To tell a tale-13
In his detailed essay, Rationalism and Naturalism, Gopichand declares, “I agree that there are limitations to Rationalism. But, only rationalism can explore the truth …Natural knowledge is acquired in the human evolution. Even before we tried to know it, we have it. Knowledge acquired by human experience is handed over from generation to generation. It did not stop with animals. Rational beings will have the natural instincts as well.” (Gopichand, post cheyani uttaraalu)
In The Bungler Sitarama Rao realizes the natural knowledge and tries to identify himself with nature. His talk with the Gecko on the wall, addressing it as sister and the conversation with the shrub calling it brother, are symbolic expressions of the man identifying with the nature. He says,
“Gecko, you and I have some affinity .Once upon a time I too was happy, carefree, catching insects. Now, look at my plight. But, I am in you and you are in me.”(The Bungler, Pg. 92)
Later, he identifies himself with Caltrops shrubs as well. When he finds Caltrops shrubs grown at his father’s grave, he reflects, “Calitropis shrubs grew densely there. His father was responsible for his birth. His father was responsible for the birth of these shrubs!” To his astonishment and, unlike the gecko, the shrub moves and calls him, “Brother!” (The Bungler, Pg.160)
Sitarama Rao’s daughter notices her learned father’s lack of natural knowledge. She is surprised how a grownup is not aware of simple things of life. With all her innocence, she lists what all her father didn’t know. She tells her mother,
“Really, mother, he didn’t know. The other day when I asked him what was in the stars, he said he did not know and was wild with me,” said the daughter,
“Really, mother, you ask him. Ask him how the wind comes. Ask him how high the sky is. Ask him the uses of coconut palm. Ask him how the oil is made…” (The Bungler, Pg. 36)
Gopichand avows, “Our learning ability is rooted in the learning instinct.”
This change from Rationalism to Naturalism in Gopichand’s outlook is not sudden. Gopichand was influenced by Russell’s essay “Can men be Rational?” Russell explains, “To begin with rationality in opinion; I should define it merely as a habit of taking account of all relevant evidence in arriving at a belief…Where certainty is unattainable, a rational man will give most weight to the most probable opinion, while retaining others, which have an appreciable probability, in his mind as hypothesis which subsequent evidence may show to be preferable.” (Bertard Russel. Can men be rational? Sceptical Essays, George Allen & Unwin Ltd.1928. Pg.33)
Sitarama Rao builds a fictional world based on his own questions and his own answers. Ironically, later he says that we are born for no reason and have to live without one. But, he keeps on questioning until he gets his desired answer. At the end, he gets tired of reasoning.
Existentialism proposes that “each individual-not society or religion-is solely responsible for giving meaning to life and living it passionately and sincerely (authentically)”. Existentialists believe that “philosophical thinking begins with the human subject-not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual.” The individual’s starting point is characterized by what is called “the existential attitude” or a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world. But Nihilism suggests “the negation of one or more putatively meaningful aspects of life...” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Nihilism) Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value .Moral nihilists assert that morality does not inherently exist, and that any established moral values are abstractly contrived. Nihilism can also take epistemological or ontological/ metaphysical forms, meaning respectively that, in some aspect, knowledge is not possible, or that reality does not actually exist. Nihilism is sometimes used along with anomie “to explain the general mood of despair at a perceived pointlessness of existence that one may develop upon realizing there are no necessary norms, rules, or laws”. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nihilism)
Sitarama Rao realizes at the end of his life that life is an illusion. “He shouts “illusion…illusion” (The Bungler, Pg. 156) and runs towards cremation ground at the end. According to Buddhist Monk Nagarjuna’s concept of Soonya vaada or the Mādhyamikas, “all phenomena are empty of “self nature” or “essence” (Sanskrit: Svabhāva), meaning that they have no intrinsic, independent reality apart from the causes and conditions from which they arise.” (http://www.tamqui.com/buddhaworld/ Madhyamaka)
The philosophical journey of Sitarama Rao is precisely presented in the novel. In the beginning of the novel, he wants to give a new meaning to life. His urge has an above normal life. Life demands competence and skill to implement the ideas and ideals. Sitarama Rao can think ideas and ideals but, cannot attempt to realize them. He wants the world to arrange everything perfectly for him.
