Viswanatha and his Novels
- T. Ramalingeswara Rao
VISWANATHA AND HIS NOVELS
“Being a novelist, I consider myself superior to the saint, the scientist, the philosopher and the poet. The novel is the one bright book of life,” said D.H. Lawrence, the famous English novelist, with an artist’s pardonable license. If there is anybody who can repeat it with justifiable pride among the Telugu writers of the last century, it was Kavisamrat Viswanatha Satyanarayana, who authored about three score and ten novels of different types—the masterpieces and milestones, the classics and commercials.
They have now become every Telugu reader’s heritage—an opportunity to take part in the magnificent adventure of the spirit. Despite all differences of plot, story and theme, the novels of Viswanatha have all kept watch over man’s morality; they have something everlasting to report to us about ourselves, and they report it in the syllables of art.
In most modern novels materialism seems to be the negation of life. These modern novelists have crowded out reality with the furniture of their novels; they had laid so much dull stress on environment, social setting—the fabric instead of the substance—that the essence of being had escaped them. The novels of Viswanatha do not fall under this category. The meaning of real, the nature of reality gained new dimensions in the novels of Viswanatha—where life is not a series of jig-lamps symmetrically arranged. Life is depicted as luminous halo, a semi transparent envelope that surrounds man from the beginning of consciousness to the end.
The reality in the novels of Viswanatha is thus of a very different kind from that in many of his contemporary novels. Meeting it in prose fiction today (in Viswanatha’s novels) one has to approach it as he approaches the reality of a poem; with a response to its rhythms, its imagery, its timeless flow of memories and impressions.
Viswanatha’s luminous style, a subtle handling of the undercurrents of consciousness, is almost a lyrical flow. This is too obvious in his novel Ekaveera. In his novels the range of implicit experience is limitless.
The essential concern of Viswanatha in his novels is with the character in itself; and because his characters are real, his novels survive. The characters, above all, solace the reader. We, who can hardly understand ourselves much less one another, meet in Viswanatha’s world of novels a more comprehensible and thus a more manageable human race. The reader has a comforting illusion of understanding, at least, the invisible truth of people.
The characters in the novels of Viswanatha, more particularly those in Veyipadagalu, his magnum opus, are not created but found; they preexisted revealing themselves in his novels. What the reader has to do is to recognize the people of the novel as they play their roles in the story.
Viswanatha is not fond of melodrama but he projects the reverberation of a thousand small shocks that make life palpable.
While reading Ekaveera or Veyipadagalu, we love, suffer, comprehend vicariously. These novels satisfy our hunger for sharing the news about human condition. The characters open their hearts to us. We are in torment with Setupati, Veerabhupati and Ekaveera; we learn that struggle is life itself; we come to the fruition of genius with him.
To read and understand Viswanatha, it is essential for the reader to have empathy, imaginative sympathy, and understanding of human values, as the characters grow larger than themselves, possibly larger than life. In Cheliyalikatta the commonplace young man sophisticated and westernized in his thinking tries to disentangle reality from the nightmare engulfing him—is a symbol of modem man, who has ceased to understand human destiny.
Beyond plot, story and theme, the novels of Viswanatha contain something—the essence of all—his idiom, his statement outside logic or causality a statement poetic in that it is always its own excuse for being.
The theme of Veyipadagalu is the decline and fall of a Telugu generation—not by any pressure of outward circumstances but by psychological forces engendered by modem sophistication—chiefly by the emergence, with increasing force of westernized ideals and values of life—like loose living, laziness to a passionate yearning to be completely identified with new western life.
Veyipadagalu has over a score of major characters and a large number of minor ones, which are sharply individualized in appearance and temperament. Physical details add to the sense of reality; the novel is rich in reference to all aspects of life—a kind of a social encyclopedia. This novel is an embodiment of social realism—an exhaustive study of a certain segment of society at a particular time and place in history, at work, in public life, in society and at home. In short it is a portrait of a whole society of the time.
Viswanatha is not anti-progress. His respect for our ancient culture is not a blind admiration. He has not a closed mind—not jealous of the so-called modernists. Dharma Rao, the hero of Veyipadagalu, may look like arguing irrationally for some sophisticated modernists. His argument is against the trespass and erosion of our culture by the enemies and is totally intended to safeguard our own cultural interests and not at all intended to persuade others to embrace or accept it.
One thing is very clear. In the name of social progress, injustice, exploitation, and blind emulation have become the order of the day. So many atrocities have been committed. Viswanatha exposed them all. His logic is of course sharp and words pungent. But the truth he has revealed is unquestionable. His opinions are not binding on anybody. But he has succeeded in portraying the social realism of the times.
Some ultra modernists describe Viswanatha as a reactionary and as an old traditionalist. Some interested people did their best to bring him and his writings into disrepute—out of sheer ill will, jealousy and lack of proper understanding.
One need not agree with what all Viswanatha has written. But before launching an attack on him, one has to make a deeper study of his work. Communion of the story, plot and theme, the characterization, development of the story, portrayal of present day social circumstances and environs, or anything else is not against progress. Everything depends upon the spirit of love of national culture and patriotism. The author believes that large-scale industrialization of the country does not solve our problems. He projects the Gandhian view that village reconstruction is essential without losing the ancient village arts and crafts and the inherent rural charm.
When Dharma Rao, the hero, on one occasion tries to massage the feet of his wife Arundhati, she takes objection to it. But he tells her that man and woman are equals and there is no place for a complex between them. Is this anti-progress? Certainly not. Though Mangamma is a fallen woman, she is neither condemned nor rejected as an earthly bitch. On the other hand, she is moulded into a penitent devotee—a woman of sacrifice. A closed-minded traditionalist will never do like this.
Ratnagiri hails from a dancing community. Girika is her daughter. They become ideal women admired by everybody. Nobody else can do it. The portrayal of the character of Ratnagiri as a pious woman, and her daughter Girika as a model in devotion and saintliness could never be done by a closed-minded traditionalist who is against progress.
Through and through the novel Veyipadagalu there is no objection to inter-caste marriages. Rameswara Sastry and Kumaraswamy married women of other castes. They led ideal lives. They lived happily and enjoyed life. This is not the viewpoint of a closed-minded traditionalist. There are several other instances. He is not against progress. He knows the secret of progress. He has boldly exposed the deceptive nature of those that always talk of progress while exploiting everything for their personal gains. They are the real enemies of progress.
Viswanatha loves his characters so well that he lives in them. He does not despise any character. If the reader is perceptive enough, he can pluck out the heart of each man’s mystery.
There is no villain in the novel Veyipadagalu. But that character is represented by a “viewpoint” (Paradharma), the alien culture. It is the conflict between our culture and the alien one comprising the theme of this novel.
The literary objectivity of the novels of Viswanatha is mixed with the expression of this personal problem that fascinated him always—the rival claims of Indian culture and the alien culture to dominate the modern Indian type. To this theme he was to return repeatedly in later works.
This conflict is presented almost entirely from the Indian point of view—or so it seems first. There are some characters strong and articulate enough to project the other point of view.
Viswanatha does not criticize his characters. He simply allows us to see how many lives can be warped or ruined in the attempt to live as they do.
On every page Viswanatha has left his signature for us to read. The oldest saying of Buffon’s, “the style is the man,” is most accurate with Viswanatha.