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The calf became an orphan

Robert J. Zydenbos

The foreign hand

About Kannada authors and the world outside

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...the spirit of nationalism in the Third World eliminates any tendency towards self-criticism and inclines the people to attribute their underdevelopment to conspiracies.... once independence has been attained, nationalism leads to xenophobia and racism, becomes an obstacle to development....
- J.-F. Revel (1972: 58)

14.1 Just as writers anywhere else, Kannada authors do not limit themselves to settings, themes and characters which are drawn from their own immediate geographical environment: the world is much bigger than Karnataka or India, and the vast world outside can of course be an immense source of inspiration for a creative writer. The confrontation with life in another country, or with people who have come from another country, can be a thrilling experience which can also lead to a more profound self-knowledge: the encounter makes one rethink oneself, one's way of life, one's history and one's place in the world.

2The intercultural encounter is a highly complex phenomenon: a large variety of factors together mold the total experience and make it exciting, enriching, ennobling. But just as easily it can be sad, disappointing, depressing; or it can be horrifying, giving the person who undergoes the experience a feeling of losing all grip on the world around him, of being lost, isolated, in danger - this is what is commonly termed 'culture shock'. The quality of the experience is of course largely determined by the attitude of the individual towards the experience, i.e. the attitude towards new people who have a different outlook on life and accordingly live their lives in a different manner, with values which may differ from those with which one is familiar.

  • 1 Halbfass 1981: 197.
  • 2 Halbfass 1981: 202.
  • 3 Cf. n. 2.

3From our earlier observations concerning the caste system and religion in India, we may reasonably assume that certain aspects of the common Indian cultural background will cause an attitude in the individual towards strangers and strange lands which differs in some striking respects from that of the modern Westerner. Here too we find that it is the absence of the strong distinction between the religious and the secular, which is so typical of the West, that lies at the root of the difference. Just as orthodox religion pronounced a variety of rules which governed the relationships between people of various sections of society in detail, it also laid down rules governing contacts between Hindus and non-Hindus; and because the distinction between the religious and the secular is not so strong in Hinduism, and also because the great majority of the population of India today is Hindu in some form or the other, the distinction between Hindu and non-Hindu tends to falsely coincide in the minds of many with the distinction between Indian and non-Indian. Just as people who belong to other castes or to other religious communities are feared because they are perceived as a threat to one's ritual purity (hence also to one's position in society) and to the social order, the foreigner too is seen as a constant threat1. As Wilhelm Halbfass has pointed out, the traditional view of India on itself was that it was the centre of the universe and that it was only in Āryāvārta or the land of the Aryans (originally equated with northern India) that dharma existed: beyond the borders of this land lay the territory of the mlēccha-s (this can be translated either as "foreigners " or "barbarians no clear distinction was made in classical India). The position of foreigners in India was special. Whereas an outcaste still participated in the cosmic religious order, a foreigner did not, unless he would acknowledge that he was shut out from it: but foreigners did not even accept that they were shut out of this cosmic order, in other words: they did not even participate negatively in it2. According to an ancient source, if foreigners were present within the borders of Bharata, the land of the hindus, this meant that dharma was not completely fulfilled and might even be weakened or in danger3.

4India has a long tradition of xenophobia, and because this fear (which is easily converted into hatred) is so traditional, it becomes an unthinking sort of fear, an irrational fear that can be misused in public life. In 1986 a new catchphrase, the foreign hand, gained currency in the Indian news media: the foreign hand was a sinister power of unclear provenance which had the intent of creating havoc in all fields of Indian public life - thus e.g. separatist tendencies in the Punjab were said to be the work of the foreign hand. In 1987 the Indian opinion makers apparently decided that 'the foreign hand' a s a phrase did sound a bit too paranoid, and the idea was rephrased: now the people were asked to beware of divisive powers operating from outside that were attempting "to undermine the unity and integrity of the country", which supposedly can be preserved by only one particular political party. At present this new phrase is still doing quite well. In general a Westerner cannot but notice that the world outside India's borders occupies a huge amount of people's attention in more than one typical way. We see this reflected also in Kannada fiction.

5Yet it is not possible to discern any standard attitude in India vis-à-vis the West, and this is because Western influence meant a loss to some people, but a gain for others. The West (and everything that is thought to be Western) ceases to be a strictly objective datum: it becomes a symbol of something, a symbol that acquires a different meaning in agreement with the person who uses it. One notices this in dress, speech and mannerisms. For instance, for the educated outcaste, just as for the low-caste Christian convert, the thoughts coming from the West meant a liberation. Of course one also notices these various attitudes in literature.

6A few more words may need to be said about what "the West" means to the average Indian. It is just as difficult for the average Indian to distinguish between the various nationalities of the Western world as it is for the average European or North American to distinguish between an Indian, a Pakistani, a Bangla Deshi and a Sri Lankan. Just as the average Westerner has no idea that India is actually a collection of nationalities, as different from each other as the nationalities of Europe are, the average Indian does not understand how Westerners can differ among themselves. Though urbanized Indians are surrounded by objects and institutions which are relatively recent importations from the West, they do not really have much precise knowledge about that part of the world.

7In the Indian mind, the outside world is associated with the English language. It is extremely difficult for an Indian to understand how French, and not English, can be the language of a number of important international organizations. Almost nobody realizes that Europe has a few dozen national languages, half a dozen of which are of international importance, and that it is possible to attain the highest academic distinctions in highly advanced countries like France, Germany etc. without knowing English. In matters of personal outlook and behaviour, the image of 'the Westerner' was initially shaped by the British, and in recent times more by the Americans, due mainly to their numbers, the fact that they use the English language and their economic connection. (The image of foreigners in small areas like Goa and Pondicherry is exceptional.)

8The West is seen as a place of the highest scientific and technological achievements, of great economic power and of prospects of personal prosperity (everyone is supposed to be rich there), of new thoughts which give different meanings to life and can act as a corrective or supplement to indigenous thought, of possibilities of personal fulfilment. At the same time, it is thought of as a place of crude people who are not guided by proper values of human dignity and bondage (every marriage supposedly ends in a divorce, nor does anyone look after old people). This is part of the image of the West as 'materialistic', where people are greedy and their religion is vulgar. However that may be, the impact of the West is felt ever more strongly, and among the thoughts just mentioned the Kannada author moves in search of a position to take.

  • 4 Personal letter, d. August 20th, 1986.

94.2 We will first look at an example of a work of fiction which expresses a positive attitude towards the West in its comparison with India, viz. the short story Kṣitija ("The Horizon") by Shantinath Desai (Śāntinātha K. Dēsāyi 1929b), who was a professor of English at Kolhapur (southern Maharashtra) and is one of the leading literary personalities of the northern Kannada region. Desai is a striking example of Navya authorhood in that he apparently feels hardly bound by traditional, orthodox notions of what is socially acceptable and what is not in his exploration of life and life's possibilities in his fiction. His writing conveys the refreshing joy of intellectual adventure: this freshness appears in the wittiness of his dialogues, the lively characterization and in the open-mindedness with which he approaches his themes. Superficially, his writings can be read as comedies, and indeed there is a great deal of humour in them. "What is most important in this story," he says, "as well as in most of my stories is that the point of view of the protagonist... is presented in terms of the narrator's ironic mode"4. It is obvious, however, that the humour is not an end in itself but counterbalances the actual seriousness of his writings. (Still more than in this story, we can see this in his novel Vikṣēpa, which we will discuss in a later chapter.)

104.3 Shantinath Desai: Kṣitija

11Mandākini is a teacher at a missionary school who is sent to England for further studies, and the whole story is set on the ship on which she is travelling from Bombay to London. She is an innocent, naive, somewhat prudish girl who at first enjoys the company of the elderly Maharashtrian lady, who is going to join her son in London and says to her: "What is Mumbāyi [Bombay], what is London, it's all the same, there are Marathi people there too" (p. 150). Mandākini's eyes are opened a little to the rest of the world by her cabin-mate Miss Joseph, who persuades her to come and watch the people swimming in the pool on 'C' deck; there she sees "Australian boys and girls making fun jumping around half naked in the water" (ibid.). Miss Joseph praises them for their joy of life and suggests to Mandākini that she teach her how to dance: "You're going to be in England for a year - how can you if you don't know how to dance?" (p. 151). She is introduced to some other Indians on the ship, among them one Dr. Mukherjee. Mandākini is rather affected innerly by the flashy kind of company around her; she thinks that Mukherjee looks smart and perhaps is not married, and that although Joseph is black (kappiddarū) she looks smart too. She goes to her cabin, dresses up, looks in the mirror and admires herself. On one of the decks she enters into a conversation with an elderly American, Mr McCarthy, who is on his way from Sidney to London. He tells her to take a greater interest in things around her and to "enjoy herself", to "have a good time before it's [too] late" (p. 153). Flustered, Mandākini asks: "That means ḍānsa, ḍrinks, and... lav?" ("dance, drinks, and... love?") She stresses that she is an Indian, Hindu girl, and she does not see why Indians should behave differently abroad (p. 154).

12Another day Mandākini goes to the open deck to escape from the oppressive heat of her cabin. There she sees people having various kinds of drinks in their easy chairs and laughing loudly. A Parsi woman in very revealing shorts and a shoulderless, loose blouse goes with her middle-aged male companion to 'A' deck, "i.e. to lavars ḍek" ("lovers' deck"), while others stare at them. A Thai girl also goes to 'A' deck with an Australian boy, and people whisper and giggle. Just as Mandākini wants to leave, Mukherjee, in the chair beside her, tells her that he has abandoned a nurse from Kerala because she was 'cheap', even though she spoke good English, and he made the mistake of going to 'A' deck with her; another woman he could not bear for more than a day because she had a jealous nature and was more possessive about him than his wife was. Mandākini is shocked by this sort of talk and wants to leave. Mukherjee says: "Being with you is much more eksaiṭing than alcohol... Let's go to 'A' deck" (p. 157). She flees and finds McCarthy in one of the bars, who tells her not to take these matters so seriously, for "in our country" no one does so (p. 158). He orders a glass of beer for her. She wonders aloud why "we too" should imitate the behaviour of Europeans "like monkeys", as Mukherjee does; McCarthy asks her whether it is really an imitation of "our ways and customs" or whether "he was expressing his feelings without any inhibition, and naturally" (p. 158). He offers her another drink, but she declines, saying that she ought not to have taken the first one. He warns her: "You've set off for England. It may be difficult to stay there if you keep saying 'I don't want this, I don't want that' in this way" (p. 159).

