To tell a tale-9

-Chandra Latha


Falling From the Peak : The Bungler


The second chapter, titled The Bungler’s wife, focuses on Indira. With the humble financial support from her father, Indira, who is in her advance stage of pregnancy, manages the household. Her daughter considers of dropping out of the school as they are unable to pay her school fee. However, Bungler’s wife wants to take care of her husband’s needs and convinces her child to wake him up for the bed coffee. 

        The third chapter, The Bungler’s Idealism, begins when Sitrama Rao dreams about his penance and the boons that God Siva and Parvati grant him and how the celestial beauties come down the heavens to feed him. Then, he wakes up but reluctant to get up from the bed as he is afraid that his wife may ask him to get rice to cook food. When he wakes up he wants to reject coffee and smash the glass tumbler to the wall. Instead, he gulps the coffee down. And then, he broods on why there is no food and why there are no attempts by great people to solve this issue. After a debate with his friends Sitarama Rao concludes that the difference between human and animal is that animal has no hope or despair but human has both. He says that man is born without reason and shall live without one. Otherwise, human being will perish. 

            The Fourth chapter, The Bungler’s Maternal Uncle, opens when Sitarama Rao’s maternal uncle writes him a letter in reply to his previous correspondence.  When his uncle does not respond to his letter in which he  asks  his uncle to send him  Rs.100/-, Sitarama Rao writes a fierce letter reminding his uncle about his generous act of settling huge debt to  nominal amount and  tells him that a dog would have been more loyal than his uncle.  In his reply, His uncle denounces that Sitarama Rao has a lineage of lust for flattery and his hedonist behavior and feudal nature reflect in his hypocrisy. He describes how Sitarama Rao’s mother suffered in the hands of her husband and her husband’s sister. And, how she used to serve food to her brother like a thief in her home and how she used to cry secretly about Sitarama Rao’s resemblances to his father. He also mentions that Sitarama Rao’s father-in-law wants his daughter to leave Sitarama Rao alone and to come back to his house. Uncle observes that men like Sitarama Rao have good wives and observes that men like him humiliate their wives. At the end, his uncle rejects to give him any money. Sitarama Rao gets very angry and he thinks “…. the illiterate, the foolish, the silly – to all he was a fair game.” (The Bungler, Pg.75) He picks up a pen to write a fiery reply but draws a caricature of conspiracy of his uncle and father-in-law instead.

          The fifth chapter, The Bungler’s Valour, explains how his uncle’s letter triggered off a silent volcano in Sitarama Rao’s heart. When his daughter asks him to help her in drawing water from the well, he starts the bickering and ends up with a fight with his wife. He thinks that his wife jumped into the well, but, finds her alive. He gets more angry and hits the child and then, his wife.

In the Chapter six, The Bungler’s End, Sitarama Rao  thinks that  everything at home is laughing at him. Photographs on the wall and his dairies reveal his tender youth and ideals. He checks his face in the mirror. To his horror his face changed a lot. He starts reasoning about himself. The existential question of his quest dogs him. “Who is he? That gentleman or this devil?” (The Bungler, Pg.108) ‘He’ is himself. He sets out of the house in search of himself. He thinks his friends are responsible for his ruin. He realizes, “Could it be that they have become good-for-nothing because of my company.” (The Bungler, Pg.116) He sets on the road day-dreaming that he becomes a dacoit and stops all the passengers.  A young lady suspects that he would dishonor her, but Sitarama Rao lets her go without any harm.

Then, Sitarama Rao goes to meet an oldman, Ramayya, who was playing with his grandchild. Ramayya calls Sitarama Rao, a madman and, advises him to change his way of life.  Ramayya warns him that he will file a case on behalf of Sitarama Rao’s wife and children. Ramayya warns Sitarama Rao that it is the last scene of the play and so the curtain may fall at any time.              

     Sitarama Rao gets very angry on him and sets out freely on road .He picks up a charcoal, and starts doodling on the walls of the town. He confronts a neatly dressed up gentle man, gets into a hotel and confronts a lawyer.  Then, he stands on a police- post singing aloud and delivers a speech to the gathered crowd around the post. The police man sends Sitarama Rao away.  Sitarama Rao meets a prostitute and later he goes to a public meeting. When he criticizes all the dignitaries on the dais, the mob enjoys. But when he criticizes the mob, the mob including the people on dais become furious. Ramayya reveals to them that Sitarama Rao hit his wife and his child. The mob at once, beats him black and blue and wounded Sitarama Rao escapes the crowd, manages to reach a bridge and sits on the culvert and withdraws into silence. 

          When Ramayya joins Sitarama Rao, Sitarama Rao asks him to convey his remorse to his wife. Ramayya responds that she might have excused him long ago. Sitarama Rao withdraws into more silence and walks down to a Cremation Ground. There, he meets his father, his mother and his own shadow. He gets into a dual with his shadow and his shadow kills him. Until Ramayya identifies the body, nobody recognizes that the corpse was that of Sitarama Rao.

