A short thread on the impact of #Avarana novel of SL Bhairappa in Kannada.

Published in the year 2007 it immediately created a huge wave, became a significant turning point in Kannada literature.

Never expected it’s national impact, but over many years, much later - it did.

To understand this - lets step into the literary history of Karnataka.

1880-1960 - Navodaya (Culturally Rooted)
1960-1980 - Navya (Modern, Western Influence)
1970-2000 - Left Wing, Bandaya & Dalit (The Rebellion)

1 & 2 were literary/cultural. 3 was literary/political.

Navodaya never died. It continued to flow like River Saraswatee. Its impact on the society was the greatest. It simply did not have as many stalwarts as it did in the 1880-1960 period.

SLB cannot be considered as Navodaya but he took on their legacy in a different direction.

The Navya period brought many talented writers.

But mostly looking at the west for influence - in expression & culture - seeking to blend that into the Tradition/History, even reinterpreting it, moving towards Lohia+Secularism.

Even they could not abandon the Navodaya.

Girish Karnad and URA emerged in this scenario. Karnad’s first play “Maa Nishaada” came in 1958, Yayati in 1961 and Tughlaq in 1964.

URA began writing short stories in the late 50s and his world famous “Samskara” came in 1965.

SLB began to write at the same time.

1970 onwards came another big writer “P Lankesh”, father of Gowri Lankesh.

A great writer & a successful journalist, a mix of Navya, Left, Bandaya, Lohia, Secularism.

Borrowed least Navodaya.

Even he did not disrespect Navodaya - sought to appropriate into his view.

Even in this period, the books that sold more on the ground were all a continuation of the Navodaya Tradition. SL Bhairappa and Poornachandra Tejaswi. The latter in spite of his non-Navodaya character politically, wrote in the absolutely Navodaya tradition in his works.

But Institutional Power began to move towards the Left and Secularism all over the country thanks to Indira Gandhi.

70s was a period of enormous creativity that catapulted them into immense institutional power in the 80s and 90s.

In this midst SLB stood on the contrary.

In the 80s-90s, it went to such an extent that criticising Secularism, Left, Bandaya movements resulted in heavy assault. Tradition bashing went to great heights. Distortion narrative reigned supreme in institutional expression although its societal influence was still low.

P Lankesh was really at the forefront of this. A greatly talented man, as a journalist he could be such a terror. He trolled and humiliated people that he did not agree with and nobody could do anything.

Net summary is that they managed to subdue the Navodaya continuation.

The stalwart among writers who withstood this cultural assault was SL Bhairappa. There were others but he was the greatest.

He not only continued to write on the contrary, all of them sold well and translated.

He responded to their challenge & the society stood behind him.

Throughout this period - they sought to junk Bhairappa as not a great writer, a mere debater etc. Criticism was in the complete spectrum of absolute honour to absolute vulgar/vile.

Between URA & SLB there was a special literary conflict/competition. Karnad joined this later.

A. Vamsha Vriksha & Samskara were constantly compared.

B. Karnad shaped & acted in Samskara. But he also directed Vamshavriksha & another SLB novel “Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane” which in Hindi is “Godhooli”.

I was a fan of all three with greater inclination towards Karnad.

To cut a long story short - URA was honoured with Jnanapeetha in 1994. Karnad in 1998. A sense of superiority that was always there now found greater expression.

Karnad wrote “Dreams of Tipu Sultan” & “Agni Mattu Male (Fire & Rain)”.

Manipulations of History & Tradition.

He followed it up with another massive manipulation “The Battle of Rakkasatangadi”.

URA continued to anchor cultural secularism and turned left secularism post 2004.

Bhairappa in this meanwhile wrote three outstanding novels - Saartha (1998), Mandra (2001), Avarana (2007)

Saartha set the ground for battle. It painted a picture of the past that was completely against the Lohia Secularism Left Modern penchant.

It showcased the problems of Buddhists and unabashedly painted the Turk assault. It positioned Adi Shankaracharya differently.

While others could not criticise Saartha much - for it was absolutely brilliantly written (better than Avarana). But P Lankesh was made of different material.

He ran a vitriol against Bhairappa for weeks together. Can be found in the pages of Lankesh Patrike in 1998-99.

The trouble was that it was difficult to criticise SLB on both History & Art at once in his novel. It began to influence even the fence sitting leftists.

Remember a conversation between Lankesh & MP Prakash in his paper. Lankesh lamented - even Prakash is getting influenced.

From here on the battle became dirty. While SLB maintained an honourable silence, Lankesh continued his vitriol & others their vile couched in sophistication.

The society continued on the side of SLB. Institutions were with the Left. IT was bringing money to the society.

In this midst, something interesting happened in 2006. BJP came to power overthrowing Congress in a coup along with JDS. & DH Shankaramurthy was the Speaker of the Assembly or Culture Minister I do not remember.

He played an unwitting role in the ground conversation changing.

He made a statement that “Tipu was anti-Kannada”. This riled up the Left, Liberal, Secular, Lohia segments. They went on a tirade in all magazines and newspapers. Lankesh had passed away but his paper was with his daughter.

