The Other Face
(Translation of Dr N Mogasale’s Kannada Novel Mukhantara
Comparisons are often difficult and it is more true when writers in regional languages are pitted against the English counterparts. But, having read Dr N Thirumaleshwara Bhat’s translation The Other Face, of the voluminous novel Mukhantara in Kannada by Dr. Na Mogasale, I could not suppress my urge to compare the original author to James Michener, the American novelist of international fame. Or back at home to Takazi Shivashankar Pille, the Maleyala Jnana Peeta award winner and the author of the famous novel ‘Coir’ . If Pille chose the Travancoor province of Kerala to depict the changes from 18th century to 1960, to portray the social, economical, political and moral values , Na Mogasale chose his native border village Koolyuru, in Kerala, but culturally affiliated to Karnataka.
The revenue inspector of Manjeshwara, enjoying unparalleled authority during the colonial British regime, in a rare gesture of patronage, grants a large tract of land to one Thirumaleswara Bhatta or Thimmanna aged 60 having no children. Later Thimmanna adopts Venkappayya, an orphan as his son. Along with the son his mother Rathnamma too lives in Thimmanna Bhatta’s house. Eventually Thimmanna Bhatta begets a son in Rathnamma, who dies at childbirth. The boy Krishnayya is brought up by Parvathi, the wife of Thimmanna Bhatta. Venkappayya develops hatred towards his brother. After Thimmanna Bhatta is buried alive in the tunnel he has been digging at the foot of a hill near his house, Parvathi steers the family across the turbulent days, effectively.
Meanwhile, Venkappayya contracts all sorts of vices like gambling, visiting brothels and taking alcohol and very quickly sinks neck deep into debts. Unable to bear the torture of her husband, his wife Savithri commits suicide, leaving a son Thirumaleswara to be brought up by her father. Venkappayya succumbs to Typhoid and dies.
Krishanyya and his wife Laxmi, daughter of a very poor Brahmin have a prolonged happy life. Their first son Kechanna intelligent and shrewd migrates to his in laws’ house at far away Sulia. The second son Mapanna is a person with retarded faculties, not capable of any responsible tasks. So, Krishnayya himself has to look after the property even in old age. The grandson Shankara after studying briefly at Udipi returns home full of Gandhian ideas but crippled after being shot by the police in the freedom movement at Mangalore, is forced to take up family responsibility and establishes a Kannada school. Later his son Bangaranna becomes the headmaster and president of the School Committee and due to the shortage of student strength, helplessly watches the closure of the school unable to contain the mad rush for the English medium school built by one of his scions, Puttu Bhatta. Bangaranna’s son Narayana, an advocate at Bangalore much to the dismay of his father tries to get his native village Seethapura converted to a special economic zone.(SEZ). Oppakka or Jaralaxmi wife of Narayana Bhat's elder brother consents to remarry Srinivasa, ostensibly for better prospects for her son Shankara, but perhaps also to ensure security to her life.
The subtle theme running throughout the novel is empowerment and change. The empowerment may be in the form of land as in the case of Thirumaleswara Bhatta , or as his generous grant of tenancy to landless labourers like Anthoni, Mammade, Choma and Karia. In the case of Kambi or Mukaambika, the widowed sister of Mapanna, it was the three muras of rice and 100 Rupees in the form of maintenance from her estranged husband Ganappanna arranged by her cousin Shankara that enables her to live with dignity at her parents’ house. Later education becomes a means of better life as in the case of advocate Narayana Bhatta and Manjunath Rai , but paradoxically driving them to move to Bangalore. Democracy and freedom accelerated this process as even common people like Manku Moolya, tenant of Patel Purandara Rai begin to assert their right, influenced by communism. Those who have gone to cities to study like Shankara , influenced by Gandhi begin to question the old established systems like untouchability, thus churning out a new order.
The title ‘Other Face’ not only refers to social economic and political changes but also to the continuous onslaught of man on nature. The virgin land allotted to Thirumaleswara Bhatta gets paddy fields, areca plantations, ponds and tunnels raised on it, changing the original landscape, as pointed out by Swami Shridhananda to Bangaranna. The flourishing English school and the closure of Kannada medium school demonstrates this concept of change in the perception of values as globalization that sweeps across Seethapura.
Women characters like Parvathakka deserve special mention. Her steely resolve and boldness comes to the fore immediately after her husband is buried alive in the tunnel along with the worker Adrama. With the help of Patel Marappa Shetru, necessary arrangements are made for disposing of the bodies. Later, learning that her adopted son Venkappayya is used to taking liquor and has an affair with Christina, daughter of Mudthini Parbu, Summoning Mudthini she bursts out ‘If you ever utter falsehood, I will strike you with a sickle. If you bring him liquor again, I will cut off your head ‘. But she is also very kind to Savitri, wife of Venkappyya . When she learns that Venkappayya is suffering from Typhoid, she rushes to his house and nurses him until his death.
At the end of the novel, Bangaranna, retired headmaster and president of the school faces dilemma and loses his zest for life especially after the death of his eldest son. Advocate Narayana, his second son settled at Banglaore, pressurizes him to sell off the property managing which has become difficult due to shortage of labourers. He also suggests to him remarriage of his elder brother's wife Jayalaxmi or Oppakka with Srinivasa, a distant family member. Though she is happy with the rural life, seeing what is written on the wall develops the courage to consent to remarry, which is perhaps the only light, though faint, of optimism and hope.
Dr N T Bhat, retired professor of English at M G M college Udupi, has translated many works to English, like Learn to Live written in Kannada by Swami Jagadatmanandaji), being one of them. He has been teaching German for the last 40 years and his doctoral thesis was written in that language. Always modest even to take legitimate credit for his work, he is content in a kind of Nishkama Karma.(non-attachment) .He deserves all the credit for translating the novel from Kannada to English without letting it lose the flavour of the original, thus enabling the novel to cross the frontiers of Kannada into the globe at large.
Prof. S Ganapathi Bhat, Shirankallu
Post Kanyana, DK PIN: 574279.