Set in a fictitious village called Kanthapura in Kasaragod district, Mukhdntara spans across the life of seven generations of a Havyaka Brahmin family. A story about the realities of living in a society marked by caste distinctions, the desire to find communal harmony and the tribulations of the characters through the entirety of the novel, it is also a tale of changing times and people.
After unexpectedly coming into possession of a huge portion of land, Thirumaleshwara Bhat of Ishwarimule becomes a satisfied man. But childless, Thirumaleshwara Bhat and his wife Parvathakka decide to adopt Venkappaiah and also give shelter to his widowed mother, Rathnamma. Venkappaiah is to inherit Thirumaleshwara's vast wealth but when Krishnaiah, the illegitimate child of Thirumaleshwara and Rathnamma is born, rivalry ensues. Through the overlapping narratives of the characters, we get a glimpse into their journey from tradition to modernity. The characters strive to reshape new values when old values are slowly questioned and erased as they move on and are swept along in the waves of globalization.
An experienced professor of English and teacher of German, Dr N Thirumaleshwara Bhat (1939) established himself as a translator during the decades of his long association with Prof K S Haridasa Bhat of Udupi. A multi-language scholar, he first ventured into translation by rendering Masti Venkatesha Iyengar's novelette Subbanna into German. Though he has translated many works in English into Kannada, his main forte is in translating from Kannada into English. Chief among his works in translation include: Dr TMA Pai (Prof K S Haridasa Bhat), The Gospel of Life (Swami Jagadatmanandaji), Halabara Jolige (Jayamma Chettimada), Puppetry in Karnataka (S A Krishnayya), Kadyanata (A V Navada), Marionettes of Yakshagana (Uppinakudru Bhaskara Kamath), Olasiri (Dr Ashoka Alva), Offer Sacrificial (Kuvempu), Abhimanyu (Yakshagana Prasanga), Manteswami (Folk Epic), Junjappa (Folk Epic), and several short works of Dr Chandrashekhara Udupa. The Kendra Sahitya Akademi published his monograph on Rashtrakavi Govind Pai. His works in Kannada include: Dorakida Dan; Shastra-Prayoga. For promoting Indo-German understanding, he was awarded the "Order of Merit" by the President of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1993.
Na Mogasale (1944) an eminent Kannada litterateur was born in Kasargod. At present, he resides at Kanthavara where through his literary and cultural organizations like the Kanthavara Kannada Sangha, the Allama Prabhu Peetha and the Vardhamana Prashasthi Peetha, he has made Kanthavara a literary and cultural centre. He has also served for 37 years as a Government Medical Officer in Kanthavara. He is best known for his voluminous novels, poems and short stories. Of his many novels, Ullanghane (Defiance) and Mukhanthara (The Other Face) are considered his major works. His Kannada novel Ullanghane also bagged him four awards including the Kannada Sahitya Academy Award, the Kuvempu Prashasti (Shimoga), the Chaduranga Prashasti (Mysore), and the Chadaga Prashasti (Bangalore). Manipal Universal Press has also published Defiance the English translation of his novel Ullanghane.
My novel Ullanghane was written in 2008. It was translated into English under the title Defiance by S M Pejathaya. Six years after the publication of Ullanghane, I am happy to offer to my readers Mukhdntara, another novel similar in form, intent and length. I began writing this in the middle of 2011, continued the writing non-stop for about five months, and allowed the manuscript to remain in hibernation for about two years. Then, I subjected it to revision three times and got it ready for publication. Reducing the length of the novel from more than a thousand pages to the present size, lacked the high enthusiasm and absorption in writing the original, but I accepted it as a necessary exercise during these days of not leisurely, but hurried reading.
It is a little embarrassing to attempt a justification of one's own writing. It might even lead to the suspicion that the author lacks confidence about his own work. Very rarely have I ever spoken about my own works either at the time of publication or later. I have by and large accepted the comments and observations made by readers about my publications, and I have not resorted to any defence. I have, in fact, no desire to say anything about this novel Mukhantara, but the fact that the seed of the novel was sown about thirty years ago is perhaps a matter of some relevance.
