda caste and displayed an unappeasable hatred of Brahmins in public; in return, a Brahmin girl named Vatsala would argue that all Gowdas are rowdies, loafers and liars. In fact, the narrator tells us, all castes are bad, because they are castes. Ravi accused the Brahmins of having created castes, Vatsala pitied him for being a Gowda, but actually Ravi and Vatsala loved each other (p. 13).

121Ravi came from a family of social climbers who moved to Saraswathipuram from a lesser locality, wanted him to become an M.A., get a lecturer's job for him through their maṭhādhipati and then get him married to a girl from their caste in the town Bhadravati. The narrator went to Ravi's father to ask him to give his consent to a marriage between his son and the Brahmin girl, who was not Ravi's inferior in any way and was studying for an M.A. in English, like Ravi; and Ravi is serious about her, is not the type of boy who is out to have fleeting sexual affairs with girls, like others, who have given the Gowda caste a bad reputation. Ravi's father, however, would hear nothing of this, and gruffly told the narrator just to keep writing his stories (p. 14).

122Ravi's father decides to send some thugs on motorbikes to Vatsala's father, and the narrator sees them stand outside their house shouting abuse and threats at them. Later, in the university library, Ravi tells the narrator that his father had hired them for Rs. 200 ("if I'd give them Rs. 400, they'd do the same to my father," he adds sarcastically). Still later the narrator sees Ravi and Vatsala sitting under a tree, thinks they form a beautiful couple, and the "naughty" thought comes to him of how good it would be if intercaste marriages could be made compulsory throughout India (p. 15). He urges the couple to persevere against the disapproval of their parents, for he thinks that in time all will turn out well.

123Ravi's professor calls him to his room and scolds him for loving a Brahmin girl. According to him all Brahmin girls are loose women and after the age of thirty will grab any man, irrespective of his caste (p. 15). Because he is the professor, head of his department and can wield power over his students because he will determine what marks they get, he thinks that he can force Ravi to abandon his beloved (p. 16). Vatsala suffers a similar sermon at the hands of a pundit who tells her that they, Brahmins, are the cream of society, and that Gowdas are mere Sudras who eat pig's meat. Nevertheless, Ravi and Vatsala decide not to abandon each other but to leave Mysore, settle somewhere else and lead their own life there. They come to the narrator's hostel room to tell him this; he tries to persuade them to first finish their studies so that they have some higher academic qualifications and better job prospects, but they have already made up their minds. Ravi takes up employment in a factory; Vatsala becomes pregnant; their health fails them; and Ravi reports all this in letters to the narrator, so that he will have material for writing a story.

124Upset by his son's sudden departure, Ravi's father becomes mentally instable, abuses Brahmins on sight and takes to drinking, gambling and visiting whorehouses. Meanwhile he also participates in a rally calling for amity between people of different sects and religions (p. 18). While the rally is going on, a telegram from Bangalore comes for him; he calls for a taxi to take him to Bangalore, and late at night he returns in the taxi, with Ravi's dead body on his lap. The next day a grand funeral takes place, but Vatsala is not there. The narrator has his doubts about the father's feelings: whether perhaps he is happy that his son is no longer living with the Brahmin girl. The university declares a day of mourning for its deceased student, and the students rush downtown to have fun (p. 19).

125One day the father tells the narrator how he last saw Vatsala when he went to collect Ravi's corpse: she had first refused to give up her husband's body, but she could not pay the doctor's bill, and had "a wretched foetus in her belly"; she came running after the taxi, but he got rid of her by paying her some money. The narrator concludes the story by saying that he wants to find Vatsala and wants the readers' help in finding her: not so that he can take Ravi's place, which is impossible, but he wants her child to grow up in the middle of Saraswathipuram and put all the wretched Gowdas and dirty Brahmins to shame (p. 20).

1263.10 In a country where the great majority of the population consists of illiterates, a thumbprint in ink can serve the purpose of a signature on official documents, contracts etc. In the case of the title of this story, besides alluding to ignorance the thumbprint also suggests brutality and oppression.

127The first page of the story already prepares us for a story of exposure by the praise that is heaped on the part of Mysore which is called Saraswathipuram. Somewhat eccentrically, the narrator rings the doorbell at a random house to ask the reason of the name of the suburb, and he gets for an answer:

  • 17 M.B.B.S. is a medical degree, which entitles one to practice medicine in India.

"Don't you know even that much?" he asked. "In this place Sarasvati has settled in every house. Already in my house three people have got doctorates. One son-in-law is doing research abroad. There's an engineer, there's a doctor, there's a scholar. There are activists. There's a swimming pool. There's a cassette circulating library. There's not a single illiterate. Even the owner of the saloon on 2nd Main Street is an M.B.B.S.17 Also the green grocer knows English. There are writers in every house. Some of them have written enough to stop [their own writing], write forewords now and remain silent" (p. 11).

128The passage illustrates clearly the great value which Karnatakans attach to academic degrees, be they of whatever kind. We see other signs of status, like knowledge of English or going abroad (phārennalli - 'in foreign', as the common expression goes). Also there is a nice reference to the respect which is given to littérateurs. But then comes the list of vices which the narrator gives:

  • 18 There used to be numerous Iranian students in Mysore, and the local people generally have a low op (...)
  • 19 An obvious reference to a so-called 'dowry death'.

"In 14th Main Street, where there are no street lights, a murder was committed the other day. Saraswathipuram police station only records rape cases. The girls here have fun sitting on the back seat of the motorbikes of Iranian boys18... There are algae in the swimming pool. A professor has been suspended for giving extra marks to boys of his caste. They say there was a raid on the cassette circulating library the other day because they are showing blue films there. It's also a sort of murder when young women drown themselves in the nearby tank because they are pregnant, isn't it? Nor is the death of the daughter-in-law of a social worker who burned herself suicide: it's murder. She wouldn't have died if they hadn't continuously tormented her because her family hadn't given them a motorcycle19. If you go to Gangotri [the university campus] in the evening with a thousand-watt lamp and look around among the trees and shrubs, how many naked couples will you find embracing there? How many wives of husbands will you find among them? How many unwed virgins? It's only in unlawful relationships that you'll find anything in this country that isn't caste-bound. In this one case we must respect and worship sexual desire. It knows no caste distinctions...." (p.12).

