I finished reading S.L.Bhyrappa’s AvaraNA yesterday. This is my first Kannada Novel. Yeah, despite being in Karnataka for almost a quarter century now, I didn’t bother to check out the literature apart from whatever was being taught in the school. The last Kannada book I read was my 10th grade Kannada text book 😦 . Anyway, better late than never I guess.
Also, when I started off with the novel, my Kannada reading speed was extremely poor.. I was able to manage only around 7-8 pages in an hour. It took me a couple of days to improve, and now I am quite comfortable reading in Kannada.
I won’t be reviewing AvaraNa here, since quite a few people have already done that already. If interested, you can look at the reviews published here, here and here. I am instead going to focus on my impression of AvaraNa.
AvaraNa raises a few very important questions. What’s should be the objective of History? And that of the person involved in writing history? Is the historian right in altering the tone, or cutting down on the details while submitting historic facts, fearing a backlash against the unpopular events in the history ? If there are unpleasant events related to some community or country, are we better off keeping mum about it, or should we talk about it like every other event in the past ? And finally, when we come across something unpleasant, is it our job to concoct it in a manner that it will be acceptable ? When there is a conflict between the truth and beauty, what is it that historian or any literary person for that matter, should give priority to?
For those of us coming from a science background, it may be quite obvious that providing concocted data, just to support our theories is considered unethical. However, I wonder if a similar question of ethics haunts people involved in writing history. Even if it did, I do wonder if is it truly possible for someone to report facts without peppering it up a little bit with ones own expert analysis ? When situations presents one with facts which one doesn’t like, can one not substitute it with one’s own prejudiced versions of the event?
Bhyrappa is of the opinion that when an author or a historian is confronted with a situation when he has to choose between truth and beauty, it’s the truth that he should choose. Bhyrappa reasons that when the author is writing about something that has already happened, whose happening had no relation whatsoever to the author’s creative abilities, it becomes the author’s responsibility to present it in the same manner in which he came across them. Sounds like a sane argument.
So, Bhyrappa comes down hard on presentation of some of the historical facts such as the destruction of temples in Hampi, the hailing of Tipu Sultan as a secular nationalist hero, turning of a blind eye towards Aurangazeb’s atrocities, blaming everything on the ancient Hindu culture. Unlike some other popular conspiracy theory books, Bhyrappa supports his arguments with citations and references from already published books. He also smartly wraps his book with an iron-clad logic that if his book is ever “banned” (which is like a popular act of pass-time for the present day government), then these other books on the basis of which he has written this book, also need to be banned.
In the novel, the protagonist Laxmi, having read these books from her father’s collection, decides to write a novel about a 16th century Rajput prince who is captured by Aurangazeb’s army, forced to convert to Islam, forced into slavery, castrated to be turned into a eunuch slave serving at the Janannas of various families, including that of Aurangazeb’s . It is from his point of view that the reader gets to know about Auragazeb’s policies towards Hindu merchants, his urge for destroying every major temple in the country, and the general state of affairs of the country. In reality, one can observe that Bhyrappa himself uses the same technique, by writing about Laxmi who, once a progressive, socialist intellectual, reads the accounts which are often suppressed by those entrusted with the responsibility of writing Indian history, gets to watch the practice of Islam from close quarters after marrying a Muslim and decides to confront the oddities rather than letting them pass. Thus it is an interesting use of the story-within-the-story technique.
My favorite part is within the book that Laxmi is writing. It’s the part where Khwaja Jahan, the converted Rajput prince, now a eunuch slave goes to Kashi to witness the destruction of the Vishwanath temple, in order to strengthen his faith in Islam and Allah. In Kashi on the bank of the river Ganga, he encounters a Sadhu, with whom he has an interesting discussion on the nature of God. He questions the sadhu, if a God cannot save his own temple from being destroyed, then what good he is? Isn’t such a God a false God? Isn’t Allah the only true God ? To which the Sadhu smiles and explains to him the concept of God in Hinduism. He explains that in Hinduism, the emphasis is towards individual enlightenment from within. The emphasis is towards the realization of Brahman. In Hinduism, there is no fixed path to attain this enlightenment. Thus, each person is free to pursue his own path. As a result, each person depending on his spiritual state creates different ideals which he personifies as God. During different stages in the path of enlightenment, one creates many such Gods. This is the reason why there are so many Gods in Hinduism. But the concept of God is not absolute. God is not the final truth. There are people who don’t believe in God, called Nastiks who are also Hindus, who are also pursuing the path of enlightenment. Since God is a private concept, no one can impose his God on the other. This is the reason why multiple Gods co-exist in the country. Thus it’s only naive to compare Gods when they are but personal ideals of individuals. This is the reason why despite destruction of the temples, despite denigration of the idols, Hinduism will still continue to grow, because of the simple reason that for a Hindu, enlightenment is not somewhere outside, but it is within him and because there’s not one but several ways to attain it.
AvaraNA in Sanskrit means a veil. A veil which prevents a human being from understanding the true nature of the world. Within the book, it refers to the veil woven around reality by the pseudo-secular historians to further their own agenda of minority appeasement. The book is only a tool that Bhyrappa uses to unveil this. As a result the focus in the book should be more on the content and not as much on the form.
It’s a good read. Go for it!