The novel, The Bungler, presents a debate of the two important philosophies of the time, rationalism and existentialism which are interrelated but not separate entities. Existentialism regards the “traditional systematic or academic philosophies, in both style and content, as too abstract and remote from concrete human experience. “So, does rationalism. Bertard Russels notes the limitations of rationalism and to understand and develop enough intelligence based on rationalist outlook. He says, Man is rational in proportion as his intelligence informs and controls his desires.”(Russel, Bertard.Can men be rational? Sceptical Essays. George Allen & Unwin Ltd.1928. Pg.33)
Sitarama Rao is a rationalist in principle. Eventually, he turned himself into a lunatic. Sitarama Rao learnt to question and enquire but, then he need to take a choice of multiple answers and arrive a conclusion. This is done entirely in his comfort zone. This choice of the answers is an outcome of his mind and his psyche. As Russels notes, “Complete rationality is no doubt an unattainable ideal, but so long as we continue to classify some men as lunatic it is clear that we think some men are more rational than others. Pragmatism emphasizes the irrationality of opinion and psycho-analysis emphasizes on irrationality of conduct.” Referring to the same essay in his “Letters never posted,” Gopichand accepts it.
Gopichand is aware of the second thinking among western philosophers and his social consciousness and psychological understanding challenged the limitations of rationalism as well. Critics like RS Sudarshanam and Koduri Srirama Murthy consider The Bungler as an outcome of his moral dilemma…, “Koduri Srirama Murthy rightly says.” The inherited rationalism from his father and the ideas beyond rationalism created a conflict in Gopichand tearing him apart, and to overcome the dilemma and the grief, he created Sitarama Rao, “Sitarama Rao’s life indicates the danger that Gopichand escaped.” (Koduri Srirama Murthy. Telugulo konni prasiddha manovisleshana navalaalu, asamarthuni jeeva yathra, Telugu sahithyamlo manovishleshana. Visalandhra Publishing House, 2001. Pg. )
RS Sudarshanam, reading the autobiographical element of the novel, finds that Gopichand took a good look at himself in creating Sitarama Rao. By then, Gopichand was the secretary of the Radical Humanist Party of MN Roy. His personal, professional and social life evidently competent, famous and brightly remarkable. His ideological transition or change is open and he discussed his thought process in his writings... “Gopichand asserts, “Any single theory is not enough to explain. We need to gather good in each theory and move on … Change is inevitable and continuous. Every change is a methodological outcome but, not a miracle.”(Gopichand. Rationalism and Naturalism , Post cheyani uttaraalu)
The critics got the hint of the autographical element from the dedication of the novel to his father who taught him “why?” Interestingly, the dedication which is a personal choice becomes a social issue as the novel is a critique on rationalism. Thus the dedication becomes an integral part of the novel.
A cultural de-colonization was an inevitable and important shift in the thought process or the de-colonization of the mind of the post-colonial writers. As Eminent Historian KN Panikkar observes “History of the any epoch is continuously re-read and re-written, not necessarily by historians alone. The social scientist’s engagement with this phenomenon has primarily been with the economic and political structures created by colonialism, and their impact on the society. Literary interrogation draws attention to a dimension generally missing in the academic discourse: how colonialism undid personal and social relations, and thus brought untold tragedy into human lives.” (8) The cultural decolonization was not always a conscious effort but, it was the period of change. Gopichand was one of the most important Telugu writers who lived during two world wars, great depression and national freedom movement and at the verge of, political independence.
