The Triumph of Tayavva

This article is part 11 of 13 in the series Analysis of Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa's Novels

Writing about Drishtibheda (difference in perspective), Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma observes poignantly that “true perspective lies in wholly focusing one’s attention on Rasa. All emotions (Bhava) that have been completely distilled and purified are known as Rasas.”

This description quite fittingly applies to the character of Tayavva in Tabbali. It is not farfetched to claim that Tayavva epitomizes, oozes Bhava that transcends emotion, let alone language. Or to extend Ananda Coomaraswamy’s phraseology, Tayavva is someone who has not read anything at all “but has been profoundly taught.”   

On the mundane plane, Tayavva is the typical traditional Indian village woman whose life revolves around her family. She has few wants and almost no needs. She is content to obey and respect elders and wise people in her surroundings. Overall, she is akin to a model of a kind of raw sublimity arising from a simple life dedicated to work and unshakeable convictions in what exactly constitutes goodness, evil, moral, immoral, ethical and unethical. Like millions of her kind, she instinctively recognizes divinity and spiritual grandeur when she spots it.

Perhaps the other female character of Dr. Bhyrappa that comes close to Tayavva is Ramkumari in his musical classic, Mandra. Both hail from the same background, both are unlettered but both are endowed with the same conviction and ideals, which in Dr. Bhyrappa’s words were the “accumulated strength of thousands of years of Samskara.” And both suffer at the hands of their own progeny. The comparison cannot be stretched beyond this point.

In unfolding her character, the author uses the same leisurely technique noted in an earlier part in this series. One of the striking features of her character is the manner in which she takes life as it comes, to use a worn out cliché. However, this non-complaining aspect does not mean a passive, helpless acceptance of injustice.

Tragically, the biggest and the greatest misfortune in her life is her own son, the America-returned Kalinga who casually violates every element of her faith and tradition that she reveres as sacred. The violation occurs almost immediately upon his return to Kalenhalli when he refuses to take the Panchagavya during the death rites of his grandfather. And it escalates and intensifies almost on a daily basis eventually leading to the finale mentioned in the earlier episodes of this series.

The character of Tayavva as a metaphor for the cow unravels with all its emotional brilliance and skilled literary artistry during this phase of Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane. One of the marked themes here is how akin to the cow, Tayavva has to simply look on mutely (literally as well) even as Kalinga inflicts his modern science upon the cows she reveres. She can do nothing and is helpless as he nonchalantly carts them away to his newly-built barn where he rechristens them with numbers and attaches rubber tubes to their udders and separates them from their infants.

Venkataramana walked some distance and looked at the faces of the tethered cows. To his eyes, they appeared merely as brutes, nothing else. He was instantly reminded of the Elder Gowda’s barn. To the Elder Gowda, cows were akin to his own mother and calves, to his little brothers and sisters. Just like how the milk in the breast of a human mother flowed only for her infants, the milk in the breast of a cow flowed only for her calves. The Elder Gowda’s profound conviction was that a cow had to be given nutritious food so that it gave abundant milk and only after its calf had its fill that humans had to milk the remainder. And just as how the breast of a human mother would go dry after her infant died and until a new one was born, no one could milk a cow whose calf had died.

Venkataramana stepped closer and observed. The food trough in front of each cow was marked with numbers—1, 2, 3...and an aluminum badge was tied around the neck of each cow with a number on each badge In the Elder Gowda’s time, each cow had a real name like Ganga, Gowri, Tunga, Bhadra, Kamadhenu, Sita, and Savitri. Each cow was an individual Goddess by itself. But now in his grandson Kalinga’s barn, each cow standing here has become a mere number. The complete supervision of all of them is in the hands of this foreign woman.

This then is the other plane at which orphanhood operates in the novel.

Indeed, after Kalinga has detached the cows from his own home, Tayavva’s life becomes a constant battle and an endless worry over the plight of these cows. And like the cows, she can’t do much but mutely undergo the scientific horrors that Kalinga inflicts on them.  