I dont recollect it was Prajavani or Vijayakarnataka - a series of Letters began on this topic which went on for 2 months or so.

It was an honourable debate till the end.

Those who supported Shankaramurthy wrote wrote cautiously. The criticising were obviously aggressive.

It should be mentioned that SD Sharma’s fantastic Hindi book on Tipu Sultan was already translated by Pradhan Gurudatta in Kannada. Certain aspects of Tipu not known in the 80s had emerged.

This series turned it around. The man who made a difference was SL Bhairappa.

He wrote a long piece presenting Tipu’s real face, based on SD Sharma’s book & other references. He criticised Girish Karnad’s play on Tipu Sultan.

Was published in two full centre page over two days.

This was the first such assault on any Girish Karnad distortion.

The ever cool Girish Karnad lost his mind completely.

His response was so pathetic - personal, abusive, crying, shouting - completely to the contrary of Karnad’s till then suave, sophisticated image.

It shocked fans like me. Many would have cut their umbilical cord.

This made it very clear that Karnad, Kambhar were all hollow inside in terms of substance and were only brilliant in their literary talent.

Criticism from the tradition which was cautious until then became bold after this.

Avarana was the final turning point.

When Avarana was released, Kambhar had just then released his novel and was getting criticised for multiple things.

Avarana was just a massive Tsunami from Day-1. With Lankesh not being there - vitriol was missing. But the left liberal Lohia Secularism segment was in shock.

Its one thing to criticise the Past. Its another to criticise the Present.

Bhairappa had for the first time shifted the lens on the Abrahamic Present & its problems & showed it as a continuation of the Abrahamic Past.

Generally the target was Tradition. SLB had reversed it.

To cut another long story short, after all big noise by small timers were done - URA chose to lead from the front and criticised SLB in a speech as a mere debater and so on.

Most news papers were still with the Left but Vijaya Karnataka had emerged under Vishweshwar Bhat.

Bhat made another difference. It was a fantastic innovation.

He invited SMS responses to URA’s speech and he published it without editing in the centre page.

The result was shocking.

People poured their anger on URA in ways that URA never recovered from.

Decades of anger against the left poured over multiple days along with support to the novel.

Even to those who expected criticism, the extent of it was a pleasant surprise.

This free flowing expression gave even more confidence to the society. Many more people began to confidently write from the Tradition’s side after this.

A side of the expression that was subdued for 3-4 decades began to gain ground and confidence.

The Novel, of course, sold even more. Many more wrote completely positive criticism.

A psychological barrier had been broken. It also helped that people like Lankesh were not there. IT Industry meant livelihood that wasn’t affected by Govt. the Navya, Bandaya were weakening.

The success of Avarana demonstrated one could be confidently truthful about Civilizational narratives especially the conflict with the Abrahamic past and present.

After this, in the mainstream, people began to very confidently write about all aspects of history and culture.

There were others like Baragur Ramachandrappa who would continue many things of the Navya Left Lohia dimensions. But the voice lost its intensity and the teeth its sharpness.

Avarana played this role because it was at once artistic and activistic.

I do not know how the English version is but the Kannada version was an absolute “raNa”.

It was intense. Its a significant artistic achievement too because it could pack a present and complex history into an artistic complex full of literary metaphors too.

Long back I had written a criticism of Avarana in response to UR Ananthamurthy’s speech on the same.

Time to do an English translation of it.

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ಎಲ್ಲರಿಗೂ ಕನ್ನಡ ರಾಜ್ಯೋತ್ಸವದ ಹಾರ್ದಿಕ ಶುಭಾಶಯಗಳು.

ಭಾರತವರ್ಷದ ಪ್ರತಿಯೊಂದು ಪ್ರದೇಶವೂ ವಿಶಿಷ್ಟವೇ ಸರಿ. ಕರ್ನಾಟಕ ಯಾವ ರೀತಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಅನನ್ಯವಾಗಿದೆ?

ಒಂದಿಷ್ಟು ಮುಖ್ಯಾಂಶಗಳು.

#KarnatakaRajyotsava #KannadaRajyotsava
1. ಬಲವಾದ ಪ್ರಾದೇಶಿಕ ಅಸ್ಮಿತೆಯನ್ನು ಹೊಂದಿದ್ದರೂ, ಕರ್ನಾಟಕ ಎಂದಿಗೂ ಪ್ರತ್ಯೇಕತಾವಾದಿ, ಸಂಕುಚಿತ ಚಳುವಳಿಗೆ ಅವಕಾಶ ನೀಡಿಲ್ಲ.

ನಮ್ಮಲ್ಲಿ ಅಂಥವರು ಇಲ್ಲವೆಂದೇನಿಲ್ಲ. ಆದರೆ ಅವರು ಮುಂಚೂಣಿಗೆ ಬಾರದಿರುವಂತೆ ನೋಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳುವಲ್ಲಿ ನಾವು ಯಶಸ್ವಿಯಾಗಿದ್ದೇವೆ.

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