Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Kanthapura

SPOILER WARNING: Plot and/or ending details about Kanthapura, by Raja Rao, follow.
The following piece of text is intended to be viewed only by people who have read the book, or have no intention of doing so in the near future and are here merely so that they can survive the minor tomorrow.

The HUL 239 minor is to be held tomorrow. Most of the people I am doing the course with are yet to embark on the long and arduous journey that reading Kanthapura entails. I don't blame them. Kanthapura is, easily, one of the most boring books ever written. I sympathize with them and understand their rather difficult position. It is with them in mind that I begin writing this post. Feeling particularly benevolent right now, I intend to spend the next half an hour outlining, in some detail, the main themes and incidents the novel concerns itself with. So go ahead. Read this post. Print it out, run copies, and share it freely with your friends. Write it down in your notebooks, if need be, for what I am about to tell you will get you through tomorrow's minor.

Kanthapura, as a novel, sucks. It is the first major Indian novel in English. It is also boring, long, and old. It is one of the few novels by an Indian writer in English that is almost entirely untouched by Western values or attitudes. It was first published in London in 1938, and didn't, very understandably, sell much. It was only later, after India had gained her independence, and ineffectual courses like HUL 239 had been introduced at crappy Indian universities, that Kanthapura sales rocketed, and made Raja Rao a rich man overnight. The book has a history of inducing wild patriotism and long periods of extreme ennui among readers. It is an established cure for insomnia. And it doesn't cost too much.

The Language
The language one comes across in Kanthapura is strange and unlike anything else seen before. It is a highly bent, broken and battered form of the English we are all accustomed to. The words are dull and short, and are selected carefully so as to generate the maximum amount of boredom possible among readers. The narrative brightens up only during the parts in which the colorfully-named characters abuse each other. Characters in Kanthapura come up, whenever called upon to, with the choicest of insults. The only part of the novel I shall probably remember for the rest of my life is abc-amma calling xyz-ayya 'a son of a concubine.'
The style of writing is rambling, diffuse, and mostly incoherent. The excuse provided is the 'Difficulty in conveying, in a language that is not one's own, the spirit that is one's own.' The narration is, allegedly, flowing and digressive. While the individual words seem to make perfect sense, the sentences are just meaningless and insurmountable chunks of lettering. As you read through the novel, it would seem, initially, as if everything was progressing just as it should be, but sit back for a moment, and all you will be able to recall are long meandering lumps of writing separated by periods.