13On the Mediterranean she strikes up an acquaintance with the young Mr Sapru, who is on his way to Cambridge to study philosophy and tries to write poetry. After some disturbing experiences at Port Said she feels rather safe in the presence of Sapru, who is "basically a harmless, good soul". She asks him the meaning of two dreams which she had; he says that they are sexual, "according to Freud". He says that he had a romantic dream with her in it, and it may mean that he is falling in love with her. Just as she suggests that it may be better that they do not speak any more, a Frenchman, one Mr Leguy, comes and introduces himself to the two Indians; for him "India is very attractive - a waṇḍarphul country!" In fact, many things seem wonderful to him: Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and Nehru, and the fact that they do not want drinks. Drinking his cognac cocktail he does not let his eyes swerve from Mandākini. For some reason Mandākini starts observing him from head to toe. When she says that she is going to London via Gibraltar, he expresses his sadness that she is not getting off at Marseilles (Mārsels) so that he can take her to Paris: "I would squeeze out all the beauty of Paris and put it in your cup..." (p. 162). She is thrilled by him.

14Leguy does not leave her alone the next day. She sees how people stare at them while they are sitting together on a lounge sofa, but she does not want to forego the fun of listening to all his stories because of any shyness or inhibition; after all, why should one go abroad at all if one has no contacts with foreign people, and what is wrong in their talking together like friends on the sofa? He flatters her, and she is thrilled by the touch of his lips as he kisses her hand. Back in her cabin she gazes at herself in the mirror until Miss Joseph returns.

15On the ship's gala evening, Leguy brings her from her cabin, flattering her more than ever, and tells her what he wants out of his boat-trip, the same as out of his holidays in Paris or London: "ḍrinks, ḍāns and... amūr". Mandākini does not understand the last word and is too shy to ask what it means. She is astonished by the glittery glamour on board the ship, but derives courage from Leguy's company. Nevertheless, she feels giddy and sick with all the commotion around her; Leguy leads her away to his cabin.

16She is ill for three days and has to hear from the Maharashtrian lady how different a world Marseilles was, with its beach with shockingly half-naked holiday-makers, and how magnificent Gibraltar looked. Mukherjee cracks vulgar jokes at her, hinting at the Frenchman who kept her company. She finds Sapru in a library, and she asks what people have been saying about her the past few days; he says that it is of no importance, only Mukherjee was saying that she had gone with Leguy to his cabin. Mandākini tells Sapru that she actually did go, took some medicine from him and left shortly afterwards.

17The ship approaches England and people rush to the railing to see the coast, but Mandākini feels that she is not the right sort of person to be here. Should she only do her studies? "She did not have the tongue for tasting the flavour of life, nor the lips, nor the hands... What is there to enjoy only by the eye? The gala evening had shown her the naked truth of her personality" (p. 170). She is ashamed of what she considers being a failure. Finally McCarthy persuades her to come to the railing to look, and with some resignation she agrees to drink a cocktail to greet "Good Old England".

  • 5 Ibid.

184.4 Kṣitija is based on the author's own experience of a voyage from Bombay to Britain in 19585. The characterization is just a little too stereotyped for the Western reader: thus the lady-killer who preys on the protagonist is (one could say 'of course') a Frenchman, to mention one obvious example. It is of course true that the norms of behaviour between people of different sexes are far more liberal in the West than they are in India, but the libertinage that takes place aboard the ship does look rather unrealistic. But however odd this may look to the Western reader, the fact remains that in the author's perception this 'Western' lifestyle has a number of commendable aspects to it: the values of the West, as they appear on the ship in the story, are contrasted with the values of India as they are reflected in the attitudes and behaviour of the protagonist, and on the whole 'the West' looks more favourable.

19Mandākini, the protagonist, is a naïve, unexperienced young woman who has lived her entire life in one protective environment or the other: first her family, later the women's college in Bombay, where the principal (apparently an Englishwoman, considering her name) gives her the shocking bit of advice that "there is no better medicine against a cold than brandy" and that "in England, there is no reason not to take beer, ginger ale or a little wine" (p. 158). The atmosphere of taboo concerning alcohol may be taken as an indication of the orthodox life which the protagonist led up till then. Alcohol is very much present throughout the rest of the story: all over the ship people are consuming hard drinks. The lewd Frenchman Leguy pretends to be thrilled by Mandākini's refusal of an offered drink; and his aim is (of course?) to spend his days aboard the ship with drinks, dance and amour (p. 165).

20Though the story is a literary reflection of the author's personal experiences on a voyage to Britain, there are a few indications that the culture shock which he underwent distorted his perception of things in various ways. Thus in Miss Taylor's enumeration of drinks we find ginger ale, as if this too is alcoholic (p. 158; probably suggested by 'ale'. Later in the story, however, the drink becomes non-alcoholic again). The American talks like an Englishman, and Leguy, the French stereotype, of course speaks a bit in his exotic language, and au revoir becomes distorted to ā rivā (p. 162).

  • 6 Obviously playing on the English saying 'when in Rome, be like the Romans'.

21For Mandākini, the protagonist, the East-West encounter changes its nature in the course of the story. At first there is the shock of far greater personal liberty with regard to matters like contacts with people of the other sex or the consumption of alcohol, which are matters of very strong social taboo in high-caste India. When the highly inhibited Mukherjee makes sexual suggestions to her, she tells McCarthy: "Why must we too imitate European ways and customs like monkeys, saying that Europeans act like this?" (p. 158). The majority of the passengers on this strange journey apparently are Westerners of some kind or the other. To McCarthy's suggestion, a bit earlier in the story, that she ought to "have a good time", she reacts by saying: "I am an Indian woman, a Hindu woman, just now we have come out of the kitchen. All this is a new world for us, the imaginary world which we see only in books and pictures" (p. 154). Elsewhere she wonders: "Indians are Indians wherever they are, aren't they? Isn't it possible to be like Indians even when in Rome?6" In other words, she wants to remain 'Indian', i.e. without "dance, drinks, and... and love" (p.153), the pleasures which her upbringing frowns upon. It is significant, though, that at the end of the story she does enjoy an alcoholic drink with McCarthy: at least to some extent she has been able to overcome her inhibitions.

22This triad of dance, drinks and love (in the sense of the gratification of sexual desire, or, to put it in Sanskrit / Kannada: kāma, and not prīti) recurs throughout the story with the luridness of things that are forbidden, and almost grows into a symbol of what separates the East and the West in a cultural sense. Mandākini is too inhibited to participate freely in all this; for the other Indians, with their different attitudes, the triad also presents a moral problem; but the Westerners, whether they avidly pursue these things (like Leguy) or remain indifferent (like McCarthy), there is no problem at all, and they take what they see happening around them in their stride. It is quite clear that in the opinion of the author, the inhibitive morality in the Indians creates problems in life rather than serving as a guideline towards a happy and fulfilling life. Mandākini has spent her entire life studying, teaching and looking after her relatives. When she wonders: "is it not a great joy to devote one's entire life like that to selfless service?" (pp. 154-5), we cannot help remaining unconvinced - it is what she thinks that she should believe, rather than a genuine belief. From the beginning we see that she is not without womanly vanity, and is very easily affected by ostentatious flattery. She may want to think of herself as a selfless soul devoted to her school, but actually she wants something else, and this makes her vulnerable to the shallow glamour aboard the ship. When her Frenchman has already left the ship, some of her deeper, repressed desires are revealed when she blames herself for her amorous failure: "what she had given to his silken lips was just a pale cheek, what she had given to his arms was just a stone image... Only shyness, fear - the terrifying whip of her late father (which she had never experienced) unseen over her head" (p. 170). Here again we see some Freudian overtones, as also towards the end of Desai's novel Vikṣēpa, when the protagonist tells his wife of his guilt complex, caused by the awareness that his mother died while giving birth to him.

23It looks as though we have here a remarkable inversion of a negative prejudice which the majority of Indians hold regarding Westerners and which they enjoy flinging indiscriminately at any Westerner with all the viciousness of moral indignation: that all Westerners are obsessed with alcohol and sex, and that therefore all Indians are morally superior - an idea which obviously stems from the terrifying taboo that hangs around these matters in India. (There is reason to believe that as regards this 'decency', the opposite may rather be the case; see e.g. Nagathihalli Chandrashekhara's story Sarasvatipuradallondu hebbeṭṭina gurutu). But Desai, who studied English language and literature in a missionary college in Bombay and in Britain, and who considers himself "half-westernized from my adolescent days", knows what he is doing.

  • 7 See n. 5.

The East-West encounter is part of our psyche - and Kṣitija is a dramatization of this encounter. 'Sex' is one of the ways of exploring this encounter in an interesting and dramatic manner... and when the modernist writers revolted against the romantic idealism of the previous generation of writers, we deliberately emphasized sex instead of Platonic love) as an important aspect of the man-woman relationship. In Kṣitija [Mandākini] gets gradually exposed to the half-known modes of Western civilization in the context of life on board of the ship, where for 15 or 18 days we enter an existential world of temporary relationships.... 'Sex' is one of the areas that I use in order to dramatically explore 'new morality' as an alternative7

  • 8 Ibid.

24Here the role of non-Hindu Indians is notable: the one Indian woman who conforms to the general lifestyle on board is a Zoroastrian (p. 155), and Mandākini's cabinmate Miss Joseph, who can much more easily admit openly that she admires something in the behaviour of the others, is a Christian, as her name already indicates. "When you see their independence - their laughter, jumping, dancing, doesn't it seem to you that our life isn't life? We Christians have at least a bit of fun in life - do you?" she says (pp. 150-1). About this role of non-Hindus and non-Jainas in his writings Desai says that they represent various levels of Westernization and various aspects of alienation8

25.The attitudes expressed with regard to physical pleasures serve to explore an individual's existential position (we will see this again in Desai's novel Vikṣēpa). The envisioned moral alternative is projected on the West. The West may indeed be the source of some of these new ideas; but in this story it does seem that the West is shown as something which it not exactly is.

264.5 B.C. Ramachandra Sharma (B.C. Rāmacandra Śarma 1925b) has acquired a place in Kannada literary history as the first writer of short stories in what came to be known as the Navy a style. A man who has travelled a great deal, he has spent several years working as a psychologist in Ethiopia, Britain and Zambia, and hence it is understandable that he has something to say about how it is to live as an Indian abroad. In his story Palāyana ("Fleeing") we read about a young man from a small town near Mysore who not just lives in London but has also actually married an autochthonous British girl.

