Abstract: The essay examines interiorisation, a mode of textual exploration, which through a hermeneutical process enables us to effect entry into the interior of those literary works that, through word, sentence and metrical line, render palpable the bhava-artha-rasa born of imagination or real experience. In literary works the author incorporates bhava-artha-rasa in different ways. The term sannivesha is used here in a special technical sense. What is meant by sannivesha is a method of incorporating bhava, the author’s emotion, artha, the text’s meaning, and rasa, the reader’s aesthetic savoring either explicitly or implicitly by constructing linguistic units—letters, sounds, words and sentences. Sannivesha or placement can be of various kinds. Uparisannivesha or bahya-sannivesha can be explained as exterioration. The process of turning from the outer to the inner may be termed antassannivesha or interiorisation.
Keywords: interiorisation, literary works, drama, fiction, poetry, narrative mode, art of narratology, Alternative to western narratives, human emotions, emotional conflict writing, imagery Thakazhi Shivashankara Pillai
A concept or theory or its name is not important. It must be emphasised that what the reader must concentrate upon is how far its application makes the savouring of the text possible and meaningful. Often as the zest for the establishment for one’s own theory mounts, the refutation or rejection of other faiths becomes important. This warning, however, is in parenthesis, as it were.
The term sannivesha is used in this paper in a special technical sense. What is meant by sannivesha is a method of incorporating bhava, the author’s emotion, artha, the text’s meaning, and rasa,the reader’s aesthetic savouring, either explicitly or obscurely by constructing linguistic units — letters, sounds, words and sentences. In literary works the author incorporates bhava-artha-rasa in different ways. It may be added that the concept of sannivesha will be relevant and useful only as far as the process of the author intending or the reader divining the meaning — at the levels of sound, word, sentence, or chapter/ canto and the total work — clears the way for comprehending the covert meaning and appreciating the work.
Sannivesha, placement, can be of various kinds. When instant apprehension is aimed at, placement makes the meaning evident and stops there. This can be called uparisannivesha or bahya-sannivesha — sannivesha from without/exteriorisation — and is the first step in gaining familiarity with the text. Some writers have a capacity for exteriorisation; they exercise it and are content to do so. The process of turning from the outer to the inner sannivesha, antassannivesha/interiorisation, need not be without obstacles.
If the reader realises that the interiorisation referred to earlier has multiple stages, his savouring of the text — or aesthetic appreciation — will become strong and sharp. But the status of a theory can be claimed for interiorisation only in so far as it aids the critical reading of literary texts. Interiorisation is not a refutation or an opposite of exteriorisation. It is the play of the imagination that we can discover when we read texts, which contain the bhava-artha-rasa within themselves. In certain works we can encounter innumerable hidden levels. In the works of Valmiki, Vyasa, Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Thomas Mann, James Joyce and such others, we can dive to any depth, depending on the intensity of our emotional life. The reading of such works leads to ‘endless exploration.’
It can be asked, indeed it must be asked, why yet another theoretical approach should be proposed, when we have Bharata’s theory of rasa and Anandavardhana’s theory of dhvani. This would be a variation of the basic question: why these theories at all? Is it not enough that we aesthetically savour the poem, the novel, the play? Well, if theories are not wanted, they can be dropped; if they are, let them remain — some day some use may be found for them. Without repeating the reasons adduced by Mahimabhatta for rejecting dhvani, we can point to its inadequacy. However, condemning theories or establishing them is not the intention here. If the aesthetic appreciation and insight which interiorisation makes possible can be achieved by dhvani instead, so be it. Interiorisation is a mode of textual exploration, which through a discovery procedure or hermeneutical process enables us to effect entry into the interior of those literary works that, through word, sentence and metrical line, render palpable the bhava-artha-rasa born of the imagination or real experience. It is the point at which the author and the reader meet each other face to face and engage in discourse. Interiorisation succeeds when the imagination of the reader is directed into those areas of aesthetic experience which are thrown open by the text. In a sense it is a joint enterprise, a bonding in spirit, which reinforces the author-reader relationship.