129With this, the tenor of the story is set: people may think themselves impressive on account of their degrees or social status, and they may hold up such appearances in public, but their characters are tainted by vice or hypocrisy.

130The Gowdas or Vokkaligas are the big land-owning farmers' community of southern Karnataka, who are classified as Sudras in the varṇa system but have considerable political influence on account of their large number and the fact that they are land owners, which Brahmins as a rule are not. In the beginning Ravi is very vociferous about his hatred of Brahmins, which he seems simply to have inherited from the previous generation of his caste, because there is not the slightest hint that he has personally had any bad experiences with Brahmin people. The relationship which develops between him and Vatsala points rather to the contrary.

131Also the nature of his rantings against Brahmins shows the flimsy base of his caste hatred. He says: "You're Brahmins. You've destroyed the Hindu religion.... You've oppressed everyone for a long time" (p. 12), and he is angry at the Brahmins for having created castes (p. 13). Of course just a little bit of knowledge of the history of Hinduism would show that the religion is largely a Brahmin creation, and not something that the Brahmins have destroyed. Also it seems unlikely that the Brahmins have created the caste system. They have of course codified it in the dharmaśāstra-s, and while doing so they gave themselves the top position in the system and gave it their blessings; but this is hardly the same as 'creating' the system. The fact that neither the Brahmins nor any other particular group control the functioning of the system in all its detail, because castes are largely autonomous groups which determine their relationships with other castes, should be sufficient evidence to show that the caste system is not something which is imposed by a certain group of people on the rest of society (and certainly not by the Brahmins, who had neither military nor economic power, apart from the favours that were at times granted to them by others), but that it is innate in Indian society. Furthermore, all Hindu social groups collaborate in maintaining the system, irrespective of whether they are Brahmins, Gowdas or anything else. Turning back to the story, one may ask why the Gowdas (if we take Ravi's attitude as representative) delight in casteist abuse if they condemn the caste system. His father, the most rabid casteist in the story, is a Gowda.

  • 20 Cf. n. 14.

132When the narrator approaches Ravi's father to talk with him about his son's love for the Brahmin girl, that father's reaction is a clear illustration of what Ambedkar has written about the caste-based ethical sense of the Hindus: he allows his son to have some fun with Vatsala, but marriage is out of the question (p. 13) - in other words, there is no sense of responsibility or loyalty towards people of other castes. We see this again after Ravi and Vatsala have eloped and married: "Let him leave that rotten widow20 and come," his father says (p. 18) in total disregard of Vatsala, whom his son married out of love. Not only does Ravi's father have contempt for Vatsala on account of her caste. He actually wants her to be a casteist too, as we read when he has gone to collect Ravi's body, Vatsala comes running after the taxi and he has the taxi stop for a moment: "'Why are you coming, 'I said. She fell at my feet. 'I'm your daughter-in-law, please take me with you,'that widow whose caste is ruined (ā jāti keṭṭ munde) asks" (p. 19). Ravi's professor calls him and says:

  • 21 "Śāstri" is a name used generally only by Brahmins (though also by a few Virasaivas and Jainas), a (...)

"What's this, boy, people're saying you love a Brahmin girl (bomman huḍgī lav māḍtiyante). Couldn't you find a Gowda girl?... We give you a seat [i.e. admission to the university] so you can get ahead in life, we help you by giving extra marks, seeing you're a boy of our caste, and you go rotten like this (hīge hālāgtīri).... But that's over. Forget that girl. Brahmin girls don't find husbands anywhere. They have to do a lot to humour bridegrooms. So they still aren't married by the age of thirty and sit on the doorstep. They're pleased if they get boys of other castes. They grab them. Didn't Shastri's daughter grab Jalīl Sāb21 the other day?" (pp. 15-6).

133The irony is that the same professor had recently received an award for his collection of essays advocating intercaste marriages (p. 16). The same kind of hypocrisy occurs later, when we see Ravi's father donate Rs. 1000 to a rally which calls upon people to overcome sectarian and religious differences and attend it, while in practice he himself cannot overcome caste distinctions.

1343.11 Though I have deliberately chosen all the other works of fiction discussed in this study from the post-Independence period, I have made one exception, viz. Cōmana duḍi ('Cōma's Drum') by Shivaram Karanth (Śivarāma Kāranta 1902b), because a large number of my informants insisted that it be included as a sort of 'ancestral novel' for all later works dealing with the problem of untouchability.

135Karanth is now the seniormost writer of fiction in Kannada and one of the most important novelists in the language; he has been recognized as one of the leading writers of India (he received the Jñānapīṭha Award for his novel Mūkajjiya kanasugaḷu, which has been translated into English as 'Mookajji's Visions'). Karanth is not merely a writer, but rather a Karnatakan homo universalis who has studied various forms of art, is a leading authority on the folk drama called yakṣagāna, has edited a Kannada dictionary, an encyclopaedia of science and a children's encyclopaedia, has been active in the independence movement and till quite recently in politics, has tried to create ecological awareness among the people of Karnataka, is a campaigner against nuclear energy and has written on subjects like birds, rivers and cultural anthropology. His vast knowledge, broad range of activities and keen intellect make him one of the cultural leaders not only of Karnataka, but of India.

136Though the short novel Cōmana duḍi cannot be called his best, it is perhaps his best-known book, and for all its technical simplicity it is a poignant depiction of the sufferings of a family of untouchables, more particularly of the protagonist Cōma, in Karanth's home district. In the preface to the novel Karanth explains that there are a few subdivisions among the holeya-s or untouchables; one of these groups is allowed to till the land, whereas this is forbidden for the others. Part of Cōma's tragedy is precisely that his great wish is to work on a small bit of land which he can call his own, while society cannot tolerate such a thing.

1373.12 Shivaram Karanth: Сōтапа duḍi

138Cōma is an outcaste who works on the estate of Sankappayya, who cannot approve of Cōma's drinking habits but feels sympathy for him nevertheless. Cōma's wife has already passed away, and he lives with his five children, the two youngest of whom are usually ill. The family is utterly poor, and part of their food they steal from the government-owned forest nearby. Cōma has one great dream in life: to possess some land of his own and become a farmer. He already has two young buffaloes which he found abandoned in the forest when they were still calves, and he imagines that one day they will pull his plough for him. He hopes that Sankappayya may one day allow him to become one of his tenants, but this is unlikely, since there is a belief that if an outcaste handles a plough this may bring about the end of the world (p. 17). Apart from drinking, his favourite pastime is drumming, even if there is no one who will sing or dance to his rhythms, and while he drums he likes to imagine that he is a classical musician.