274.6 Ramachandra Sharma: Palāyana

28Śīrkaṇṭha, a young man from Śrīrangapaṭṭaṇa (the town also known under its Anglified name 'Seringapatam'), stands on a bridge in Cairo looking at the water passing under it while he reflects on his past life, a life tensed between two attractions which he feels symbolized in the rivers Kāvēri and Thames. He thinks of his childhood in Śrīrangapaṭṭaṇa, his school in Mysore, his college in Bangalore, the desire he had felt thereafter to go to England, and how he had got a fellowship which enabled him to do so; he also recalls some of his first experiences, e.g. how he learnt how to use cutlery, learnt that the British loathe hearing the sound of mastication when one is eating or seeing one spit; he was enraptured by many things (pp. 184-5). At the age of thirty-two, he already feels old, and he considers this a characteristic of Indian life (p. 186); he thinks about the time when Lucy came into his life, just when he was feeling lost and lonely and considering suicide (p. 186). He had not written home about his marriage for fear of worrying his parents, and later he lied to Lucy that he had written, saying that they wanted her photograph. To one side of their East End dwelling there lived English people, to the other a West Indian family that threw noisy parties on Saturdays with "tin music that could be heard three houses away, dancing, laughter. The noise of the door being opened and closed till morning" (p. 187). After a month they too were invited: he stayed at home saying that he had work to do, but she went and he could not sleep until daybreak, when she returned and came to bed; he thought that he ought to draw her close to him, but he fell asleep instead (p. 188).

29He feels out of place with her friends and fears that he is an embarrassment to her. "They had a curiosity which he didn't have.... He thought it would have been nice if he had known as much about the Kannada land and Kannada literature as Lucy knew about England and English literature" (p. 188). A letter came from his parents, not reproaching him for marrying Lucy, but sad because they had to hear about it from someone else. He told Lucy about this; she said "You are a spineless bastard," and he wondered whether it was proper for a woman to talk thus to a husband who did not let her slave as his father let his mother slave, but who got up first in the mornings, prepared coffee and breakfast and did the dishes (p. 189).

30They go to India together on a five weeks' vacation and visit his home town, and he feels they should not have done this; his foolish wife apparently thought that she could be served by him there in the same manner as in England, and that he could appear like her slave in front of his father. After their return to London it was clear that she was dissatisfied. A life of cocktail parties and dances begins, which he dislikes but she enjoys. He dislikes her free conduct with other men but tolerates it. He made the mistake of accepting a six months' assignment in Egypt from his company; he then asked Lucy to join him, but she asked how she could give up her job for that; he did not urge her any further, though he knows that he should have done so. On the day of his departure he knew that she had her usual menstrual stomach-ache, and he did not ask her to come to the airport (p. 190).

31After his stay in Egypt he returns to a very cold Britain, where one even hesitates to use a public convenience because of the cold, and he nostalgically remembers his home town, where people urinate in the street. Lucy has not come to the airport; he takes a taxi home and is caught by the sudden fear that perhaps Lucy is not there. But Lucy is at home. He feels that it is wrong to have gone to Cairo alone, and he wants to embrace her. She wards off his embrace, saying that she has been pregnant for three months already. He does not understand the situation at once; when he does, he feels nauseated, clutches his head and exclaims a short prayer in Kannada to his family god Śrīnivāsa that she may have a miscarriage (p. 195).

324.7 Considering that Sharma himself once was a student in London, we may assume that in the feelings of the protagonist we find a reflection of his own experiences there. Overcome with the sense of awe which a young Indian feels when he arrives in Britain, Śrīkaṇṭha takes care to cultivate certain kinds of good manners with which he was till then not familiar. He makes little pilgrimages to where Gandhi, Tilak and Keats stayed, is thrilled, but then he feels isolated and lonely to the point of considering suicide. He thinks that he can overcome his feeling of being misplaced by marrying a native girl, but by doing so he only brings a sort of on-going culture shock into his own home. There is one brief reference to British racism when they are looking for a house (p.187); other bits of criticism of the British are more indirect and always mixed with some bewilderment, e.g. when Śrīkaṇṭha disapproves of his wife's free style of conduct with men but discontinues the discussion of the matter with the short comment that "here, individual freedom is like God" (p.190) - it is simply something beyond further thought: it simply is like that. The marriage is an unfortunate one: his wife (who has the typically Indian Christian name 'Lucy': many Indian Christian girls have bisyllabic names ending in -y. Cf. also Kattimani's Janivāra mattu śivadāra) is unbearably extraverted and selfish and apparently shows no real interest in his background, nor can she understand that an, at least, slightly altered form of social behaviour is appropriate when one is in a small town in India.

33What is very disappointing about Lucy as a literary character is that she is flat to the point of being horribly incomplete. Śrīkatṇṭha suffers in his marriage with this woman who, as some remarks suggest, should be considered a prototype of the British woman. We also see this in Śrīkaṇṭha's reflection about his marriage which contains a hardly concealed sarcasm about the supposed character of Western women, which fits in nicely with the Indian prejudice: "It seemed that only in advanced countries like England the delusion that is there before the wedding will remain for a long time after it. How can a marriage deteriorate, when the woman whom one has married is different from day to day and the variety of a harem is possible?" (p. 187). Śrīkaṇṭha suffers, he is hen-pecked, he feels misplaced, is bewildered, goes through one long sustained emotional crisis, and is so much in the foreground that we learn practically nothing about his wife's personality or about why she acts as she does. She merely does all the silly things that Westerners are supposed to do: going out dancing, drinking cocktails, living a life of total egotism and finally becoming pregnant when she grabs her chance at having an extramarital sexual affair when he is away for a few months.

34Śrīkaṇṭha suffers also because his wife shows no understanding of his family background or of how one should behave in India; but we do not see that he has made any effort to explain these things to her. When she calls him "a spineless bastard" (the text contains the English words, printed in Latin script), she may indeed have a point; it seems that he actually wants to be a victim of circumstances, for nowhere do we see him take his life into his own hands and assert himself. Hence it does not come wholly unexpectedly that towards the end of the story we see a sort of psychological regress take place in him: he wants to walk away from his life in Britain and return to India, where he can be free from being a responsible adult and have people there look after him. This expresses itself in a childish nostalgia for his home town, where "anywhere one can turn one's back to the street and urinate carefreely" (p. 191). Perhaps Lucy will no longer be there, in which case he can return to India, get a job in Mysore or Bangalore and marry a woman selected by his parents so that he "can live happily" (ibid.). The nostalgia culminates when he prays to his god: "Without knowing it, he spoke Kannada. He had called the family deity" (p. 195).

35It is not quite clear what Sharma wants to communicate primarily. Śrīnkaṇṭha is no doubt a weakling, but the author's sympathy is entirely on his side - he is the likable, pitiable Indian who has fallen prey to the evil West in the form of his wife. But also if the author's primary intention was to focus on the plight of an Indian youth who is innerly too weak to face residing abroad, the fact remains that a number of popular prejudices about people in the West are confirmed as if they are matters of fact.

364.8 In the writings of Desai we see a positive attitude towards the West, because the West is seen by him as a place from which new and enriching ideas can come. One should not blindly accept each and every thing that comes from the West, but cultural contact with the West is considered valuable to a person in India, if only because the West represents a cultural alternative. We have already seen many times, also in the writings of other authors, how contact with ideas of Western origin are welcomed because they inspire people to new ideas of their own, force them to investigate themselves and may thus lead to social, political and generally intellectual improvements. (In a similar manner, the study of Indian thought and culture fascinates Westerners, leads to the writing of dissertations about Indian literature, etc.)

37As will be clear from my introductory remarks to this chapter, the attitude which we see in Desai's story is not the typical, traditional, high-caste attitude towards contacts with foreigners which we find in old Indian literature. The ancient attitude is still rather common, and the best-known and most popular example of an expression of such sentiments is from the pen of S.L. Bhyrappa.

38Tabbaliyu nīnāde magane ("Son, You Have Become an Orphan", 1968), the title of the novel, is a line from a well-known folktale in verse in Kannada, the Gōvina (or Hasuvina) hāḍu, in which a cow is attacked by a tiger: the cow promises to return and offer itself to the tiger the next day if the latter releases it so that it can see its calf one last time and give it some advice on how to lead its life when its mother is no more. This happens and the next day the cow returns to the same spot, as promised, and the tiger, overwhelmed by a sense of its own evil, kills itself instead of eating the cow. In Bhyrappa's novel, the place of the cow is taken implicitly by traditional India and the values which it stands for in the perception of the author; the tiger is replaced by the West and its ways; and the calf is replaced by the protagonist, who is uprooted from his rural culture and feels utterly lost.

39The summary given here is rather lengthy, but I believe that the utter strangeness of this popular novel, with all its obscurantism (ethical, religious, philosophical and political), merits this.

404.9 S.L. Bhyrappa: Tabbaliyu nīnāde magane

  • 9 Muni-s and ṛṣi-s are classes of holy seers.
  • 10 Pañcagavya is a mixture of 'five products of the cow', viz. milk, curds, clarified butter, urine a (...)
  • 11 People who speak Malayalam, i.e. who originally are from Kerala. There is a belief that they are e (...)

41The cowherd Kāḷingē Gauḍa of the village Kālēnahaḷḷi believes that the cow which is the protagonist in the Gōvina hāḍu is the ancestor of the cows in his own stable, and that the owner of the cow Puṇyakōṭi is his ancestor. He loves his cows: they are a divine presence, and he considers himself blessed with such a life - to such an extent that he asks the local Brahmin priest Narasimha Jōyisa whether the ṛṣi-s and muni-s9 were cowherds too: Jōyisa says "yes, yes," quoting a Sanskrit verse and saying: "all those who worship God are cowherds" (p. 6). Kāḷinga does not mind if a calf urinates on his blanket at night, since children do similar things, and moreover a calf's urine is a component of pañcagavya10, hence pure (p. 7). He betroths his eight-year-old son Kriṣṇa to his three-year-old niece Tāyavva; she cannot speak yet, but nobody worries about such a common thing. Only later it is found out that she is really dumb; they try all sorts of cures, also call in the help of Malayāḷi-s11 who know magic, but to no avail; but Kāḷinga thinks of his cows, who have the deities Sun and Moon in their eyes: they cannot speak either, but they can communicate all the same. He tells his wife to accept Tāyavva as a daughter-in-law, and so the two are wed (pp. 8-9). Later Tāyavva's son is, as a matter of course, named Kāḷinga after his grandfather.