No theory is complete or perfect by itself. A theory has necessarily a finite range and ‘power.’ If interiorisation can enable at least a few readers to gain access to the inside — the inside of the inside — of some texts, it can be said to have, to that extent, served its purpose. When interiorisation is compared with other theories, all that is claimed for it is that it can be counted as one of the paths that lead from the overt to the covert, from the apparent to the latent.
Dhvani is a variety of meaning. When a meaning is suggested beyond or above the stated meaning and becomes the more important of the two, then dhvani results. Interiorisation differs from dhvani in two or three ways. In the first place, interiorisation is not always a conscious production of meaning; it can originate in several cases without the author or reader attending. If the work contains a bhava-artha-rasa, which is different from the manifest meaning or opposed to it or which embraces the whole work, then the effort to identify it leads to interiorisation. Secondly, it can have a mode of operation that is both conscious and unconscious. For instance, in Ezhuthachan, in the moments preceding the Arjuna-Karna combat, what helps in leading from Shalya to the common devotee, through a hymn in praise of the opposite charioteer, beginning ‘Niranna peelikal’, is interiorisation. But if anyone is of the view that this is but another variety of dhvani, well, we won’t object to that. However, in contexts where the dhvani principle cannot get through to the spiritual force of the work, interiorisation can invoke and convey it. The pity or pathos that lurks beneath Vaikom Mohamed Basheer’s surface humour is an instance in point. A hidden sense of beauty energises and illuminates Ezhuthacchan’s devotion and Kunchan Nambiar’s humour. And it is the same principle that is implicit in the utterances of Unnayi Varier’s Damayanti.
Interiorisation is on excellent terms with anumitivada to the extent that Mahimabhatta’s theory is about the reader apprehending by inference what the author, even when anonymous, has darkly hinted. However, interiorisation works jointly with the author — it principally embodies the author’s conscious or unconscious mode of operation. It is not just concerned with the reader’s response. When the author has been concealing, the reader cannot remain idle. He starts conjecturing and deducing. It can be that interiorisation helps in incorporating in the work contexts that induce and tempt inference. But like dhvani, anumana or inference follows the creation of the text, whereas interiorisation inheres in it. The results that follow interiorisation include dhvani, anumana and whatever theories are based on them. Interiorisation does not insist on the rejection of the stated meaning — only it does not object to the stated meaning being transcended or contradicted. The two positions of Anandavardhana and Mahimabhatta do not confront each other here — interiorisation skirts round them and proceeds.
If vakrata, which denotes ‘deviation’ here, but literally may mean ‘being crooked or twisted’, can also mean beauty, then interiorisation has no quarrel with Kuntaka’s theory. Vakrata may be an approach to the soul of poetry — any claim that it is itself the soul of poetry would be, like such a claim for any one of the other theories, meaningless. Aesthetic appreciation is of different kinds; it cannot be claimed that all approaches are equally useful for all texts. Each approach has its own possibilities. A particular approach may prove more useful than others to some in examining how hard an author, or artist strives to incorporate bhava-artha-rasa in the inner reaches of the text by means of interiorisation and how well he succeeds, On this basis one can understand how vakrokti –departures from standard practice in language — at the lexical, syntactic and metrical levels can assist aesthetic appreciation. It is legitimate to count deviation as one of the ways of interiorisation. However, interiorisation and vakrokti are not the same. It must be emphasised that the beauty of an artistic creation is never overt and that it is only by penetrating deep that the nectar of art can be reached and tasted.
