To tell a tale-17

(Chapter-3 Part-3)

-Chandra Latha

Situational irony the disparity of intention and result and the result of an action in contrary to the desired or expected is also profusely used in the novel. According to Lars Elleström, Situational irony is  “a situation where the outcome is incongruous with what was expected, but it is also more generally understood as a situation           that includes contradictions or sharp contrasts.”

         Ammayamma approaches Lalitha to send their children to the orphanage but Lalitha refuses. When Ammayamma slyly approaches Pullayya to enquire about Ramarao, Pullayya assigns the responsibility of his son’s handover to police and generously gives her Rs.500/- Ramarao never expects that his cooked up murder story would lead him to solitary imprisonment and Pullayya never imagines in the dream of his dreams that he would be felicitated with the title of Sardar by the minister. Dr.Sastri’s dream of Coffee cup, ultimately results in his decision to leave the village. All these episodes reflect situational irony.

   The Chapter 5 begins with the words: 

“Bharath is a great country and it is our villagers who are responsible for that greatness. This culture is a mystery to city-bred, college-educated youngsters. What does the young crow about the blow from a catapult? The villagers preserve our ancient traditions and practices. In a village, everyone knows everything about everybody else: what this family had for dinner, which home did not light it’s kitchen fires, which woman quarrelled with her husband, which householder is struggling to bring up his children, how much money does shavukaru lent for interest and so on. 

When a poor householder comes to rachhabanda or sits near the library, people give him free advice, “It’s the time you get your son married.”

Or, sometimes they might ask, “What curry did you have for dinner yesterday?” knowing fully well that there had been nothing to eat in that house. (Puppets, Pg. 24)

        The narrative of the novel never deviates the track of realism.  Lalitha denies the offer of Ammayamma because, she can never let her children grow along with “mala and madiga” (Dalith) children. This denial costs much to her and the village.    The bull is worth of two Dalith’s lives. The bull received pompous funeral and the daliths become homeless. The services of Malabar police were paid by the gang rape of a Dalith woman and ultimately, her death. At last, when the doctor gifted his house to Polayya’s son, it was settled down with five thousands. G.V. Krishna Rao never hesitates to present the stark reality of the villages.

              At times, the irony provides a comic relief to the reader. Pullayya is introduced in a hyperbole metaphor, he is a tiger in village. Within few sentences later, the reader is told how much he is scared of his wife. As Telugu proverb goes, A Tiger in the street, A Cat at home (veedhilo puli intlo pilli). Pullayya is like a tiger in the village, his tail was the length of two arms. Shorter  perhaps by a finger’s width. Who had the courage to approach him? Troubled by the implications of this problem, the people of the village did not know what to do. Who had the courage to approach him for information? Troubled by the great implications of this problem, the people of the village did not know what to do. (Puppets, Pg. 24) 

    Tiger is described hilariously, the tail was the length of two arms, shorter perhaps by a finger’s width… such sincere matter of fact description makes the reader to laugh.

“He was ready to face the seven worlds, Lakshamama’s frown had the power to make him tremble.” (Puppets, Pg. 2)                                                                                 

          Thus, G.V. Krishna Rao utilised the narrative tools of tone, irony, humour and critical realism very effectively, powerfully and vividly to make Puppets a strong social satire and personal critique.  

       In her critical foreword to the English translation of the novel, C. Vijaya Sree calls it a “novel of ideas” and she explains in detail how the novelist placed most of his characters in the context of social or political ideas. 

      Chandrashekharam is a Young man who craves for a utopia and fails as the truth is different. Ammayamma is a representative of new brand women activists who champion public causes for their personal ends. Pullayya and Mallayya are the feudal lords who strive to thrive on the policy of divide and rule. Sathyanarayana Panthulu belongs to a vanishing breed of loyal men who live by conviction but lack the courage to oppose injustice. Padma is a representative of frustrated middle class women seeking freedom from the shackles of orthodoxy. Dr.Vasudeva Sastri belongs to a small minority of idealists inspired by the Gandhian vision facing defeat and disillusionment in their encounter with a corrupt political system. And Rama Rao is a   restless young man urging radical reforms. So, C. VIjayasree rightly analyses that the allegorical mode of characterisation, enables the novelist to project the complexities of an entire society within the parameters of personal and social relationships in a representative community. C.VIjayasree describes the novel as a social allegory fictionalizing the collapse of the moral order (dharma).   