42One day, a cow is attacked by a leopard, and the son Kriṣṇa attacks it with his spear. The wounded cow rushes to the village, the villagers rush out to the pasture and find Kriṣṇa's dead body. Kāḷinga in his grief is not interested in pursuing the leopard, but he is finally persuaded by a villager who says: "Your son who has gone is gone. How many Mother Cows may that leopard yet kill! If we kill it, we'll have done a good thing" (p. 16). This they do. The next day Jōyisa comes and tells Kāḷinga what a good death his son died: a Sanskrit verse says that anyone must take up a weapon to protect a cow. Had the cow died, its calf would have been sad, and if in a man's house a cow is sad, he, his ancestors for seven generations and his descendants for seven generations will go to hell (p. 21). The priest tells more stories from the purāṇa-s to console the relatives, saying that a cow is worth as much as the whole cosmic egg from which the earth originated, etc. (p. 22). Meanwhile the wounded cow seems to have lost the will to live, and it dies. This disturbs Kāḷinga greatly, for none of his cows ever died after an attack by a leopard. He takes the cow's corpse and buries it beside his son, burying with it a blouse, a sīre (sari), some rice and other gifts, saying: "Because of grief over your son's death, you died as well... I've buried you with him so that you'll see whatever trouble and happiness come to him. From now on, whatever care he needs is up to you" (p. 25).

  • 12 A colourful form of musical folk drama. Shivaram Karanth and his troupe have performed in numerous (...)

43Time passes. For years little Kāḷinga still drinks from cows' udders in the pasture, and the cows never protest. The grandfather wants his grandson to be educated; his son had had some lessons from a teacher but had learnt nothing except playing the flute and dancing yakṣagāna12 which no one had taught him. Though a cowherd need not know more, the old man likes the idea of the little boy getting some education, and he sends him to the school in the agrahāra, where the priest's son Venkaṭaramaṇa is learning too. He stands outside the school one day, happily hearing how the second-grade pupils are learning Gōvina hāḍu. In a meditative state of mind he wishes that he will be born as a cow in his next life, for human life is wretched and cows rank even higher than gods (p. 32).

44The priest suggests that Kāḷinga send his grandson to the high school in town, where he can learn some English too, like his son Venkaṭaramaṇa, who is becoming a proper young Brahmin. Kāḷinga sees no use for it, but in the end is convinced, after Jōyisa says that the boy can stay in the recently built hostel for students of their own caste (p. 49). Kāḷinga hopes that after learning English Kāḷinga can become an amaldar and issue orders such as that no pastures may be ploughed but only that Mother Land which remains after Mother Cow has eaten (p. 50). Kāḷinga junior is a good pupil, but he never talks with his mother because she is dumb. Kāḷinga senior is disturbed by this and chides the boy, saying that not only the mother who gave birth to him is dumb: also Mother Cow is dumb (p.52).

45At the age of fourteen Kāḷinga junior disappoints his grandfather by saying that he wants to learn science (sains). While Venkaṭaramaṇa studies at the Mysore Sanskrit College, Kāḷinga goes to a Christian college, where he studies for his Bachelor of Science degree, becomes a sports star and is the favourite student of the American monk who is the principal. One day he goes to the principal's bungalow and is invited to stay for lunch there. Afterwards he realizes that the meat which he ate there had a peculiar taste, and he thinks: "the principal is a Christian, besides that a kempu jana ["red", in the case of skin colouring: "white", man]. They eat cow's meat... It was as though with that thought his stomach turned upside down" (p. 57). He returns, hears from the butler that he ate beef, rushes off on his bicycle but feels so sick that he may fall off, so he stops and by pushing his fingers down his throat he empties his stomach by the roadside. Then he goes to Venkaṭaramaṇa to ask how to atone for this, and the next day they perform a ritual of atonement.

46Jōyisa dies; though Venkaṭaramaṇa had a different future in mind for himself, old Kāḷinga persuades him to take his father's place and guarantees him a livelihood. Preparations are made for the construction of a temple near the village, to be dedicated to Puṇyakōṭi. Meanwhile Kāḷinga junior has obtained a scholarship for two years of study in America. His grandfather thinks that he has done enough studying and should come home, get married and look after the cows, but in the end he grudgingly consents, so that Kāḷinga, "a son of a bitch who has seen the city", can go abroad.

47Kāḷinga has a ceremony performed (a gōdāna) in which a cow is given to Venkaṭaramaṇa. Just then a group of people with a kolebasava come and ask him for a loan in order that they may arrange a marriage. He does not know them, but the leader holds the tail of his cow and swears an oath on the cow that he will repay the loan. Later Kāḷinga calls Yangaṭa because he wants to hear him play the pillangōvi in the stable. While listening he falls asleep, and the next morning Tāyawa discovers that Kāḷinga has died peacefully.

48On the day before Kāḷinga's tithi (day on which a ceremony is performed, a few days after a person's death) a brown sahib wearing a coat, hat and shoes comes to the village: only Tāyavva recognizes him as her son. Everyone except Venkaṭaramaṇa is too shy to talk to him. Besides two years of agriculture he also studied animal husbandry for a year and worked on a farm for one. Next day at the tithi he refuses to have his head shaven, saying: "I don't believe in all that." Yangaṭa then takes his place in the ritual, which the priests accept, but no one is pleased.

49Kāḷinga asks Venkaṭaramaṇa about the state of his property and sets about introducing various innovations. With his suit, tie, hat and visiting card showing all his titles, he is treated friendlily and coöperatively by officials. The village feels surprise, fear and respect for Kāḷinga with his suit and hat, who speaks with important people. He brings a tractor for ploughing his fields, thus scaring the cattle grazing nearby, and also an irrigation pump and fertilizer, which the villagers call sīmegobbara ("foreign manure").

50Kāḷinga builds a new house, which is called the "farm-house"; he has the feeling that his old friend Venkaṭaramaṇa, who feels uncomfortable with all these innovations, is avoiding him. One day Kāḷinga insists that Venkaṭaramaṇa come to his new house, furnished in a new style with a sofa and spring cots: Venkaṭaramaṇa, who is in a state of purity (maḍi), prefers to sit on a wooden chair. He is the first person to hear from Kālinga that he married in America and that a son was born eight months ago. Venkaṭaramaṇa has his doubts about whether it was a wise thing to marry a foreign woman, and he also objects to Kāḷinga's using water from the temple tank for irrigation; Kāḷinga sees the temple (which was built with his grandfather's money) on his land as more or less his property, and pragmatically he wants to utilize all the resources at his disposal for boosting the productivity of his fields. Venkaṭaramaṇa wants to gather support in the village to force Kāḷinga to stop using the temple water, but the villagers are afraid of his style of dress, the tractor, his gun and his friendliness with the district commissioner. When Venkaṭaramaṇa asks why they fear the tractor, they say that they do not know (p. 117).

  • 13 Cf. ch. 2, n. 12.

51Kāḷinga's astonishingly white wife Hilda and son come. Kāḷinga tells her a bit about the temple and the ways of the village. They go to the temple to see the pūje. Venkaṭaramaṇa gives them tīrtha (holy water) to drink, but when Kāḷinga explains that it is water with which the idol has been washed, she says: "Sorry, I cannot take such unwholesome things." Then Venkaṭaramaṇa gives prasāda13 only to Kāḷinga, and not to her. At night Kālinga feels assailed by a strange sense of loneliness, in spite of the fact that his wife has now come. He also feels strongly attracted to Venkaṭaramaṇa: though he knows all the difficulties connected with Venkaṭaramaṇa's religious practices, he feels that Venkaṭaramaṇa is the only one in the vicinity who could be a companion, with whom his family could talk. When Venkaṭaramaṇa hears that Kāḷinga sold cows to a butcher because of the high cost of keeping them, he refuses to give prasāda to Kāḷinga and says that he is no longer interested in praying for the continuation of old Kāḷinga's lineage.

  • 14 Cf. ch. 2, n. 15.

52Kāḷinga's white wife, who does not even wear kunkuma14, has not come to the village in all the six days after her arrival. Another week passes: servants come to take things to the new house, but Tāyavva has still not seen her daughter-in-law or grandson. Then Kāḷinga, in rubber boots and a khaki hat, comes to take her to the new house. There she sees her white daughter-in-law jump off the tractor, dressed like a man in shorts and a shirt, and she feels embarrassed by her affectionate embrace. Inside, Tāyavva embraces her grandson, but he begins to scream at the sight of "this stranger of unfamiliar appearance" (p. 131) and Hilda must comfort him "in her language". For lunch there is bread and banana, served on plates, but Tāyavva eats only after her son insists, and she does not drink the coffee which Hilda brings. For comfort she goes to the temple, and she never enters her son's house again. Later Kāḷinga and his wife visit her. As Hilda is about to enter the house, she smells cowdung and asks "what is this dirt?" ("vāṭ īs dis ḍarṭ"). Kāḷinga reminds her how once he had told her that the Indian religious custom is to purify houses with cowdung. "This is really a meaningless custom," she says, and Kāḷinga says that the dung has a disinfectant quality, to which she says "Use some lotion, use some Dettol. Why should you use cowdung? What sort of religion is this?" (p. 133). When they leave the house, Kāḷinga washes Hilda's feet and dries them with his handkerchief. Seeing this upside-down state of affairs Tāyavva weeps when they have gone.

  • 15 That Hilda is abused as a muṇḍe shows that the literal meaning of the word is not thought of when (...)

53One day she sees Kāḷinga's new cow shed, in which the cows are tied separated from each other. She asks Kāḷinga whether he eats them, and he denies this vehemently. She unties the cows, is stopped, goes to the village and tells Yangaṭa that Kāḷinga eats the cows. The villagers, already angry that Kāḷinga has put up a fence around his pasture so that no one else can let cattle graze there, are now enraged; they want to take action, but are afraid of that manly woman who can fire a gun. "That widow's15 a cholera-goddess, the widow's a goddess of outcastes, we don't have to be scared of her," one says; "But that Mussulman son of a whore is there. He has a knife," says another. Yangaṭa asks: "Are you bangle-wearing hermaphrodite sons of bitches?" In the end nothing happens because they fear Kāḷinga's connections with the district commissioner and the police.