Quite naturally, Punyakoti’s slaughter by Hilda is the breaking point in her life. A cruel summit of life from where she slides down to her eventual death one muted breath at a time. The manner in which she immediately carts off all the Punyakoti stock back to her own barn, and how, each night before sleeping, she counts the number of cows in Kalinga’s barn as well, using grain seeds brings a lump to our throat. This is her own way of making sense of the world. Indeed, the emotional tapestry that Dr. Bhyrappa weaves in creating Tayavva’s character is truly otherworldly. Needless, Tayavva no longer trusts her own son—rather, she fears for the fate of the cows at his hands.   

The metaphors and parallels operate at stunning levels. The America-returned Kalinga is not only alienated from his own culture, he is also alienated from his own mother thereby echoing a widely held and time-tested dictum that a woman holds an entire culture in her womb.

Quite obviously, Tayavva’s life begins to ebb away the moment Hilda slaughters Punyakoti, another refrain of the novel about the centrality of the cow. Akin to the older Kalinga Gowda who dies from depression when the government shatters his pasture and the graves of his cow and his son, Krishna. In the older Gowda’s case, an alien government has inflicted this tragedy. In Tayavva’s case, it is the educational system of the alien government internalized by Kalinga that inflicts the same tragedy.

The episode of Tayavva’s death not only counts as one of the Himalayan feats of Dr. Bhyrappa’s literary prowess, it leaves a permanent imprint on the reader’s mind. It draws the reader right into her barn and transfixes him to the spot. The heart becomes heavy but it is a melancholy that stands on the threshold of the dawn of tranquility. This is how the author paints it.

After everything was finished, Venkataramana said, “I’ll leave now, Mother.” From where she was sleeping, Tayavva indicated with a nod of her head that she wanted to perform Namaskara to him. He moved forward and stood close to her head. The women around her lifted both her hands and placed them on his two feet. Her shrivelled white hands resembling the skeleton of a thin reed touching his feet, Tayavva closed her eyes. Venkataramana couldn’t recollect the appropriate mantras for uttering the Ashirwada….He tried for a minute to recall the mantra but it had eluded his memory. But as if something surged inside him, he suddenly emitted a laugh. His eyes were filled with tears.

“You’re like my mother, what Ashirwada can I give you? You’ve never committed a single wrong deed in your entire life. You’re truly virtuous. Like a cow you don’t know how to speak and like a cow, you’ve lived a sinless life of Punya. Still, because you’ve done Namaskara to me, I must utter some words of benediction. You’ve decided not to live any more. Pass away as your heart desires. May you attain a quick and tranquil death bereft of any pain. May your soul reach the womb of a cow.”

As Venkataramana observes and we resonate with him, Tayavva is the only character in Tabbali who, akin to a cow, has lived a totally sinless life, always serving others, harbouring no evil thought, doing the Dharma her culture has ingrained in her, protecting and worshipping her cows in her own way…indeed, perhaps the toughest thing in life is to live our own life.

To say it in a platitudinous fashion, Tayavva’s triumph occurs after her noble death. The entire Kalenahalli pools in money and conducts her death rites officiated, naturally, by Venkataramana. Thousands of people from nearby villages attend to pay their respects to this pious woman. In a hugely touching scene, Honna, the orphan adopted by the older Kalinga Gowda, takes the place of Tayavva’s biological son and performs the ceremonies.

The America-returned Kalinga is not even informed. This is also his moment of realization, and the start of a hesitant transformation, an unsteady step towards his own cultural rediscovery.

Kalinga begins this process by searching for the aged cows of his barn that he had sold to an agent of a Mumbai slaughterhouse. Eventually, he reaches the slaughterhouse and is unable to locate his cows because they all look the same to him. And in quite an extraordinary scene, Kalinga thinks that their face and eyes resemble that of his mother, Tayavva. This is the start of a different kind of realization that he is actually searching for his mother in that enormous slaughterhouse in Mumbai.   

As Dr. Bhyrappa makes it explicit, Tayavva had to die to make her son realise the value of what he had lost. Perhaps forever. Tabbali ends on that note.

To be concluded



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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