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Exploring Shifting Nuances

Girish Karnad

By Yashwant Chittal
Sahitya Bhandara, Bengaluru  Originally published by Manohara Grantha Mala, Dharwad, 1979

VOLUME XL NUMBER 1 January 2016

In the last forty years Bangalore has exploded from a sleepy ‘air-conditioned garden city’ into one of the most chaotic megalopolises of India, its economy dominated by business corporates like Infosys, Wipro and Biocon, and a host of others which have come up in their shadow. There was a time when it was a city whose hotels filled up only during the horse racing season and emptied immediately thereafter, whose finances were controlled by two distillaries, and whose intellectual reputation was sustained by half a dozen research establishments protected from the hurly-burly of the outside world by hefty government funding and sprawling green lawns. All that is gone now, and has been replaced by a hectic city, driven by bright young techies who pour into it from all corners of the country, by ruthless real estate barons and builders, and by a rootless working class whose shanties are swallowing up the discrete, self-contained villages that once marked the boundaries of the city. What is extraordinary is that all this transformation seems to have eluded Kannada writers completely. Contemporary writers seem simply unable to come to grips with the forces that are shaping the reality of the city in which they have chosen to live and work. (Almost all of them are migrants from outside.) No major work of fiction has emerged which has attempted to catch even remotely the ethos of ruthless competition, the anguish of individuals trampling over each other in order to grasp what might be defined as ‘success’ and the painful destructiveness of relationships between individuals who think they know each other intimately but discover they don’t. Yashwant Chittal’s Shikari (The Hunter), is in fact, the only novel in Kannada to have managed not just to face the excitement and terror of this experience, but to explore it from the inside, and ironically, it is not about Bangalore at all but about Bombay, and was written in 1979. The protagonist of the novel, Naganath or Nagappa, was born, very much like Chittal, in a remote village in North Canara, grew up in poverty but now occupies, as a chemical engineer, an important position in a corporate firm in Bombay. The novel begins with Nagappa, who considers himself fairly well-entrenched in his position, and is preparing to leave for the US, receiving a notice informing him that he has been suspended from his post and advising him ...

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