            GRK Murthy also observe that  “ the novel (Puppets) 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.” (13) The novel has an organic unity. The narrator relates,

The basic struggle of the society today is ….even the shruthis and smrithis are questioned. Man questions their justice finding them inadequate of the present circumstances. He is anxious to create a new order…. another group incites unrest in the name of the nation, people and the country. How race, people and society are different from individual groups? What is good for them, that is Sastra and whatever gives them delight, that is kala. We cannot individually decide what dharma is or sastra or kala : these are decided by majority. 

…People forgetting that they analyse things individually with their own wisdom are whipped into a mad frenzy. … for the minority …there are two paths. one is to cast off our individuality and identify ourselves with the majority……alternatively…… overcoming  self-interest , we should be able to show  away to the mankind….which we can prove to be logical ,appropriate and practicable ………Today the wise have  such a great duty. If these two things donot happen, we will be annihilated. (Puppets,              Pg.56-57)

      GVK Murthy aptly comments that the descriptions like above quoted passages  afforded the novelist  to 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 lives…. driven by this central idea, the author structures his novel with such incidents and characters narrating their struggle—amidst colossal weight of tradition, high bound caste-ism, 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’” (13)

Poe’s unity of effect depends upon the extent, the ending, the effect i.e., the impression writer wants the reader to have and the atmosphere. Poe asserts, “If his very initial sentence tend not to be the out bringing of this effect, then he has failed in his first step. In the whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design. And by such means, with such care and skill, a picture is at length painted which leaves in the mind of him who contemplates it with a kindred art, a sense of the fullest satisfaction.”   

     Puppets has a straight and simple expression right from the invocation, it is a social satire. Keyword of the novel is dharma, righteousness or duty, of the individual and the interdependent society. The ironic tone sets the desired effect in the invocation itself.  The majority of people in the novel move towards a group who establish a lie as a truth. But the sensible and the duty bound minority, like Dr.Vasudeva Sasthri and Rama Rao, eventually abandon the village leaving open space for the lie to flourish as Truth. Thus the novel ultimately becomes a didactic tale that lashes the pragmatic nature of the villages. As G.V.Krishna Rao asserts, “individual autonomy is a prerequisite for the emergence of the whole man.” But, autonomy has its own limitations, implications and impacts. G.V. Krishna Rao perceptively explains, “A society will never progress, unless, its men and women learn to think independently and act according to the dictums of their conscience.”

So he portrays his characters not as simple representatives of ideas but human to the core with their ideals, ideas, failures and follies. Dr.Vasudeva Sastri, a character in the novel declares,  “A man is a man and can never be divine .to be fallible, to err, is  unavoidable, whatever the status of the person. I say this out of experience.” (Puppets, Pg.207) The same person announces, “The court passed a sentence against Chandrashekharam, it did not find his wife and children guilty.” But the reader knows the fact that Chandrashekharam is an innocent man. 

Ammayamma’s attempt to help Lalitha is similar to that of the doctor’s observation.  Her generosity is rooted in her self-centred fame but Pullayya’s generous contribution of five hundred rupees to raise funds for Lalitha and her children is an attempt of his overcoming of the guilt consciousness. Their acts are ironically presented as parallels to doctor’s gesture of gratitude and indebtedness. Doctor gifts his house to the family of Polayya who lost his life while saving the doctor from the Malabar police attack. The same house is bought from Ploayya’s family by Sardar Pullayya for five thousand rupees, ironically the same amount Chandrashekharam vows to the moneylender.