139In the year that his wife died, he worked on a coffee plantation and took a loan in order to buy liquor; he cannot remember how much money he has borrowed, but the foreman, Manvēla Sōja, says that with the accumulated interest it amounts to twenty rupees (p. 19). Cōma refuses to sell his buffaloes to pay off the debt, and since his daughter Beḷḷi does not want him to go work on the plantation again (for he will drink and pile up more debts) it is decided that his two elder sons, Caniya and Guruva, will go. Meanwhile Cōma works hard on Sankappayya's land, for which Sankappayya gives him some extra tobacco; Sankappayya is also willing to help Cōma pay off his debt by buying the buffaloes, but Cōma rejects the offer and asks him for some land instead. Sankappayya is basically willing to give him some, but his elderly mother, who is highly orthodox, forbids this, exclaiming that these outcastes have become very arrogant (ī holeyarige banda sokkē! - p. 27). Sankappayya gives Cōma some extra rice, and at the nearby liquor shop Cōma is swindled and given diluted liquor in exchange for it (p. 28).

140Caniya and Guruva go to the plantation. The journey is difficult with the immense heat, the bad water that they get on the way and the rapacious shopkeepers on whom they depend for provisions while travelling. Among their fellow travellers an eight-year-old girl dies on the way; she is buried and the journey continues.

141Again Cōma asks Sankappayya for some land, so that he can rid himself of his sense of servility, and again Sankappayya must disappoint him, because according to his mother the outcastes must remain servants, and also the reputation of their family will be in jeopardy if they give land to outcastes; hence Sankappayya tells Cōma that fate has it that he will not be able to work on land of his own (p. 46). Cōma then goes and asks a Christian priest who is known to be in charge of a large piece of property; the priest is willing to let him work on a fine piece of land nearby, but it is reserved for Christians (namma jātiyavarigē allade itararige gēṇi koḍalu baruvudilla, p. 47), which means that Cōma is welcome if he becomes a Christian. Without any further word Cōma returns home and plays his drum. Sankappayya allows him to use his buffaloes to plough the land, but the awareness that this is not his own land depresses him. Beḷḷi tries to convince him that his wish for land is basically wrong, because they were not born in the right caste for that (pp. 51-2).

142Caniya and Guruva live in hovels on the plantation, where the water is bad, and though the workers are from their own caste, all of them are rather asocial. Though both of them catch a fever, they continue working, and instead of seeing the debt decrease, it only increases, due to interest. Caniya dreams of the marriage that his father has promised him when he returns; Guruva falls in love with a girl whose family belonged to their caste but was converted to Christianity, and the two brothers quarrel over this. Guruva silently considers conversion himself, and on the way back on overloaded trucks from the plantation when their period of labour is over, Guruva goes off with the girl's family (pp. 59-60). When at home Caniya tells what has happened, Cōma curses Guruva for having left their caste, yet wants him back and goes looking for him (pp. 63-5). Meanwhile Caniya falls ill and Beḷḷi calls Cinna, the outcastes' medicine man. Cinna is drunk and performs some magic, and the fever worsens; the younger boys find him again at the liquor shop, where he tells them to prepare some things so that the next day he can perform an exorcism, but meanwhile Caniya has already died. Cōma returns and believes that their deity, the spirit Panjurli, is angry with him. Guruva has married the Christian girl. For a week Cōma remains drunk in an attempt to overcome these losses.

143Manvēla returns and tells Beḷḷi that the debt has now increased to twenty-five rupees; he also brings the news that Guruva has become a farmer. Beḷḷi reacts by calling Guruva a jātigeṭṭavanu ('one whose caste is ruined', p. 80), which hurts Manvēla's feelings, since he himself is a Christian. Sankappayya offers thirty rupees for the buffaloes, but Cōma still rejects this, and therefore Beḷḷi and Nīla go to work on the plantation. There Beḷḷi hears that the debt is only fifteen rupees; Manvēla says that he told them a lie to create in them a sense of urgency to come and pay off this remaining debt, but Beḷḷi feels uncertain after thus experiencing the dishonesty of their creditors. In time, however, she develops intimacy with Manvēla, and becomes his mistress, for which she again receives some money which she needs in order to have Nīla recover from a fever. Another boy in the camp abuses Nīla by calling him "the foreman's brother-in-law", which Nīla fortunately does not understand (p. 97). One day Mingēla, the proprietor of the plantation, sends for her at night; the next day Beḷḷi looks like someone who has seen a ghost and she and Nīla immediately leave for home, now that the debt has been 'payed'. Cōma is happy that they are no longer in debt and wants to look for a husband for Beḷḷi. He still wants land, and again Beḷḷi argues that first of all fate must be on one's side, as apparently is the case with Guruva (p. 104).

144One day Kāla and Nīla go swimming, and though they know how to swim, Nīla grows tired and is about to drown. A Brahmin boy standing on the bank of the canal wants to swim to his rescue, but he is held back by his elders because Nīla is an outcaste; when the boy finally does manage to escape from his elders and dive for Nīla, it is too late, and he can bring back only Nīla's dead body. Cōma, who does not know how to swim stands helpless on the bank and watches all this happen (p. 107). Kāla has to go begging for food and Cōma seriously considers conversion to Christianity, since their god has not done much to alleviate their plight, Nīla perhaps would have been saved if only they had been of a different caste, and more than anything else, the Christian god has made Guruva a farmer (p. 109). Also Beḷḷi silently wonders whether she could become Manvēla's wife if they are converted. Then Manvēla comes to their hut to offer his condolences for Nila's death and tells them that Guruva is now farming at a nearby town and would like to see them; he suggests that the family reconcile itself with Guruva, and Beḷḷi tells him that they have actually decided to accept the faith of the pādri (p. 112).

