Dr. GV Krishnarao (1914 - 1979), a Telugu poet, playwright, novelist, critic and the translator of Nagarjuna’s Vigrahavyavarthamu and a few other philosophical works of western thinkers into Telugu, wrote Keelubommalu* (Spring - dolls), his maiden novel, in 1951, which is essentially concerned about Dharma and its observance by every individual.
At the beginning of the novel, Krishnarao makes it abundantly clear that the novel is primarily concerned about ‘Dharma’ – how the fact of individual man giving a go - by to dharma leads to its fading from the society as a whole, and how this ultimately leads to human catastrophe. This reflects well in the invocation with which he starts his novel: “… luptamulayye dharmamulu, … / saptamu saptamimka manasa! Digulondaku matrubhumikai – Virtue, generosity, friendship, appreciation for art, incredible stream of ideas, are all waning; a curse is looming large; O heart! Weep not for the motherland.”
Indeed Krishnarao pours out his agony at the current state of affairs in the villages by making Dr Vasudevasastri, one of the characters in the novel, perhaps, the alter ego of the author, reflect thus: “The very struggle that is going on today in our society is … questioning the very essence of shruthi and smrithi… man is anxious to create a new order… They say whatever is useful that alone is the sastra and whatever delights them that alone is the kala, art…One cannot decide individually what dharma is or sastra or kala. Whatever the majority says is what we, the individuals, must adopt. With these ideas they are driving people crazy. Forgetting the fact of ‘being endowed with wisdom that one can decide on one’s own’, people are simply joining this mad frenzy. Under these circumstances, the minority like us is left with only two alternatives. Casting off our individuality we must join the majority lot… Or, overcoming narrow self - interest, we should be able to show worth practicing dharma marg – a path that is virtuous and useful to whole of the mankind, which means, to every individual. And we must show that the suggested path is logically appropriate and adoptable by first practicing it in our own life. We should thus bring it within the reach of everyone. It is because of such practice alone that the Buddha’s teachings spread not only across the geography of India, but also to other countries. Today, the wise have such a great duty. If these two things do not happen, we will be annihilated” (p. 47).
Driven by this central idea, the author structures the novel with such incidents and characters narrating their struggle –amidst colossal weight of tradition, high bound casteism, and die - hard dogma of religious conformism, most of which is again controlled by the levers of the all - pervading socio - political corrupt system that is fast taking roots in the villages –from a frame of Freudian psycho - analytical theories and Marxism in a language that well afforded him achieve the objective of ‘unity of effect’ in his letting the reader realize how failing of people to think independently and be guided by dharma in their conduct and instead, acting merely as dolls keyed - in by the circumstances is ruining the life of villagers and the ultimate threat it poses to the very existence of villages. Let us examine as to how far the author succeeded in using Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘unity of effect’ theory to drive home his philosophy of individual dharma as the rudder for peaceful coexistence of mankind through his Keelubommalu.
The novel begins with Pullayya –one of the respectable farmers of the village who, for his daughter, Sita, was “an incarnation of dharma, as mercy personified, and thought that no one in the village was as intelligent as he” – letting a rumor do rounds in the village about Chandrasekharam forging his signature as surety for the loan of Rs. 5000 that he took for his paper mill from a Marwari that amounts to an implicit lie, which ultimately defines its own irreversible course that ruins the lives of people who come in its path. In tracing the reasons for Pullayya to deny the fact of his standing as surety, the author makes use of the complexity of man’s psyche brilliantly. In support of shaping Pullayya’s existential dilemmas and in letting his ego emerge successful, the author simultaneously makes use of the sectarian - politics of the village – indeed the intricate play of the individual psyche of the main characters of the novel, sectarian - politics in the village, the resulting social conflicts and the interplay of their dynamics in annihilating dharma from guiding the individual behavior had been made use of adequately and effectively.
The author builds up convincing events that led Pullayya to finally decline the fact of his standing as guarantor. It was not his losing of five thousand rupees by virtue of his standing as guarantor that caused him great consternation, but it was his fear of his wife that had terribly challenged his wit, for she was known to create ruckus about anything that he did against the family interests, that too, without her knowledge. The other most painful issue associated with the surety was about his reputation in the village, for he feared that once the villagers come to know that he had been fooled by Chandrasekaharam, his prestige will get bad drubbing.