The golden pot does not need a tilak mark. Agreed. But can a poem do without ornament? Can’t it be that figuration which is not false but truly productive is an aid to interiorisation? It can be, but often figuration is seen functioning only at the level of exteriorisation. The reader can arrive at the front yard, announce his business, and go away; or he can squat on the verandah and gossip; or he can step in and heartily enjoy the hospitality before leaving — it is not compulsory for him to enter the interior. But those who want can do so and ‘drink deep the Pierian spring.’ If attending to poetic figures merely means naming them, identifying their characteristics and citing examples, it is a pursuit worthy only of pedants — let them pass their time thus. Presenting matters in win-or-lose true-or-false terms in theoretical discourse is repugnant to the creative temper. When the reader realises that merely enumerating, naming and debating figures makes no sense, he will attend to discovering the work’s inner truth, its inside meaning. If the notion of figuration is a means to this end in any way, there is no difficulty about accepting the approach. But we are not unfamiliar with the use of figures based on the idea that what makes a poet is the habit of speaking an artificially figurative language even in daily life contexts. If vyangya, suggestion, vakrokti, deviation, alamkara, figuration etc. have declined, it must be because of the mechanical, meaningless ways in which they have been employed. It is not sufficient that a theory is perfect — its validation must be sought in its application. Even if a theory is not faultless, can’t its application remove its shortcomings and make it complete? If it can, the war cries of rival theories can be silenced.
The critical concept that comes closest to the interiorisation theory is ullurai uvamai indicated in the Tolkappiyam. The proximity of ullurai to vakrata results from the act that while dhvani is a function that follows the sound or speech — or shall we say ‘the text’? Ullurai, like interiorisation, precedes the sound. The creative role is important here; the receptive role is not unimportant. Over and above what the ullurai concept indicates, interiorisation emphasises that in the work as a whole there inheres, like a living inner spring, another work, an inside work. Apart from akattinai and purattinai, there functions within each work or text, an inner text, incorporated by placement, from the beginning to the end, invisible, obscure, darkly experienced, complete with experience, to be awakened by reading and contemplation. From the fugitive hints in the outer work, the reader reconstructs the inner text. Once the reader wins entry into the interior of a literary work a whole collection of imaginative experiences that cannot be glimpsed or comprehended from outside becomes available to him. Thus from the real or received text, he gains admission to the created text. When the ullurai principle is extended from the level of the sound to the level of the text as a whole, the interiorisation concept will perhaps be revealed fully.
The message of the Ramayana — that a prince of the solar line destroying the nocturnal prowler demon chief, day subduing night, is rendered possible by acquiring the heart of the sun — is an example of placement at the level of the image. When Unnayi Varier writes kuryam instead of cheyyam, it is not to be regarded as an error; the delay in construing the meaning of the unusual word aids the interiorisation of the bhava-artha-rasa. And Kunchan Nambiar’s dance-centred devotion, Ezhuthacchan’s meditation-centred devotion, and Poonthanam’s hymn-centred devotion help them in bringing the gods to the earth and enshrining them in the popular consciousness.
Only a theory based on application can be useful and relevant. Such a theory always inheres in literary works. A good way to discover it would be to read the works. There is a name for the love of theories, which you can foster within you in order to dispense with the reading of works — it is dhikkaram, arrogance. A mode of encountering the work which starts with the author, proceeds through the text and finally arrives at the reader to be fulfilled, not only makes the completion of the work possible but opens the road to the fullest aesthetic appreciation. When one reads criticism by a good many, one begins doubting whether they have at all read and enjoyed the work, which they are discussing, the artistic creation, which they are trying to explicate. By making the reader a partner in the creative process, a good text makes aesthetic appreciation feasible. Although understanding and enjoyment are distinct from each other, and although enjoyment or appreciation after having understood fully is not a feasible arrangement, appreciation itself can become a mode of understanding. It is difficult to make aesthetic appreciation possible by the use of reason or skill, by analysis or exegesis. The total experience achieved by immersion in the text is perhaps a step further than the text itself. The goal of interiorisation is aesthetic appreciation, and the reader attains it through creative partnership with the author. If theories are not able to make this possible, they will sink to the level of inscrutable exegesis.
