The man and the myth

The man and the myth

Renowned Kannada litterateur S L Bhyrappa holds forth on a range of issues, including his novels, ideologies, politics and contemporary literary trends.

S L Bhyrappa

Santeshivara Lingannaiah Bhyrappa (S L Bhyrappa), one of India’s most distinguished novelists, is a conscious artiste who depicts fundamental human emotions in his works of art. Well known for his profound knowledge of Indian philosophical and cultural traditions, he is a writer who has had intense personal experiences in both rural and urban milieus.

He is known for describing dwindling human emotions and experiences. His characters are deeply rooted in Indian sensibilities. He has authored 24 novels, four volumes of literary criticism and books on aesthetics, social issues and culture. Most of his novels are translated into almost all the Indian languages and six into English.

Uttara Kaanda, Bhyrappa’s latest novel, is an attempt to view Rama’s story from Sita’s perspective. The novel brings out the sensitive voice of a neglected female character. It fills in and uncovers the philosophical gulf, the overhyped mythological sub-stories inside the Ramayana that had masked and covered her up so far. The novel captures myriad emotions as he narrates the story from a woman’s perspective. 

The raw emotions running through the minds of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana and Sita’s thoughts about Rama, his Rajadharma and Lakshmana’s unmatched love towards his brother are the elements that make Uttara Kaanda worth a read. Excerpts from an interview

Parva was your response to Mahabharata 40 years ago... Why did you take so long to respond to Ramayana?

After Parva, my friends wanted me to respond to Ramayana. It didn’t have the complexity of problems and characters to enthuse me. As I began reading it, I realised that characters like Sita, Lakshmana and Urmila had the scope to explore my creativity. The problem of a single parent and an abandoned female baby fascinated me. Valmiki had many hints, which I thought I could develop. 

Did you intend to be loyal to Valmiki, Sita or the theme you had in mind for Uttara Kaanda? 

Uttara Kaanda is my creative response to the Valmiki Ramayana. Valmiki and Vyasa are the greatest propounders of values. Most of the later writers have responded to these two epics. I found that Sita had great scope for development.

Any parallels in the novel between Sita and the 21st century Indian women?

It’s too complex to draw parallels between the injustice meted out to Sita and the 21st century Indian woman. Rama isn’t a villain. His approach to be an ideal king was impractical. He volunteered self-suffering and the suffering of the queen so that his subjects realised their mistakes. I believe M K Gandhi borrowed the idea of self-suffering by fasting from Rama. Both Rama and Gandhi failed to realise the impracticability of the method.

Why is the engaging narrative technique of your other novels missing in Uttara Kaanda?  

Narrative technique depends upon the story. Considering Ramayana’s simple story, I chose a different narrative technique. Either idealistic characters or demons pervade the Ramayana. There is less scope for complexity in the story. Saartha and Parva have complex stories and hence, the technique had to be different. 

What did you really intend to achieve in Uttara Kaanda? Appeal to the heart or the mind?

There can’t be Bhakti (devotion) without Jnaana (knowledge). You can’t experience Rasa (aesthetic pleasure) without understanding the situation and experience. You can’t strictly separate the two.

Is Uttara Kaanda an attempt to shed your label of being an anti-feminist?

The self-titled critics must understand that I created characters like Nanjamma, Satyabhama, Kunti, Draupadi, Chandrika, Ubhaya Bharati and Vyjayanti. Ramayana is nearly a 5000-year-old story, so then, why did feminists not create the Sita of my Uttara Kaanda all these years? Over 30 books have been written on me by learned people who aren’t self-titled critics.  

Why are you opposed to ‘isms’ in literature? 

The ‘isms’ are fixed ideologies, which block free thinking and creativity. I kept my intellectual freedom due to understanding of philosophy, sociology, history, economics and travel in countries of different economies and religious beliefs.

Your take on corporate literary festivals.

Awards and literary festivals sponsored by the corporate world are dominated by the leftists who use the capitalists’ money to promote themselves and their ideology. Infiltration of ideologies, leftists, events and lobbying into literary organisations is detrimental to literature.

What is your basic concern as a novelist?

I don’t have any ideology. For me, each of my novels is an effort to explore some aspects of life. I touch the depth of Indian culture through the hearts of the learned and common readers.

You are yet to receive the Jnanpith award... 

I’ve received the Saraswati Samman, Sahitya Akademi Fellowship, National Professorship and honorary doctorate from seven Universities. The Indian government has selected Parva for translating into Chinese and Russian languages. I’ve millions of readers from across the country. I consider it as the greatest award if readers find my books worthy of reading after I am gone.

Something on rightists, leftists and the increasing atrocities against women and dalits after the BJP came to power at the centre?

Communists and socialists coined the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’. In the Indian context, leftists want the government to own all industries and businesses. Those advocating freedom of enterprise are dubbed rightists. Nehru relied on communism, while his daughter relied on communists to continue in power. They pushed India to poverty. The leftists born after 1990s can’t imagine the situation in India during Nehru and Indira Gandhi. For the former prime minister Manmohan Singh, the minority community has the first right on the wealth of the country. Those opposing Singh’s idea are dubbed rightists and communal.

Today, over 30 per cent of students in the institutions of higher technical learning are girls. Some find faults for abolishing the Triple Talaq. For them, freedom of speech and expression is at stake when the government tries to fix falsities in textbooks propagated by the previous regimes.

Increasing atrocities on dalits, women and attempts to curb freedom of speech and expression are fictitious theories floated by a section only to defame the Narendra Modi government.