Nearly 40 years after the Mahabharata inspired him to pen Parva, the acclaimed Kannada writer, academic and ideologue S.L. Bhyrappa‘s latest work, Uttarakanda, based on the Ramayana, will be released tomorrow, January 16.
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In an interview with S. Suryaprakash Pandit in today’s issue of the Kannada daily Praja Vani, the Mysore-based Bhyrappa throws light on the impulses behind his newest work, his 24th novel (Sahitya Bhandar, 336 pages, hardback Rs 375).
He confesses he was underwhelmed by Valmiki‘s Ramayana, even on re-reading it, and that he couldn’t go beyond Ayodhyakanda. But the raging debates on Rama in the Kannada discourse propelled him into essaying Uttarakanda.
# “Uttarakanda is written from the perspective of Sita. In Valmiki‘s Ramayana, Sita is a passive figure. Even Lakshmana is a passive figure. Besides being a faithful executor of Rama’s orders, he plays no other role. I examine whether this should have been so.
# “In Valmiki’s work, the relationship between Rama and Lakshmana is one of god and disciple. Underlying this is the belief that god can do no wrong. I do not subscribe to this. In my mind, Rama is human, Sita is human, Lakshmana is human, Ravana is human. In Uttarakanda, I have tried to understand them through this perspective.
# “Rama looks after Sita very well in the forests; he loves her deeply. But after the war in Lanka, you can see a very discernible change in his character. That’s because he knew that he would go to Ayodhya in six months’ time and ascend the throne once again. He wonders at the accusations that might be hurled at Sita. He even suspects her.
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# “Why did this sudden change in Rama come about? That’s because he became king. In Uttarakanda, I argue that power was the sole factor behind the change in Rama’s attitude and mindset. When Rama becomes part of the establishment, he loses his independence of thought. I view Sita’s plight through this prism. Did Rama not think of what she might be going through in the ashram? Did he not expect tongues to wag in the ashram?
# “I do not believe in feminism and other isms. I have depicted Sita realistically, as I perceived her when I read Valmiki’s Ramayana. How should Sita have reacted and conducted herself during and after 16 years of separation from Rama is what I examine in Uttarakanda. And I have used the reactions of people around me to explicate this.
# “I have not downplayed Rama’s role in Uttarakanda nor have I tried to elevate Sita’s. All I have done is to look at Sita the way any woman would have in the circumstances she found herself in. In doing so, naturally the injustice meted out to her by Rama will come across. But I have not deliberately tried to paint Rama as an unjust man. When Rama tells Sita, “I fought for glory, not for you,” do you expect Sita to be the same as before?
In the rapidly shrinking intellectual space the BJP-RSS preside over, only a writer on the right side of the right-wing (Bhyrappa was decorated with the Padma Shri last year) could have risked writing Ramayana through a woman’s perspective.
Indeed, one of Bhyrappa’s earlier works (Kavalu) was accused of being a borderline manual for male chauvinism.
Uttarakanda, therefore, marks a departure although Bhyrappa quickly clarifies that he doesn’t believe in feminism or any other ism.
“I am grateful to Valmiki. Uttarakanda is his story. I have used it to write what I felt based on my perception. A writer has that creative freedom. I too belong to the Valmiki tradition. In fact, I end the novel with Valmiki’s words.”
In an interview to Vishwa Vani, Bhyrappa says Parva was a novel fit for the 20th century; Uttarakanda is a 21st century work.
Photograph: courtesy S.L.Bhyrappa