As he was passing through this mental trauma, one night his daughter innocently asked him if he had stood surety for Chandrasekharam?” “Who told you so?” asked Pullayya rather casually. “Well … everyone”, replied she. In his drowsiness, he said, “People …what else they have to do?” (p. 6). Concluding from it that her father did not stand as guarantor, she shared it with their farmhand. Thus, the message spreads across the village. Coming to know of it, Pullayya initially wanted to put a stop to it, for it would amount to breaking his word – a shameful thing, because of which he wondered if he could ever raise his head in the village. In the meanwhile, learning about it from her daughter, his wife, Lakshamamma, went to the lawyer and arranged for a notice to be issued to Chandrasekharam for his forging Pullayya’s signature.
Coming to know of this, Pullayya felt furious at her assuming the authority. As she returned, he frowned at her with angry, burning eyes. But when she replied that she went to lawyer for she had as much right as he had in the matters of money of the family, he haplessly stamped out of the house. Here the author traces his existential dilemmas thus: “Realized that he himself was responsible for all this mess –had he clearly explained things to Sita, such false news would not have spread; his wife would not have gone to the lawyer. Now, if the notice is served it would shock the whole village. His reputation would then be at stake. What if, if he could go to Seshagiri [lawyer] right now? He might have not yet sent the notice. He might as well explain things to him! Is he to give explanation to that kid? What if, if he had already sent the notice? He must then say it was all wrong. Then his wife will become a laughing stock in the village. If people laughed at him or his wife –is there any difference? Would it be better to go to Chandrasekharam, explain the mistake and plead with him? It wouldn’t do either. Having helped him in the hour of need, is he now to kneel before him? ... Could see no way to come out of the mess? … Concluding, a way out can, perhaps, be found, he felt a little relief” (p. 11).
On the other side, the author sculpted Chandrasekharam as a man hailing from a rich background. He would have gone on without any vicissitudes, if he had, like others, looked after his lands carefully. But, during his college days he had been attracted to a political ideology which stated: “Man himself is responsible for his joys and sorrows. Human welfare depends on an equitable distribution of wealth. It is the misapplication of principles of wealth distribution that led to binaries such as the rich and the poor… So dharma is getting eroded and life is becoming unbearable … Once the principles of a fair distribution of wealth are applied, society will sparkle” (p. 12). Driven by this philosophy, he converted his landed assets into cash and along with additional borrowings from friends and relatives built a paper mill. It ran alright for some time. Later owing to his lack of managerial skills and workers’ demands for additional facilities, the mill was closed. He wanted to spread joy among the poor and toiled incessantly for it, but what had happened at the end? He lost everything. Over it, he ended up in heavy debts. Many farmers who gave him loans had lost heavily. Darkness encircled him. In this morbid guilt and also fearing creditors, he could go home in the nights only. He started wondering if there was such a thing as fate.
On one such late night, as he was coming home, he was told by fellow villagers that everyone in the village was talking about his forging Pullayya’s signature as surety and borrowing money from the Marwari. He was surprised by it. He was also told that he would soon receive a notice. His stock reply was, “All right, the truth will emerge then.” As he left for home, he wondered if his wife knew about it. How she would react to the news? Ruminating on it, he somehow reassured himself. Unlike his earlier misfortunes, he was conscious that this one was not his making. He thought that he could prove his innocence of this misfortune to her and also the ruthlessness of the world. He felt a newfound strength in that thought. Indeed, after reaching home that is what he exactly did when his wife had shown him the notice of Pullayya, and felt reassured. A whimsical relief!
Though notice was issued to Chandrasekharam, Pullayya’s subconscious mind continued to trouble him constantly, for “He never wanted to get into such a mess. Nor does he ever wanted to do something so wrong. There was no enmity between him and Chandrasekharam. He felt that sending a man like him to jail was horrible in itself. He too had children. Wouldn’t his sending Chandrasekharam to jail affect his own family? Finally, he blamed circumstances for his present plight. Wondered, how to get out of this dreadful mess?” (p. 20). Owing to its constant pricking, he lost his appetite. Lost sleep too.
