Few are the men who render effulgence to an award, rather than the other way round. Santeshivara Lingannaiah Bhyrappa, popularly known as S.L.Bhyrappa needs no introduction as a doyen with that particular ability. He was recently awarded the Saraswati Samman for his novel “Mandra”, in which he delves into the world of music and the lives of musicians through their own eyes.
Here is his excellent speech on receipt of this award. A must read, like all his other works.
If being born in a rural milieu, abject poverty, surviving a plague which takes away two siblings on the same day, losing one’s mother to the same plague later at the age of eleven, having to carry a younger sibling’s body on one’s own shoulders to cremate at the age of 15, later in life, walking all the way to Mumbai, begging for food, working as a coolie, yet completing a PhD, and going on to lead a life that includes trekking in the Alps cannot make a philosopher out of a man, what else can?
Here is a giant who is among the foremost philosophers of our time without resorting to sermons. He deals mostly in fiction, conveying profound philosophical journeys through the dialectics his characters indulge in. The striking factor of most of his writings are an apparent obscurity of the author himself or his opinions in a direct way (with the exception of his autobiography “Bhitti”), although the troughs and crests life threw at him lurk as an intense undercurrent in the experiences his characters undergo.
His constant quest for the truth shines through the intricacies that involve and encapsulate the characters in his novels. Rather than making characters ostentatiously behave in a certain way to achieve a defined goal, he extrapolates them onto a real canvas of relevant times through painstaking research and allows the society to affect the characters’ modalities.
His works usually are woven around macrocosmic and microcosmic dualities. For example, his “Gruhabhanga”, though on one level speaks of a rural woman Nanjamma’s travails in her setting of poverty, people around her and spousal indifference, it also speaks of a larger picture where Indic cultural values have been distorted to suit their own ends by different layers of the society.
He has a PhD in Aesthetics and his writings speak for themselves on the aesthetic front. Anyone who reads “Parva”, which many consider Bhyrappa’s greatest work, will vouch for how he recreates the Mahabharata, it’s characters, and gives new dimensions to them. Anyone who reads “Aavarana” will marvel at how he chooses to bring life to the Mughal era from the eyes of a neo-Islamic-convert-eunuch working at a Mughal noble’s harem, who had unhindered access to the minds of the Mughal women too. The predicaments of his characters and how he maps their thoughts onto the story he is creating makes him a treat to read. For some time there, you may forget someone has written this and begin thinking for the characters.
Bhyrappa has never allowed his own intellectual freedom to be taken away by either what the people ask for, or what other ‘secular intellectuals’ say about him or his work. He is much ahead of his time, in that, so far none has been able to slot him in any one flavor of modern Kannada literature like the Navya, the Bandaya or the Dalita sahitya. He remains free to write what he wants without ever being subservient to –isms and –ologies. Yet he is the best-selling author in Kannada in the last 25 years, the best-selling author in Marathi over the last decade and among the top 5 best-selling authors in Hindi.
Bhyrappa does industrious research about any subject he wishes to touch, and sometimes this research has run upto 5 years. Once he is convinced of something he says it like it is. Political correctness is another thing he abhors. A recommended read for all is his novel “Aavarana”, which has been translated to various languages. He rips the Marxist-distorted politically correct history apart with facts and figures and opines that the communal amity in India, if at all present, is superficial and cannot continue for long because it is not built on the basis of truth.
This, along with his no-nonsense stands and no-holds-barred opinions in favour of Indic cultural values, make Bhyrappa’s story vis-à-vis his peers and the powers that be, akin to the story of a few blind men coming across an elephant. Each blind man draws his own conclusion about the elephant. His sheer range, refusal to be immured by constrictions that ideologies foist on minds, versatility of themes and varied repertoire make him some sort of a litterateur-elephant in a society where lesser-gifted but more pompous and obstreperous ‘intellectuals’ abound. They are blinded by their ideologies and opportunism, and perceive him the way their obsequiousness to ideologies allows or disallows them.
That such elements oppose him, actually adds to his status of being one of the greatest exponents of the written word that Goddess Saraswati smiled upon.
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