To tell a tale-16
In the novel, Krishna Rao invokes Karl Marx, and legendary epics like Mahabharatham, Bhagavadgeetha, classic poetry like Kalahastheeswara Satakam many times.
The narrative of Puppets is divided into thirty five chapters. Every chapter begins with a simple, exterior description that sets the required tone to its narrative. The narrative is authorial and it is also a meta narrative. Most of the main characters are introduced in the first chapter and then the story moves with great speed and ease.
Each chapter begins with a description that serves as a backdrop to the action of the chapter. Two examples are given below: (Puppets, Pg.120)
Pitch–black darkness. The chirping of crickets. A star twinkled here and there. It was like the country’s oral scene. Rachchabanda, kacheri chavidi and the pyols of the library looked like the homes of indigent farmers that grain procurement officers just visited. Dogs whined. Their sound- the low groans of starved creatures. Tillikalu shone with a rare gleam like the wise in a society plunged in ignorance. The pervading gloom was like the blind darkness of the unknown future. (Tillikalu…a tillika is an earthen saucer with oil and wick, used as a lamp. Tillikalu is plural.)
Chapter 21 opens with a talk of the servant couple Subbadu and Rami, who were a bit scared by the sound of the moaning dog, and their conversations moves on to death and demons. Suddenly, to their horror, they notice somebody walking mysteriously on the terrace. They realize that it is Pullayya in distress and once they are relieved of fear, the news of Lakshamamma’s severe illness hits them.
Thus the tempo is sustained throughout the narrative. Every chapter has something unexpected and surprisingly fresh.
In the Chapter 12, Rama Rao delivers a speech on the righteous path to the students and then realises that the exactly the opposite thing happens at his own home. In the Chapter 13 the house of Panthulu and Padma is torched exactly when they are indulged in a pleasant conversation .Their romantic illusion gets punctured and they realise the truth when they notice panic rats.
Thus begins the Chapter 19: “The poets of the past used words that were not entirely meaningful as fillers, either at end of the line or in the gaps of the poem’s structure just to adhere the to the rules of prosody. Likewise today’s politicians when unable to solve problems, administer ordinances, make arrests, order lathi charges and arrange judicial custody. In both prosody and politics these are expressions of incompetence: from an aesthetic point of view the first, and from law of life the second are reprehensible. The wise find both intolerable but the later is more disgusting because escape from the former is possible. If we don’t like a book we can toss it away. The later is different. To try and get rid of a distasteful government is short of fatal. It may appear that unpopular governments can be dislodged in democratic countries. But an examination of recent history proves how illusory the possibility is.” (Puppets, Pg. 109)
The imagery of the passage reflects contemporary socio-political conditions. There is authorial intrusion in the narrative. The narrative is a meta narrative, didactic, simple and critical.
Narrative is rhetorical at times. The similes and metaphors infuse the truthfulness to the narrative. Usage of proverbs, historical details, references to classic texts and epic heroes are spread throughout the novel. The references are wide ranging from folktales to Epics and colloquial to classical. The emphasis more on the tone (dhwani) than on the visual (drshti) provides textual plurality.
Puppets is a satire on the contemporary life. Every chapter ends with curious observations extending the suspense that spurs the reader to move on to the next one. Krishna Rao’s use of many proverbs and popular idioms from different walks of Telugu society enriches his narrative. Some examples:
- Were these pots of clays permanent? (Puppets, Pg. 63) (Philosophical)
- Smearing your floor with cow dung won’t make a festival. (illalakagaane pandaga kaadu) (Puppets, Pg.119)
- Even if the skies fall…( Aakaasam oodi padinaa) (Puppets, Pg.100 )
- The egg came to mock the chicken (pillocci guddunu vekkirinchindanta) (Puppets, P.97)
- Who knew what snake lay waiting in which ant hill? (Eputtalo Epaamundo) (Puppets, Pg.65 )
- Yadhaa raja tathaa prajaa (As the king, so the people.) (Puppets, Pg.206)
- Karna died in the hands of six (araynagaa karnudeelge naarvurichetan)
- The epic hero Arujuna boasts that he killed Karna, the virtuous. In the legendary battle, Mahabharata. Lord Krishna reveals him, Karna’s death was in six people’s hands. (Puppets, Pg. 201)
- “And for the establishment of righteousness, I came into being from age to age.” (Puppets, Pg. )
- “They say that once when a king asked for milk ,a merchant thought he could safely pour water when so many others had brought pure milk” (Puppets, Reference to a popular folktale where everyone in the kingdom thinks the same and at the end the king’s milk collection pot is filled with water but not milk. Emphasising the social psychology of irresponsibility. (Puppets, Pg. 203)
- Like a piece of cloth,/ like a rope and serpent ,/ like silvery oyster –shell /like a frail pot , like a milky stone flushed red beside a coral flower…/ thus the vile minds mouth great thoughts/without any bliss in their hearts,/ These wretched ones try to gain at the tiniest sound, oh Srikalahateeswara! (Puppets, Pg.186)
- Oh Sri Kalahasteeswara! How unhappy it is that some, / Slaying others wish to attain power,/ and lead a carefree life!/ Won’t such people die or lose their wealth?/ Will they live in bliss forever/ With sons, friends, wives and others?/ Won’t they die?( Puppets, Pg. 187)
The narrator of the novel Puppets is neutrally overt. The Narrative is Hetero diegetic and the narrative mode is Omniscient. The Narrator’s voice is mild and pensive that suits the story.