Driven by intense guilt, at times Pullayya behaved crazily. For instance, one day, as his widowed daughter-in-law, squatting on the floor, wailed at god for having given her a son who could lie at that young age itself, Pullayya, deeply shaken by the scene, perceiving himself as the cause of her sorrow… in a trance-like oblivion, abruptly walking up to her blurted, “Amma, don’t weep… The whole blame is mine. I won’t do it again. I swear it on your feet.” And all at once, he prostrated before her (p. 38). Such was the internal turmoil that Pullayya was subjected to by the turn that the surety issue has taken.
As Pullayya was thus suffering, others like Ammayamma, a social worker from the village and Mallayya, the richest money lender and the opponent of Pullayya in the village were scheming how to capitalize on this new development for enhancing their own status in the village. In the process, Mallayya having come to know that Pullayya did sign as surety, started scheming how to undercut Pullayya from behind by fanning the sectarian politics of the village to play its own role in making things difficult for Pullayya to manage in his favor.
The other important character in the novel was Vasudevasastry, a strange man born into an orthodox Brahmin family. He was a freedom fighter. He studied MBBS. He came back to the village and practiced medicine. His wife had died. Despite his father insisting him to marry again, he preferred to remain unmarried. Money was never an important thing for him. He was serving the poor with equal concern demanding no money, with whatever little he collected from the well - to - do farmers. The author sculpts him as the sole character in the novel who had concern for dharma and its practice. Indeed, the author avails Sastry here and there to air his perceptions about life in general and dharma in particular. For instance, as he came to know that Pullayya and Chandrasekharam were taking the surety matter to the Court and in the process were trying to enlist witnesses in their support, and fearing that it would inflame rancor in the village, Sastry thus reflected: “The cawing of a crow in trouble gets ten sympathetic crows. Human beings are different… Why didn’t people have the amity that birds and animals had? Why were there such bitter quarrels and hostility? Why were cooperation, tolerance, sympathy and harmony on the wane? Without them, can humanity exist? Well! Why should he be bothered about these things? … why this analysis of dharma and adharma? Why this awakening about dharma? Didn’t everyone have the ability to think for himself? Was he in any way superior to them? Wasn’t it egotistical of him to think of managing other peoples’ problems? He should do only what his conscience dictated and follow what he thought was right. That is the only way to move on” (p. 48). That is how the author… perhaps… expects the people to conduct themselves.
The hearing of the case drew nearer. Yet Pullayya had no mind to proceed further, nor could he visualize a way to wriggle out of it. Nevertheless, he was cursing himself all through for the unwanted mess that he had created for himself. He had been haunted by his guilt for ignoring dharma making his nights sleepless. In the meanwhile, he came to know that Chandrasekharam had gathered witnesses to prove that Pullayya was responsible for the closure of the paper mill. He also learnt that Chandrasekharam circulated rumors that he had cheated villagers in the turmeric business; that he, being the trustee had appropriated the yield from seven acres of the choultry. It was also rumored that how else he, a man owning hardly three acres could construct a terraced building and circulate fifty thousand rupees in money - lending? This offered a good enough reason for Pullayya to pull himself out of his hesitation, for these rumors enabled him to think that the whole world was conspiring against him unjustly and so, that it was his solemn duty now to defend himself. Thus, with a new vigor, he started gathering witnesses and got ready for the trial with gumption (p. 56). The author thus succeeds in making Pullayya finally invent new reasons that are sufficient enough to suppress his guilt by rationalizing his need to fight against the opponents to keep his prestige intact. He thus enters the witness box with newfound self - assurance (p. 57).
At this stage, the author brings into scene Pullayya’s younger son, Ramarao, who is another important character in the novel. He obtained MA degree from Calcutta University. Yet, his thirst for knowledge remained unquenched. Disregarding his father’s advice to find a job, he stayed in Madras and began his philosophical enquiries. He felt that he was just opening up to new realities. He started publishing articles expounding idealism: “Love of liberty and search for truth are natural to man. It is on this substratum that the life of mankind is moving on. Both these two are possible only through dharma. In its absence, the wheel of life would sink into ignoble mire. Man would plummet to the meanest level. And this, he had been expounding as the root cause for the current plight of the nation” (p. 58) even at student gatherings. Now, this young man came to know of his father filing a suit against Chandrasekharam. He was surprised to know this development, for his father once did tell him about his standing as surety. As far as he knew his father never did any unjust act in the past. So, thinking that he might have filed the case forgetting what really happened, Ramarao wrote a letter to his father reminding him of his giving the surety. But his father wrote back advising: “You know nothing of this case. So, you better keep quiet. Your mother had asked me to tell you not to come here now” (p. 60). This unjust reply had terribly disturbed him and he thought sitting quiet on the matter would tantamount to his negating what he had been expounding all through his writings and lectures. He therefore rushed to his village to make his father withdraw the case.