54While the farm is innovated further and becomes more profitable, the word spreads ever farther that the temple is a great holy place. Hilda comes to the temple saying that she is believer, and she gets prasāda for her son and herself. Also, she wants Venkaṭaramaṇa, Kāḷinga's old friend, to be less distant and have a talk over their differences of opinion. He comes to the house for a discussion, but he cannot stay inside due to the stench of the meat that is being cooked. Hilda comes to the temple again and asks whether he believes in caste, and he says: "Yes, caste is in man's nature." She wants Venkaṭaramaṇa to come to the house and playfully grabs his hand; not only is now his maḍi spoilt, but he is shocked at being touched by a woman (p. 154). At the house, she asks how someone like him could survive, were he to go to America, and then says that he would not be able to derive the benefits of mixing with people: Kāḷinga at least returned not with empty hands (she means: he came with her). Venkaṭaramaṇa says that he knows how in the West people choose their own spouses freely, "But our Kāḷinga is of a different country. He belongs to those people who have a black skin. How did you marry such a man?" (p. 155). She says that they were classmates and both liked sports, just as they still swim in the temple tank (Venkaṭaramaṇa is shocked: God's water is swum in not just by people, but actually by a woman - p. 155). Venkaṭaramaṇa asks her how she could leave her country and come to one with such different customs so easily. Hilda says that besides her love for Kāḷinga they could use their learning for the upliftment of backward India, and this goal too made her decide to marry Kāḷinga. Venkaṭaramaṇa then declares that he sees absolutely nothing noble in her deed: "Following the custom of your society, you married just like all other youngsters; you came with Kāḷinga like a wife does with her husband. You help your husband by riding a tractor, just as the women of our village help their husbands by carrying cowdung on their heads" (p. 156). Seeing such an ostentatious show of contempt Hilda, who had gone to the temple in search of a friend, realizes that she has nobody to turn to in this country besides her husband and rushes to another room because she does not want to weep in front of Venkaṭaramaṇa.

55Venkaṭaramaṇa comes again. After Hilda has repaired the tractor, she demonstrates the milking machine, and he is horrified at seeing a cow being milked without a calf drinking even a little milk. Since he cannot bear the sight, they leave the shed; then she shocks him further by telling how calves in America are killed for making cheese and luxury leather goods, and finally by herself artificially inseminating a rutting cow because taking a cow to the bull in the village is "unscientific" (p. 175). He then exclaims that in spite of all their discussions there has been no change in her lifestyle or beliefs. "You, your people, your goal in life, all these are totally uncivilized. People more cruel than tigers and leopards. You do not deserve the friendship of people and of other living beings" (p. 176), after which he begins a eulogy of the cow, in whose eyes are sun and moon, in the lips dawn and sunset, in its udder the four oceans, in its urine the river Ganges, in the hairs of its body the 330 million gods, etc. He walks off after a short and heated exchange of words. Hilda feels deeply insulted. Later she orders Jamal to kill a young Puṇyakōṭi cow from the stable for her. She finally does this herself, then dissects the cow and concludes that the villagers are not scientific-minded (p. 183).

56When it is found out that a cow is missing, the village discusses the next day what punishment is called for. Yangaṭa says Kāḷinga and Hilda should die, for that is the punishment which he remembers from an old drama that he had seen; but the present-day government and laws are against them. Venkaṭaramaṇa says that Kāḷinga and Hilda should take pañcagavya, pay a fine of Rs. 1000 and cease from using the water of the temple tank either for irrigation or swimming. He leads a mob to the farm, where Yangaṭa tells Hilda to call her husband; when she asks who gives them the right to judge what happens in her house, the mob becomes abusive and unruly. Kāḷinga comes: he is willing to accept the penalty, but asks for his wife not to take pañcagavya, since she is of a different caste. "With a kind of disgrace, helplessness but also far-sighted acquiescence" (p. 192) Kāḷinga accepts that he must remove his pump from the temple tank. The mob has destroyed the entire tobacco crop. Hilda wants to sell the property and leave the country; Kāḷinga refuses and says that they must adjust a little, but she believes that they cannot live in peace without striking back by calling the police.

  • 16 See ch. 2 n. 15.

57In another town, Venkaṭaramaṇa attends a rally of the RSS16 that wants better legal protection of cows and is collecting signatures for a petition to the government. Its slogan is "Hail Mother India - Hail Hail to Mother Cow". Venkaṭaramaṇa feels strongly attracted to this. When boys of the RSS come to the village he helps them collect signatures, and when thereafter he is threatened with a transfer to another school for neglect of duty, he resigns from the job.

58Meanwhile the police have come and exacted money from the villagers because Kāḷinga cannot pay the special tobacco taxes after their destruction of his crop. The villagers, afraid and disgusted, want nothing to do with Kāḷinga any more. Venkaṭaramaṇa goes to Kāḷinga's house; he is astonished that Hilda asks him whether he is not ashamed of coming again, and he asks Kāḷinga why he did not protect the villagers. Kāḷinga says that he need not protect those who have destroyed Rs. 50,000 worth of his crops. Venkaṭaramaṇa tells Kāḷinga that it is foolish to antagonize the villagers, but this time Kāḷinga stands up to the priest and threatens legal countermeasures (p. 210). Venkaṭaramaṇa feels uncertain because of Kāḷinga's threat and feels that also the authorities are against him (p. 215), and he decides to get out of the grip of both by relinquishing his claim on the land.

  • 17 The uniform of the youth wing of the RSS; it is similar to that of the erstwhile Hitler-Youth.

59Tāyavva is dying and wants to perform the meritorious ritual of giving cows to a Brahmin. Venkaṭaramaṇa first refuses, since officially Kāḷinga is master of the house, but he finally relents. The ritual is performed, all ignore Kāḷinga's presence, and Venkaṭaramaṇa gives Kāḷinga no prasāda (p. 224). At home Kāḷinga feels that he ought to have participated in the ritual and held the cows'tails, but he was afraid that Venkaṭaramaṇa would then have refused to accept them. He wants to go back to the village and to his mother's deathbed. Also he is puzzled in a way about how his new tractor driver Mallesi, a Virasaiva boy in khaki shorts with belt17, religiously stops work when he hears the temple bell. Kāḷinga sees a funeral procession towards the temple and realizes that his mother has died and no one has notified him. Mallēśi, who never takes food from Kāḷinga but cooks his own in the shed, who is a newcomer and of a different caste, runs and joins the procession (p. 228).

60Eleven days later Tāyavva's śrāddha is performed, and again Kāḷinga is not called. He asks Mallēśi what happened: Mallēśi tells in detail, also that special food was cooked for people of his caste (p. 230). Mallēśi tells how the orphaned calf, whose mother Hilda had Jamāl kill, was treated specially, and how everyone had cursed Hilda and Kāḷinga during the meal (p. 231). Later the man with the kōlebasava returns to repay the money that Kāḷinga's grandfather had lent him. Stressing that he took a vow on his cow Sītamma, he wants Kāḷinga to say that the debt is repaid while touching the cow's tail. Kāḷinga feels that he cannot do so, is also afraid of the rumours which the man will spread, who leaves behind the money saying that the cow is his witness (p. 234).

61The villagers fortify the temple precincts by setting up a fence, as though they want to shut Kāḷinga out for good. When Hilda asks him why he is so dejected, he says that he is lonely, he has nobody. At this Hilda, with tear-filled eyes, points out that her being there is a sacrifice and says that she and their son will leave for America: Kāḷinga can marry a local girl and may thus get rid of his loneliness (p. 239). Because she is so agitated, their second child is born early. Kāḷinga wants to help, but Hilda does not want to see him, a doctor is called and the child is born.

62When breast-feeding their daughter, Hilda is found to have a disease, perhaps breast cancer, and she worries that her children may lose their mother. A doctor says that there is a cure. Kāḷinga and son go home, and he asks Mallēśi to have Venkaṭaramaṇa perform a pūje in his name and bring the prasāda. Mallēśi says that Venkaṭaramaṇa will refuse to do this; then Kāḷinga gives him money, saying the pūje should be done in Mallēśi's father's or mother's name, and the prasāda be brought back. This is done, and while he and his son are eating the prasāda, Kāḷinga wonders whether he would have done this if Hilda had been in the house (p. 255).

63Hilda and daughter come home from the hospital, and the daughter's crying for milk cannot be stopped. Mallēśi then suggests that they should put the baby's mouth to a cow's udder; Hilda objects, saying it is unhygienic, but Kāḷinga says that he too did it as a child, and it must be the milk of a Puṇyakōṭi cow. But all those cows are in the possession of Venkaṭaramaṇa now. Kāḷinga humbly goes and asks Venkaṭaramaṇa for the use of a cow, and after a crude initial refusal Venkaṭaramaṇa agrees to entrust a cow not to Kāḷinga or Hilda, but to their employee Mallēśi, who must swear to guard over the cow, for if it is killed and eaten he too will go to hell.

64Kāḷinga thinks of his childhood and suddenly desires to get back the old cows which Hilda had sold to be sent to a slaughterhouse in Bombay. Hilda says that he is becoming over-emotional, and points out that in hilly country people drink goat's milk, yet eat goat's meat too; she sees no distinction between cows and goats. Kāḷinga says a certain samskāra has been with him since birth, which is the source of his belief. This samskāra lost its force while he was in America, but reasserts itself now. He knows that Hilda's samskāra is different, but he does not understand why this belief does not arise in her now (pp. 264-5). Then Hilda breaks down and yells at him that he is cruel and has no sense of what marital faithfulness means; Kāḷinga plainly says: "Where did I tell you that you should go? Don't you know how much I love you? Darling [ḍārling], understand what I'm saying" (p. 265). Hilda tells him that she had faith in him, married him, became the mother of his children, was bound by him, and now he is forcing her either to be drawn by him down a path of unfamiliar belief or to go in an opposite direction and be different: his behaviour is not the right way of loving a wife. She calls him a butcher, who is killing her mentally by the cruelty of his actions towards her.

65Untouched by his wife's words, he takes the train to Bombay, hoping to save the cattle. On the way,

the feeling that he too belonged to the caste of his grandfather, grandmother and mother had filled him. But he could not understand the reason why Hilda opposed his belief so vehemently...He was thinking: if he would bring back the old cattle and protect them, how would it harm her, why would it mean mental suffering for her? (p. 266).

66He fails to find the cows and thinks of Hilda again:

The worry came to him: will Hilda go to her own country or respect my belief? Considering her point of view, her mentality and her samskāra, she would go. But wasn't the baby born from her belly? The hope leaped up in him that at least for that reason she might stay (p. 269).

67He feels how

The power of his belief is great... Smash up the tractor and dispose of it. Final deliverance [from rebirth] results from hearing the cow's sound 'ambā', the sound of the sacred formula 'ōm' and the sound of the bell 'ganagana'.... After bringing the tractor, a bit sooner or a bit later, her [Tāyavva's] dying and his becoming an orphan were somehow unavoidable! A whole surge of meaning in this thought appeared to Kāḷinga, which spread out widely. Without immediately grasping its full meaning he sat [in the train] with his mouth half open (p. 270).

684.10 Tabbaliyu nīnāde magane has proven to be one of Bhyrappa's most popular novels. It was first published in 1968; by 1986, it had undergone four reprints. It has also been made into a motion picture.

  • 18 Bhyrappa 1980: 1, 3-4.