       The narrative in the first chapter in the novel is rather panoramic. As the incipit indicates, in a broad spectrum, the life of Sitarama Rao that begins with the pomp and show of his lineage, flows down the stream very quickly and soon he is left with no job but to lay down on a cot and think.

          The second to the sixth chapters in the novel are close-up shots. The focus moves from the broader narration to rather unique narrative style. The frame is fixed to move along with Sitarama Rao. It starts with the daybreak and ends by night. The morning begins with Sitarama Rao’s wife requesting the child to draw muggu and ends with the withdrawal of the hustle bustle on the bridge. These five chapters reveal the last day of Sitarama Rao’s life.

The incipit: The incipit of The Bungler is a clear indication of the novel’s core idea, the metamorphosis of the protagonist. 

Sitarama Rao’s life is rather odd. What comes to mind is a clear brook falling from a peak to the soil below, mingling with dirt and flowing into a cesspool. We donot know if the brook is aware of its metamorphosis. And if aware, we donot know whether it is anguished by the change. Onlookers pity its downfall. No one can             say whether the brook knows it or not. Sometimes it looks as though it is happy to rid of the ups and downs of the mountains.                                               (The Bungler, Pg.1)

The incipit reflects that the narrator is overt, the narrative type is hetero diegetic, narrative situation is authorial and the narrative mode is omniscient. The incipit introduces a narrator who begins the narrative with an intelligible exposition of the setting of the story.  A purposeful voice is projected to serve certain function of this text. This narrator has a neutral or matter-of-fact voice that presents a sequence of carefully expressed words, terse and laconic statements. The crispy and straight opening sentence “Sitarama Rao’s life is rather odd. “Serves the readers need of introduction of the major character, the anti-hero, with the characteristic of “odd” or some abnormality that awaits the reader in the rest of the novel. However, this sentence doesn’t give any hints of the physical details like age, status, education, job and so on of the character but, straight away takes the reader into the philosophical state of mind of the character. With the usage of the metaphor “the clear brook   metamorphosing into a cesspool,” the narrative moves the reader silently into the narrative situation. 

       The next sentence elaborately explains further, in a simple figurative description how a clear brook falls from a peak to the soil, mingles with dirt and flows into a cesspool.  It reminds the Indian reader of the popular subhashitam (Didactic verse) of Brathruhari, later translated into Telugu by Enugu Laxmanakavi, that describes the decadence of sacred River Ganges from its heavenly abode to paathala (the lower world) which is synonymously quoted as an indication of moral degradation of human being, “always falling lower and lower: even in so many ways is the fall of one whose judgment has departed from him.” The brook mentioned in the incipit of The Bungler, is not a mighty River Ganges but, a small natural stream of fresh water. River Ganges is believed as the sacred river and the purifier of sins, but here the brook is presented exactly with the opposite meaning. The brook becomes more and more dirty adding all the impurities like mud, filth and so on, and becomes profane on its flow downwards. The author hints the reader about the alienation of the brook from its natural behavior and existence. And, hence its journey is rather odd. This oddity is reflected in the journey of the life of Sitarama Rao.

          The narrator adds more insight and the reaction of the onlookers to the brook metaphor, in the same in-different tone and matter-of –fact voice:

We do not know if the brook is aware of its metamorphosis. And if aware, we do not know whether it is anguished by the change. Onlookers pity its downfall. No one can say whether the brook knows it or not. Sometimes it looks as though it is happy to rid of the ups and downs of the mountains.  (The Bungler, Pg.1)                                                                                                                                               

Even though the matter-of-fact narrator expresses the inability of the knowledge of how much the brook, the symbolic reference of the bungler, is aware of the metamorphosis of decadence, reader can understand that the novelist is trying to shift the attention of the reader from the narrator by expressing the limitations for the future narrative. Thus, the text opens up a channel to the reader to explore further deep into the psyche of the narrator.       

This is a wise move of the narrator to involve the reader directly into the text and distancing the narrator from the text. The reader never knows the narrator’s name  as there is no first person references except for the “we”  in the incipit which groups- up the reader with the narrator  bringing the reader into the same narrative domain and the narrator moves away whereas the reader carries on. Moreover, there is no introduction of the narrator and no direct speech. Hence, the narrator remains to stay covert and be an “on looker “and avoids a loud and striking voice. Instead of speaking aloud, the narrator hides behind another important character, old Ramayya whom he calls grandfather.  

The narrative point of view is that of an onlooker and the omniscient narrator distancing from the narrative. The maternal uncle’s letter which is a related narrative, serves the purpose of different and critical point of view about the Bungler. The Lanser’s rule, according to which the gender of the narrator can be identified as that of the author unless there are indications to the contrary (http://www.uni-koeln.De/ ~ame02/pppn.htm Pg.25), is observed throughout as the narrator remains anonymous.  However, a pronoun that is appropriate for the real-life author “he” is used. Hence, the narrator is the author and it is an “authorial” narration. Even though, the incipit speaks about the limitations of the author, the author not only depicts the external life and world of the characters but also, the internal life and characters. 