The Story
The story, at the beginning, is very boring. That sort of sets the tone for the entire book.
Kanthapura is the story of a village in South India called, very predictably, Kanthapura. The narrator is a widow named Achakka. Kanthapura, according to her, is much like other villages. It is divided along caste lines, but is, at the same time, harmonious and united. All the villagers are mutually bound in their social and economic functions.
Religion plays an important part in the village, and the two main religious influences are 'Kenchamma', the village Goddess, and Himavathy, the river flowing near Kanthapura. The various ceremonies and festivals held in the village hold the villagers together religiously.
The story has two main individual leaders, Mahatma Gandhi, who, very wisely, chooses to remain out of the novel, and Moorthy, the main protagonist. The story takes off, if it ever does, when Moorthy, a young Brahmin, suddenly gets influenced by the Mahatma. He starts spreading the Mahatma's message among the villagers. He visits the city sometime during the beginning of the narrative, and returns a 'Gandhi Man'. The villagers, in the absence of anything better to do, start taking Moorthy seriously.
Moorthy gets support from Rangamma, a kind old widow, Ratna, a hot young widow, and Patel Range Gowda, a man. Together, they form a Congress committee in Kanthapura and, as per the Mahatma's philosophy, start mingling with the lower castes. They face skeptisicm from many, like the foul-mouthed Venkamma. They also face opposition from Bhatta (an ass) and Swami (a local religious leader), who threatens them with excommunication. All this becomes too much for Moorthy's mother, Narsamma, to handle. She cries a lot, and then, very prudently, makes a hasty exit from the lousy-excuse-for-a-novel. In other words, she dies.
The real resistance comes from the British, symbolized by a horny white man at the Skeffington Coffee Estate, and Bade Khan. As Moorthy expands his committee, the British get impatient, and finally send policemen to arrest Moorthy. The villagers protest, but Moorthy gives himself up silently and peacefully, and urges the villagers to do the same, if and when the need arose. He is taken to Karwar, where he refuses the services of a lawyer, thinking that The Truth shall protect him. When he finds out it won't, it is too late, and he ends up spending 3 months in jail.
In Moorthy's absence, Sankar takes his place at the head of the Congress committee. The British bribe the Swami with fertile land. The villagers fast for 3 days for Moorthy, and then the women decide to form a Sevika Sangh. Their husbands object, ostensibly because they thought the women would neglect their chores, but actually because they thought they weren't getting laid frequently enough. The men and women, however, soon reach a compromise (I think they drew up a schedule) and start working together for the greater good.
When Moorthy is released, he picks up where he had left off. Soon after, Gandhi launches the Non-Cooperation movement with the Dandi March. The villagers follow the march carefully, and start preparing for their own Non-Cooperation movement.
That's when the toddy shop business begins. The people of Kanthapura, in a fit of enthusiastic impracticality, decide to picket the toddy shops. They are joined by volunteers from the cities, and coolies from Skeffington.
So the villagers march to picket, but encounter the police en route. The policemen have guns, and they use them. They also beat the villagers mercilessly. Moorthy and a few other people get arrested. A couple of people die. One woman gets raped, and another delivers a child. All this amidst a one-sided, LOTR-style war scene.
The policemen win. They start wreaking havoc on Kanthapura. The women who are left behind decide to burn the village, rather than let the fields and houses fall into the hands of the oppressors. The village, therefore, burns, and in the end, there remains neither man nor mosquito in Kanthapura.
Then begins the journey to another village. The women reach a place called Kashipura after going through many difficulties. Once there, they stay there.
The Mahatma, in the meanwhile, signs a treaty with the Viceroy that frees all the non-violent prisoners. Many villagers, including Ratna, are released, and return to tell the villagers at Kashipura the conditions inside the prisons. Moorthy, however, does not return to Kashipura. Seeing his ambitions thwarted, he reacts in a way common to the youth in those days. He goes over to the Nehru Camp. However, he soon realizes that playing second fiddle to a well-dressed, young and smooth-talking man is a much more difficult and frustrating task than playing second fiddle to an old, bald, half-naked and bespectacled one. He then becomes disillusioned with life and the Freedom Struggle, becomes an inveterate alcoholic, comes out of the closet, and, on not receiving the public acceptance and sympathy he had hoped for, commits suicide.

The Message
There are two rather important messages that the novel deals with.
Firstly, the role of the National Struggle in changing the very framework under which our society traditionally functioned. Throughout the narrative, we see the gradual blurring of caste lines. We see how the village changed and became a strong unit in the face of crises, and most importantly, how the changes in the village structure came not from the outside or due to any external agent, but from the inside, due to the efforts put in by the villagers. Moorthy plays a very important role in the novel in this regard.
Secondly, the Feminine Principle fundamental to the narrative. While the novel does not explicitly question the then existing gender equations, it does tell us the rising importance of women in society, and how that rising importance was both a cause and effect of the National Movement. While subjects like equality and husband-wife relations have not been questioned, they have been commented upon. Most importantly, it has been mentioned that the women of India played an active part in India's struggle for Independence, and while they might not have been viewed as equals by men then, they were not treated with outright contempt either.

That about wraps it up for Kanthapura.

If you just read this post, and still can't understand a thing, here's what you do. Memorize the following phrases. Learn them up by heart. Then use them lavishly in you minor answers. I guarantee results.
1. "Microcosm of the Indian National Movement"
2. "You son of a Concubine."
3. Peaceful Non-violence/Non-violent Peace/Satyagraha
4. "Corner-House Moorthy"
5. "You son of a Concubine."
6. "Kenchamma Kenchamma"
7. "Picket-Toddy-Shop"
8. "You son of a Concubine."

