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A Pitiless Mirror

K.S. Sachidananda Murthy

By P. Lankesh . Kannada translations edited by Vanamala Viswanatha
Sahitya Akademi, Delhi, 2004, pp. 178, Rs. 75.00


As a young student in Bangalore’s Central College studying journalism, I had found P. Lankesh being recognized as a genius of our times. His personality had grown beyond the campus throughout the Kannada speaking regions. It was the time when his modern plays were creating a sensation in Bangalore’s amateur theatre. The compassionate teacher in him attracted the young and the disadvantaged to his intimate circle. He was a narrator par excellence but also one of the most sensitive listeners – a faculty which made him realize storylines others could not easily recognize. Sessions with Lankesh, who became a trailblazing editor and publisher in the early 1980s were highly stimulating.     This collection is full of stories written during the journalist phase, where Lankesh wrote thousands of words a day, as his distinctive writing sold Lankesh Patrike more. It was also a phase where hundreds of ordinary people went to meet him with their tales of discrimination, petty exploitation of the meek, helplessness and revolt against small tyranny in villages and cities, revolving round caste and sex, two of the contentious strands of life in India.     These two divisive factors come into play in the story ‘When Stone Melts’, as Lankesh looks at a village notorious for its intolerance and savagery. Karnataka is pitted with such villages, which are a nightmare for police officers as even an act of spitting or use of an offensive word can cause a conflagration. But the most incendiary cause is intercaste love, which has seen families and colonies being wiped out in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar and other parts of the country.     Lankesh looks into love’s power of healing as he follows a love affair between a lingayat girl and a beda (hunter) boy, which turns the village upside down. But the courage of the girl, coupled with the simple timidity of the boy cools the passions, though the approval is sullen and sad. The couple achieve the miracle of avoiding a bloodbath, which is inevitable for forbidden affairs of the heart. Lankesh brings in a conscience-stricken religious head and a group of hot-blooded revolutionaries to bring the conflicts and compromises into life.     Yet another story which delves deep into the caste hierarchy and its enormous cruelties is ‘The classmate’, where Lankesh finds casteism alive and kicking in what otherwise is a paradise of villages cut off from civilization in the western ghats. ...

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