69Bhyrappa has written in an essay that his Tabbaliyu can be grouped together with Dharmaśrī as literature which he wrote with the intention of bringing about changes in society through "a search for truth" (satyānvēṣaṇa)18, a somewhat didactic intention which he says he has now abandoned. Indeed there are a number of points of similarity between the two novels. Besides the same kind of thoughts we recognize the same style of composition. In Dharmaśrī the problem was that of Hinduism being threatened by Christianity as brought to India by foreign missionaries; here the problem has been extended to the introduction of a new pattern of life, a new outlook, a new culture which the author believes is incompatible with the traditional culture of India.

70This incompatibility is demonstrated in four ways: (a) the American wife Hilda's sense of being misplaced and isolated in the Indian village; (b) the deep sense of insecurity which is felt by the villagers; (c) the failure of the village priest Venkaṭaramaṇa to come to terms intellectually with the new lifestyle which Kāḷinga junior introduces in the village after his return from the United States; (d) Kāḷinga's identity crisis. As in the earlier novel, the method of demonstration is through simple oppositions which the author locates in characters of diametrically conflicting personalities, who represent oversimplified polarities. Here the basic polarities are reflected in Hilda and Venkaṭaramaṇa, Jamāl and Mallēśi (the two farmhands), and the American clergymen who run the college which Kāḷinga visits in Mysore and Tāyavva (modem education versus the simplicity of traditional village life).

71After reading Dharmaśrī, it should come as no surprise that in all these pairs of opposites, good is always represented by Hindus and evil by non-Hindus. The issues that are the focal points of the clash between the old and the new in this novel are five: (a) the existence of caste in India versus its non-existence in the West; (b) the relationship of race and caste, involving social customs and dietary habits; (c) science versus quasi-religious tradition; (d) the status of the cow; (e) the relationship between the individual and the community. In Dharmaśrī there was still some attempt at rationalization and a pretence of reasoned justification for the author's racism and incitement to communal hatred, but this is almost entirely lacking in Tabbaliyu. In a few passages, esp. in dialogues between Hilda and Venkaṭaramaṇa, there appear the beginnings of discussions; but none of these go very far, for they quickly end in an emotional, dogmatic closing of the minds of the discussants. Much more than in the earlier novel, the author creates emotionally charged scenes, and he appeals to sentimental traditionalism to win over his readers to his ideas. From the point of view of technique, Tabbaliyu marks an improvement in Bhyrappa's narrative style, and some passages (e.g. the death of Kāḷinga sr.) are examples of how brilliantly he is able to evoke moods and intensity of feeling. Yet throughout practically the whole of the book, the propagandistic purpose of his writing is too obvious; the incidents that are created to illustrate the reasons for his xenophobia, racism and obscurantist social and political views are simply too bizarre. The tendentiousness ruins the work as a whole. And this is an immense pity, since Bhyrappa is basically a very talented narrator, and the many elements that have gone into the novel could have been molded into a fascinating piece of writing.

72More than in Dharmaśrī, the sentiments and notions that are the ideological building blocks of the Indian political extreme right are accepted unthinkingly and are strung together as just so many things that should be taken for granted. The caste system is endorsed as a matter of course: thus e.g. people of various castes are not allowed to live together, also not students of various castes in the same hostel (p. 49). People of different castes have different ways of life, differing even with regard to how one attains religious salvation: when Kāḷinga jr. expresses his doubt about why Venkaṭaramaṇa should take the trouble of studying Vedanta while he can attain the same goal by simply playing the cowherd's flute, Kāḷinga sr., unable to give any rational explanation, merely becomes angry and says that this is a matter of caste (p. 54). This makes no sense to the grandfather either, but when the village Brahmin priest talks about these matters, this notion seems full of deep meaning, and this is enough for the old man (p. 55). The geographical limitations of castes are also clear. Venkaṭaramaṇa enquires further about Kāḷinga's wife's caste and typically asks: "All the people in that country are Christians, aren't they?" (p. 110), i.e. identifying Christians as a caste. Later in the same conversation, Venkaṭaramaṇa asks Kāḷinga, who has seen the "red country", whether a caste system exists there or not; Kāḷinga then remembers that the bread and wine of holy communion are given only to Christians, and "He had heard somewhere that Muslims too have that sort of custom" (p. 117). This point is not further elaborated by the author because (very conveniently) "the details of it did not come to his [Kāḷinga's] mind." The author's ideology of the interconnectedness of caste, race, religion and political nation, which forms the basis of Dharmaśrī, did not undergo any basic change in the seven years between the appearance of the two novels.

73If caste is associated with race, and if there is discrimination according to caste, then it naturally follows that there is also discrimination according to race. The novel indeed has a number of passages which tell how appalling "red" people are. Like in Dharmaśrī, we see also here something of the Indian preoccupation with food and the high-caste Hindu prejudice that non-Hindus and foreigners are bloodthirsty. Venkaṭaramaṇa warns Kāḷinga, before he sets out for the United States, that it is "a country of red people. It's said they eat only cow's meat there. They say there's nothing to eat there besides that" (p. 64). Kāḷinga denies it; but the stereotype is confirmed after the arrival of his wife, when he tells his Muslim farmhand Jamāl that she needs "red vegetables" daily, and "a good foreign chicken" (and a "smile of victory" appears on Jamāl's face - p. 123). In the thirteen-line paragraph on p. 239, in which Kāḷinga considers Hilda's hardships, ten lines are devoted to the matter of meat alone.

74There are other ways in which foreigners are disgusting, and one predictable criticism concerns physical expressions of affection. When Hilda gives Kāḷinga a kiss on the field, he tells her not to do so in India, for people will laugh at them, and she says "a very unexciting country this must be" ("e veri anegsaṭing kaṇṭri dis masṭ bi"). How will this country make any progress? How will this poverty go?" (p. 122) - as though there is a connection between kissing in public and the removal of poverty. People have funny ways in the "red country", such as a different way of dressing which Kāḷinga too has learnt and which inspires fear in the villagers. Venkaṭaramaṇa calls Hilda bloodthirsty (raktapipāsu, p. 179) and uncivilized, and her Western inhumanness is further demonstrated when, on first arriving in the village, she disregards the personnel who are waiting to welcome her and first pays some attention to the tractor (p. 119).

75Hilda's worst sin is her constant disrespect for tradition and religious customs. Apparently she is not irreligious: there are suggestions that she is a believing Christian - which would confirm the Venkaṭaramaṇa's stereotype that all red people are Christians. She questions and criticizes everything irreverently. Here the notion of science, what science is and what its relationship to the whole of human life is, becomes important. Kāḷinga goes against the wish of his grandfather by going to Mysore to study 'science', which has no place in the village: "What's sains, boy?" his grandfather asks; Kāḷinga jr. says that it is knowledge of how fire comes about etc., and Kāḷinga sr. says "If you strike a flint you get fire. Do they have to tell you that in school?" (p. 53). But he does go in the end, and this results in his obtaining the fellowship for further studies in the United States, which in turn leads to his moral corruption (marrying outside the caste, eating beef, etc.) and his identity crisis. Here we must note the following opposition: while Venkaṭaramaṇa studies Vēdānta at the Mysore Sanskrit College, i.e. receives traditional Hindu highcaste education, Kāḷinga studies science at a Christian college, and it is the American monk, the principal of that institution (who is an inferior human, because he eats beef), who obtains the fellowship for him. Hilda repeatedly criticizes traditional Hindu practices as "unscientific". Thus we see that a new polarity is created: the set Christianity-foreignness-science versus Hinduism-Indianness-tradition. The first set is shown to lead to failure: Christians do not give special respect to cows, it is Kāḷinga's stay abroad that has made him a misplaced person in his native village, and science is inhuman and an insufficient safeguard against becoming insane, which is apparently what happens to Hilda, who speaks in the name of science.

76The episode that follows the last discussion between Hilda and Venkaṭaramaṇa is fantastically absurd:

She said, "Jamāl, you heard that yesterday that priest said that they say the sun and the moon are in the eyes of a cow. They say the four oceans are in its udder. In some part or the other of the body there are some three hundred and thirty million gods."
"Yes, madam. That's what the Hindus say."
"Here, take out its eyes with this knife. Remove the udder. Keep removing all the parts one by one. Let's see which gods are there."
Jamāl raised his head and looked at her face, wondering whether she was joking or whether she was serious. Her face looked serious. "Why did you stop? What are you looking at my face for? Do as I say, or give the knife to me. I'll dissect it and look myself," she said, took the knife which was lying on a stone near him and pierced the two eyes of the cow. Then she pierced the dugs and pulled so that the udder tore. She stabbed the stomach once and looked. For a moment some sarcastic lines appeared on her face, and she said to herself in her mother tongue: "Fools. Uncivilized, unscientific fools. There is no scientific basis at all for their belief" (p. 183).

77Apparently we should take these passages as illustrations of the amorality of science: how science in itself is not an adequate basis for moral judgments or a guide for how to lead one's life.

78The holy cow is developed into the main symbol of the superiority of the Hindu-Indian-traditional complex. In a number of passages the author tries to establish the equality of cows and humans, if not the superiority of cows: Kāḷinga's mother Tāyavva is dumb, but so is Mother Cow, so her being dumb does not matter (p. 9); a woman who cannot produce enough milk to breast-feed her child, like Tāyavva, is not to be blamed too harshly, for also among cows some give more, some less milk (p. 10). Tāyavva goes once to see the tractor and thinks: "How can we understand what cows do not understand?" (p. 104). After Hilda's second delivery, she cannot give enough milk to her daughter because of a disease of the breasts. Son Jack grew up on bottled milk and baby food, whereas his baby sister only drinks large quantities of mother's milk. Kāḷinga says: "This is a child of Hindustan, like a calf of the cows here" (p. 245). When Kāḷinga asks: "But the women of this land give their children as much to drink as they want. Why doesn't this happen to them?", Hilda replies: "I don't know. I am not of this land" (p. 246), and a cow must come to the rescue of the dark-skinned baby, the "child of Hindusthan": the implication is evidently that Hilda, as a woman, is inferior to Indian Hindu women because the latter are more like cows.

79Tabbaliyu nīnāde magane has certain messages that must be strongly emphasized, and another device for stressing the outlandishness of the cultural pattern that is introduced into the village by Kāḷinga jr. and his wife is the emphasis on the English language. At odd moments entire sentences in English are introduced into the text in a transcription which roughly reproduces in Kannada script the pronunciation of English as it comes from the mouths of most Kannada speakers. These sentences are either indications of a condescending attitude on the part of the speaker (of Kāḷinga or Hilda, when speaking to people of a lesser educational status) or of silliness. The numerous passages in which Hilda says that something is "interesting" or "unexciting" are obvious snubs at the well-known American lust for novelties and thrills and the way in which this is often expressed.