Narrators can be more or less overt, and more or less covert. Even though, the narrator of this text remains anonymous, the incipit clearly indicates that the voice, the purpose and expression of an overt narrator. The privilege of the knowledge of the narrator confirms that this is a hetero-diegetic narrative situated in a typical authorial narrative situation. Thus, the narrator is overt, omniscient and omnipresent. The narrative is a hetero-diegetic narrative in authorial narrative situation. 

              The very beginning of the novel suggests the end. The narrator expresses anguish whether the brook is aware of the metamorphosis.  And, the onlookers pity on its change. When Sitarama Rao becomes aware of his condition, his mistakes, his journey and above all himself, the novel ends. And, the hint word, “odd”, raises a series of questions.  What is odd? Why is it odd? How can that be odd? Where is odd? When was it odd? The entire narrative of the novel is an exploration of the word “odd”.  It is appropriate to call “odd” as a base word of the entire narrative. Sitarama Rao considers himself above normal and his consideration reaches beyond normal and he becomes abnormal or, simply, odd.

             The Bungler is considered the first psychological and psycho-analytic novel in Telugu.  Sitarama Rao is lost in the philosophical quest that moves from rationalism to naturalism, existentialism to nihilism. The transient narrative relates how this passage effects the psyche of Sitarama Rao. In the psychological novel modern narrative techniques like the stream of consciousness technique, interior monologues and sometimes, flashbacks are employed. The psychological novel relates not only what happens but also the motivation of the action. Character and characterization are more important in it and the emphasis is on the inner life of characters.

    The Bungler is a character-centric novel that portrays the inner persona of Sitarama Rao. It dwells into complexities of his thoughts and feelings exploring into both his external and internal spaces. This novel is not merely a psychological evaluation or assessment of the main character as it tries to understand the circumstances, the effects and consequences on the life of Sitarama Rao and the people involved with him. Sitarama Rao is an ideal neo – modernist who lacks pragmatic approach to the immediate circumstances and consequently he gets disillusioned and ultimately fails. His failure in accepting the change, inability to realize the changes around, failure to understand the consequences of the change, and inability to deal with the situation ultimately succumbs him. It is an ideological change that everybody faces at one stage or the other, but the way that an individual responds varies. Some may survive, few may prevail and others may succumb. Sitarama Rao belongs to the third category. Sitarama Rao’s journey is twined with his philosophical quest that is chiseled in his very existence and incompetence to survive. By identifying themselves with Sitarama Rao the readers become a part of the narrative. 

Koduri Sreerama Murthy points out that Sitarama Rao is a human being in whom there is a conflict between human potentials and limitations. He says, “The Bungler reflects like an excellent mirror of the psyche of those incompetents who mis-utilise the opportunities given by the life and feel happy to seek reasons for the failure.” (Madhav Machavaram. అసమర్థుని జీవయాత్రేనా? 200811/ 1364.html

But Madhav Machavaram expresses that “Sitarama Rao is not an incompetent person but, a psychotic. Because, incompetent won’t possess competence enough to become a psychotic…  Even if this good-for-nothing   becomes a psychotic, he will shrink into himself like implosion but, not explosion on outside world.  Because, an incompetent will not have even that expressive energy.” (Madhav Machavaram, Pg. 20) In his introduction to The Bungler DS Rao, the translator observes, “…the story is in common place; but it becomes uncommon in Gopichand’s hands, for the novelist moves from the outer world to the inner turmoil of Sitarama Rao, from the lofty to ludicrous, from sublime to the pathetic.” (Madhav Machavaram)

       Gopichand employs various narrative techniques ,monologues, dreams, flash backs, songs, poems, dairy, letters, photographs, public speech, audio visuals, caricatures, graffiti, recurrent imagery, symbolism, tragic comedy, magic realism and so on. He extends the psychological pursuits beyond the inner spaces of the characters but also, in other aspects like mob mentality. It is the existential crisis in Sitarama Rao that leads the story. 

          Mohana Prasad identifies the narrative style in The Bungler as “the interior monologue and stream of consciousness.” He further says, “when Sitarama Rao speaks to himself, the outside world speaks to him. There are traces of dramatic monologue as well.” (Vegunta Mohana Prasad. Asamarthuni jeeva yathra, sata vasantha sahithee manjeeraalu. 2002, Andhra Pradesh Library Association. Pg.348)

Sitarama Rao thinks and questions and those questions buzz inside his head and the reader shares all his thoughts and feelings.  Stream of consciousness is a method of narration that describes in words, the flow of thoughts in the minds of the characters and it is a style of writing marked by the sudden rise of thoughts and lack of punctuations.( 



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