A Philosophical Analysis of the Consequences of Technology and Tradition in Tabbali

This article is part 5 of 13 in the series Analysis of Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa's Novels

Kalenahalli begins to get acquainted with the external “civilized” world in direct proportion to the increase in activity of the new tar road that has now become a permanent part of its daily life. In a sense, till the road was laid, Kalenahalli had been an unknown ancient, unspoilt idyllic village in harmony with the rhythms of nature. The consequences that occur when this natural rhythm is broken by the interference of manmade technology is another major thread that Dr. Bhyrappa unspools in Tabbali. This unspooling is done at various stages and on different planes. However, viewing this merely as a clash among the forces of technology, modernity and nature and simple traditional life is amateurish to the say the least. Because more than just a description of the external consequences of these clashes, the author provides a highly nuanced analysis of how the human’s inner life is fundamentally impacted and altered without his own knowledge much less consent. This analysis doesn’t stop just on the intellectual plane but is elevated to the standard of philosophy.

Apart from the tar road, and the “motor bus” that runs on it, the America-returned grandson Kalinga stands as a human symbol of these unpredictable consequences and clashes that occur as a result of technologically-driven human life. Indeed, one of the first things he does after his wife Hilda joins him in Kalenahalli is to relocate to a new farmhouse he has built in the former pasture of his grandfather. It is a conscious isolation, one that is physically near but truly distant from his ancestral home, a voluntary cleaving of the unbroken continuity of life that was lived for countless generations. The ancestral home has absolutely no whiff or sign of technology. The sun lights it up by day and at night, vegetable or plant oil. There is an element of cruelty in the fact that his aging mother, the extraordinary Tayavaa, continues to live there all alone and refuses to move to the new farmhouse. Equally, the fact that Kalinga has not abandoned her compounds the cruelty because he has irretrievably lost the language with which to communicate with her, a theme we shall examine later.

The ageless silence of Kalenahalli is the first casualty of the other technology that Kalinga introduces to the village: the farm tractor with its “massive demonic teeth that had the power to uproot enormous chunks of soil in seconds.” The cows in Kalenahalli are the first to respond to this invasion by bolting away in mortal fright the first time they hear this monstrous sound, an unaccustomed manmade thunder. Life will never be the same for them. Till then, the only non-natural sound in the village was the temple bell whose “auspicious strains” added a daily spiritual renewal to their Puja of Mother Earth: farming.

The undercurrent of all this affords a deeper analysis. While Kalinga is free to do as he pleases on his farm, he is also tangentially impacting, altering and impairing the life of people around him without their consent. Which in turn evokes searching questions regarding rights, duties, and responsibilities, individuality versus community life, the human’s place in nature and so on.

Throughout these unending conflicts and clashes leading to violence, Tabbali also offers us a sublime definition of the deeply rooted Indian tradition: as a conservation and perpetuation of the innate harmony and order in nature. The conception of Rta finds a highly creative and detailed expression in the novel. As also what happens when humans erode Rta either in a mindless quest for wealth or a misplaced notion of progress or an arrogance in of the conquest of nature or all three.

Both Kalinga and Hilda genuinely believe that their work of mechanized farming and cattle rearing actually contributes to the economic progress of a newly independent India with its millions of hungry mouths. But the cost is a gradual destruction of his own village in very fundamental ways. Like thousands of such Indian villages, Kalenahalli is self-sufficient as we’ve seen earlier. It is not only self-sufficient but has enough abundance to regularly contribute to large-scale festivals and special occasions that feed thousands of people for free. This in turn is a continuation of the ancient, noble Sanatana practice of food sharing. Annam Bahukurvita is a highly recommended work in this connection. This is a reality of the daily life of Kalinga since his childhood and the fact that he fails to understand the timeless impulse operating behind this is also another indicator and consequence of his cultural alienation. When considered as an objective whole, his conviction in the scientific methods of agriculture and cattle rearing is simply an article of faith not different from the selfsame religious faith that he has no use for. To quote Alan Bloom (said in a different context), “what has been advertised as a great opening is in fact a great closing.”

Hilda’s character fleshes out this aspect in a splendid manner. To her, communal food sharing, large numbers of people eating food free of cost is a perpetual source of puzzle that she can never resolve. Apart from regarding such feasts as a waste, it is also a mark of a primitive culture. Her uneasiness in this matter is heightened by a Kannada movie which shows a scene in which a massive crowd of people is gathered during Annadana. Dr. Bhyrappa adds a tinge of mirth to this episode. While this is part of the cultural environment Kalinga grew up in, here too, he has lost the language to explain its significance and nuance to his own wife.

The technological invasion reaches its apogee when the cows in Kalinga’s cowshed are fitted with milking machines and they permanently lose their motherhood. No description or words can do justice to the profound impact of the original, quoted hereunder.

After thoroughly washing its udder, Hilda herself held the baby’s mouth to its teat. Startled, the cow kicked and leapt… Despite trying with four other cows, not one permitted feeding the baby. Then, with another cow, they sent its calf to suckle. But the moment the calf punched the teat once, the cow kicked it… “These cows are now accustomed to getting milked from that machine’s rubber tubes. The cow that has no experience of even suckling its own calf...how will it permit human infants near it?”

A detailed examination of this episode will be made later in this essay but at this juncture, we can consider a limited point related to creative literature. As we noted in the introductory part, the impetus and impulse for writing Tabbali emerged from Dr. Bhyrappa’s visit of the milk production factory in Anand, Gujarat. The aforementioned passage and the entire sequence of events leading up to it is a truly extraordinary manifestation of how his experience has found creative expression in literature. This is the work of an accomplished literary Master who has touched the intense depths of Rasa, a journey inaccessible to second rate minds.

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.

Prekshaa Publications

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