          Krishna Rao is aware of the purpose of writing his novel. In the foreword to this novel he declares, “I did not write this novel aiming at any one individual, parties, or upcoming elections. Only artistic appreciation is the main basis for this writing. Only when the reader is willing to forget the passion of party politics, and read it, then only he can achieve the right kind of appreciation.”( Puppets, Introduction)

    His pure sense of aesthetic appreciation, can be further understood in his own analysis of Kalapoornodayam, as Sui generis, A full fledged work of art, “as it emerges as neither pure subjective experience like a dream nor pure universal experience like that of mathematics or any other exact science. It is sui generis, A Unique fusion of percept and concept. (Kalapoornodayam, Pg. 344 )

To put it in other words, while grammatical purity of words is nowhere neglected, affinity among the words should exist mainly in view of the richness of meaning. Thought must be very clear, involving no difficulty for the reader and at the same time there should be no repetition. Whatever is necessary for understanding it should be supplied without losing oneself in unnecessary details by leaping from, one point to another. What is important in the context must be established firmly, with reason pervading, and with no contradictions between he preceding and succeeding, the various parts, sentences and purports must be in complete unity with the whole, the Mahavakya or the Mahakavya.

All this is implied when the poet says that poetry is a composition of words fitting into each other like strings of pearls strung into harmony…posaga muttepu sarul ….he comes from the highest principle to the lowest which is sadbalankaara.     (Kalapoornodayam, Pg. 340-341)

Krishna Rao attains Sui generis in Keelubommalu with appropriate expression of percept and concept.

R.S. Sudarsanam points out, “Krishna Rao gives high importance to an individual and his conscience regarding performing one’s duty. There is a considerable relevance of Freud’s unconsciousness theory in both the incidents-first, Pullayya forgetting his duty and, secondly, Dr.Vasudeva Sastry’s failing in performing his duty.”( ) According to R.S.Sudarsanam Pullayya ignored his duty due to his cowardice and selfishness whereas Vasudeva Sastry took responsibility for the mistake and was prepared to correct it socially. Human Conscience is beyond social verdict and Social Justice depends upon age old culture and society, law and order. However, Conscience holds the authority on Human psyche. 

          Psychological conflicts due to physical instincts and passions are focused as primary concerns in the Freudian Psychoanalysis. But, the conflict rose due to good and evil in the social order can raise deeper moral dilemmas and cultural conflicts and psychological challenges. Post-independent era of India was face to face with the newly emerged proletarian force and its conflict with the new born capitalists Puppets captures the external struggle of social values as sensitively as the interior nature of the characters. 

         Two major characters of the novel, Pullayya and Chandrashekharam are gentlemen who are good at heart. They respect each other. But both of them end up hating each other and move to the court, eventually and the later lands up in the jail. 

      Pullayya could never imagine that he would ever file a case of forgery against Chandrashekharam, when Pullayya signed as surety. By chance or by slip of tongue, Pullayya lies and that lie generates many lies. At the end he begins to accept the lie as the truth. His conscience demands him to withdraw the case at any point of time But, he doesn’t. Koduri Srirama Murthy describes this as a result of “the avoidance conflict” generated in Pullayya who is described as tiger with two feet long tail perhaps shorter by a finger width and who is afraid of his wife. 

His fear is generated from the reverence generated by the fact that his wife was the reason for his comfortable life, status and wealth. She is very much straight forward and never allows their family processions to slip their hand. He can’t reveal her that he gave surety to Chandrashekharam. It is a tragic flaw that raises complexities in the simple life of Pullayya.

       Pullayya avows, “…the mind is like leaping monkey from one branch to the other.” (Puppets, Pg. 57) His conscience creates unrest in him and he keeps on pondering. “Was there no way to withdrawing the case?” (Puppets, Pg. 63) Tormented by the thought of sin, he tells his wife, “Ammi, look here, aren’t we doing so many wicked things without our knowledge? In that case, how can we say that this is a good deed and that bad?” “Even though the sinner gets the punishment, the sin doesn’t disappear. 