In the meanwhile, the strife between these two individuals soon assumed the form of the village feud and anarchy was let loose: one night Ramachandrayya pantulu’s (Pullayya’s clerk) house was set on fire; another night Mallayya’s haystack of 30 acres was set on fire; and another night Harijan Ashram was burnt down. This rising lawlessness in the village had incidentally become a good enough reason for Pullayya to shed off his timidity, for he felt that his winning the case is now a must for restoring order in the village. Further, he rationalized his victory would not be his alone, rather it would be a victory for the whole village, indeed a victory of Dharma (p. 80).
To enhance the image of her Ashram in neighboring villages, Ammayamma, Secretary of the Harijan Ashram and social worker from the village sent a report to newspaper saying communists were on rampage in the village doing senseless damage for the last ten days inflicting losses worth one lakh rupees. She also opined that immediate dispatch of Malbar police to the village would restore confidence among the villagers. Amazed by reading the news clipping, Vasudevasastry went to her and said that elders of the village should try to solve these problems within the village instead of seeking police intervention, for it would become more painful than the original problem.
Later, Vasudevasastry went to Chandrasekharam. He pursued him to settle the matter with Pullayya by discussing it face - to - face. Chandrasekharam was astounded. Presuming Pullayya – fearing that he would be punished if his guilt was proved in court – might have sent the doctor to mediate, he refused to go with him. Sastry, drawing his attention to the recent untoward incidents in the village, persuaded him to appreciate how their feud was harming the interests of innocent villagers and Chandrasekharam, having done no wrong, should exhibit great courage in going to Pullayya and settle the issue right then. Even otherwise, as his finances were in doldrums, Chandrasekharam should have availed the offer to sort out the dispute amicably to his advantage. But that was not to happen, for they differed in their political philosophy, and hence, Chandrasekharam refused to go to Pullayya seeking compromise. Further, he averred: doctor babu, “This is not a quarrel between the two of them. If it were, I would have somehow compromised. But no, this is a problem of the thousands of factory workers. He has snatched away the very food from their mouths.” Leaving him with displeasure, Vasudevasastry said, which incidentally appears to be echoing the author’s understanding of the current state of affairs in the society: “True; today, even if I get a stomach ache it is a social problem… Unable to face one’s problems bravely, and solve them individually, everyone attributes his ills to society, labels them as social problems, even claims to have made personal sacrifices for the sake of society. And also incites others. Thus kills the wisdom, fanning the passions.”
One evening, Ramarao came to the village. That night he broached Chandrasekharam’s case with his father. Pullayya laughed it off. Ramarao asked him to withdraw the case else, he would reap only sin. Pullayya said, “Don’t stick your neck into affairs you don’t understand.” Yet Ramarao insisted that no good would come of it, and pleaded to withdraw the case. Pullayya got wild and pushed him violently out of the room. Later, in his anxiety to get the case withdrawn, late in the night, Ramarao narrated the truth to his mother. She was shell - shocked. But she could not decide either way. She could not sleep a wink that night.
Now, it was the turn of Lakshamamma to face the kind of existential dilemmas that her husband once faced: “Was her husband guilty of such injustice? Or was the son simply betraying his father? If it was an affair between her husband and son, she might have defended the son. But it is the matter between their family and Chandrasekharam. Either he had to go to jail or her husband had to. It is imperative that Chandrasekharam alone should go to jail. If her son did not give evidence, no one would grill him for his failure. But if he gave evidence, her husband had to go to jail. Would he send his father to jail? For what? For dharma? How then, one’s rejection of parental obligation fits into dharma? Moreover, wasn’t she the one responsible for filing the case? Had she not been that firm in filing the case, mightn’t her husband kept quiet? If her husband had supported her then, could she betray him now? No, it could not happen.” Driven by these thoughts, she finally concluded that her son, as her husband thought, was deluded, had imagined things and believed that was the truth. Here, the author makes an apt observation that denotes how human mind works in general: “People don’t believe things they dislike. They consider them illusions: lies and figments of imagination. And that is what exactly happened with Lakshmamma too. So, finally she asked her son: “Ramudu, truly you are mistaken. Leave home at once. Don’t return for six months. Now go away” (p. 85). That is how she pushed the reality into subconscious and in the interest of the family, could snub her son aside.