145Soon Cōma sets out to find Guruva and speak with him before going to the priest. On the way he stops at the wayside shrine of their deity Panjurli to offer his respects, as he is wont to do, and he suddenly feels regret: it is as though Panjurli asks him why now, when the end of his life is near anyway, he is giving up the faith of his ancestors in favour of that of the pādri. Cōma changes his mind, since after all Christians too suffer hardships and sorrow, and he returns home, where he sees Beḷḷi and Manvēla sitting together in the hut on the same mat. He is furious at seeing this indecent behaviour, chases off Manvēla and throws Beḷḷi out of the hut as well (p. 114). Kāla returns, but Cōma declares that he no longer has any children, and he forbids anyone to enter the hut. Beḷḷi is too frightened to ask forgiveness. Cōma then lets loose the two buffaloes in the forest where he had found them as calves; he breaks his plough and yoke, throws the broken fragments in a heap in front of the hut and burns them. He furiously plays his drum one last time and dies (p. 116).

1463.13 In Сōтапа duḍi we see numerous persons caught in a web of social forms and norms which they find oppressive and unjust and from which they nevertheless cannot escape, for no other reason than that they believe there is no escape. Cōma and his family are victims of the caste system, and yet he is angry with his son Guruva because the latter has left his caste by becoming a Christian. Similarly Beḷḷi first refers to her brother as a jātigetṭṭvanu before the family collectively considers conversion for the obvious benefits this will bring. Twice we read that Cōma asks Sankappayya for some land to work on, but Sankappayya feels unable to comply with Cōma's request since his mother opposes it, and Sankappayya too is caught up in social ties: he cannot risk his reputation being mined by going against the established norms of society, even though he feels that they are unreasonable.

147In a few passages we catch glimpses of a touching simplicity of mind which contributes to Cōma's misery, an attitude that does not understand matters such as responsibility and planning. Cōma incurred a debt at the coffee plantation, but he does not remember exactly how much the debt amounted to. He first tells Sankappayya a lie that he has paid his debt and, when later Manvēla comes and confronts him with the hard reality that the debt is still there and has to be paid, he goes and asks land from Sankappayya for this reason, Sankappayya is understandably angry. One day a number of relatives come; they get liquor from the local shop, get drunk, make merry, need more money for liquor and therefore sell parts of the carcass of a dead buffalo, weave some baskets and hunt rabbits which they trade for still more liquor (Beḷḷi manages to keep behind two baskets, so that she can trade them for some food), and after a week they simply disappear again (pp. 84-91).

  • 22 Nagaraj 1983: 40-1.

148In an article about the relationship between modem literature and the common man, Bangalore critic D.R. Nagaraj says that the novel gives two reasons why Cōma does not obtain any land: firstly, he is a habitual drunkard who spends all he earns on alcohol, and secondly the landlord was not magnanimous enough to give him any land, and "the understanding that the reason for Cōma's tragedy lies in the structure of the system in which he lives does not appear anywhere in this work22 " In my opinion Nagaraj is grossly unfair towards Karanth, since it is quite clear from the novel that Cōma's alcoholism is a result of the suffering which his social position causes (e.g. when Caniya has died: "Indeed, that night Cōma had returned having drunk more.... What else can drown his sorrow?" - p.71). To say that Cōma gets no land simply because the landlord Sankappayya is greedy plainly overlooks what we read about that character's thoughts in the novel; also, it is an oversimplification that disregards the complexities of the dynamics of the casteist society, a society which does not, as for example Dumont has convincingly shown, fit neatly into the Marxist schemes of analysis which Nagaraj is fond of.

149Also in this novel, Christianity figures prominently, but Karanth takes no very clear stand on its role in the society which he portrays. On the one hand conversion holds out prospects of social improvement, as we see in the case of Guruva, who can become a farmer. On the other hand, the Christian characters in the novel are not exactly fine people: the owner of the coffee plantation who ruthlessly exploits the outcastes is obviously one, as his name 'Mingēla' ('Miguel') indicates, and he has Beḷḷi pay off Cōma's debt by sexually using her. Henchman Manvēla Sōja (Manuel D'Souza) is hardly a more positive character than his boss. Thus the Christians may have some advantages to offer, but they remain people, capable of a variety of evil, and they remain another caste in society (as the priest says when he tells Cōma that the land of the church is reserved for people of "our caste").

1503.14 After having seen this novel about the life of an outcaste by a non-outcaste, we should look at some samples of writing by a person who was born into such a community. One of the artistically most intriguing writers of modem Kannada fiction is Devanura Mahadeva (Dēvanūra Mahādēva 1949b), whose highly introspective, experimental style of writing makes him one of the most innovative authors in the language.

151Mahadeva is no doubt one of the most difficult authors to translate, yet translations of some of his writings are under preparation in Tamil and English. Critics tend to classify him as a Dalita writer, but this seems to be based on non-literary criteria: Mahadeva's Harijana family background and his activities as a member of the Dalita Samgharsa Samiti, an organization that works for the upliftment of the lowest castes. Judging purely by his writings, he is in a category by himself.

1523.15 Devanura Mahadeva: Grastaru

  • 23 The word 'gowda' (gauḍa) is commonly used as a synonym for 'vokkaliga' (okkaliga), a generic term (...)

153The protagonist's mother is bedridden in their run-down hut. The Gowda23 had come, and the sobbing mother asks her son why he opposed him, who is "such a big man". The protagonist imagines what the Gowda must have said: "I loaned the boy Rs. 1000 thinking he was worth it. I fell at the swami's feet, made him give a job, and now I've found out what kind of a fellow he is. I'll just say this. Tell him to return the loan and the interest to my door. You know what'll happen if he doesn't. You won't keep a handpalm's breadth of land" (p. 11). His aunt gives him tea and asks when at last he will marry, and he thinks of the girl with whom he is in love: "The memory of her like an antelope grazing on shoots came running. Two very large eyes. A large forehead, a large heart. There is enough place for me to lie down there. Smoking cigarettes there all night, getting up in the morning, abusive words from her - it seemed great." The aunt knows what he is thinking of and says: "Don't make yourself feel miserable by fixing your mind on something that won't happen" (p. 12).

154He goes to the Gowda's house, which is hidden in darkness. The Gowda is sitting on a cot on the verandah surrounded by papers. The protagonist asks him for more time to repay him, but the Gowda lights a cigarette and asks how that is possible. The protagonist says that it is difficult now that he has given up his job, and the Gowda says: "Okay, so somehow you left your job. What'll happen to the reputation of the man who got you the job?" "It isn't like that. You don't understand," the protagonist says, and the Gowda flares up: "What'd you say?... Who are you to the swami? What's more, you say all swamis are this and that.... Bring the loan and the interest. After that you go your way" (p. 13). The protagonist goes home.

