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The Calf Became an Orphan: A Study in Contemporary Kannada Fiction.

The Calf Became an Orphan: A Study in Contemporary Kannada Fiction. By ROBERT J. ZYDENBOS, Publications du Departement d'indologie, hors serie. Pondichery: INSTITUT FRANCAIS De PONDICHERY and ECOLE FRANCAISE D'EXTREME-ORIENT, 1996. Pp. 301.

Robert J. Zydenbos continues the tradition of research on Kannada by continental scholars, which dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. The Calf Became an Orphan, a revised version of his doctoral dissertation has the strengths and disabilities such publications generally have. There is no dearth of documentation. A number of short stories and novels have been analyzed to show how a society in transition has been portrayed in post-Independence Kannada fiction. Through elaborate summaries, culture-specific questions central to the works are presented: the plight of women, especially widows; the uneasy relationship between the Hindus and the other minorities, Muslims and Christians; the caste hierarchy, from which most problems emanate; and the impact of the West, as well as the challenges that follow, are among the questions discussed.

A neatly structured study, repetitive as published dissertations tend to be, The Calf Became an Orphan is of considerable utility, especially to those who need synopses by way of introduction to an unfamiliar literature or unfamiliar works. Zydenbos' is a painstaking effort, as one would expect of a research scholar. Though he has been a resident of Karnataka for more than two decades and has married a Kannada girl, he is at best an insider-outsider. The difficulties he faces in his critical encounter with fiction produced in a culture and language not native to him have to be sorted out through hard study and with the help of informants. The footnotes testify to the effort. The insider-outsider position perhaps also accounts for his reluctance to attempt close readings of the passages he quotes. The comments on the passages, which are minimal, generally reinforce an argument. Despite this linguistic disability, Zydenbos comes out with occasional insights, as when he characterizes, for instance, Devanura Mah adeva's style as "fragmented but not incoherent" (p. 178), a characterization that suggests how Mahadeva is able to essay multiple layers of reality. On the other hand, when Zydenbos dismisses Kuvempu's "archalc novels" (p. 218), there is a nearly total failure of insight, for the two novels of Kuvempu are usually judged among the very best in Kannada.

Historically, literary criticism has developed through lively debate. Zydenbos' work indulges liberally in polemic, though polemic militates against disinterested research. The reason for the intensities seems to be that despite his protestation that he has genuine concern for "a land and people that the has] learnt to appreciate deeply" (p. xii), his likes and dislikes revolve round a basically Western and Christian value-system that places the individual's right to choose his mate and life-style above the prescriptions handed down by traditional set-ups. Zydenbos draws attention to the distrust of physical relationships outside socially approved arrangements in Karnataka, and by extension, in India. The chief victims in such cases are women and their offspring, as the title "The Calf Became an Orphan" connotes. S. L. Bhyrappa, who uses the title, which is derived from an old song about a cow, comes in for harsh criticism because of his vigorous defense of the traditional. On the other hand, Zydenbos consid ers Niranjana's Banasankari a "modern classic" (p. 16), for among other things, "the basic tenor of the novel is a form of humanism, which forms the basis of its criticism of the cruelty of orthodox Hindu society" (p. 27). Not many critics in Kannada are likely to endorse this valuation of Banasankari. But Zydenbos has a built-in defense: "Much criticism that is produced in Kannada is not mature, and in their value judgments many critics are often guided by utterly unliterary criteria" (p. 10).

Zydenbos is at home with the Navya (Modernist) writers like U. R. Ananthamurthy, whose interrogation of Hindu orthodoxy and the repression and hypocrisies it generates is "penetrating and radical" (p. 244). In a study where analysis is overshadowed by synopsis, comparisons provide welcome relief. The literary movements in twentieth-century Kannada are briefly discussed from a comparative perspective. Writers representative of the post-Independence movements are compared with each other. There are also a few studies of earlier and later works of the same writer, which aim at determining if there are substantive changes in the writer's attitudes. A significant omission appears to be Ananthamurthy's later works, where anger subsides and interrogation seeks accommodation. Though Zydenbos concludes that "matters of nationwide political significance are not dealt with" (p. 273) in Kannada fiction, it is difficult to consider Bhyrappa's justification of Hindu orthodoxy and the scrutiny the latter is subjected to by others, as well as the accommodations that become perceptible, "apolitical." Correspondingly, fresh definitions of "Hindutva" and secularism are no longer peripheral to the fast-changing political scenario.

This continental researcher's study, published by the French Institute of Pondichery, takes little note of the theoretical discussions on the nature of literature originating from France and is blissfully free from abstractions. But its errors, printer's and others, are far too many to go unnoticed.
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 2000
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