As the hearing was fixed for the next day, before leaving for town, Pullayya, with the help of Ammayamma, arranged for his son’s arrest by police, so as to ensure that he was safely away while the hearing in the court progressed. Although he could go to the extent of getting his son arrested to ensure winning the case, on the D - day when he had to enter the witness box and utter the unvarnished lie, Pullayya’s heart throbbed wildly. His conscience wailed at him: “It’s not too late. You are a man with children. Why act so unjustly? Even now you can turn back? … Save dharma, and save your reputation. Don’t plunge your village into chaos. Why invite curses? Life should be lived wholesome and well, even if it is only for a few days. No one lingers on earth forever. At heart you are really a good man. Never having harmed anyone till now, why fall into hell at this old age? … If you do this now, what difference would there be between you and Mallayya? … How many five thousands haven’t you flung away in business? Pullayya! It is not too late! Step back” (p. 101).
But the tricky games that mind plays in such dilemmas were brilliantly captured by the author, when he said that Pullayya’s mind simply heckled at him thus: “So, you have robbed the property of choultry? You have destroyed Chandrasekharam’s mill?” This very thought instantly made him angry at Chandrasekharam. He saw the judge’s face and wondered: “God knows how many bribes he might have taken to strike down vital cases!” Lo! All this cumulatively, helped in pushing the guilt from conscious mind into subconscious and in the process all the fear evaporated. He thus became ready for examination –for uttering boldly any number of lies (p. 102).
Later, Lakshamamma fell ill –high fever, vomiting blood and delirium –all this terribly disturbed Pullayya. The doctor, Vasudevasastry came and gave medicines. The doctor assured them that everything would be alright. But with wife’s sudden fever, Pullayya’s guilt started gnawing at him again: “Having unjustly foisted a case, how could you escape its evil effects? We might deceive man, but can god be cheated?”
In the context of Lakshmamma’s fever, the author comes up with yet another interesting but critical observation about mankind: “Human nature is very strange. Atom can be split. Moon can be visited. … Human body can be cut into pieces and stitched together to restore life. But it is impossible to fathom the mind that is behind all these accomplishments. Nor can its capacity be imagined. We cannot draw boundaries to define its limits” (p. 115). And to illustrate this phenomenon, he asks us to consider the case of Dr. Vasudevasastry. He had heard whatever Lakshmamma muttered in her delirium –guilt suppressed earlier in the subconscious being let loose by the fever, she screamed now: “Brother Sekharam, treat me in whatever way you like. Burn me on live coals. Throw me into hell and roast. I will bear all your punishment. But Ramudu is innocent; Sita is more so.” Another time she cried: “What do you wait for, handcuff me and take me to jail… my children are blameless… even my husband doesn’t like this.” And yet another time, she muttered, “Don’t arrest Ramudu. You have no mercy and pity. He stood for truth. Arrest me.” Now, the author wonders that had the doctor tried to take an integrated view of these delirium talks he would have arrived at the truth. He was indeed capable of it. But unconsciously, his earlier failure to affect a compromise between Pullayya and Chandrasekharam came in between as a defect. For, Sastry believed that had Chandrasekharam been really not guilty, he would have forgiven Pullayya and come forward to compromise. Because he didn’t, the doctor thought that he must have been really at fault. This conclusion lay embedded in the doctor’s mind. Secondly, the doctor thought that because he had been impartial in the matter, his word should have counted –which would have meant the victory of dharma. Since this notion was at the back of his mind, the doctor could not take cognizance of Lakshmamma’s delirious chatter and interpret them logically. On the other hand, he thought she was anguished that things might happen that way. There is yet another cue for the doctor that would have prompted him to pay attention to these mutterings. Pullayya, realizing that doctor had heard her delirious talk, used to avoid him in shame. The doctor ought to have guessed the truth from this behavior of Pullayya. But he never gave any serious thought to it either. Thus, the author asserts that even intellectuals, driven by their own beliefs, at times, fail to take cognizance of the reality.
