Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Story of a Malnad Boy-73

In this episode I am providing some additional details about the film Samskara for the benefit of my readers:

The Story

The story was written by U. R. Ananthamurthy in 1965, when he was studying at the University of Birmingham for his PHD. After he saw the film "the 7th seal" by Ingmar Bergman and was deeply moved by it, his tutor Malcolm Bradbury suggested him to write about his experiences concerning the multilayered structure of time in Indian society. After completing the story, he sent the manuscript to Girish Karnad in India who got in touch with Pattabhi Rama Reddy and came up with a film script for the same.

The story is set in a street in a small village called Durvasapura in the Western Ghats of Karnataka. Majority of the people who live in the street belong to the community of Madhwas (a Brahmin community). The people who stay here have a traditional mindset and strictly follow the rules defined by their religion. Two of the main characters in the story are Praneshacharya and Naranappa. Praneshacharya is a devout Brahmin who has completed his Vedic education at Varanasi and has returned to Duravasapura and is considered as the leader of the Brahmin community of his village and also of the surrounding villages. His main goal is to attain salvation and he is willing to go to any length to achieve it. In order to remain focused on his goal and as an act of self-sacrifice, he marries an invalid woman and hence remains celibate. The other main character is that of Naranappa, himself a Brahmin by birth but one who has rejected the set rules of Brahminism by eating meat and by keeping the company of a prostitute named Chandri.

Once Naranappa along with his friends catches the sacred fish in the temple tank, cooks and eats them. This causes the Brahmins in the villages to rise up against him and they approach Praneshacharya to throw him out of the village. Praneshacharya decides against taking this extreme step and he believes that Naranappa can be convinced to get rid of his immoral acts. Once Naranappa visits Shimoga and he returns back to Duravasapura with high fever and dies. The Brahmins are left in a piquant situation because according to Brahmin principles, a person who dies should be cremated as early as possible. None of the Brahmins want to come forward to cremate the body since they feel that by cremating Naranappa's body, they will become polluted themselves as he was against the Brahmin principles during his lifetime. However, the Brahmin principles also stipulate that a non-Brahmin cannot cremate the body of a Brahmin. Praneshacharya, being the leader is responsible for finding the answer to this difficult problem. He reads the holy books but they do not provide any solution.

 He then goes to a temple to pray to God and spends a whole day there. Disappointed at not being able to solve the problem, he trudges back home and on his way, he encounters Chandri. He gets mesmerised by her beauty and when he wakes up in the midnight, he finds himself lying on Chandri's lap. Chandri rushes back home, finds that the body of Naranappa has started to rot, gets it cremated in secrecy and leaves Durvasapura. Praneshacharya is left in a piquant situation on whether he has to reveal his immoral act to the people of the village or keep quiet about it. Feeling guilty, he leaves the village but the guilt never leaves him. Finally deciding to own up his act, he returns to the village and the story ends here. It’s left to the imagination of the viewer on whether Praneshacharya finally owns up the guilt or not.

The novel "Samskara" deals with eternal questions; with the question of who should cremate Naranappa, a Brahmin who has rejected Brahmin hood, with the question of what Praneshacharya, a pious man in whom life is finally stirred by the female contact, should now do. Should he be courageous and say openly what he did, should he hide it and live as if nothing has happened? Initially Praneshacharya decides on the second course of action. He even runs away from home after his wife dies of plague. But wherever he goes he is haunted by the fear of discovery and haunted by Chandri's touch. The novel ends as Praneshacharya decides to return to Durvasapura, and to own up his fall. But Anantha Murthy, the author of "Samskara", does not answer the other important question. It is the question of what the Brahmins should do when they are confronted with the confessions of Praneshacharya. What does one do when faced with such truth? As the translator A.K. Ramanujam puts it, the novel ends, but does not conclude.