80The author makes the two cultural patterns clash head-on, but does not make the slightest attempt to bring them into a dialogue with each other. Hilda does not like the unsolved, unnecessary tension in their relationship with Venkaṭaramaṇa and invites him home for a talk, for "you must have democratic approach to differences" (sic - "yu masṭ hyāv demokrāṭik aprōc ṭu ḍifarensas"). Venkaṭaramaṇa says: "When you do not want our life, lifestyle and goals, who should come to your house for what reason? If you need people, be like us. If not, be like this" (p. 146). She says: "The custom of your country is strange. If anyone behaves differently from you, you immediately shut him out. We don't do that," and she invites him to come and discuss their differences and correct them, for that is his duty as the family priest. But the discussions are not much more than dogmatic statements by Venkaṭaramaṇa, and he disregards Hilda's questions. After their noisy quarrel about the gods in cows, Venkaṭaramaṇa simply declares that there is no use talking with her until she has become a vegetarian (i.e. he cannot convince her by reasoning that he is right, and demands her acknowledgment of the correctness of his position without further argumentation). She wants to know why cows should be singled out for preferential treatment and not be eaten, whereas sheep, goats, chicken, fish etc. are eaten freely, but Venkaṭaramaṇa has already walked away (p. 179).

81This avoidance of discussion, of rationalization, of reasonability, is one of the basic tendencies in the composition of the novel and must be seen as one of the chief characteristics of the mentality with which it was written. Venkaṭaramaṇa fails to see the fundamental difference between traditional ways of agriculture and the scientific approach, which is based on analysis of verifiable empirical data and experimentation. The significance of all modem training is consistently played down and presented more or less as a matter of merely learning a few tricks, like driving a tractor. Such technology is not seen as a major achievement of Western culture but as a mere triviality, something that Indians can easily appropriate.

82The author obviously does not recognize science as a cultural achievement, and the reason for this ostentatious depreciation seems to be that if contemporary science is accepted as a cultural achievement and as representative of the outlook and potential of a kind of culture, then traditional rural Indian culture (which the novel constantly shows as being in opposition to it) may look bleak. If Western culture and its achievements are not to be considered culture at all, then there is no common base for a reasonable comparison of the two. In other words: if rural Indian culture is culture, and technological Western culture is no culture, then automatically Indian culture is superior as a culture, which is what the author wants to demonstrate.

83In the novel the modem applied sciences and their accompanying mentality are distorted to something which they are not, and they are supposedly the totality of modem Western culture: they are presented as a sort of substitute for philosophy, religion, morality and ethics, and they make people inhuman. This sort of argumentation is of course a mere variation of the popular sophistry that speaks of the 'materialistic West' and the 'spiritualistic East', which was popularized by neo-Hindu thinkers like Vivekananda. Characteristically Hilda, the scientific-minded woman, is shown making critical observations and questioning a variety of matters, but without any sense of compassion or sympathy with what lives: Venkaṭaramaṇa thinks over all that he has seen and concludes that "the picture Hilda gave clearly showed the base selfishness of those [Western] people. No grass for cows that give no milk; they have no right to live either... To have a bull directly climb on a cow means a financial loss. His eye suddenly went to Hilda's pregnant abdomen... These cows do not have the natural maternal joy of nursing their calves, nor the natural pleasure of being climbed upon by a bull when in rut" (p. 174). On the other hand characters like Kāḷinga sr. and Tāyavva, both of whom are uneducated and ignorant followers of tradition, are portrayed as sympathetic persons with a sound sense of values (Tāyavva, the character of the dumb-but-very-good woman, finds a parallel in Nāgalakṣmi in Bhyrappa's Vamśavṛkṣa, and to some extent in Rācamma in Dharmaśrī).

84The modern development of science demands individual, autonomous minds in order to investigate and criticize, and here we see another point of conflict in the novel. Individualism is here seen as a constant threat to the status quo. Kāḷinga and his wife are not permitted by the village community to lead their own life, according to their insights with regard to what is right and desirable, apart from the larger life of that community. One day Kāḷinga has a dispute with Yangaṭa; believing that one cannot reason with villagers or say anything that goes against their beliefs, he tells Yangaṭa to mind his own business so that he can see to his own. This enrages Yangaṭa, who could have been his father in age, is the most influential man in the village and refuses to see any distinction between his household and Kāḷinga's: "Hey, did I come to loot your house? I come here to say something good, and you make a difference saying 'your house, my house'. Which is your house?" (pp. 101-2). Venkaṭaramaṇa actually expects Kāḷinga to show solidarity with the frenzied mob that destroyed his crop when the police collect a fine from them for precisely that reason.

85The mere fact of Kāḷinga's marrying outside his own caste is condemnable, irrespective of where his wife is from. Venkaṭaramaṇa insists that he could have found a girl from Kāḷinga's own caste for him, and says that it is not a personal but a social matter:

"For instance, at the next sankrānti festival there must be a celebration at the Puṇyakōṭi temple. If you had taken a girl from your caste she would've fasted, taken pancagavya, performed worship and everything. The worship of Mother Cow is more a thing that the wife of the house should do than the husband. So, will your white-country wife do it or not? What is her caste? All people in that country are Christians, aren't they?" (p. 110).

86Kāḷinga says that she belongs to the farmers' caste, rides a tractor and works like no Indian woman can, to which Venkaṭaramaṇa retorts that Indian women know the traditional ways of agriculture, can learn how to drive a tractor and on top of all that know their ways, customs and religion.

87The values for which the novel stands are not open to discussion: When Hilda asks Venkaṭaramaṇa whether it is not wrong to judge people on the basis of their caste, he says: "No one can do anything about a tradition that has come down over a long time." The values can be enforced by any means, and at any cost, even at the cost of human life. When Kāḷinga humbly goes and asks for the use of a cow for milk and saving his daughter's life, Venkaṭaramaṇa crudely says: "The world won't lose anything if your child dies... The more what is born to you, what has grown in your wife's belly, dies, the better it is for religion... Later it, and the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren born from its belly will together kill and eat thousands and thousands of cows" (pp. 258-9). Venkaṭaramaṇa actually considers burning down Kāḷinga's house: "His house should be burnt down. Without proper fear and harm these people will not come to their senses" (p. 214). To defend his personal economic interests Venkaṭaramaṇa mobilizes the mob in the village by telling the lie that Kāḷinga has threatened that even if he kills a cow a day Venkaṭaramaṇa must support him, or he will go to court to take away the temple land. In a short defiant speech, after he has announced that he will have a fence built around the temple, he tells Kāḷinga, with the typical vulgar, doglike arrogance of the leader of a violent mob who knows that he is facing a minority: "If you call the police or anyone else to come and scare us, you'll be beaten with staves. I'll take up a staff and stand there. We'll know how manly you are" (p. 217).

88A fascist mentality is clear throughout most of the novel. Democracy is denounced, obviously because it involves reasoned debate and compromise and hence cannot accommodate the totalitarian attitudes of Venkaṭaramaṇa and the villagers. The Nehru government is criticized because it has failed to protect cows in the manner Venkaṭaramaṇa and the propagandists of the RSS, the leading ultra-right-wing Hindu organization, would like to see (p. 204). And the foreign hand is behind this, because in the words of one official, "The people controlling the government are different. The experts who give them advice are different. All of them are England people" (p. 37).

89In general, Venkaṭaramaṇa finds it hard to believe that Hilda's foreign country can be fundamentally different from India in any respect, except in degeneracy, and he projects his manner of viewing society in India on the other country. Thus he believes that there is a caste system in America of Christians versus non-Christians, just as racism is universal and hence acceptable. Hilda is shown towards the end of the novel as cherishing racist ideas herself: her second child, the daughter, is born, and

when she saw it once, she thought it was not attractive.... she understood at once that this child would not be like white people, but would have the black colour of Hindustanis (p. 241).

90Hilda wanted to return to America, but with this black child which "holds up and shows her past life" she finds it difficult to be among her own people (p. 242) - as though she could not have thought of this before, e.g. before marrying Kāḷinga. Her whole idea of coming to India, of living and working with Indians, one would think, is sufficient evidence that she is not averse to mixing with different people. The novel shows a glaring inconsistency here, and this idea must have come up at a later stage in writing, when the author thought that Hilda ought to be portrayed as being as racist as the Indian characters.

91The central problem of the novel, viz. the confrontation of traditional India with the complex of Westernization (presented here as individualism, rationalism, critical analysis, secularization, mechanization, the absence of complete submission of women to men), is not really solved. There is no attempt at a dialogue, no attempt at an understanding of the fundamental differences between the tradition-alistic agricultural Indian culture of rural southern Karnataka and the new style of thinking and living that comes in together with Kāḷinga's education. There is a quasi-solution, which is characteristically irrational: Kāḷinga gives up his new attitudes because he feels lonely and suffers from depressions. When Hilda concernedly asks him why he is so dejected, he says that he has nobody; also her presence is no solution, nor can they return to America, for "There too I am alone. They will not accept me completely, because I have a black colour" (p. 238). All his newly won convictions are given up in a surge of emotionality. He suddenly desires to get back the old cows and bullocks which Hilda has sold to be sent to a slaughter-house in Bombay. He says: "Mustn't we protect the Mother Cows in their old age like a mother? The cows and bullocks you sold are such mothers and fathers" (p. 263) - which is rather a big change from his attitude on p. 101, where he asks: "Why are there cows, if not for men's use?"

92Because the old lifestyle is confronted by critical examination, the author seems compelled to resort to obscurantism and declare that the truth about the right way of living (which is expressed by the term 'dharma') is beyond reason and is undebatable. Right-wing prejudices, irrational fears, and a distorted view of what 'the Western' way of life is are used in an attempt to win the reader's sympathy. Characteristically there is never any reasoned, rational defence of the status quo, for this would lead to a real discussion, which is what the author wants to avoid.

934.11 Conclusions

  • 19 Cf. n. 5.

94By now, I believe, it will have become clear to my readers how interconnected the various culturally specific themes in modern Kannada fiction are. In the present chapter we have seen in the discussion of Tabbaliyu nīnāde magane that the attitude towards foreigners is closely linked with the religious culture of the people and is seen as a variation of the broader attitude towards people who do not belong to one's own caste. But also if no foreign people can be seen at all, the world outside is very much present, mainly in an Anglo-Saxon form, due to India's present state of cultural development and its internal political situation. In its present form, the Indian republic is a result of British colonialism, and the basic administrative structure has been inherited from the British. The only modern language with which one can effectively communicate throughout the whole of the country for administrative and scholarly purposes is English. "The East-West encounter is part of our psyche," says Shantinath Desai19. The Indian language situation and the huge, complex process that can be called 'modernization' are intimately linked with the world outside and Indian contacts with it.