His wife brushes it off saying, “Good, bad, virtue, sin…” these are the words spoken by the incarnations of divine.  Humans can’t understand these things.”(Puppets, P.63)

     But, Pullayya’s conscience kept on debating. The imagined picture of Chandra Sheksharam and his family in tattered clothes and begging sling bags cursing him that his children and grand children will meet the same fate dogs and disturbs him When he could catch a little doze he has a dream as if he was in the witness box and the official ask him to take the oath to tell the truth. Pullayya feels giddy and collapses in the witness box like a limp creeper. He wakes up with a shudder and wonders how people like his wife would sleep peacefully.

     The novelist portrays the psyche of Pullaiah perceptively. He wonders why should he commit such a monstrous wrong for the sake of a single word.

     When the villagers carried the rumours spread in the name of Chandra Sekharam that Pullayya cheated in the turmeric business, he forgets his own mistake and resorts to defend himself by becoming supremely self-assured.  He shakes off his fits of shiver completely “…he had not committed hundred mistakes. Even the one that had been done was not by him .Why should he be afraid of this sinful world? Whom should he fear?”(Puppets, Pg.93) He forgets the real issue, shakes off his fear of his wife and gathers witnesses to get ready for the trial. But still his consciousness chases him and his nightmares continue. In one of his dreams, the bullock cart carrying both his son and daughter is hit with a bus and the two bullocks die. 

He doesn’t find both his children and Chandrashekharam who gets down the bus says, “What happens if you deceive somebody?” (Puppets, Pg.92)

In the Chapter 8, Jagga Rao, grandson of Pullayya, lies. Jaggarao’s mother Rangamma, the widow, whips him and collapses crying and lamenting her helplessness as a parent. Pullayya prostates before his lamenting daughter-in-law and confesses to her for her utter shock, “Amma, don’t weep! The whole blame is mine. I won’t do it again. I swear it on your feet.” (Puppets, P.46) He touches her feet emotionally when the daughter-in- law gets perplexed and shocked by his strange behaviour. 

He realises that he himself was responsible for all this mess and, such false news would not have spread had he clearly explained things to Sita so that she would not have gone to the lawyer. Now, if the notice is served it would shock the whole village and 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? …” (Puppets, Pg. 11)

        Driven by intense guilt, Pullayya behaves crazily at times. For instance, one day, as his widowed daughter-in-law, squatting on the floor, wails 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 he prostrated before her (Puppets, Pg.46)

 His positive opinions and feelings on Chandrashekharam in his sub-conscious mind are taken over by the anger generated by the derogative rumours on him spread by Chandrashekharam in the conscious world. And that anger subjugates his conscience to accept the lie as the truth, as a justification of action. He begins to accept that it is justified enough to punish Chandrashekharam.

           Pullayya transforms from being a generous and kind land landlord to a knave and sly politician. Auto hypnotic amnesia, a kind of self induced forgetfulness saves him from the challenges of his conscience and he begins to believe the lie as truth. It is a justification, however false and unfair it maybe, that gives him peace and sustenance. 

        Chandrashekharam also passes through a similar moral conflict. His conflict is more with his managerial failure in the implementation of his ideological reality with the reality of the mundane world around him. He is a socialist who believes and practices equal rights. He owns a paper mill and is very liberal in labour management. He is handsome, highly educated idealist and Lalitha marries him against the wish of her family. His ideological management ruins the practical management of the paper mill and it is shut down abruptly. The same labour for whom he voiced and build up an ideal environment challenges him. He exhausts all the property, funds of the family and that of in-laws. He cannot pay the mounted up daily wages or the loans raised among known and unknown including his own daily wage labourers. The allegation of forgery comes on him like a thunderbolt ruining his remote chances of honourable existence in the village. He starts coming to the village only during the darkness of the night.  But, he never accepts his fault as he always considers his failure as a societal failure and not his own. 

          His father-in-law who cannot get back a single rupee from Chandrashekharam succumbs all his property and commits suicide as he cannot follow his son who is migrating to Nizam in pursue of the salvation. Chandrashekharam’s guilt of this happening makes him to reconcile by writing an article on behalf of the oppressed.     His physical and psychological condition is so fragile that his wife, who is impressed by his defending arguments, cannot condemn his actions but, supports him.



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