Interiorisation in Literature Poetry : The Undercurrents of Interiorisation
Running one word into another, one image into another, one text into another can be done in either of two ways. One text can be openly fixed upon another — as in the statement ‘Krishna that is Christ’ — this would be exteriorisation. Or else, one can be darkly concealed inside the other, consciously or unconsciously — this would be interiorisation. Exteriorisation is related to the principle of rendering manifest; interiorisation is related to the principle of rendering obscure. Both have a place in the theory of literature. Although the two are disparate, each would appear to be an extension of the other. Both can be present in the same text. A mixture of them can also appear in some complex images or texts. There can be words, images or texts, which have one or the other kind of placement exclusively. It can also happen that exteriorisation has, in a sense, gradually percolated into interiorisation. The overt can function alongside the covert. And in either kind of placement there can be degrees and fluctuations. A word or an image or a text does not exist in isolation — one of them can be found carrying the other within it. This is a general principle of aesthetic seen equally in literatures of the east and the west.
Let us take a very complex instance: Ezhuthacchan’s celebrated vision of Krishna. The description of the chosen god, ishtadevata or favourite deity, opens and swells in the Karna Parva of the Mahabharata in Malayalam. It is a hymn in praise of Krishna — literal, explicit and unambiguous — a rapturous paean celebrating the adored image sculpted on Ezhuthacchan’s meditating consciousness. But it is a wholly new creation. With his own individual personality mingled in it, he has been able to make an imaginative experience available to us. This penetration of the epiphany, by the essence of his own self, is a case of interiorisation. On the imaginative conception of Krishna handed down by tradition, he has stamped his own unique spirituality.
The 33-line passage, almost impossible to translate or paraphrase adequately, ends with the words ‘…clearly saw I’, but who is ‘I’? In the situation, it is Karna’s charioteer, Shalya. When Karna enquires, ‘Where, where, is Arjuna?’ is it Shalya who answers, ‘Look, here he comes,’ and makes him listen to a description of Krishna. Is it Shalya, or is it none other than Ezhuthacchan? Can’t it be that the poet felt that an individual voice would ring beautiful amid the impersonality and objectivity of an epic? The skill and attractiveness of the introduction by the poet of himself into the poem by interiorisation is something that the reader must discover by himself or herself — especially, karuna, pathos, kopa, anger, raga, love, adbhuta, wonder, hasya, comic and bhayanaka, fear. Doesn’t the descriptive hymn, uttered in mid-battle but with no incongruity, actually present a complex vision? Doesn’t Shalya in the poet — no, the poet in Shalya — how really does one get it right? See the cowherd lad, Lord Vishnu in Vaikunta and Krishna the charioteer seated in the chariot even as they — no, he, again how does one get it right? Who is seated within his heart? Vouchsafing the mid-battle epiphany to the enemy’s charioteer is a superlatively skilful act of interiorisation. We have to perceive the description of Krishna along the reader-Ezhuthacchan-Shalya-devotee chain. The slowing down of the flow of the narrative, the invoking and adoring of the chosen god through subtle description the overstepping of all limits of credibility and propriety of plot and character — the reader not only accepts all this as permissible, but receives it ecstatically as a blessing. The rhythm and choice of sounds and other prosodic features here have been inserted or adjusted by placement to reproduce, as it were, the heart-warming sight of the devotee caressing, so to speak, the divine figure from head to foot. Here the explicit and the implicit become one. Shalya’s vision becomes the reader’s vision. Sound and sense have been crossed and united here, and seem to function beyond the infinite possibilities of poetry.
In ‘Richard Cory’, a well known poem by Edward Arlington Robinson, the central figure is the envy of his neighbourhood, but his tragic end is rather unexpected. It is a tightly constructed poem well worth quoting here in full, at least to examine how carefully the climax or anti-climax is achieved.
The Cory that put a bullet through his head, it seems, is the internalised self of the Cory who was apparently the envy of his neighbours. The readers of the poem, like the people of the neighbourhood, could never feel that there was anything wrong with Richard Cory. The rather abrupt and cryptic ending of the poem, synchronising with the ending of the man’s life, takes the neighbours as well as the readers by surprise. And the surprise is due to the fact that there was nothing in the poem or in Cory’s life that would clearly point to the suicide unemotionally reported. That there are people whose inside cannot be predicted from the outside is obvious enough, but the way the poetic effect is achieved by an unceremonious style of bland reporting is specially calculated to interiorise the other Cory. Here one may notice interiorisation at three levels: at the level of character for highlighting the contrast between Cory as others see him and Cory as known only to himself; at the level of style, encapsulating an event of tragic possibility in a seemingly low-toned variety of understatement, muted and drained of emotion; and at the level of poetic form, using a solemn, sonnet-like structure to project a story-line that is only negatively suited for that form. Behind and within the formal organisation of the poem conceived in neat quatrains is a casual approach to the whole experience presented therein, which belies the surface structure. In fine, the poem interiorised is quite a contrast to the poem one reads.
In ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn,’ Keats appears to project a multi-layered poetic composition, which on one level is a comment on poetic craft itself, but is also a demonstration of how human experience is structured in a lyrical poem such as an ode. ‘Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard sweeter’– the literal untruth of the statement conceals a poetic figure of speech, implying that melodies which may not be heard now have the potentiality for being sweeter when heard, than those that are now heard. This is the beauty that eventually becomes truth, and the illogical assertion is made to sound correct, because the equation of truth and beauty is really the indication of a possibility, and not a fact of life. Examples of other unrealised possibilities are mentioned in the poem — for instance, the lover who is eagerly hoping to kiss the lady — it remains an unrealised, but realizable possibility. The reader’s imagination is activated to work out the seeming contradiction or the literal illogicality. The experience that a poem can provide is necessarily of that order; it can establish its relevance by being impossible in a literal sense. This ability to bypass an apparent logical contradiction itself raises the experience hinted at in the poem to the level of the imagination. The bare statement of a factual truth deprives it of all potentialities; logical contradiction may thus be seen as a way of circumventing logical relevance and establishing imaginative realisation. What is contradicted by cold logic is upheld by the alchemy of the imagination. The reader of the poem, like the lover in it being held back from imprinting his kiss on the lady, is also kept in suspended animation, and it is this expectation of what might happen, even when it does not happen in rational terms, that gives vibration to the whole poem. In other poems also by Keats, we have images of factual non-fulfillment which lead to an enriched imaginative fulfillment — the unseen nightingale in ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ and the songs of autumn in ‘Ode to Autumn’ are instances in point. The urn itself is a symbol of past experience, and on the urn which is reminiscent of death are pictures of life, i.e., life represented by works of art. Both the urn and the pictures themselves are in a sense in contrast with life, being imaginative representations of life, at one remove from life itself. The urn may stand for death, the absence of life, life’s negative presence, hence in a way a more intense form of life in poetic terms. The songs are sung not ‘to the sensual ear,’ but ‘to the spirit’. All the emphasis on negative presence expressed through the vocabulary of negation — unravished, quietness, silence, slow, soft, etc. — points to the virtue of negative capability, the potential as opposed to the achieved. Keats’s personal life of 25 years underscores the value of desire and not fulfillment. Experience here is interiorised, i.e. left to the imagination, and not to the reality. The man with the pipe shown on the urn does not produce music, hence he can continue to play forever.
G.M. Hopkins’s term ‘inscape’ is an eloquent testimony to the operation of interiorisation in a literary text, although he used it to refer ultimately to the visible presence of God in every work of creation. Applied to specific literary works, to Hopkins’s own poems in particular, inscape may be taken to mean the perception of beauty in a work of art — just as there is godhead in the interior of nature — which is also the principle of creativity. To see the image of Christ on the cross, in the figure of the windhover with wings outspread, is an act of creativity, just as making a reader perceive the divine will, god’s grandeur, present in all objects of nature is also creative. The gap in the poetic text is supplied by the collaborative reader, and the poem becomes a thing alive, while the quidditas or thingness manifested in natural objects shines like ‘shook foil’. The golden echo is subsumed in the leaden echo, in the same way as the word ‘spare’ can be evoked from ‘despair’.
