A Brief Survey of Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa’s Major Novels

A Brief Survey of Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa’s Major Novels

The first episode of a new series introducing the acclaimed novels of India's national literary giant, Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa.

Introduction

WE THANKFULLY LIVE in a time when we no longer need to introduce Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa as a living literary legend to Indians themselves. To cite a well-worn cliché, Dr. Bhyrappa is a pan Indian novelist who happens to write in Kannada. Although national fame came to him quite late in life, when it did come, it poured torrentially. Deservedly so.

Dr. Bhyrappa is well past a youthful vintage of 90. He retains his zest for life and continues to pursue his abiding passion for travel and serious study. This is as good a time as any to introduce the major novels that catapulted him to literary eminence. It is one thing to celebrate his distinction but an informed celebration yields greater value.  

Happy reading!  

Aavarana

Lakshmi, a rebellious, free-spirited and intelligent film-maker, breaks ties with her staunchly Gandhian father to marry Amir, the man she loves. She even agrees reluctantly to Amir's request that she convert to Islam as a formality and change her name to Razia. However, she is shocked to discover that her husband is not the open-minded, progressive individual he had claimed to be before marriage. After marriage, Amir sticks his family's side and tries to force her to follow the more regressive tenets of Islam.

This triggers her to embark on a personal journey into the history of the so-called Muslim period and India’s prolonged and ongoing encounter with Islam. She is stunned, awed and moved at the complex layers and forces that have shaped our religions, sects, paths, and creeds. Her quest leads her to the many parallels in the narratives between the past and the present and she gradually finds that though much has changed in Indian society over the centuries, much remains the same.

First published in Kannada in 2007, Aavarana (The Veil) became an instant bestseller and has seen over fifty reprints so far. It has been translated into six Indian languages and into English as well. It is a landmark novel not just in Kannada literature but in Indian literature as well. It has been the subject of fierce public debates and critiques and continues to be widely read and discussed. Like most of Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa’s works, Aavarana is pan-Indian in scope.

The plot of Aavarana is multilayered and explores a vast range of themes using medieval Muslim history of India as a backdrop. It also offers original insights into the manner in which history should be understood and discusses the philosophy and truth of historical events especially with respect to an ancient and the only non-Abrahamic civilisation like the Hindu civilisation.

Aavarana is also notable for the frank and honest manner in which it uncovers the various strands of contemporary politics and ideology in post-British India. Perhaps for the first time in any Indian language, Aavarana gives a candid treatment and provides an expose of sorts on topics considered taboo in Indian public discourse – chiefly, the Indian version of secularism, the Marxist subversion of Indian history, and the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

Aavarana is a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand the various historical and contemporary realities of India in an honest, frank and objective manner. Above all, it is a fine work of literature.

Saakshi

Saakshi (Witness) is another major novel of Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa. It is a work of profound philosophy that at once encompasses a wide range of themes such as the meaning and nature of truth, sexuality, desire, avarice, attachment, love, and presents a complex interplay of fundamental human impulses.

From one perspective, Saakshi stands out as a unique work in Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa’s literary corpus.

Overcome by guilt at having committed perjury in court in a murder trial, Parameshwarayya, a village elder, commits suicide. Yama, the Deity of death and Dharma, bestows upon him the privilege of presenting his case in his own words. Thereafter, he commands Parameshwarayya to return to the earth as a Spirit to witness, but not to intervene, in events subsequent to his death.

Parameshwarayya observes his daughter Savitri, son Ramakrishna, son-in-law Satyappa, the woman Lakkoo and Dr Hashim, as they are confronted by difficult decisions and revelations, which cause them to look inward and attempt a reappraisal of their lives and values. Dr. Bhyrappa’s portrayal of Nagappa and Manjayya are masterpieces of literary craftsmanship. Nagappa is an arch-miser who grudges even the food that his only grandson eats. Manjayya is the very embodiment of lust and the havoc that he inflicts throughout the novel is profoundly disturbing.  

Saakshi powerfully uses an awesome gamut of metaphors and extraordinary symbolism to explore complex and uneasy questions of birth, death and everything in between.

Set in the backdrop of Indian philosophy, Saakshi is a substantial investigation of the interplay of the forces of Arishadvarga (the Six Enemies within us), namely, Kama (Lust/Sexual Desire), Krodha (anger), Lobha (avarice), Moha (attachment), Mada (arrogance), and Matsarya (jealousy) juxtaposed with the Purusharthas (the Fourfold Objects of Pursuit of Life), namely Dharma (Virtue/Righteous living), Artha (Wealth earned by honest means), Kama (Satisfying sexual desire in the righteous manner), and Moksha (Spiritual Liberation). The triumph of Dr. Bhyrappa’s craft and creativity lies in how its characters and situations blend in an intense fashion as he explores these themes.    

On a fundamental plane, this formidable work questions as to what it means to be a witness—in a courtroom, before the Deity of Death, to the lives of others, and finally to one’s own self. In a manner of speaking, the reader himself becomes the Witness. Sakshi is almost a synonymn for the word immersive.

To be continued

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