The makers of Samskara were harassed rather cruelly by the government during the Emergency. Snehalatha Reddy, the leading actress in Samskara and wife of Reddy, was accused of concealing information about the whereabouts of George Fernandes (who later became Union Minister in successive Governments), a trade union leader, whose arrest had been ordered in the Emergency roundup. Snehalata Reddy known to be a friend of Mr. Fernandes, denied knowledge of Fernandes's whereabouts. She was jailed and interrogated for eight months. An asthmatic deprived of medicine; she fell seriously ill and was released just before her death. She died in January 1977, five days after her release.

The film Samskara became a milestone in the history of Kannada cinema in many respects. It was the first film in the art category; the first film based on a controversial subject; the first film shot entirely outdoors; the first film without any professional artists; the first film shot by a visiting foreign cinematographer (Australian); the first film to have no songs; the first film to be denied censorship and the first film to have its producers harassed by the Government! It also went on to win the presidents’ Gold medal for the best Indian feature film! It gave inspiration to many great Kannada directors to go for production of art films, mostly based on Kannada novels. Girish Karnad and B V Karanth together gave us such great films like Kaadu (written by SriKrishna Alanahalli), Chomana Dudi (Shivarama Karanth), Vamsha Vruksha (S L Byrappa), Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane (S L Byrappa) and so on. Later Girish Kasaravalli gave us Ghatashraddha, Tabarana Kathe, Thayi Saheba and others, most of them winning the national awards. Surely Samskara was the torchbearer for all these cinemas of the same genre.

One clue I got from going through the Samskara film story (I had read it many years ago and this was a revisit) is that a writer can afford to leave his story inconclusive! If a great writer like Ananthamurthy could do it, why not an ordinary writer like me?  But let me come back to my own story. This story will definitely have a conclusion, let me assure you that!

As I am very close to the final episode of my story, I wish to write about another character from our village as a final tribute to our village legends. This gentleman’s name was Thimmappa. I have already made a mention of him as a friend of my eldest brother, AVR.

Thimmappa was the eldest son of Venkappaiah of Hosalli about whom I have already written in an earlier episode. Thimmappa was a physically handicapped man. He had problems in both of his legs. While he could do all his routine works without any problems, he could not do any physical work normally one has to do in the village. I am not sure whether he had this handicap by birth or it was a result of polio disease.

I have often heard that if a person is handicapped in one organ, he will have his other organ/s function in a very superlative way. In the case of Thimmappa, the organ which was functioning superlatively was the best possible one- it was his brain!

As far as my memory goes back, Thimmappa was already a young man in his late teens. He was a class mate of my eldest brother. It seems he was good at his studies; but in keeping with the times, his father thought that a lower secondary pass was more than sufficient. Thimmappa knew his limitations like any handicapped person. He had lost his mother in his young age and that definitely was another handicap for him. He was brought up by his adventurous father. But there was no way he could help his father in his agricultural activities. Indeed the life was tough for the Malnad farmers of those days. Only physically strong men like Venkappaiah were fit for the profession.

Once his education came to an end, Thimmappa decided that the only way he could come up in life was by entering the field of business. He knew he had the business acumen. He could decide whether a deal was profitable or not within no time. He was also capable of making it profitable by his own ingenuity. His father had the wherewithal to provide him the necessary capital. He waited for the right opportunity.

 He had another advantage, a most lovable personality. By nature he was very jovial and always would take things as they came. He was very friendly with everybody and would never talk non-sense. The best thing with him was- he never let his friends down. The best example was my own brother. Thimmappa wanted my brother to partner him in his business. He repeatedly requested my father to allow my brother to join his business. But my father never agreed. I am sure my bother’s life journey could have been quite different if only he was permitted to join Thimmappa. But that never happened. Nevertheless Thimmappa tried to help his friend in the best possible manner whenever he got an opportunity.