155His mother complains that he has still not repaired the roof, from which a few tiles are missing. He tries not to think of that, lights a cigarette and tries to mix its smoke with his memories of the girl. Sitting out in the cold she had said: "Marriage is far away for me." He had wanted to ask 'how far', but could not, and simply sat "feeling filled with her". He had wanted to tell her many things, had wanted to say what she meant to him, but he had hesitated and not done so. She had said that they should not meet so often, for it would create a scandal. "She, her parents, the castes and groups of relatives that divide and keep apart, between all these she and I were like corpses thrown to the vultures - I got up and said 'shall I go?"' (p. 14).

156His mother asks what he told the Gowda, and he tries to avoid answering. But she insists, and he says: "Is it wrong to say what I think is right?" His mother says "All right," and he says: "I said all this dharma, karma, maṭha, swamis is nonsense." She is highly upset and physically affected by this, and she demands: "Go now and say you were wrong.... This is the fate I caused for myself. Go now." He says he cannot; she says that she will apologize, and he says: "Nobody has to do so." He presses his head with both his hands in despair. "How'll we live?" his mother asks. "Are we alive now?" he asks her, gets up and stands outside in the dark for a long time (pp. 14-5).

1573.16 The story Grastaru is a characteristic example of Mahadeva's writing: his is a style which is fragmented but not incoherent, and which precisely by its fragmentedness can achieve great power. The mosaic-like quality of his writing, with its frequent shifting of attention between things which at first sight may seem unconnected, makes it possible to collect and present very quickly, in a highly concentrated manner, information about the many different aspects of the reality which he tries to describe. The underlying links between the facets of his described reality are often indicated only subtly. This is a very difficult technique, which can very easily lead to failure, but in Mahadeva's disciplined hand it is highly suggestive and successful. There is also a fascinating, wholly unconventional freshness about his descriptions of perceptions and feelings. Some of his images are haunting, just because they appear casually, as it were, and are not pushed to extremes, for example his description of the ailing mother on her bed, or a thought that crosses the protagonist's mind before going through the dark to the Gowda's house: "I imagined my mother's white, paralysed body wandering through the whole town" (p. 12). He has not produced much quantitatively, and we may assume that this has benefitted the quality of his writing. Creatively, artistically, he is one of the most important Kannada writers today.

  • 24 Personal communication, June 5th, 1988.

158An Indian in India cannot escape easily from his caste-identity, and for an outcaste this is almost impossible, for the rest of society constantly reminds one of one's place in the system. Mahadeva is also involved with the Dalita Saṃgharṣa samiti, a political organization that works for the betterment of the Dalitas. It says much about Mahadeva's qualities as a writer that though he is actively socially involved, he avoids writing programmatically or following some propagandiste scheme or the other, as easily happens with such writers. He wants to capture and express a mood or a feeling in language first of all to his own satisfaction, and hence there is no danger of becoming propagandistic24. Indeed there is not much of a narrative element in his writing, and moods and feelings are subtly and penetratingly drawn in a language that is somewhat reminiscent of William Faulkner in English.

  • 25 Rao 1978: 113-9.

159Sumatheendra Nadig, who translated the story into English25, gave his translation the title "The Eclipsed", which may indeed be a very reasonable reproduction of what is intended by "grastaru", "those who are grasta". 'To eclipse' is one of the meanings of the Sanskrit verb-root gras-, viz. when it is used in astronomy. The original meaning is 'to seize with the mouth, swallow, devour', and an eclipse meant that a heavenly body was temporarily devoured by a celestial monster. In Kannada we have for the past participle grasta the additional meaning 'seized or possessed by a demon'. This range of meanings makes the word an apt title for this story, which is pervaded by a sense of doom.

160The story confronts us with the deep, all-embracing despair which is experienced by the people who are at the bottom of the caste hierarchy. The Gowda is clearly the big man in the village, the rich man who can loan money on interest, has the reputation of threatening people with dispossession of their land and whose influence is such that he can persuade the local swami to give the protagonist a job. The protagonist's mother refers to him as "such a big man" and "a man who's like a god", and the servility which we hear in these words is further emphasized by her desperate remark "This is the fate I caused for myself': she believes that the things which she did in her previous life have placed her in this position of subordination to people like the Gowda. For her the status quo is just. We are not given the reason explicitly why the protagonist gave up the job, which was obviously very hard for him to get. The Gowda takes this as a personal affront which damages his own reputation; the protagonist says that it was not meant that way, and this looks quite genuine, because there are no indications that he is trying to humble himself before the Gowda. Indeed the Gowda does not understand, as the protagonist says; nor does the protagonist's mother or aunt.

161The other frustration which weighs heavily on the protagonist's mind concerns his relationship with the girl whom he loves but whom he cannot marry, and the reason for that is clear. They are kept apart by their castes, and their castes are a presence that is felt at very close range: in groups of their relatives, in her parents and even in her (she is afraid of the scandal that would ensue if they would meet often. Apparently they belong to communities that are relatively liberal with regard to contacts between the sexes, if they can meet at all). For the girl, this social pressure weighs heavily, whereas he rejects it: he continues dreaming about the girl and in his report to his mother about what he said to the Gowda he rejects the authorities and ideas which have perpetuated the system, viz. the notions of dharma and karma and the authority of maṭha-s and swamis.

162But we know that this is not what he actually told the Gowda. Perhaps the fear of the man who is like a god, which his mother has, also took hold of him for a moment, so that he dared not speak his mind. But more likely he does not really care, and on an earlier occasion he may have said something like what he reports (see the Gowda's remark on p. 13). He feels that his situation is hopeless anyway and he does not want to offend anyone or hurt anyone's feelings for nothing. Thus he first hesitates to speak his mind to his mother and only does so at her insistence. He refuses to go to the Gowda and apologize, and when his mother says that she will go, he tells her that it is not necessary, after which he presses his head with both his hands in despair. What he reported to his mother is true in the sense that he really feels what he perhaps has said once to the Gowda. He may see it as the essence of all that he told the Gowda over the past few times that they have met. In any case it is the expression of how he feels about his situation, in which he is caught and out of which he sees no possibility of escape, and the story ends with an image of hopelessness: the protagonist standing outside in the dark for a long time.

