Samskara / Bhava

I have read UR Ananthamurthy a long time back in translation. It did not do to me what MTV's books did a little later. Make me go around search for more translations. So when I picked up 'Samskara' in the book fair, it was without much thought and expectation.

Some books have a shattering way of entering into the mind and does not want to go away. It lingers in your sub-conscious and always pop-up in the most unexpected times of the day. Then the only way out for you is to put those disjointed thoughts in paper (as it used to be) and for me, here.

As far as earth-shattering novels go, 'Samskara' is a modest book with only a few hundred pages in it and focuses on one incident and the transformation that it brings in. 

The story is about a venerable Acharya of a village somewhere in the Dhakshina/coastal Kannada region. The Acharya leads a ascetic life serving his invalid wife and literally be the beacon of the village traditions. So when the village loafer dies of plague, a crisis ensues as to what to do with the dead body as no one wants to touch it and everyone intends on abandoning the village. To complicate, the dasi Chandri is the only person showing up to do the final rites of the loafer.

What happens between Chandri and Acharya transforms the life of Acharya and the way things are in the village. 'Samskara' deals with it with the narrative flowing from the Acharya's mind and thus neatly demarcates the change that he has to go through after having to sleep with Chandri. 

Though a seemingly simple story detailing human weakness and the ensuing transformation, 'Samskara' makes it interesting by trying to alternate between the subconscious of the Acharya and Chandri. It tries to juxtapose the problem of women in a ritual-laden world. 

Does sex has any meaning in a world striving for eternal heaven? Is sex a liberating feeling that frees the mind from the shackles and let it wander free? or is it dangerous to let it wander free? Is it masochistic to serve an invalid wife/husband? 'Samskara' poses these and many more questions and tries to put the reader into searching for an answer.

'Bhava' is another novel which UR wrote many years after 'Samskara'. A much more modern novel, it deals with essentially the same topic as 'Samskara'.

Here we have a Shastri, who marries into a poor girl and whom he could not take in the marital bed. We have a Malayali Panicker with whom she develops a 'relationship', whether it is sexual in nature is left to the reader and in a fit of anger, the Shastri kills the girl. 

Or so he thinks. When, after many years, he meets a more younger guy on his way to Mangalore with the same amulet worn by his now-dead wife, he is thrown into turmoil. The 'bhava' of life is put into question and more questions are asked and no answers are given.

The same common thread in both the novels is the crisis that emanates within the mind with past deeds and the women in life. It is incredible that the same thread flows through the narrative after all the years. 

The traditional set up that gets broken up in 'Samskara' is the same as the one in 'Bhava' that gets broken. The conflict that arises out of one incident of 'perceived' sex in 'Bhava' puts the Shastrigal into a path of self-destruction. The clarity that Acharya attains after sex with Chandri is what puts him in his path to self-realization. 

While it is fun to dwell on the point o living one's life, it is also a necessary step towards realizing what the true path is. Often the search for it takes us into many directions and as Shastrigal realizes while coming back home, the path lies near to us and we are just blind not to see it.

Both the novels do not treat the women as evil for being the seductresses but rather make them the self-realized ones who know what is ailing the men. While Chandri uses it to redeem Acharya, the poor girl in 'Bhava' shows her contempt and almost destroys Shastrigal. It is easy to use this to get into pontification about what women can do, it is also important to realize that the path of realizing oneself has to go through women and without which it remains elusive, as Acharya finds out.

Though it seems like a lot of philosophy in the books, both are fantastic reads and translated well to bring in the conflicts the originals talks about (so I think, having no knowledge of Kannada!). Now that I got it out of the system, hopefully will get to sleep a little more peacefully.

1. சம்ஸ்காரா (Samskara) - U R Anantha murthy
Tamil publisher - அடையாளம்
Buy here

2. Bhava - U R Anantha murthy
Publisher - Penguin Books India
Buy here

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