95Ramachandra Sharma's story Palāyana shows us what can be considered a confirmation of the stereotype of the encounter. The protagonist is dazed by Britain, is disoriented, feels lost and drifts into a marriage with a domineering, selfish, hedonistic, absurdly extraverted and fickle British woman; finally he longs for the familiar, sheltered existence he had in India. Though from a literary point of view this is not a great story, it is interesting for its psychological implications. The character of the British wife is kept utterly flat: we see not the slightest attempt at finding out why she is as she is, and there is no explanation at all of her as a character. She becomes merely the most detailed part of the description of the incomprehensible environment of which the protagonist is the victim.

96In Bhyrappa's Tabbaliyu nīnāde magane the victimization goes much further: whereas Śrīkaṇṭha in Sharma's story longs back to India and to certain aspects of life there which he misses, Kāḷinga jr. actually wants to introduce a variety of Western ideas in his home environment, and his childhood friend, the village priest, is so convinced that what Kāḷinga does will have catastrophic consequences for the order of things in the village that he considers any means justified for defending the old order. 'The order of things' may sound very vague, but in fact the novel does not explain in any appreciable detail what exactly is endangered, unless we assume that dharma itself is in danger: dharma thought of as an indivisible totality that can be threatened by anything. The individual, like Kāḷinga, is not supposed to step outside the familiar environs, imbibe new ideas and seek to integrate what he thinks useful in the traditional setting. Any change, also if this could mean improvement, is condemned. A change in any part of life is potentially dangerous to the harmony in the whole of one's life, hence change in general ought to be avoided. The glorified tradition is a stolid, dead thing.

97Bhyrappa deliberately avoids a reasonable discussion of the conflict which arises from the confrontation of the old and the new and appeals to popular sentiments and the darker side of his readers' psyche (which Jung very appropriately has termed the 'shadow' of the psyche) in order to convince. Thus the general loathsomeness of whatever is foreign is underlined by e.g. numerous racist remarks. The sudden introduction, towards the end of the novel, of the idea that Americans are racists and therefore Kāḷinga cannot live in the USA (in reality of course a few hundred thousand Indians live there) apparently serves to show that such discrimination is natural and permissable.

98We have already seen evidence of Bhyrappa's ignorance of life outside Karnataka in Vamśavṛkṣa and Dharmaśrī, and also in those two novels distorted representations of the culture of other nations serve to prop what seems an exaggerated attachment to what is old and familiar. Whatever ideas are new and evil in Vamśavṛkṣa come from abroad, through Ratne (the Sri Lankan) and Raja, the Oxbridge graduates, and through modern higher education in general, which began in the British period (cf. their effect on Kātyāyani). We have already noted the symbolic use of the English language in that novel. In Dharmaśrī we are told that Islam and Christianity are dangerous because their adherents are the accomplices of foreign powers, which are out to destroy Indian culture and ultimately the Indian state. But surprisingly, although the foreign hand is bad, we see that the English language is good, to such an extent that one must read English books in order to understand what Indian culture and Hinduism mean. Moreover, the superiority of Hinduism vis-à-vis Christianity is defended in terms and values that are essentially alien to its nature, for instance when Hinduism is declared to be more 'scientific' (this is of course substantiated nowhere). Rather than a vindication of 'Indian culture', which the novel obviously was meant to be, it is a show of cultural impotence on the part of the author.

99We see a romanticization of the West in Shantinath Desai's story Kṣitija. Though the foreigners here are somewhat more lifelike, most of them remain stereotypes. The typical East-West opposition, in which India is seen as ethical, morally strict and religious-minded whereas the West is its opposite in these matters, also occurs here: life aboard the ship is "dance, drinks and amour," with which the protagonist had hitherto not been confronted. Her expressed wish to "remain Indian" in spite of the surroundings, though she has still hardly experienced those surroundings, suggests a culture shock; yet the further course of the story shows us that 'remaining Indian' is precisely what she does not want. The 'Western' lifestyle as reflected in what goes on aboard holds out a prospect of a kind of personal fulfilment, of a joy of life, which she could not gain by remaining as she was in Bombay. The disappointment which she feels with herself at the end of the story indicates that foreigners have something desirable, a sort of freedom and potential, which she cannot achieve because of her Indian background.

100Desai's novel Vikṣēpa (discussed below, in chapter five) partly deals with the same question of an individual freeing himself from his traditional background and seeing viable cultural alternatives in the West which may offer suggestions for improvements in the individual's life. Protagonist Rāhula explicitly states that he feels a stranger in India and must go abroad to find a meaning for his life, which seems empty. (In this he resembles the Western youths of the hippie generation, who felt a similar cultural dissatisfaction and went to India and Nepal in search of alternatives.) His friend Raṇajita considers this desire of Rāhula’s to go abroad so significant that he mentions it as one of the positive traits of his character in a conversation with Rāhula's fiancée.

  • 20 Ibid.
  • 21 Ibid

101Part of what one can find in the West, as we read in the novel, is an elaboration of what we have already seen in the story. The much lesser degree of social control in the West and the fewer taboos which the West places on individual experiences (including physical experiences), in contrast with the many inhibitions which traditional Indian society forces upon one, form a major attraction of life in the West. Desai describes himself as "one of those who are both rooted and rebellious in respect of their culture. I accept my culture as I accept my body, my complexion etc. and I also rebel against it because I can conceive of a free, dynamic, creative society of free individuals"20. Rāhula's friend Ranajita wants to go to France, largely with the same ideas in mind. The reason for choosing France as Ranajita's desired destination is somewhat surprising, when we consider that all other Kannada authors have their gaze fixed exclusively on the Anglo-Saxon world; in this case, Desai says, a French man or woman had (as he then thought) a casual, matter-of-fact attitude towards a passing affair, and probably this notion was generated by his reading of Flaubert, Zola, de Maupassant and others21. Whether this image of the country is entirely justified is a different matter; but it does explain the fascination it must have for a dissolute character like Raṇajita, who finally is murdered by one of his shady friends, and thus Desai shows that however much appreciation he has for Western individual freedom, this does not mean that he approves of licentiousness (cf. also the explicit remarks on this matter made by Rāhula in the first chapter). Desai is not so naïve as to idealize everything that is popularly considered 'Western' in India: thus Rāhula is impressed by the faith which the Christian religion instills in the Williamses and their foster-son Paul, but he cannot believe in it himself; just as he cannot believe in the naive communism which his friends Aravinda and Vaidēhi take to.

102The idea that 'the West' is something dangerous also figures in Desai's novel, in statements made by the protagonist's aunt. She cannot at all understand Rāhula's desire to go abroad, since in her view life must be the same everywhere. But at the same time, contradictorily, she sees the West as a threat: thus she insists that Rāhula should marry before going, because if he has a family in India he is sure to return, and it will be easier for him to resist the erotic temptations of Western women. The idea that the West is essentially immoral as regards human relationships can be heard in her remark that his "crazy Western reasoning" will not suffice as an excuse that he has not done anything reprehensible with his later wife Kundā.

103One more work in our corpus in which the West is very prominent is Anantha Murthy's novel Bhāratīpura (discussed below, in chapter five). Here too we find a protagonist who is dissatisfied with life in his ancestral town and draws inspiration from the West, in his case his experiences as a student in Britain, to try to bring about a greater degree of social equity in his town.

  • 22 U.R. Anantha Murthy has argued repeatedly for a harmonious blending of old and new in order to ove (...)

104The novel presents a number of characters who are caught up in the East-West encounter, and they respond to it in different ways. Jagannātha's beloved Margaret, who is half Indian, suffers from the conjugal strife of her parents and enthuses unthinkingly about India out of sympathy with her Indian father in the domestic conflict. Rāmēśacandra is described as a model Indian hypocrite, vaguely believing in the superiority of Indian culture in comparison with that of Europe, talking about the purity of Indian women but having a love affair with an English girl, not marrying her although he loves her but instead, upon his return to India, marrying a girl from his own caste whose father is well-established. His fellow student Candraśēkhara is another hypocrite, a thorough casteist while he was at home in Bangalore but bitterly opposed to British racism when in Britain he finds himself at the receiving end of discrimination. In Bhāratīpura, Purāṇika is an interesting character on the edge of society. Once a reformer like Jagannātha, he saw that his attempts at bringing about social change failed; he is so disturbed by the whole cultural milieu in which he finds himself that he advises Jagannātha: "Westernize yourself. Stay sane." Unable to emigrate to Europe on also ends up a failure, but he cannot acquiesce like the false Vedantist Adiga, nor can he become an escapist like Purāṇika. A synthesis of what India and the West have to offer is his estate and creates a sort of Western account of his health, he lives in isolation on environment for himself. Jagannātha is more desirable and must be possible, even though this demands a great deal of thinking and may mean repeated disappointments. In this way Bhāratīpura is a clear expression of Anantha Murthy's opinion that contemporary Indian thought is largely sterile by either being infatuated with whatever is Western or by blindly adoring whatever is really, or supposedly, anciently Indian22.

105Anantha Murthy looks for opportunities for Western ideas to be successfully integrated in an Indian context in a meaningful way. While Sharma apparently supports the stereotypes and Bhyrappa carries them to crazed extremes, Desai actually manipulates stereotypical images of the world outside to make his ideas reach his readers.


1 Halbfass 1981: 197.

2 Halbfass 1981: 202.

3 Cf. n. 2.

4 Personal letter, d. August 20th, 1986.

5 Ibid.

6 Obviously playing on the English saying 'when in Rome, be like the Romans'.

7 See n. 5.

8 Ibid.

9 Muni-s and ṛṣi-s are classes of holy seers.

10 Pañcagavya is a mixture of 'five products of the cow', viz. milk, curds, clarified butter, urine and dung, which is to be consumed in order to purify oneself after certain kinds of ritual pollution.

11 People who speak Malayalam, i.e. who originally are from Kerala. There is a belief that they are experts in magic and witchcraft.

12 A colourful form of musical folk drama. Shivaram Karanth and his troupe have performed in numerous countries, also in France and Germany.

13 Cf. ch. 2, n. 12.

14 Cf. ch. 2, n. 15.

15 That Hilda is abused as a muṇḍe shows that the literal meaning of the word is not thought of when it is used.

16 See ch. 2 n. 15.

17 The uniform of the youth wing of the RSS; it is similar to that of the erstwhile Hitler-Youth.

18 Bhyrappa 1980: 1, 3-4.

19 Cf. n. 5.

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid

22 U.R. Anantha Murthy has argued repeatedly for a harmonious blending of old and new in order to overcome the sterility of modern Indian thought: cf. for instance Anantha Murthy 1975: 68-69.

© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 1996

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