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The socialist author of Samskara now has a second novel translated into English. Based on the nineteenth-century notion of the novel as social criticism, and strident in its unconcealed purpose of spreading the gospel of godlessness in the world with the words "God must be destroyed" as a recurring refrain, Bharathipura purports to portray a traditional society of the western section of Karnataka State in the southern part of India. The hero, the atheist Jagannatha, tries, on his return from England, to reform the tradition-bound society of his native village. The novel (presumably semiautobiographical, if not wholly autobiographical) abounds in instances of ironic contradictions, of which the author seems unaware.

The socialist hero, a very wealthy landlord with the name of a Hindu god, is, in his effort to liberate the poorer class, in fact seeking to control them and direct them. While in England, he has an affair with an Anglo-Indian girl, to whom he perfunctorily proposes, only to be conveniently rejected. He is willing to mate but afraid to marry. More important, being class-conscious, he never wishes to mate with or marry any untouchable girl, though his ardent socialist objective is to release all untouchables from bondage and give them equality. Like the proverbial scientist who wanted to find a universal solvent but forgot the problem of where to put it, Jagannatha eagerly desires to free the untouchables from the burden of cleaning latrines in the town, though the wealthy socialist does not say how he will get his own latrines cleaned once his objectives are achieved. When, in the end, he mobilizes the untouchables and takes them to the temple to make an entry into the sacrosanct inner temple, it is no longer a temple, for the image of the god has been removed. He also finds that even when the local politicians embrace socialism, they do not lose their caste affiliation. The political correctness of the novel in secular India is thus betrayed.

The novel contains instances of contrived plotting, like Nagamani's committing suicide for no reason, and inaccurate factual details, such as Setha's being described as the mother of Manjanatha and as a "picture developed in sunlight." Generally speaking, the translation has been ably done, though it inevitably bristles with Indic terms and with particularly localized expressions such as vokkaliga and lingayat, all of which turn off readers not familiar with the Kannada language and Kannada culture. One especially irritating thing is the problem of punctuation, in particular the lack of distinction between restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses and phrases, evidently suggesting a hurried preparation of the English manuscript.

This brings us to the question of why the editors and possibly even the author (who, though well educated in English, prefers to write in Kannada but would have his writings translated into English) were interested in seeing this Kannada work translated? It does not have the stamp of greatness, compelling its inclusion in world literature. Do some Kannada writers feel that immortality for their writings can be assured only in English, even as some seventeenth-century English writers leaned at first toward Latin?

Susheela N. Rao University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh
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Author:Rao, Susheeda N.
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1997
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