The author, of course, makes use of this scene to take forward the plot in the desired line: the doctor told Pullayya, with all sympathy, that the patient was worried that Pullayya was at fault but not Chandrasekharam, and that Ramarao, his son was taken by police because of him. All this, he said, was her suspicion. So, he said, he would convey this to her. He also advised him that it was necessary that she should be told so by others as well. Otherwise, she would not be freed of her mental agony and her fever wouldn’t subside. The doctor did what he said. Her daughter, Sita too told Lakshamamma the same thing. Ammayamma also told her that police took Ramarao on baseless suspicion and he would be released soon.
With the result, Lakshamamma started thinking that if her husband was wrong, the doctor would have never come to their house, for he was a man who opposed wrong whoever had committed it. She also thought that the young Ramarao might have erred. As she could etch these thoughts in her conscious mind, she recovered soon. Of course, she now felt guilty of her suspecting her husband. Isn’t “human nature”, as the author observed, “very strange”?
“Instigated by Chandrasekharam” (p. 113), the laborers from the Harijan quarter entered the village in procession with flags in hands and shouting slogans. On reaching Pullayya’s cattle - shed, they stopped in front of it and shouted at the top of their voices. In the mêlée, Pullayya’s bull was frightened and, snapping its rope, ran amok into the crowd. It gored a boy tearing open his guts, and trampled an old man. Suddenly, Pullayya came forward from the crowd and hit the bull. The bull fell whirling and died. With this incident the whole village was enraged at the Harijans. Villagers murmured, “Isn’t it because we are lenient that they have stormed into the village?” But no one was, of course, bothered about what had happened to the boy. Paradoxically, the villagers took the carcass of the bull in procession –honoring it with vermilion, turmeric, flowers and incense –to bury it. This irony was aptly summed up when Sastry heaving a sigh, murmured: “People might as well worship an animal like a god but cannot afford to be considerate to a fellow being” (P - 126) . Incidentally, this incident made Chandrasekharam lose the sympathy of villagers while Pullayya gained increased followership, besides hastening the arrival of Malbar police in the village.
Finally, Pullayya won the case, and Chandrasekharam was sent to jail for three years. The village wanted to felicitate Pullayya, who finally emerged as Dharmamurthi, Dharmadata at the hands of a minister.
As the novel nears the end, Lakshmamma, who did not know that her son had come to the village, greeted her husband, Pullayya as he returned from the felicitation function, thus: “Dharma alone wins. This is an example for the whole world.” Pullayya, who didn’t tell her about their son coming to the village, concurred with her saying, “True. What other than truth and dharma, can win?”
Perhaps, being peeved by it –or, as he had lost all his hope on mankind to conduct itself with individual dharma as its guiding principle –the author, having begun the novel with an invocation true to the Indian Kavya tradition, ends it in the same tradition with an apt benediction: “Yadaa yadaahi dharmasya… / … / Dharma samsthaapanaarthaaya sambhavaami yuge yuge – Whenever there is a decline of righteousness, …/ … / And for the establishment of righteousness, I come into being from age to age”.
The irony of the novel is: everyone –right from Pullayya, Lakshamamma, Chandrasekharam, to Ramarao, Mallayya, and Ammayamma –was pretty concerned about dharma but none did try to uphold it, nor did they practice dharma as dictated by their conscious. And each had his/her own invented reasons to act as mere dolls keyed in by the external agencies giving a safe goodbye to their individual dharma.
