The Nature and Levels of Orphanhood in Tabbali

This article is part 2 of 13 in the series Analysis of Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa's Novels

The climactic scene in which Kalinga Gowda’s grandson (also named Kalinga Gowda, after his grandfather) realizes the true and complete nature of his orphanhood resonates the aforementioned cultural orphanhood in an extraordinary fashion: the individual as the representative of the culture that he both inhabits and is alienated from. He is the last link of both a lineage and a tradition that breathed cow worship. However, his western education and brief life in America has cut off this tradition at the emotional level. Thus, although his belated reawakening to his own tradition is a homecoming of sorts, he returns to a home where he has himself transformed Punyakoti from the exalted status of a mother to a mere input in a milk-manufacturing enterprise.

Which reminds us of a conversation he has with the unlettered rustic simpleton, Yangata much earlier in the novel. Yangata criticizes him for viewing the cow in merely monetary terms. The passage is worth quoting at length. (Emphasis added)

Your mother’s growing old. In a few days, even she won’t be able to do any work. Will you then calculate the price of the food she eats?’

Now Kalinga was unable to find an answer. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t heard this argument about cattle from every villager. From his childhood days, he had heard these words inside and outside his home… But his views had changed after going to America. Although he knew that the villagers wouldn’t understand his views even if he articulated them clearly, he still said: ‘Are you saying that the same thing applies equally to both humans and cattle? What are cattle for, if not for human utility?’

Yangata felt stunned by these words. He had never thought about the question of whether cattle existed merely for human utility or whether humans were born for the utility of cattle or whether one is born merely for another’s utility… He said: ‘You’re educated. You must speak about dharma and karma to simple villagers like us. Instead, if you do such things yourself, your clan won’t survive. Behave yourself!’

A fairly straightforward passage but one that is loaded with fundamental questions about the meaning of education, cultural alienation and intrinsic differences in worldviews. Of the notion of dharma and utility and a worldview that regards only Artha (economics/money) as its central value.

Even on the biological plane, the grandson Kalinga’s orphanhood operates on a few significant levels. His thoroughly Americanized outlook largely disregards the traditional Indian value system of the sanctity and continuance of Vamsha (bloodline, lineage). His young son, Jack is for all practical purposes an American child, and although he lives in Kalenahalli, he could as well be living in America. Thus, the ancient lineage of Kalinga Golla Gowda pretty much ends with the Americanized Kalinga.

Kalinga’s orphanhood is akin to that of the woeful loss of several valuable facets of Sanatana culture: it neither has any permanent solution nor solace because the damage has occurred at a foundational level. The contemporary Rishi DVG traces this damage in his immortal Mankutimmana Kagga verse:

haḻeya bhaktiśraddheyaḻisihogive māsi
su
ḻidillavāva hosa darśanada hoḻapu।।
pa
ḻagidda mane bidda kuṃṭa kuruḍana teradi
ta
ḻamaḻisutide loka - maṃkutimma ।।     

Beliefs and convictions of the yore have faded away and disappeared
No light of new revelation and philosophy has emerged
Akin to a blind man who gropes inside his familiar home which has crumbled
The world is in tumult, O Mankutimma

There is almost a direct congruence with the younger Kalinga’s character with this verse. The crumbled home in his case is his irretrievable loss of his cultural roots, a loss which his grandfather, the elder Kalinga Gowda spots presciently during his teenage years remarking that “this fellow is now used to the comfort of city life and finds it difficult to go out in the sun and till the land and take care of the cows.” We find an echo of this in Venkataramana’s thoughts on the same matter: “a person who hasn’t learnt the knowledge that is readily available at home, what will he accomplish by bringing knowledge from alien lands?”

This is also one of the central conflict points in Tabbali: what maybe generally described variously as “east versus west,” “western science versus Indian traditional knowledge system,” and variants thereof. Dr. Bhyrappa shows with extraordinary talent and analytical prowess how a worldview is not merely a formless, abstract intellectual or mental phenomenon that can be separated from practical life, and how it plays out in a person’s attitude to food, dress, familial and community relationships, and nature.Indeed, a reasonable case can be made for the claim that much damage has occurred worldwide by blind attempts to replace the findings of science with the accumulated wisdom of the proverbial ages. Neither is it mere replacement but mindless, casual destruction.

The younger Kalinga also embodies Ananda Coomaraswamy’s description of an English-educated Hindu as a “nondescript and superficial being deprived of all roots—a sort of intellectual pariah who does not belong to the East or the West, the past or the future,” and adds with great foresight that “[T]he greatest danger for India is the loss of her spiritual integrity.” In Tabbali, this loss of spiritual integrity occurs on various planes and in various instances as we shall see.

Inseparable from the younger Kalinga’s westernized worldview is the long-term and long-lasting psychological disfigurement caused by the British colonization of India. The younger Kalinga’s interactions with the Deputy Commissioner are brilliant illustrations of this fact. He talks to the DC as an equal, and the DC is instantly impressed with him solely due to his formidable credentials as an America-returned agricultural scientist. Needless, the DC is a product of the British-instituted civil service system, a machinery designed for exploiting the natives with fine-grained precision. An instant rapport develops between them and we are treated to the intricacies of how the bureaucracy can be manipulated by those who understand its workings. We’re also treated to the stark generational difference. Kalinga Golla Gowda approaches the DC with a mixture of fear and supplication in pre-independence India, and is made to wait outside for a long time. The then DC is largely sympathetic to and genuinely impressed by his devotion to the Gomaata. The grandson almost barges into the same office with the confidence of his superior American education. This is a highly revealing interpretation of the true meaning of “independence.”

Political independence, cultural alienation, and a colonized psyche can be identified as the markers of the undercurrent of orphanhood that permeates Tabbali. A political independence that was manned by an elite of cultural aliens whose alienation was the consequence of their colonized psyche both of which hastened the destruction of their own cultural roots. The closing lines of Tabbali makes this rather explicit when the younger Kalinga ruminates on the death of his mother, Tayavva, one of the glorious characters and an extraordinary metaphor in the annals of Dr. Bhyrappa’s creative corpus.

Mother shouldn’t have died… He thought of Hilda. Will she stay here respecting my convictions or will she go away?...What do I do now? Should I sell the tractor and restart the ox and the yoke of my grandfather’s era? But he didn’t see any meaning in it. This question doesn’t even arise with the Americans. They clearly say and believe that other animals exist only for the utility of man. But we need both the tractor and the Gopuja…Mother shouldn’t have died… After I brought the tractor, perhaps a little before that or a little after, it was inevitable that she would die and I’d become an orphan.

The culturally alienated Kalinga finds a “vast spread of insight” in this contemplation but he’s unable to comprehend it. America has convinced him of the inevitability of technology, which is one of the definitional markers of what is known as human progress, and it has become almost a religious dogma with him. However, he can’t fully re-attune himself to the raw cultural experience of his childhood. Both the tractor and his own mother, Tayavva stand as tremendous metaphors on the cusp of reality and fiction.

The younger Kalinga’s orphanhood has attained cruel fruition.

To be continued

Author(s)

About:

Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.

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