Suresha’s Kandashtu Kadedashtu: Characters that make pathos sob

Image courtesy Dailyhunt

Kandashtu Kadedashtu is K P Suresha’s recently published volume of lyrical narratives. The essays are memory tales of anonymous individuals. Suresh dedicates this volume to the “sahajeevigalu” the rural communities of India who teach us the lessons of love and life — and it has been published by Rajendra Prassad of "Sankathana".

K P Suresha is a mirror which absorbs contemporary sensibilities, and no human being or incident can escape it. Writer Rahamath Tarikere, who has written the Foreword to the volume, expects Suresha to unearth that which lies deep within the mirror and create larger canvases from it. This expectation itself reflects Suresha’s enormous creative ability. Many writers, right from Pampa to Devanooru Mahadeva, have functioned as mirrors reflecting the sensibilities of the Kannada land. Suresha “doesn’t attempt to venture into unfathomed and unearthed images that lie deep in the mirror may be due to the challenges he faces in his personal life. This in turn, results in the loss of a rare chance to reflect the land in its entirety,” rues Tarikere in the Foreword.

The author’s compulsion to write tragic-comic, lyrical narratives draws its meaning from life’s perennial flow of empathy. He writes, “What if I were to die suddenly tomorrow?… I shouldn’t depart with a regret of not empathising with a visible sorrow. I never had an urge to wander around the world, nor did the tourist spots temptingly beckon me. But I have suffered a stinging sense of guilt that our villages have remained unknown foreign lands to me! When I think of this land against the backdrop of what I have recorded here, my eyes well up unawares”.

Postmodern literature has a responsibility to focus on the lives and suffering of the marginalised. KP Suresha constructs characters of ordinary men and their life’s tragedies with deep poignancy; the pathos evoked is so strong that it can even make pathos sob. People who sharpened the swords and daggers in the war of Kurukshetra, those who laundered the clothes, water boys, cooks, leather artisans, and men who tended to chariot wheels are nowhere mentioned in the original epics. It is the kings as heroes who get mentioned in the grand narratives. Historians too have mostly focused on the rulers. However, it is in literature that we see the focus shifting to history’s non-heroes. The Vachanakaras of Karnataka moved away from the narratives of thrones, royalty and palaces. What the Vachanakaras began as an exception and experiment should have become an order and tradition in due course. KP Suresha has tried to intensify this tradition by focusing on the common man’s deep tragedies; his characters coax the reader to think on issues that go beyond the stories; he doesn’t juxtapose nostalgia and tradition. Tejasvi, Devanooru and Suresh are among the writers who thought nostalgia was a mode of self-deception.

As mentioned earlier, these lyrical short narratives break the boundaries of different genres in Kannada literature. I’ll try to explain the difference with a metaphor: If normal short stories, with their structured models, flow flat like the Ganga or Krishna that expand their banks at the cost of depth, Suresha’s narratives resemble the Cauvery in Mekedatu — deep, forceful, pent up and tense, mirroring the remorse these narratives hold and express. Remorse drips like rain water through leaves – drop by drop. It is the continuity of a deep sense of remorse that binds all the incidents together in the volume. Each narrative, through its helplessness, hopelessness, sends shudders through the spine of the reader. All the narratives begin with a particular incident, but expand to interrogate larger, crucial socio, political and environmental stands.

All the characters in this volume are caught in a tragic cycle that binds them to agriculture. Suresha’s characters are from the Sullia region, but they represent the tragic tale that is repeated all over the agrarian canvas of India — the estate labourers’ sorrow about the lack of food and clothing and the employers with their own problems make them and their concerns macro and universal. All the labourers are from the lower stratas of society and their biggest dream is to own an acre and a half of land, build a small house and find a way to end their hunger.

Ondele Sara chronicles the life of the nameless ‘eva’ (he) and his struggle to maintain some dignity among others. He drops his façade with the narrator and tells him — “Remember one thing. I am a pardesi and you too are poor. Imagine a rich man spotting us chatting like this. At that time we should giggle. We should gossip loudly. This would surprise him that these destitute who aren’t even sure of their next meal are laughing and giggling! That would make him worry. We can only do this ….he said…and tears were slowly dripping down his cheeks.” Is this what our ancestors called “badavana nagu”, the limits of a poor man’s laughter?