About thirty-three years ago, a close acquaintance of mine committed suicide, and the attempt to understand the foreground and background of the incident led to the writing of my novel Nannadalladdu - (What is Not Mine); the main motif of the novel was sensual indulgence, one of the most powerful driving forces of humans.
The protagonist of the novel was especially tormented by the urge for sensual pleasure, and for this reason and others, he felt that there was no meaning in living and committed suicide. The drive to kill himself was provoked by his sense of meaninglessness of life, but he wrote out a will bequeathing all that he had to a service organization, as if it was an attempt to seek some meaning in the meaninglessness of life. The novel with this background was published in 1977, and the very next year it was given the Karnataka Sahitya Academy Award. At that time, I was quite an obscure figure in the literary world, but the publication of this novel led to this instantaneous recognition. Even then, the novel had not caught the attention of our modern authors like Dr U R Ananthamurthy, Prof Gopalakrishna Adiga, Prof P Lankesh and others. Though it did not draw attention of such distinguished writers, it did interest many young men and women who were interested in the modernist movement in literature.
Even today, my literary friends recognize me as the author of Nannadalladdu. Interestingly, Prof V M Inamdar was in the selection committee which declared the award of the Sahitya Academy for this novel. When, on a later occasion, I happened to meet Prof Inamdar at a function of the Sahitya Academy, he complimented me on my style of writing in this novel. He particularly expressed his liking for the "diary" in the novel. Blessing me heartily, the senior author expressed his feeling that he could envy me for this wonderful chapter in the novel. Another senior novelist, Niranjan (Kulkunda Shivarao), was all praise for the novel. In a letter, he said that my writing almost reminded him of the writings of S L Bhyrappa. Kattimani also wrote expressing high appreciation for this novel. The elderly writers of those days readily read the works of young authors and expressed their liking freely and frankly, without reservation.
The novel Pallata that I wrote next was a contrast in its tone and tenour, and appealed to readers of a different taste.
The flavour of the rural life depicted in this novel was what they especially liked. When this novel came to the final round of selection for the prize of the Sahitya Academy in the following year, I happened to be a co-opted member of the selection committee, and so my novel Pallata missed the chance of being considered for the prize during that year.
The favourable responses and words of appreciation to these two novels naturally inspired me to write yet another novel, Anthastha (The One Within), around 1980. Though I started it with immense confidence, by the time about a hundred pages of the manuscript were written, my inspiration dried up. I took up the manuscript again after a gap of about a year, but I found no pleasure in continuing it. I consigned the manuscript to flames, and found relief from the tension. But, the theme and the possible shape of the plot had not totally vanished from the mind. But, I had lost all hopes of the possibility that they would ever beckon me again.
The lengthy novel of mine, Ullanghane, got published in 2008, and along with the Sahitya Academy Award, it won the Kuvempu Award of Karnataka Sangha, Shivamogga, Chaduranga Award of Mysore, the Chadaga Award of Bengaluru. A large number of readers also wrote their appreciation for this novel. I wondered whether I could once again take up the theme of Anthastha and develop it into a different novel. But, many of my literary friends had declared, "Ullanghane is your masterpiece, your ultimate; you will not succeed in writing a novel that can surpass it. In truth, you don't have to write anything more. You have already written your magnum opus." Perhaps, this was what I also had felt. I had written Ullanghane without expectation of any recognition. But, after its publication, I sent copies to my close friends like Madhava Kulkarni, Belagodu Ramesh Bhat, D K Chauta, Prof K E Radhakrishna, and sought their opinion. Though all of them agreed that it was a very good work, Madhava Kulkarni shared an important observation with me. Though he agreed that the novel was indeed an unexpected success, and succeeded remarkably in presenting the life of three generations of the Bunt community without having to offend anybody of them, and it had still a lacuna, the absence of any evil character.