In our Malnad the farmers were always required to have some business acumen to survive. They had to sell their produce to private vendors, who would visit the villages with hard cash. A majority of them used to be Muslim traders, highly polished, but equally deceptive and cunning. As young boys we used to like these traders very much. They knew the art of pleasing children. They would hand over some peppermints or chocolates to us invariably! This was a part of their marketing strategy. They would engage in tough bargaining with the elders. At the end of the business deal they would take out from their waist belts the fresh, crispy and brand new currency notes! That was their trade mark.

It seems Thimmappa picked up the business tactics from these professionals. I mean, only the positive ones! He started engaging himself in small business deals. Occasionally he took the produce from our villages to the Chickmagalore and other markets. I have seen him set up tent shop near our village temple whenever there was any festival or during the visit of Yakshagana troupes. He was waiting for an opportunity to set up a regular shop; but was undecided on the venue.

There is a place called Agalagandi on the Sringeri-Jayapura road. This place was dominated by our community people in those days. Under the Panchayath Chairmanship of a gentleman called Thimmappaiah this village was recognized as a model village by the Government. The village gained sudden importance once the bridge across the river Tunga came up near Sringeri in the late fifties. The busses from Chickmagalur could now reach Sringeri by traveling a short distance via Agalagandi, without going through the round-about route via Koppa and Hariharapura. Naturally Agalagandi came to limelight and so were the business opportunities.

Thimmappa and his younger brother (the two were the sons of the deceased first wife of Venkappaiah) set up a shop in Agalagandi with the capital provided by their father. Bit by bit he built up his business in the village which was seeing progress. In those days also the tendency to make purchases against credit was very prevalent. Thimmappa knew the problems of recovery. But he did not want to displease his customers also. He came out with a novel idea. He displayed a prominent board in the shop. He would simply ask the credit seekers to read the board. It read: Credit only Tomorrow (Kada Naale)! When we heard about this innovative board, we were very much amused. We thought, “What an intelligent way of saying no?”

Thimmappa’s business picked up in due course and he constructed his own building for residence-cum-business. Now he needed a partner- not a business partner-but a life partner. He set his eyes on a girl in our village. The girl’s family owned lot of lands; but it had turned barren as the girl’s father was incapable of managing the same. The family was in dire straits. Thimmappa’s proposal was originally not liked by the family in view of his handicap. Ultimately Thimmappa was able to convince the bride and the family.  The family had nothing to repent. The pair led a very successful married life.

I remember many occasions when I and my brother (AVL) were deputed by our elder brother (AVR) to bring provisions from Thimmappa’s shop. We had to walk for four miles. We were being sent there only as a last resort by our elder brother. In the normal course our brother did not want to take any obligations from his closest friend. But our financial position used to be so bad that there was no other way than to seek favour from friends. Brother would send us with a personal letter addressed to Thimmappa.

When I visited his shop for the first time, I looked at the prominent board in the shop. It read: Credit only Tomorrow (Kada Naale)! We were highly embarrassed to hand over the letter to Thimmappa after reading the board. But he received us with all his humility. He ordered the boys to give us the provisions as per the list given by the brother. The message on the board was not made applicable to us! There were occasions when we carried some cash, though not commensurate with the list carried by us. Thimmappa would refuse to accept the same. He would push back the money to our packets. He carried this friendship with my brother till the very end.

While studying at the Sringeri College, I used to catch a bus to Sringeri on occasions from Agalagandi in front of Thimmappa’s shop. He would call me inside the shop and hand over a dozen note books for my usage. He would also push some cash in my pockets! He was always interested in giving support to education. Quite fittingly his daughter came up as a brilliant student and did her medical. I am told that she is having a great practice along with her husband in Sagar town, near Shimoga.

Today both my brother and Thimmappa are no more. Their friendship remained till their death. Thimmappa left first and my brother followed. Thimmappa’s character serves as a great example for the present generation as to how to make virtue out of one’s handicap. He died as successful businessman, a great husband, a great father and a true friend for all times. May his soul rest in peace!
------- (To be continued)-------

1 comment:

Narain said...

Feel very touched by Thimmappa's story! Such people are the salt of this mother earth!!