On the 1st of August, from about 11 to 12, May The Force Be With You.

27 Comments:

Blogger Phoenix said...

Thanx for ur painstaking enlightening views..i appreciate ur effort, but readers must employ their discretion while coptin down ur phrases...:P
I mean, if i write, that this lousy-excuse-for-a-novel is a significant piece in Indian Writing in English because of it's broken battered language, choicest insults, rambling and diffuse writing style where the protagonist is taken seriously only because ppl have nothing better to do and i actually a disillusioned inveterate alcoholic obsessed with a hot widow, I'm sure to flunk it.

BTW, if i remember correctly, the last part of the story that u've mentioned...However....suicide is NOT actually in the story itself. I guess it's there in the sequel.

7:13 am, August 31, 2005  
Blogger Phoenix said...

On the 1st of August, from about 11 to 12, May The Force Be With You.



SEPTEMBER

Sorry, but just had to!
[:P]

7:58 am, August 31, 2005  
Blogger Ménk said...

A fact that many ppl liked to know was that Moorthy's actual name was Moorthappa. And OYEEE manu. after 4 painstricken nights i somehow managed to read the entire book but anywayz i had missed many facts that i have now come to know from ur post so thanx.

3:11 pm, August 31, 2005  
Blogger rohan said...

Mr Raja Rao, I think, just turned in his grave...

2:41 pm, September 01, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mann...
lol

12:58 pm, September 02, 2005  
Blogger Aseem said...

Moorthy gets support from Rangamma, a kind old widow, Ratna, a hot young widow, and Patel Range Gowda, a man.

Funny.

4:39 pm, September 03, 2005  
Blogger Manu Saxena said...

Thank you. Thank you very much.

6:38 pm, September 03, 2005  
Blogger Aseem said...

(sigh)

8:34 pm, September 03, 2005  
Blogger Gounder Brownie said...

HAHAHHAHAHHAHA :) I never managed to get beyond the first ten pages. Thank you, I have my Indian Writing paper on the 21st.

Btw, I'm doing English Literature in Chennai and quite a few of my classmates have read this post in the hope of passing the exam :p

10:55 am, November 17, 2005  
Blogger sukriti said...

I know exactly what you mean when u say kanthapura sucks i'm doing my MA from Pune Univ and we have this stupid idiotic moronic novel and studying it is a complete torture and i 2 think that the only phrase that i'll remember from this novel will be "You son of a Concubine."
you have done justice
lovely yaar completely lovely

1:34 pm, April 11, 2006  
Blogger Sowmya said...

I am not a lit student, but began reading Kanthapura hearing its popularity. But, somehow, I am not able to progress beyong first few pages.... boring..true. Its written in an Oral style. not suited for reading....
S.
http://vbsowmya.wordpress.com

2:22 pm, March 08, 2007  
Blogger Steve said...

I am currently reading this novel for a south asian studies class. I was looking for a plot summary online (seeing as how I cannot keep track of these tens of names, each of which is over five syllables,) and came across your blog; I must agree with you that this novel is the most boring I have read. Over the last two hours I have progressed perhaps 5 pages, simply because my mind (and sometimes my body) wanders while I try to read this irrelevant, meandering monologue disguised as literature. I would suggest that any person required to read this book invest in some form of stimulant in order to stay conscious. I would suggest that any person reading this book voluntarily seek psychological treatment.

~Steve

10:57 pm, March 28, 2007  
Blogger nandita said...

Thanx manu!

5:31 pm, May 30, 2007  
Blogger Needarshana said...

Agree, as a novel, Kanthapura condensed would read “A complete drag, do not read”!

Inspiration:
But, as students of Literature (only this chunk can make it to the end for sure), we have to consider the inclusion of the novel in the curriculum in proper perspective, rather than denouncing it altogether. It is a representative text of a particular genre of writing. The thought process is ‘not-English’ and you will have to appreciate the authenticity of the mother tongue so notably maintained (what if it feels like cycling through a hilly cobblestoned tract).

