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A writer in transition


Kannada writer Yashwant Chittal’s writing is an interaction between the past of memory and his living present. He received the Pampa Prashasti recently

Photo: Courtesy A.N. Mukund

PIONEEER Chittal added a new dimension to the Kannada novel by bringing in the corporate world

The literary achievement of Yashwant Chittal – who was conferred the Pampa Prashasti recently – which has received critical acclaim and institutional recognition, is great by any standard. During a writing career spanning over five decade s he has brought out nine collections of short stories and five novels and all of them are in print. A selection of his stories translated by Ramachandra Sharma and Padma Sharma has been published by Penguin India under the title “The Boy Who Talked To trees.” His achievement is all the more remarkable because he has spent a major part of his life away from the Kannada literary scene in Mumbai and has had to cope with a demanding job as a senior executive in Bakelite Hylum Limited.

Yashwant Chittal’s major concerns as a writer have been creativity and human relationships, which for him are deeply interrelated. “I feel,” he says, “that my creative work has played an important role in discovering the relevance of my individual existence in the expanded universe and the abstract society.” He is absolutely clear in his mind that his primary concern is with his own self because it is the centre from which he can reach out to the other. Asking himself the question, “Why Do I write?” he says, “I write in order to know myself and from this knowledge love or learn to love and to establish human connections.” Very few writers I know set such high value on creativity as Chittal does. It is his irrepressible urge to create that has sustained him through periods of ill health and cultural isolation.

Like his contemporaries, U.R. Anantamurthy, Poornachandra Tejasvi and Shantinath Desai, Chittal has arrived at the novel through the short story. Unlike Anantamurthy and Desai who consciously broke away from the Masti tradition in the short story form from the beginning, Chittal accepted Masti’s lead initially. His first two collections, Sandarshana (1957) and Aboleena (1960) bear the clear impress of the inherited tradition. But with “Aata” (1969) which remains one of the finest achievements of the Modernistic school in the shorter variety of fiction, he developed a new form approximating to Lukac’s description of the short story as “the most purely artistic form”. Some of the stories in this collection, “Sere”, “Aata” and “Payana” for example, are a triumphant realisation of the poetic form through their structure and symbolism. They reveal the hand of a master craftsman at work.

By the end of the Seventies of the last century there was a definite change in Chittal’s literary orientation and style. The shift was from the primacy of self to that of society. It was a conscious activity. “I see definite signs of my mind turning towards contemporary happenings and seeking an understanding of social reality,” is his own comment on the transition. The main reason for this change was the strong reaction of writers like Tejaswi and Lankesh against the excesses of the Modernist movement. Shikari (1979) and Katheyadalu Hudugi (1980) which came close to each other initiate a new phase in Chittal’s writing. The transition was neither easy not smooth as the title story of “Katheyadalu Hudugi” amply illustrates. In Benya (1983) the transition is more or less complete. In the collections that have followed BenyaSiddhartha (1988), Kumatege Banda Kindarijogi (1997), Odi Hoda Mutti Banda (2001) and the more recent Puttana Hejje Kanodilla he has successfully tried to blend his social concerns with his original impulse to explore the human condition in its unchanging dimension.

As in the case of U.R. Anantamurthy in Chittal’s case too it is difficult to decide whether he has been more successful with the form of the short story than with the novel but with five novels published between 1964 and 1997 and one more in the making, he is certainly one of our more important novelists. Shikari figures on my list of the best ten novels in Kannada and it has already acquired the status of a modern Kannada classic.

Fifteen years separate Shikari, Chittal’s second novel, from Mooru Darigalu, his first but in spite of their obvious difference in technique and thematic content there is a continuity between the two novels in terms of social attitudes. Like Shikari, Muru Darigalu too depicts society as basically hostile to the individual’s freedom and aspirations. The central symbol of Shikari, as the title suggests, is hunting. Related to the primitive man’s need for food, hunting is a basic human activity. But the hunt that takes place in this novel belongs to a different order. It is the hunt of man by man in the urban industrialised society. Nagappa, the hero is the hunted man and hunters belong to the American managed chemical. Company where Nagappa is an employee. The story, told from Nagappa’s point of view, describes how he faces his hunters and succeeds in escaping from them. What gives him the strength to do is his conquest of hate and the forces of the past that relentlessly pursue him. It is the hero’s choice that constitutes his positive achievement. Through Shikari, Chittal added a new dimension to the Kannada novel by bringing in the corporate world which he knew at first hand and its dehumanised relationships. Purushottama (1990) appeared eleven years after Shikari but there are vital connections between the two novels. The industrialised urban culture provides the background for both the novels. Like Nagappa, the hero of Shikari, Purushottam too is a hunted man. Both the novels and in the affirmation of love, a distant ideal rather than a realised state. In Kendravrittanta (1997) Chittal discovers a new technique to explore the darkness of contemporary life but the vision it expresses is a continuation of that of the earlier novels.

Chittal’s fictional world has two centres – Hanehalli, a small village near Gokarna where he spent his early years and Mumbai which he calls his karmabhoomi. Though physically far removed from each other, these are a constant presence in his novels and stories, one symbolising the ‘memoried’ past and the other the living present. The interaction between the two is the force that creates Chittal’s fictional space and the people who inhabit it.

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