1633.17 In the following story by Mahadeva, we see a similar sketch of forlornness, now concerning an orphaned boy.

1643.18 Devanura Mahadeva: Amāsa

  • 26 Māri is a folk goddess, associated with the lower castes.

165Amāsa (so called because he is black-complexioned, or because he was born on an amāvāse - new moon - day) is an orphan living in the Māri26 temple; there is a crippled old man ther too who is always seen in one of three or four positions and lies on a black blanket of unknown antiquity in a corner. People call him Kuriyayya because he once used to herd the village Gowda's sheep. He spends his time in a seemingly half-meditative state, often counting on his fingers. At night the maṭha serves food for the destitute, and Amāsa, invisible in the dark, brings food for Kuriyayya and himself, then falls asleep; then Kuriyayya will say "Amāsa" two or three times, hear no answer and go to sleep (pp. 45-6). Amāsa is eleven or twelve years old.

166Only on the annual Māri festival does Kuriyayya have to change his place: the temple is cleaned and daubed. There was a time when he was highly appreciated for his huliyāsa (tiger dance) at the time of the festival, and the Gowda had said that he could stay in their house and be looked after by them, if he would look after the sheep a bit; he would get food and clothing. Now a man merely comes and helps Kuriyayya move, and shakes a huge amount of dust and dirt from Kuriyayya's blanket, which float away on the wind in the early morning sun (p. 47). Amāsa enjoys the temple's colourfulness and commotion; he watches a man surrounded by appreciating people make mythological creatures out of coloured paper. Kuriyayya is back in his old comer and in his mind lives in a separate reality (p. 48). On the day of the festival Amāsa dances to the rhythm of a drum with the village boys, and his steps are the most gracious of all, though no one has taught him how to dance. Everyone watches him with appreciation.

167He witnesses a goat sacrifice outside the temple: it is beheaded, and while the head still moves in paroxysms some water is poured into the mouth and blood gushes from the still kicking body. A boy picks up the bloody half-garland that was placed around the goat's neck, puts it around Amāsa's neck and tells him to dance. Terrified, Amāsa runs off, and these sights stay before his mind's eye till late at night, when many people are asleep in the temple, wrapped in white sheets, giving brightness to the temple (pp. 50-1).

168The next day there are preparations at the temple for the tiger dance. Fearfully painted dancers come and dance ferociously, scaring women and children to flee indoors. Prominent members of the various castes watch the dancers and award prizes to them in accordance with their status. The memory of the dance lingers long with the people after its completion. At night the Gowda, who cannot sleep, goes out for a stroll, lights a bīḍi and asks his serf who the boy is who danced the role of a cub. The serf says that it is Amāsa, the orphan who stays with Kuriyayya. The Gowda is astonished that he has not recognized him, and he says: "Ah, hey. How much he's grown already," and he remembers in detail how Amāsa danced (pp. 52-3).

1693.19 As with his story Grastaru, Mahadeva makes few direct remarks about the relationships between people of various castes in this story, but the position of the harijana-s can be inferred from details in the sketching of the forlorn situation in which the people live. Like Kuriyayya, Amāsa lives in the temple which is completely neglected until the annual Mari festival comes. Kuriyayya was once highly appreciated because he could dance the huliyāsa so nicely, hence the Gowda offers him food, clothing and shelter, provided that Kuriyayya also herds the sheep. What exactly happened in the meantime is not stated, but it is clear enough that when Kuriyayya became too old to herd the sheep and dance, the Gowda lost interest in him, and the old man had to move to the temple. The end of the story suggests that it is Amāsa's turn to be the village's foremost dancer, as the Gowda has become interested in him, and no doubt the same fate will ultimately await him as awaited Kuriyayya. They are there for the sake of others' amusement, and when they no longer amuse, they have outlived their purpose.

170Amāsa and Kuriyayya are caught in a more or less hopeless situation, and the atmosphere of hopelessness is strengthened by the appearance of secondary characters. The woman Bangāri, who watches Amāsa admiringly and longs for a child of her own, cannot escape from being a target of ridicule because she is childless after seven years of marriage, in spite of all her attempts, including extra-marital affairs, at becoming pregnant (p. 49). The railway worker Siddappa, who wanders drunk through the streets at night fulminating against lamp posts, mistaking them for "a politician, a contractor, a railway boss or a usurer" and telling them "Communism must come, then you'll have to stop laughing" (p. 51), is an image of helplessness.

1713.20 Conclusions

172On the whole, our authors agree that the caste system is a blemish on Indian society, but they concentrate on different effects of the system on individual lives and emphasize different shortcomings of the system.

173Kattimani, in what we may call true Pragatiśīla fashion, stresses the economic aspects of the caste system, and in more than one way. In the characters of Rāmacandra’s bosses Lingappa and Gurubasappa we see how unscrupulous individuals can make use of the ruthlessness towards people of other castes which the system generates in people, manipulating casteist sentiments to their own financial advantage. There is no such thing as fairness in the society which he describes: however conscientiously and well a person does his job, he may not receive credit for that, on account of his caste; people may climb to places of authority not on the basis of merit but on the basis of their caste. Rāmacandra is perpetually harrassed at his work because he is the only Brahmin in that company, and Lingappa is his superior because he happens to be a Virasaiva.

174But we also see that there is a connection between the caste system and the position of women in the traditional social setup. The reason why Śāntā is not yet married is that the family cannot afford to pay the dowry which is necessary for acquiring a suitable bridegroom (and the major reason why Rāmacandra is interested in having the faujdar for his brother-in-law, who in all other respects is unsuitable, is that the man does not demand a dowry). Santa's problem could easily be solved if only her father and elder brother would accept the solution which she created for herself: she and Sadānanda seriously love each other, want to marry, and, moreover, he does not demand a dowry. Everyone would be pleased, if only casteism would not be in the way. Interestingly, we see that Anupama Niranjana describes the same kind of connection in her Snēhapallavi In this case, though, another dimension is added: the traditional problem of seniority, which demands that daughters should be married in order of age, and even if Saraḷe's parents would consent to her marrying an Ayyangar boy, the problem of Girije's still being unmarried (which would amount to a scandal, in the eyes of the mother) would remain. Niranjana, in his Banaśankari, goes another step further: the moral code of the higher castes prohibits widow remarriage, which leaves them relatively unprotected and more easily preyed upon by lascivious men. This would not have been the case if the rules of their caste would have permitted remarriage, as is possible in other castes.