Vasudevasatry, of course, did try all through to be guided by his own dharma, as dictated by his conscience. But with him too, all was not right: When pantulu’s family stayed in his house, Vasudevasastry made love to Padma, but he thought it was a dream –the scene fits well within the framework of Freudian psychoanalysis, for all along having suppressed his admiration for Padma’s beauty, which in his view excels even Kalidasa’s Sakuntala, since she is the wife of a friend, Sastry, in the same vein, perceives the consummation of his subconscious desire too as a dream. However, the narrator, who is known for his deep insights into Dhvani theory, would not tell all this so explicitly. He merely suggests its happening by camouflaging a vulnerable scene –one late night, Sastry, returning home, reclined on the bed that was spread for him by Padma in the open yard; a silver pot kept on the deck behind the cot reminded him of Padma and made him air his appreciation of her concern; graying moon; swarming clouds hiding the stars; his alter - ego questioning him: “Doctor saab! …tell me how many tons of happiness you have enjoyed till now?... Aren’t you cribbing within yourself to get out of this rut?”; his brushing it off saying, “You idiot”; counter - ridiculing by the alter ego: “so, what I said is right, lest why should you get angry at my questions?” (p. 96) –in which, Sastry, when Padma had thrust herself onto his bed, yielded, in a state of conscious - unconscious mind, to her ‘forced demand’(“She thrust that cup into my mouth forcing me to drink the coffee fully”, p. 97) but realized his ‘crime’ only from the suggestive behavior of Padma the next morning. However, upon realizing his transgression, owning up his sin, he volunteered to take Padma along with her children under his care, but Padma refused it. Finally, yielding to her request, passing on the medicine she wanted for inducing abortion, he poured out his anguish at his sin thus: “You have got what you wanted… Go away Padma, go away. Your husband, you and your children –may you be happy…What more can I wish for? This land of Bharata which has given birth to you is fortunate. Your role model, Sita and Rama are blessed… Please leave. My home is a hellish pit. And my heart is a mire of sin… go away.” He then pushed her out of the room and slammed the door. Such was his anguish over his failure to follow the dictates of his own conscience –his own dharma. He loathed himself. He could not stand even for a minute more in that abyss. He therefore left the village that very night.
Even Ramarao, the young radical reformist, with his explicit enthusiasm for dharma as reflected in his sayings –“Human life is for life’s sake, not for any other worldly benefit. That dharma is for dharma, dharma alone is the essence of human life. Why does the mother love her child? Not because she believes that he/she will one day care for her... No reward is sought in the quest for dharma. Man’s conscience is the ultimate proof for dharma… Observing dharma joyfully alone progress of individual and through him of society could be attained… If we don’t follow it, the present will become a hell - hole and the future uncertain” (pp. 59, 60) –could not uphold dharma all in the fear of filial obedience. Of course, on release from the jail, Ramarao, much against the wishes of Dr. Sastry, did attempt to reveal the truth behind the surety - episode to the villagers at the very felicitation function, but finally could do nothing except to passively watch the proceedings. In that anguish, he had to finally cut himself off from his roots –left the village that very night without even paying a visit to his sick mother.
Similarly, Pullayya’s clerk, Ramachandrayya pantulu too failed to tell the truth to Lakshamamma when she asked, and also to Ramarao when he enquired for truth, all in the fear of losing his livelihood. Nor was he agreeable to speak out for righteousness when Chandrasekharam sought his help. In the process, his house was set on fire, and finally, he became mentally derailed, of course, primarily by virtue of his wife’s misdeed. Padma, his wife, perhaps, in a fit of adoration for Sastry’s ‘character’ (Padma had shed tears as Sastry was lying in bed… beaten in the altercation by the Malbar police… with bandage around his head, P - 132), desire to show her gratitude to Sastry for all the help he had rendered, or out of her own longing, or in a fit of confusion of such mixed feelings……or to put it rightly, driven by reasons best known to her (for the author is silent about it), thrust herself upon Sastry and having thus lost her fidelity made her life a living hell.
Chandrasekharam, the man charged by socialist utopia, failing miserably at being pragmatic in his dealings with labor and even with the fellow villagers –for instance, when Dr Vasudevasastry advised him to seek compromise with Pullayya, he thought Sastry being a Brahmin, like every other Brahmin came to betray revolution and thereby keep the ‘varna’ system intact, so that their authority is perpetuated –lost everything, besides ending up in jail, while his family came on to streets.
Pullayya, the principal character of the novel, and his wife, for that matter, his whole family suffered intense turmoil in suppressing guilt and fake righteousness and though finally, he emerged victorious, it is anybody’s guess, with Ramarao opting to cut off all his relations with his village, how happy Pullayya’s family would be even after the so - called felicitation.
The factionalism fanned by selfish Mallayya and Ammayamma finally threatened their own interests: Mallayya’s haystack and Ammayamma’s Ashram were set on fire.
Having thus brought the village to its brink through the victory of ‘adharma’ over ‘dharma’ through a string of incidents that are realistic and rational too, in a language that best reflects the village atmospherics, the author has indeed left an impact on the reader about the adverse effect of waning dharma on the lives of mankind. The novel’s ‘unity of effect’ is sure to make readers realize that “society will never progress unless its men and women learn to think independently and act according to the dictums of their conscience.”
* G V Krishnarao Rachanalu, Volume 4, Prabhas Publications, Tenali, 1999.