Milton’s ‘On His Blindness’ starts by questioning God’s right to expect man to serve Him without the means to do so. But as the sonnet proceeds, the question turns against God Himself and Milton’s blindness becomes a sort of protest against God’s blindness to human limitations. The poem is a means of working out this dilemma and by the end of the poem the blindness is removed with the realisation that ‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’ The multiple implication of blindness between the opening ‘When I consider…’ and the closure ‘They also serve…’ raises the query ‘on whose blindness?’ Milton the man’s, or Milton the poet’s, or Milton’s God’s, or Milton’s reader’s?’ A similar turn-about occurs in Paradise Lost also, where the authorial intention of ‘justifying the ways of God to man’ is at least partially undermined by the exposure of the unjustness of God to man. The deliberate purpose of a writer in a creative work is often miscarried like this, since the writing of a poem, or for that matter, any piece of creative work, is subtly influenced or even dominated by the poet’s own sub-conscious propensities, which play a vital role in the creative process. Milton’s own opposition to autocratic tendencies puts him for a time on the side of Satan, the rebel, and through him against God, thereby nullifying his declared intention to justify God’s ways.
Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri may be read as a reaction of the puranic legend, in which on the face of it, the devoted wife is able to restore life to her dead husband. Many people read it as an example of the triumph of chastity, where even the god of death has to bow before a chaste wife. Obviously, here the author is not interested merely in singing the praise of chastity, but the resurgence of the human spirit through a manifestation of what might be called integral yoga. Such an interpretation is illustrative of the application of exteriorisation, which is not to be disputed. When a work like Savitri happens to be the magnum opus of a major Indian poet, it means more than what it says on the surface. Aurobindo’s past political orientation, his own deep inwardness and capacity for philosophic introspection, his interest in symbolism and mysticism, his cultivation of the poetics of mantra, and above all his visionary nature seem to take us beyond the literal and the exterior dimensions. His use of the epic mode, the only successful exploitation of the classical epic mode by any Indian writer in English, hints at the possibility of a deeper significance. The grand opening of Book One, ‘The Symbol Dawn,’ is calculated to direct the reader’s attention to ‘something far more deeply interfused’ than the mere retelling of the old legend of a wife’s recovery of her husband. Of course, the primary meaning and structure are very relevant, and the story of the power of love has a universal appeal — which is not to be denied or bypassed. But the tone and texture of the poem point to other possibilities of reading this magnificent work, and a fairly good clue is given by the heavy emphasis in the words and images of negation in the opening itself — it is not the hour of God, but ‘the hour before the Gods awake.’ The incantatory power of the magnificent words cannot be forgotten; the pre-dawn atmosphere is a means of interiorising a multiple-level significance. The whole of that book, if not the whole work, is ‘charged with the grandeur of God.’
The accumulation of negative images repeated with obsessive insistence is perhaps intended to create a vacuum in time and space that will be a poetic symbol of stagnation, lack of freedom and cessation of creative activity — about thirty images of deprivation and loss in as many lines — that is, at the rate of at least one per line. This building up of emptiness or sunyata, this cleaning and cleansing, as it were, seems to be a necessary ritual before the attempt to fill it up with meaning. This filling up is undertaken in the rest of the poem, as we may see particularly in the last cantos, which deal with the realisation. The recovery of life, the return to earth and the redemption of happiness are worked out at the end. One is tempted to read Savitri as an epic of interiorised decolonisation written in the language of the coloniser. Such a reading is encouraged by what the author himself has said in the ‘Author’s note,’ commenting on the symbolic significance of the tale.
The tale of Satyavan and Savitri is recited in the Mahabharata as a story of conjugal love conquering death. But this legend is, as shown by many features of the human tale, one of the many symbolic myths of the Vedic cycle. Satyavan is the soul carrying the divine truth of being within itself but descended into the grip of death and ignorance; Savitri is the Divine Word, daughter of the Sun, goddess of the supreme Truth who comes down and is born to save. Substitute India for Satyavan and one may see the interiorised figuration of the colonial situation and the liberation therefrom on August 15, which by coincidence happens to be Aurobindo’s date of birth.