175First of all there is a fear of 'what society may say': the caste is a group within which certain loyalties must be observed, and marrying outside the caste would be seen as a breach of loyalty, a sort of treason. Considering that one aspect of castes is that they are socio-economic battle units, the consequences of such a transgression could be serious, especially when one's socio-economic position already is difficult, such as is the case with Rāmacandra in Janivāra mattu śivadāra. We have seen another consideration in favour of the preservation of caste purity in the words of the faujdar, who is a man associated with the ultra-right: the superstition that miscegenation of castes will lead to the'ruin of religion, culture and the country'. Pārvatamma, the main casteist in Snēhapallavi, appeals to the social acceptance of casteism as 'decency' chiefly in order to maintain her tyrannical hold on the family. That hardly anyone seems interested to take up women's issues besides those who are fighting casteism, suggests that in the view of these writers casteism and the subordination of women spring from one and the same mentality: the mentality that sees one's birth as the justification for the place which is accorded to one in the traditional social structure.

176The economic motive returns in Mahadeva's Amāsa and Karanth's Cōmana duḍi. In Amāsa we see examples of utter have-nots living on the periphery of society. Because Kuriyayya was a good dancer, the Gowda took interest in him and made him his shepherd, giving him food and shelter until the man became too old to work any more, and he was just as easily cast aside as he was taken in earlier. The outcastes are there to amuse and serve the higher castes, but are not really treated as people. In Cōmana duḍi, the main reason why Cōma cannot get any land from his employer is that the employer's mother feels that outcastes have no right to it, and she also fears the reaction within their caste-because (as would be the case if Śāntā in Janivāra mattu śivadāra would marry the boy of the other caste) giving land to the outcaste would be seen as a breaking of the rules of the community, i.e. a breach of loyalty; furthermore, it would set a bad precedent, creating hopes among the other outcastes and upsetting an accepted state of affairs that has existed from time immemorial. In Shantarasa's story Sambandhagaḷu (§2.12) much of the casteist bickering around whether the swami may step down and marry a girl from another sub-caste is inspired by economic motives. The reason why the protagonist of Mahadeva's Grastaru is among the 'eclipsed', in financial straits and also not finding any personal fulfilment in a personal relationship with the girl he loves, is again casteism.

  • 27 The 'shadow' consists of those negative qualities in a person's psyche which that person suppresse (...)

177Just as casteism forms a convenient façade for economic machinations and Pārvatamma in Snēhapallavi can maintain her hold on the family with it, casteism can also serve frustrated people nicely by providing them with a convenient target on which they can project what Jung has termed 'their shadow'27. Not only is the target there, but casteism also provides a form of reasoning why the projection must represent the truth. Thus Koṭabāgi in Janivāra mattu śivadāra, disappointed in love and unapplauded as a poet, finds a casteist reason as a justification for hating Sadānanda, of whom he is jealous. One need not have any sympathy for people of other castes, or extend one's sense of morality beyond one's own caste (for traditional Indian morality is caste-oriented, as Dr. Ambedkar has stated), hence Koṭabāgi's hatred of Sadānanda is not reprehensible according to orthodox standards. This is no doubt why he is so firm in this casteist atred: it changes his negative emotion into something socially acceptable (for 'society' is one's own caste).

178In Nagathihalli Chandrashekhara's Sarasvatipuradallondu hebbeṭṭina gurutu this socially cynical aspect of casteism also justifies the attitude of Ravi's father towards Vatsala (in his own eyes), for not only does a Gowda not need to show any sympathy towards a Brahmin: she has broken the rules of the casteist game. The Gowda wants everyone to be casteist; through her relationship with his own son, she has rejected casteism, and therefore she is contemptible. Bolwar Mahamad Kunhi concludes his story Daphana (§2.9) by saying something particular about a fellow leaving his caste but receiving help only from the fellow members of his caste when he needs it (here he uses the word jāti for a religious community, Muslims vis-à-vis Hindus; Bhyrappa does the same in his Dharmaśrī). Here we see the positive side of casteism: solidarity within the group in times of need, just as Prāṇēśācārya in Anantha Murthy's Samskāra states that though Nāraṇappa may have left Brahminism, Brahminism has not left him. But the real question of course remains: why must this sort of solidary be limited to the caste? Can it not be extended to the whole of society?

179Economic motivations and the use of casteism to cover up one's individual shortcomings, however, are forms of non-genuine casteism; the ends which are served could also be served by different means. The reason why casteism exists at all is found in the sphere of quasi-religious belief, superstition and the blind following of tradition.

180The force of tradition becomes most conspicuous in Niranjana’s Banaśankari: in spite of the fact that Ammi has been forced by others to suffer solely for the sake of superstitions (astrology and casteism), and in spite of her excommunication, casteist values have struck root in her so deeply that she gives up her casteist beliefs only on her deathbed. In Chittal's Mallinātha (see below, §5.3) Uggā Bhaṭṭa observes the (in his eyes) unconventional behaviour of Gangoḷḷi's wife and concludes that she must be from some strange caste or the other: for him, the staunch traditionalist, the good old, traditional lifestyle is identifiable with caste. This desire of preserving old customs is one of the village priest's major arguments for marrying within one's own caste in Bhyrappa’s Tabbaliyu nīnāde magane (§3.9).

181We see in Shantarasa's Sambandhagaḷu (§2.12) how strong the traditionalistic attitude can be. The Virasaiva religion did not arise out of nothing, but developed out of a tradition of North Karnatakan Saivism. The adherents of Virupākṣa Svāmi's maṭha are supposedly Virasaivas, and the founder of Virasaivism, Basavaṇṇa, denounced casteism in the twelfth century. Nevertheless, the villager Āṇeppa objects to celebrating the birth anniversary of Basavaṇṇa because their maṭha belonged to a different tradition and was not originally Virasaiva. Another villager actually objects to the swami's being a devotee of the founder of their religion and his reading Basavaṇṇ's writings. Here too we see the superstitious fear that because of marital relationships between people of different (sub-) castes "dharma will be ruined". A sort of superstition also seems to play a part in the minds of Kundā's parents in Shantinath Desai's Vikṣēpa (§ 5.12). Rāhula hapily presumes that the girl whom he is flirting with belongs to another caste, since her mother tongue is different from his, and he is somewhat appalled when he discovers that it is not so. Still worse: he has been led into a marriage trap, for her parents do not object to a 'love marriage', provided that the boy of her choice belongs to their caste - i.e. though her parents are liberal to some extent, they cannot give up their casteism. In Karanth's Cōmana duḍi the protagonist can escape from his miserable situation quite easily by following his eldest son's example and becoming a Christian, but just as he is on his way to the priest he feels the call of their ancestral god, demanding his loyalty for the few days of life that still remain to him, and then he is overcome by his emotionality and gives up the plan of conversion.