Gopichand discusses in detail about the story and narrative and his attempt to seek its roots in Indian ethnicity. The Bungler is not confined to rationalism, existentialism, naturalism or nihilism. It is a second thought on multiple views. A kind of wrong application and misinterpretation appears to be a global issue. Acknowledging the important therapeutic role that psycho-analysis played in the treatment of those affected with War–neurosis after the World wars, Russell makes a serious denial of the One–point treatment to all issues, referring to the unnecessary application of the Freudian Psycho-analysis.
Gopichand expresses similar hesitation, a bit ironically, while he expresses that his latest choice of stories were that of Pearl S.Buck, “One may question about my hesitation. Based on my literary tastes, I wonder what disorders that the recent psychoanalysts attribute to me.”
Gopichand visualized a fusion of personal autonomy and social consciousness which was mandatory for the newly emerged country. But he got disillusioned by the immorality of the leaders of the new country. Sitarama Rao asks Ramaiah, “Grand Father… I still don’t know what my fault is…what sin I have committed which others haven’t, Grandfather? I don’t know anything.” Then Ramayya, answers, “Cultivate a social stance and look ahead. Learn to see society as a whole , not in bits.” (The Bungler, Pg. 155)
As KN Panikkar puts it “Literary engagement with the colonial experience is a crucial input in the process of decolonisation. A necessary prerequisite of decolonisation is the generalisation of social consciousness about myriad ways in which colonial cultural hegemony is realized.” (K.N. Panikkar, Colonisation, Culture and Resistance, Oxford University Press, 2007)
D.S.Rao also points out, “Gopichand innovates and probes the depths of his protogonist’s psyche. Where Gorki develops a third morality of “support the revolution.” (The Bungler, Introduction) Gopichand ridicules Marxist postulates and points to the power of the evil to the good, whatever the garb.” Analyzing various incidents in the novel, D.S. Rao concludes, “No two novelists could be more different from each other in their subject and structure as Gorki and Gopichand in these two novels.” (The Bungler, Introduction)
There are gaps in the novel between the arrangement of the narrative frames. As Maddipati Krishna Rao observes Sitarama Rao’s odd behaviour in the office, which was never noticed in the novel earlier, is totally “unusual to his nature.” (http://eemaata.com/em/issues/201003/1543.html అసమర్ధుని జీవయాత్రే! Krishna Rao Maddipati Pg. 21)
There is no strong base or reason for Sitarama Rao’s sudden fall into insanity. His heckling, loose comments, insane laughter are at strife with each other. (Madhav Machavaram 20) rightly observes, “There is no link between the background of the novel and the philosophy in it. The gap exists as the novelist didn’t choose a philosophical thought process to portray an incompetent person but, Gopichand created and used Sitarama Rao to transcend his philosophical argument. Because of that, Sitrarama Rao is degraded to a lunatic state, but not maintained an incompetent alone.”
The relation between the good samatarian Ramayya and SitramaRao does not have a strong bondage. Ramayya plays a major role in the novel but he becomes a rootless one-dimensional character. Minimum details like Sitarama Rao’s age, children, nature of education and so on are not given precisely. There is always a reference of “children” and more clearly two children and three miscarriages but, there is only one girl child that appears in the novel. But Sitarama Rao mentions a son in his delusion. The long speech of Ramayya at the conclusion, is total out of place. Some of the features of symbolism and magic realism can be traced out in The Bungler.
Sitarama Rao identifies himself with a calistropis shrub. The concluding lines of the novel are:
Sitaram Rao clenched his teeth, tightened his fists, concentrated all his energy and suddenly rose. He jumped on his likeness, and held its neck with both hands. He pressed, squeezed, squeezed with all his strength. His likeness was splitting blood. He kept squeezing the neck. The eyes of his likeness fell out, two bloody eggs……….he broke its neck, like a chicken. With a piercing scream he fell down. He murdered himself.” (The Bungler, Pg. 167)
The end of Sitarama Rao in the attempt to kill his shadow, his alter ego, kills himself almost like Hyde killing Dr. Jekyll, his another self in The Picture of Dorian Gray. The conclusion borders on magic realism as it is a fusion of realism and fantasy.