Though the novel did not suffer on that account, delineation of a negative character or two would have added to its appeal. Many friends, among whom some were of the Bunt community that formed the majority of the characters of this novel, agreed that I had depicted the community without the slightest scope for any fault finding or criticism. But they wondered whether a character like Sankappa Hegde would ever be a representative of the Bunt community that forms the canvas of the novel. I defended my portrayal on the ground that I had found examples of such characters among Bunts. But, the objection did have some effect on my mind. By this time, my close friend Belagodu Ramesh Bhat informed me that Boluvaru Mohammad Kunhi was writing a thousand page long novel, and asked why I could not-write one more novel of the calibre of Ullanghane. "Boluvaru has been sending me what he is writing. If you also send me what you write, I would gladly share my responses with you."
About two years ago, Dr Mogasale had sent me for my perusal a handwritten manuscript of his novel titled Alive (Estuary). Its voluminous size was a little forbidding, but I took courage and started reading it. I knew that, and I started reading, but it absorbed me so completely that I finished reading it almost without breaks, hardly being aware of the passing of time. If my memory is right, I read the rather lengthy narrative within a span of three or four days, gripped by the feeling of wonder, joy and great excitement.
I was filled with wonder at the capacity of the narrative of epic length to hold me so absorbed. The great experience of life that the story offered, the variety of its idioms, and the sequences of many interesting incidents held me in a state of high excitement.
This was around May, 2012. The same manuscript has now come in print undergoing further refinements, with a new title, with added dimensions and additional twists and turns. This also made a pleasant reading. It looked beautiful and provided immense joy. This impression also raised a question. I could not gauge at once what cause or what causes were behind this pleasurable impact of the book. The question remained.
Many of the novels and plays of our time, which have been specially the subject of modern criticism are the product of a conscious intellectual perception. Behind them can be seen the flourishes of some kind of theorizing born in some cultural environs of some recent occurrence. The characters here seem to be created deliberately to demonstrate some current of thought, with some theoretical basis. What draws our attention is rather an obvious set of abstract ideas than the stuff of the novel or the play. The novelty of these basic ideas provides a stronger impetus to approach the works with a critical eye, looking for the philosophical, intellectual moorings than the qualities of the basically literary works. While seeking the cumulative effect of the experiences of life projected in the works, we feel the weight of some important critical theory right in front of the edifice of our reading. Such theories seem to be the product of the need of a particular kind of literature, and literature itself stands uncared for in the maze of multiple rational and intellectual discourses.
While speaking of the novels of Henry James, T S Eliot said, "He had so fine a mind that no idea could violate it." A phenomenon of a contrary tendency is being observed in our midst. There is no scope for any interference of abstractions in the world of experience presented by Henry James. Even if they intrude, they would appear as forms belonging to the world of experience. Our recent literary exercises, however, demand excessive strain on the part of the reader.
Why Mukhantara captures our mind and heart is that it is not based on any alien, borrowed or abstract concepts. It does not even seek such a basis. The backbone of this narration is the strength of its sequence of events. Abstraction has a place here only up to the level permitted by the experience of life. Abstract ideas, sometimes dazzling, have no place in the solid ground of life's experiences as depicted here. It is free from any preconceived ideas and depends on realities of life. The secret behind its appeal is its creative and dynamic temperament. It rejects all poses of intellectualism and the imported halo of theoretical approach, and attempts to rely solely on experience.
There is no Gandhism as such here. There is the Gandhi cap. There is a life lived like the life of Gandhi. There is no visualization of a new social order. There are characters like Parvathakka and Oppakka. There is no recording of history. There are creators of history like the Patelru. There is no analysis of the crisis of Indian languages. But, there is the Kannada medium school. There is the arrival of the English medium school. What finds a place for analysis here is only the rationalism that comes within the purview of lived experience. All the events take place here within the confines of life.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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