In the history of human beings, the environment-related memory is the only secular aspect. This memory is necessary to light the lamp of wisdom in men. This memory has a quality of existing in the realm of universal truth. Writers have taken recourse in this memory to record their fierce objections to the contemporary reality that chooses to march towards destruction. In Shivayyana Kathe, Shivayya, a brahmin who poses to be a hunter, has a universal quality — these could be our words too — “Everything has vanished my friend. The town has expanded to my doorstep. It’s disgusting to step out of the house. Everywhere there are bikes and autos. Let alone a ‘chanilu– Malabar squirrel’ I haven’t spotted a monkey in months now. We don’t see those red crabs of monsoon either. If I see a rat snake I consider myself lucky. What hurts me the most is the vanishing of wild boar. After the month of ‘Aati’ (month of Ashada) if the wild boars don’t disturb the cow dung manure we have given the trees, can you call that a plantation? There is a belief that wherever the men go, wild animals run away from there. Machines have taken over- machines everywhere, machines to milch a cow! Even this areca plant looks like a machine. It does looks green and verdant. But try to inhale the odour- the ‘shingara’ (flower bunch of areca) doesn’t have its perfume of old times. It's ages since I saw a beehive buzzing by”.

The same remorse for the meaningless “development” at the cost of the environment is portrayed in Devvagalu. The “devva” are the spirits that have lost their habitat with the vanishing of old trees to make room for modern-day ideas of “development”.

The environment and development are generally related and there are theories to prove this in the West. Belthangady, Karkala and half of Sullia region and a quarter of Puttur regions are backward areas of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts. These areas get copious rain and hence, the Areca plants get affected by the disease of fruit-rot; there are more wild animals in this region. These areas are devoid of the comforts of Vittala and Puttur; temple tourism, educational institutions, health sector are the sources of economy in Dakshina Kannada. People who live in the foothills like Bantamale, Charmadi and Charvaka are deprived of such income generation. Chaniya of Chaniyana Gruhapravesha (Chaniya’s House Warming) and Koosappa’s struggle to build a house with the paltry grant they get is no less than the struggle portrayed by Achebe and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o. Jattappa’s struggle for a respectable life with his tattered jeep, deep concern for land, his mad slogging that ends his life at 40-years of age with a heart attack coaxes one to remember Tolstoy’s How Much More Land Does a Man Require. Koosappa’s angst expands to cover the anxiety and suffering of the poor anywhere. Suresh’s narratives represent modern Kannada literature’s priceless writings.

Podiya, the hero of Podiya Purana, tells the narrator “you people cook rice to the softness of cotton. That gets digested in half an hour. Then you go farting all through the night. Rice should be partially cooked on the stove and the other half of cooking happens in the stomach”.

This Purana is the tragic tale of heart-curdling hunger. The labourer’s dream of owning a piece of land is a recurrent theme in Kannada literature. Starting with Shivarama Karanta’s Choma of Chomana Dudi, the dream continues in Suresh’s Bhattya, Podiya and Koosappa – characters that enliven his narratives. “They have formed a Red Flag Association. If we want to demand land allotment, Bhattya wants to ask for ‘darakastu’. That Government land has been used, abused and left fallow. It’s dry as bones. The flesh and the fertility has been sucked by you”. This is the political awareness Podiya displays; the Constitution has enhanced his awareness. However, there is nothing beyond this awareness – no land or home.

Chikungunya portrays the underlying tragedy of a community affected by Chikungunya, with a touch of comedy; a large section of a village is incpaciated. In their acute, movement-constraining pain, there is remorse as well as a hint of consolation in imagining the plight of a newly married man infected by Chikungunya. “What can I tell you about him dude… he cannot go beyond caressing”. Same was the consolation of a writer who couldn’t hold a pen due to the pain; finds consolation in the hope that chikungunya would put a break to reams of useless writing. Such humour is rare in the narratives though.

Rahamath Tarikere writes, “Comrade Hariyappa who had dreamt of a Red Flag sway was worried to see people fall into the trap of the saffron flag like fish that voluntarily jump into the locally made bamboo net. The same helplessness is felt by many characters in the volume, including ‘Kannadiyalli Kandata’”.

These narratives build on the existential sense of tragedy and guilt of helplessness associated with it. This approach poses a dilemma about compartmentalising these narratives too. It is more or less new to Kannada literature. To a certain extent, we can see traces of this genre-breaking approach in Tejaswi and Devanooru Mahadeva’s work. Tejaswi’s Avanati and Other Stories and Chidambara Rahasya are some examples to cite. However, there is a long tradition of such an approach in the West. Ivan Turgenev records a solidifying sense of tragedy and associated guilt in the author — what we call “tragic realism”.

Suresha, who has written such intense narratives in Kannada, has pioneered a different experiment and the language used in this volume seems like a part of that experiment. He uses the local dialect and vocabulary of Dakshina Kannada, rarely seen in written form in Kannada literature. By doing this to narrate the lived experiences of the people of the area, Suresha has not only unravelled a new Kannada — that of Dakshina Kannada’s to the world outside it — but he has also set in motion a new experiment.