Drama : its inside and its outside
In Greek drama and epics, the induction of a sub-plot was not acceptable, as a play was meant to be enacted within an hour and a half and as space and time were important, sub-plots were eschewed in order to avoid fragmentation, interruption or cessation of rasa and lengthiness of the prologue. There are no sub-plots in the plays of Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides. But if, on the other hand, the signals in the narrative can be explicated and presented with elaboration, as in the manner of the Kudiyattam, then the hidden elements in the narrative are disentangled and made lucid. If a sloka, stanza, needs two hours to be presented effectively on the stage through dance and if a play, as for instance Ascharyachudamani, needs between 100 and 120 nights to enact, it is because of the effort to render overt, the placement of the subplot or subplots. Critics of French classical drama did not approve of this. In Greek epics also, this kind of linear narrative structure was accorded importance. The unwritten law that everything in the play should be subordinated to one chief rasa, one chief character, one chief event or plot rejects the kind of epic narration modelled on the Mahabharata. The paradigm of the Mahabharata is the mighty Ganga which enters the sea after receiving numerous tributaries, flowing through countless channels and forming huge deltas. Even in the hero-centered Ramayana, amplitude is attained by the placement of inside tales. In order to hold up the movement of the narrative and prepare the reader’s mind for experiencing what is covert and subtle in it, Ezhuthacchan effects the interiorisation of stotras or hymns in his Ramayana and his Mahabharata. This is a way of arresting the impetus of the narrative, moving it away for a brief while into softer light, reinforcing the angarasa by diversifying the emotion and strengthening the central theme. Shakespeare’s invariable introduction of the sub-plot serves to make the spectator or reader’s attention swerve from the main plot. Making the main characters move away from the stage to the dressing room and making the characters in the sub-plot occupy it, is a convention generally employed intelligently and with care. In Kudiyattam, when a character is engaged in a soliloquy or a monologue, the other character is seen leaving the stage. On the modern stage, making a minor character freeze himself into a motionless figure is a similar convention.
We can see the most complex example of interiorisation on multiple levels is Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, which is a re-working of the Renaissance mind on the medieval psyche. ‘By indirections find directions out’ is a phrase that holds the key to this magic lock. At the very centre of the process of interiorisation in Hamlet is the projection of inaction as action in this play. Deferred action is the chief concern of the characters, the playwright and the reader/ spectator. The arrival of the ghost is intended to precipitate action, but it actually suggests caution and thus causes delay. The soliloquies of the hero are as much a means of moving towards action as of moving away from it through excessive self-analysis and verbalisation. The play consumes the hero, who in turn consumes the action — speech swallows up action: words, words, words interiorise deeds. The act of non-action may be seen throughout the play. Claudius is as uncertain and vacillating as Hamlet, Gertrude as upset as Ophelia, and Polonius and Laertes prove active only to bring about their own unsuspected end, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are agents of unintentional delay until they get what they deserve without their own knowing it. The play within the play strangely interiorises the play in which it appears, partly whetting Hamlet’s revenge and partly undermining it. This process of mutual interiorisation by different elements of the play adds to the complexity of the work. Events seem to control their own courses, and in the end work at cross purposes — multiple deaths take place where one death or murder was sought to be avoided. The psychic density of the experiences depicted in the play is the direct result of this interplay of interiorisation, which in a play, more than in a poem or a narrative, has unforeseen consequences. And this happens without any authorial intention or intrusion.
In Hamlet many a character claims to have ‘interiorised’ other characters, and this results in many mini-plays centred around those characters. Polonius is the grand ‘interioriser’ who knows everything just about everybody else, and this is his own undoing in the end — i.e. his own end long before the end of the play. He is the conscience-keeper of the king; he physically interiorises himself by hiding behind the arras to reach his death faster; he knows the mind of Hamlet, of Laertes, and of Ophelia. Almost everyone is hoist with his own petard — that shows the dramatisation of this very dramatic device of interiorisation within the minds of characters. From the playwright it appears to have spread to some of the characters — the ghost is one such device of interiorising a character who is no longer alive, but is very actively controlling the destinies of the living ones. The Hecuba episode is interiorised by the players, who in turn are interiorised by Hamlet’s plot against the plot of Claudius. The whole play seems to be an attempt to dramatise the very technique of interiorisation at all possible levels. It re-emphasises the meta-dramatic feature of the play.