182Finally we should note the element of hypocrisy that arises in the casteism of urbanized people. Casteism tends to crumble a little in urban environments, and the more highly educated people frown in different degrees upon the caste system, or at least pretend to do so. In N. Chandrashekhara's story, we see Ravi's father, the arch-casteist, attending a rally calling for amity between people of different sects and religions; but it should be clear by now that if one is a casteist, one cannot believe in friendship between sects and religions, for in the casteist view sects and religions comprise (or are) different castes, and genuine amity between castes cannot exist. In Bhyrappa's Dharmaśrī (§2.3) the ambiguity is a little more subtle, as I have already explained in my comments on the novel (§2.4): casteism is to be denounced only if the protagonist and his caste do not benefit by it, and though all Hindus must abolish caste differences among themselves in order to fight the common enemies, Islam and Christianity, these enemies are described in casteist terms. In other words, there is a reinterpretation of casteism on the basis of a new delimitation of castes - but the basic mentality remains.

Notes

1 Fuchs n.d.: 90.

2 The people themselves call this name cosmetic, and preferably refer to themselves as dalita-s ('downtrodden').

3 The Kannada-English Dictionary by F. Kittel, p. 625, vol. 2, 1969 repr. (Univ. of Madras); the word is again from Sanskrit, and also in use in other modern Indian languages.

4 The expression sanātana dharma ('the eternal religion') is used by many conservative Hindus as the name of their faith, although Hinduism is of course not more 'eternal' than any other religion and has demonstrably changed considerably in the course of its history. In our text we see how the term sanātana (and sanātani, denoting a person) has acquired a negative meaning for many people.

5 See ch. 2 n. 15.

6 Kumāravyāsa (15th century CE) is the author of a popular version of the Mahābhārata in Kannada.

7 Girl students' hostels usually have a warden to keep males out of the building and to keep an eye on the inhabitants.

8 Addressing a person in the singular in Kannada is comparable to 'tutoyer' in French or to 'duzen' in German, but carries a still stronger significance of intimacy.

9 A tāḷi is a golden ornament worn by women on a necklace, which indicates the woman's married status. It is ritually tied around the woman's neck as the main part of the wedding ceremony (the tying of the tāḷi is the legally binding part of the ceremony), and great emotional importance is given to it.

10 "A Hindu's public is his caste. His responsibility is only to his caste. His loyalty is restricted only to his caste. Virtue has become caste-ridden and morality has become caste-bound." Ambedkar 1987: 48.

11 A basavi originally was a temple prostitute, but the word is now used loosely to mean 'whore'. A bīdiya basavi would be 'a basavi who walks the streets (bīdi)'.

12 Smārta-s adhere to the religio-philosophical doctrine of advaita-vēdānta, whose best-known exponent is Śankarācārya (eighth century CE). For the Smārta-s, ultimate reality is formless and one (thus the doctrine is monistic) and impersonal.

13 Ayyangars (sometimes also written 'Iyengars') are Srivaishnava Brahmins, for the most part originally from Tamilnadu; in Karnataka they still speak a form of Tamil as their community language. Apart from the fact that Srivaishnavism is a different sect, the Ayyangars are also set apart from other Brahmin castes in Karnataka because they are seen as newcomers and upstarts; hence it is quite common to hear villagers speak about 'Brahmins and Ayyangars', as though the latter are not Brahmins. Other Brahmins invariably consider themselves 'superior' to Ayyangars; and as one can expect, the Ayyangars believe the opposite. Because they arrived in Karnataka relatively late, they have settled mainly in urban centres and are on the whole well to do, which explains why the dowries in Vēdavaḷḷi's community are so high. In recent times dowries have soared higher because many Ayyangars have relatives living in the USA.

14 The use of the word munde, 'widow', for the sister who recently married looks somewhat ridiculous, but illustrates how the word has become an abusive term for a woman whom one condemns. No doubt the author used the word here ironically.

15 Most Indians use no cutlery, only the bare right hand. The reason which is commonly given for the ban on using the left hand is that it used for washing the posterior after using the toilet; but this explanation looks dubious. The traditional association of whatever is 'left' with inauspiciousness is also not entirely unknown in the West: cf. how the Latin word sinister for left' has undergone a change in meaning in most modern languages.

16 I happen to know that the author and her husband addressed each other in equal terms.

17 M.B.B.S. is a medical degree, which entitles one to practice medicine in India.

18 There used to be numerous Iranian students in Mysore, and the local people generally have a low opinion of them. I do not know in how far this is justified or is mere xenophobia.

19 An obvious reference to a so-called 'dowry death'.

20 Cf. n. 14.

21 "Śāstri" is a name used generally only by Brahmins (though also by a few Virasaivas and Jainas), and when a girl of that name "grabs" a Muslim, this is still worse than if she had grabbed a Hindu of a different caste.

22 Nagaraj 1983: 40-1.

23 The word 'gowda' (gauḍa) is commonly used as a synonym for 'vokkaliga' (okkaliga), a generic term for several peasant communities which together form one of the major castes in Karnataka. Originally the word meant 'headman of a village', in which meaning the word may be used here. As similar words further north, like mēhatā and pāṭīla, the word came to be used as a kind of family name; but a Mehta or Patel can belong to one of several widely differing communities, whereas a Gowda is invariably a Vokkaliga.

24 Personal communication, June 5th, 1988.

25 Rao 1978: 113-9.

26 Māri is a folk goddess, associated with the lower castes.

27 The 'shadow' consists of those negative qualities in a person's psyche which that person suppresses and refuses to recognize as his own.

© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 1996

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