I finished reading this novel (Oxford, Rs 195, 138 pages) a couple of days back and have been immensely impressed with the work. This book by U.R. Anantha Murathy is in Kannada and a gripping translation by A.K. Ramanujan has brought it to the non-Kannada readers.
Written in the 60’s, it is a short novel about a figuratively and literally decaying Brahmin system represented through a Brahmin colony. It gets abandoned after a bohemian Brahmin, Naranappa dies of plague and is refused a proper cremation because he had been living with a prostitute, and had been enjoying pleasures of life and eating meat etc. The ‘leaders’ of the traditional system of religion are unable to decide about what to do to the body which decays overnight. Their dilemma arises from the fact that Naranappa had not yet been excommunicated due to his misdeeds, so he was technically still a Brahmin. They are undecided if he should be or should not be accorded a Brahmin cremation. Naranappa’s woman Chandri, ironically seeks the help of a Muslim cartman and cremates Naranappa unceremoniously because of the rising stench.
The death and later the avarice of the community leaders (men all) exposes the real selves of the so-called twice born pure segment of the society.
Samskara literally means a rite for passage or life cycle ceremony. The other meanings of this word are ‘realizing of past perceptions, preparation, making ready’ etc. The main acharya, Pranesacharya who has tried his best to earlier redeem Naranappa’s life and soul by sermonizing, finds himself in the arms of Chandri and gives in to lust because he has never known this aspect of physical pleasure. He feels that he has lost the right to judge Naranappa and accepts that he had, on purpose and to attain salvation, married an invalid woman who in the entire novel sounded more on a vegetable existence to me. He bathes her; he feeds her-almost like a child. Though he tries to attain penance by serving her, he fails miserably. She falls prey to plague and he leaves home in search of his own self, his honesty, his salvation. On the way he meets a low caste happy go lucky youth Putta who shows him the real path of life.
In all, it was a gripping read. I admit that I had been avoiding reading it because of an unattractive title but an hour long discourse on the various aspects of this novel by my esteemed Supervisor resulted in me crazily looking for this novel.
I am glad I found it and read it.