As D.S.Rao rightly observes, Gopichand uses simple style and avoids rhetoteric. Similes and metaphors are derived straight from the day to day life. He knows how to use puns. Avula Samba Siva Rao points out that his “usage of delicate and simple Telugu was possible because of his authority on the language. People who are aware of simple Telugu were also could able to read his writings.” (Gopichand. Documentary)
His use of short and plain sentences in the conversation makes the reader to identify immediately. For example:
“Baby –” he called. .
“Is it still aching?”
“A little less now, father.” (The Bungler, Pg. 88)
When Ramayya tries to discuss his abnormal behavior Sitarama Rao’s short and tense replies are powerful enough to communicate something which is not possible with verbosity.
“Have you gone mad?”
“Are you mad?”
“You are a mad man.”
“I am a mad man?”
“Oh, yes. Certainly.”
“Who is a mad man?”
“What is madness?”
“Me… a mad man!” (The Bungler, Pg. 124)
Sitarama Rao’s encounter with his shadow is presented in a similar way:
“Who are you?”
“I’m your father’s son.”
“Then who am I?”
“You are my shadow.”
“What did you think? You are a form without a heart, a skeleton without a form !” The shadow said. (The Bungler, Pg. 163)
The way that Gopichand repeats words creates recurring images that prepares the reader for the repeated action. The crow hits Sitarama Rao repeatedly. His child hits the yanadi girl. He hits his child. He hits his wife and, the crow hits him again. Mob hit Sitrama Rao. He hits himself.
Dog follows Sitarama Rao all through the novel. He calls his wife a dog. When he expresses anger, his wife looks at him like a dog. Even after hitting, dog follows. Dog sleeps in his bed. He calls his maternal uncle a dog. He wonders how many dogs he can buy with the money he paid to his uncle. Uncle retorts him referring to dog-mind. He says that a dog will eat a shoe even if it is placed on a golden thrown i.e., dog is a dog wherever it is placed, dog follows him to the cremation ground also. The repeated usage of the word “why?” indicates the psychological state of mind of Sitarama Rao.
Recurrence of ideas, symbols and images give great strength to the narrative of the novel:
- “Onlookers pity on its downfall. No one can say whether the brook knows it or not.” (The Bungler, Pg. 1)
- “He had hit… He had hit his wife! Jutkas were running in the bazaar. Everyone was busy with his business. The world went on as usual. The sun would set in the west and rise in the east. Wasn’t there any connection between this world and his hitting his wife…?” (The Bungler, Pg. 101)
- “His limbs acquired full freedom; to catch to its whim, one had no control over the other…..Outwardly, there was no difference except that he was walking faster than before.” (The Bungler, Pg. 126)
Every sentence written in the narrative provides suggestions for multiple interpretations. Devulapalli Krishna Sasthri rightly observes, “In every sentence Gopichand wrote, he sought social benefit. Each sentence reminds his social consciousness. His literary effort was like a penance. He lighted a torch with his fame.” (Gopichand Documentary Part 1 to 3. https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=YRq12T_rXZk)
Some words and idioms are not easy to be translated into English. As the translator points out the title of the novel, Asamarthuni Jeevithayathra, was difficult to be translated because of its philosophical overtone. In the last chapter, Sitarama Rao sits near a rain tree, “nidra ganneru” which indicates sleep or peace or rest.
Chandra Latha, writer from Nellore won Telugu Association of North America award in 1997 for the novel “Regadi vittulu”. Her other novels are Vardhani(1995) and Vallu veellu paarijaataalu (2011). Her short fiction includes nearly 80 stories compiled in nenu nanna navutha (1996),Idam shareeram (2003) and vivarnam(2007). Her non-fiction are (Fish can fly!) ”vacche daretu(2010), itanala kadaku eeboothi boTlu(2010). And also published her blogposts in a book madata pejee(2010).