Inside Story:
I am stuck at Pg. 50 since the last two days and it is beginning to remind me of sedatives now. Fitting in Kanthapura to 8 hours at office, coming home, cooking dinner – is getting morbid, if you ask me! But finish the book I have to.

Advise: Phrase your answers diplomatically. Your examiners will find out if you're all praises.

7:43 am, October 26, 2007  
Blogger P. said...

Oh please. What a load of exaggeration. It might not be the most exciting book in the world, but it's more than readable. Just because it's different from usual fare, and written pre-Independence, is no reason to annihilate it so mercilessly. It's a reading experience if nothing else. Deal with it!

9:30 pm, May 14, 2008  
Blogger vidi said...

Hahahah! "You son of a Concubine" is definitely going down in my paper tomorrow!

6:04 am, November 18, 2008  
Blogger KARA said...

Thank you so very much for this!
You are awesome and my hero.

1:43 am, March 10, 2010  
Blogger Kanika said...

Waaaaat even Chennai and Pune university have included this sporofic text in their curriculum!! And I thought Delhi University people are the only nuts around. Thats some consolation :)Thanks for the summary dude. Have my exam on the 6th of May and was unable to cull enough guts to read the text in time for the exam. Going by my talents for fooling the examiner I think should be able to stretch this into a 5 page answer!!

12:11 pm, April 27, 2010  
Blogger Paavani said...

Thank you for saving me from this idiotic novel.... the most use worthy phrase is "you son of a concubine" lol! i've not been able to progress beyond the first 20 pages of this book. boring is the word that is describes it in the most polite way! and since my exam is day after i was dreading the task of reading this "novel" thanks a bunch!

2:17 pm, May 06, 2010  
Blogger @ngel ~ said...

Very well ... I didnt read all ... but I wouldn't need to read more than few lines...
I have just read Kanthapura , and sorry to say that you are misguiding people , cz its not dat boring , neither it is an idiotic text. It has its meaning and style and purpose ...
I cant help recalling the lines of Stern for his novel Tristram Shandy - -
"I write a careless kind of a civil , nonsensical , good-humoured , Shandian book , which will do all your hearts good ----------
----- And all you heads too - provided you understand it."

At least best works of literature ( by general consideration) should be respected even if you find it - boring ... think like this - there must be something which I couldn't understand.

1:57 pm, October 10, 2010  
Blogger Sam said...

It really isn't that bad. As a stuident of literature you really should be able to respe3ct his fair short yet intriguing book.

9:40 am, February 03, 2011  
Blogger R.T. said...

Wow! :) Not boring at all when you put it like that!
Thumbs up, Mate!

3:02 pm, May 05, 2011  
Blogger isha said...

thankyou for makin it so hilarious.. your blog really helped... keep blogging about more boring books for consistently lazy students like me. :) :)

9:25 pm, May 27, 2011  
Blogger rusmin said...

donno how to thank u, my exams on june8th. btw "you son of a concubine" definitely goes to my paper

6:47 pm, May 29, 2011  
Blogger Shakti said...

ahaha thanks. it's been, um, six years since you posted this and kanthapura is still being shoved down the throats of hapless lit students all over the land. i'm throwing mumbai university into the mix, or maybe just xavier's, they're cruel in their own right. sons of concubines.

sadly my lit prof wouldn't really appreciate your version of events, but i do! i'm feeling much better about failing. well, if not better, then certainly funnier.

-shakti

5:18 am, August 25, 2011  
Blogger sundaydsus said...

I could hug you. Why with more amazing books than one could read in a lifetime do instructors assign boring ass books like this? My professor is such a windbag he probably sleeps with a copy of Kanthapura under his pillow. Thanks for your funny and helpful summary. I will now skim through the remaining 140 pages at my leisure.

11:20 pm, February 13, 2014  
Blogger Annie said...

Rofl!! Your mind blowing critical analysis of Kanthapura has put the life back into this 'more dead than a dead rat' novel!! "You son of a Concubine!"....epic presentation of a quote!! ;-)
Carry on the good work of humourous critical appraisals. You rock!!

9:22 am, September 04, 2014  

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