In the incipit, two important characters are introduced, the farmer and his bullock. The story later reveals that a bullock is worth of lives of two human beings.
The opening sentence has ample hints of the forthcoming tragedy, the dark tresses yet to be spread and the pot holes on the road. The cart full of crop indicates the required balance to handle the situation. “If the cart overturned, or its axle broke… he would have to keep an all –might vigil right there on the road.”(Puppets, P.1)
G.V.Krishna Rao often quotes the Sanskrit couplet,
“Awareness of words, meaning and grammar would not make Learned. Learned is one who knows the nature and the essence of the text and meaning.” (G.V. Krishna Rao, naa sahitee yaatra , kaavya jagattu , All India Radio , Pg 178)
His high school teacher Sastri advised him “A document must always be lucid like a peeled banana. That is the greatest writing.” (G.V. Krishna Rao, naa sahitee yaatra , kaavya jagattu , All India Radio , Pg 178)
G.V.Krishana Rao realised that complex phrases and tough words would not make the text a great one and it is the tone of the narrator that distinguishes a novel. Tone is conveyed through diction, point of view, syntax, and level of formality. Tone is a literary element of composition, which encompasses the attitudes towards the subject and toward the audience implied in a literary work. Tone may be formal, informal, intimate, solemn, sombre, playful, serious, ironic, condescending, or many other possible attitudes. Each piece of literature has at least one theme, or central question about a topic, and how the theme is approached within the work is known as the tone. Authors set a tone in literature by conveying emotions or feelings through words. Diction and syntax often dictate what the author’s (or character’s) attitude toward his subject.
J.K. Mohana Rao rightly points out “Dhwani mainly deals with the emotions or the “resonant field of emotions” in poetry. The poet and the reader must be on the same “wave length” to appreciate the poetry.” (J.K. Mohana Rao, A personal interview by Chandra Latha)
An Ironical narrative tone is set in the novel Puppets. Irony is a rhetorical device or a literary technique characterized by an incongruity, or contrast, between what the expectations of a situation are and what is really the case. There is a threefold textual Irony in this novel, Situational, Dramatic and Verbal. The ironic form of simile, used in sarcasm, and some forms of litotes can emphasize one’s meaning by the deliberate use of language which states the opposite of the truth, denies the contrary of the truth, or drastically and obviously understates a factual connection.
The narrative tone, ironical, is set the invocation itself. The concluding line of the two verses means exactly the opposite.
O heart, Weep not for the motherland. (Puppets, Invocation)
This sentence is a litotes, an ironical understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of its contrary. The author wants every citizen to weep for the motherland and to think, feel and take up some action or the other to reform the newly formed Independent country. The denouncement and denial of action is exactly what the author never wants. Nidadavolu Malati says, “Krishna Rao was a seeker of Truth, philosophical commentator. He is one of the very few who have continued pursuit of their literary activities, reflecting on one’s dharma, virtue, and total commitment.” C.Vijaya Sri also points out “Critical realism as the fundamental form of narrative in the novel the Puppets. The novel provided the forum for critiquing all forms of domination and authority including colonialism, feudalism, the caste system and structure, and patriarchal ideology.” (Puppets, Introduction)
Puppets deals with the early years of post-independent India and with rural Indians and their lifestyles, morals, and beliefs. According to the theory of Critical realism the theory of knowledge, or epistemology, is different form a theory of being, or ontology. There is a reality which exists independent of its human conception. Critical realists believe that there are unobservable events which cause the observable ones; as such, the social world can be understood only if people understand the structures that generate such unobservable events. Verbal, dramatic, and situational irony are often used for emphasis in the assertion of a truth.
Sarcasm is a figure of speech in which the intended meaning is the opposite of that expressed by the words used; usually taking the form of sarcasm or ridicule in which laudatory expressions are used to imply condemnation or contempt. Puppet is sarcastic to the core. The conversation between a friend and Chandrashekharam is a perfect example to sarcasm:
“Isn’t it better to print counterfeit currency notes than to forge promissory notes?”
“A forged document? Who has committed forgery?”(Puppets, Pg.18)
In Puppets, even the introspections or the interior monologues of some characters are filled with irony and sarcasm. For example Ramarao introspects, in this typical dialogic self.
“What should we do now?’
“Why such sarcasm?
“Sarcasm? There are people howling for food and here you are obstinately refusing to eat?”( Puppets, Pg.70)
In the very beginning of the novel itself the reader is given the truth. Pullayya reveals what bothers him to keep it a secret from his wife as he is scared of loosing his reputation in the village. Panthulu describes in detail how the money was kept in the suspense account. Ramarao also knows the truth and he reveals it to his sister, his mother, Panthulu and doctor. But, no one could stop the consequences of uttering the lie. The lie is alive and established as the ultimate truth. Adharma wins over dharma. Thus the irony of the situation is that nobody is a hero by the end of the novel.
In the 5th chapter Pullayya bursts out. “It’s a lie, a complete lie.”, ”I did not sign any paper in that hotel room .” His tone was firm but the reader is aware that it is a lie. (Puppets, P 30)
Such dramatic irony is evident from the beginning of the novel to the end. Everybody knows that Dharma is lost and Adharma won. But Laxmamma, Pullayya’s wife says,
“Dharma alone wins. This is an example for the whole world.”
“True. What, other than truth and dharma, can win?” said Pullayya. (Puppets, Pg. 214)
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).