A somewhat more complicated problem is raised in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet by Romeo’s first love, Rosaline, who does not appear on the stage but is alluded to and is called to mind by several people several times. A covert course of events centered round her suggests the thoughts that the plot of the play might well have been different and that the destiny of the two families locked in hostility might have been of a different kind. How abruptly the young lover Romeo transfers his love from Rosaline to Juliet! If the flow of Romeo’s love had not shifted its course, we would have had another kind of play. What made Romeo fasten his heart to a member of the enemy clan? Why did Shakespeare decide to move our attention away from Rosaline? However, we cannot predicate here that if Rosaline had remained the heroine of the play, its tragic ending could have been averted. Two maxims in Malayalam and English make identical points — the forceful flow of passionate love cannot but encounter obstacles; the course of true love never did run smooth. The attempts to impede the forward surge of the stream in a play cannot be said to be made by a character, or the playwright or the reader or spectator. Can it be then attributed to the will of God? If so, can we shrug off the problem by saying that what makes a play sad or glad, bad or good, is fate? Here it is the playwright that can be said to be obstructing the progress. If fate were otherwise, can it not be that the play ends in Act II? Can the sub-plot be just wiped away, after it has been suggested? Won’t its reflection, its shadow, the memory of it, linger and last? Will it remain utterly obscured in what follows of the plot?
The concept of interiorisation can be of help in spectators and readers gaining entry into the plays of Malayalam’s leading dramatists, C. J. Thomas and C. N. Srikantan Nair. The text’s duality of nature — the outside/ inside opposition — does not seem to operate so forcefully in the plays of N. Krishna Pillai and Thoppil Bhasi. They are those who rule out any notion that the surface play can contain within it another play accessible only through the activity of the mind. When the spectator’s attention is fixed solely on the actor or solely on the character, appreciation of the play becomes partial or fragmentary. When watching Nala played by Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, the competent spectator sees Krishnan Nair the actor and Nala the character simultaneously. This character versus actor duality projects the effectiveness of interiorisation in Nalacharitam. In the same way, in C.J. Thomas’s three important plays, the reader — the reader rather than the spectator is mentioned here, because it is rarely that these plays have had the privilege of being staged — cannot but experience the action of the covert-overt opposition. Those who regard Upadesi in the play He cometh again, as an unnecessary character, miss this truth or principle. The Upadesi is the stage-medium and symbol directing the reader’s attention from the reality of Kunjuvarkey’s and Saramma’s day-to-day world to the spiritual level beyond the conflicts within. The Christian belief of ‘His Second Coming’ is communicated by the Upadesi to the ‘knowledgeable brides’; The Upadesi’s presence is a powerful sign that transcends the three-dimensionality of ordinary reality and conveys a timeless significance. He represents an emotional experience preserved in the minds of Kunjuvarkey, Saramma and her mother-in-law. C. J.Thomas’s dramatic vision is quite beyond the grasp of those who present the Upadesi on the stage as a mere clown.
The Upadesi — half invisible, omnipresent, celebrant of the Biblical vision, the conscience of the other characters — is perhaps the mouthpiece of the dramatist himself who is concerned to point out the reverse of reality. The Upadesi’s exits and entrances and his cries are conventions used by the dramatist for the interiorisation process in the play. They can even be described as evidence of the presence of the divine amidst the worldlings. Also, what is aimed at here is a two-level projection that was unfamiliar to the Malayalam stage until then. For the same reason there could be the view that the play could do with just one Act. And this is true not only in the case of the Upadesi. In Mathukutti’s ‘disappearance’ too, C.J. Thomas has been able to reveal the underlying beauty of interiorisation. We get to understand as we go on reading that even Mathukutti’s blindness is not just an external blindness. Mathukutti sees the truth which only one who is blind can see — that there is no place for him here amid the living any more. And in his testament of blood, martyrdom or sacrifice is enshrined a suicide — a willed death. In point of destruction of life, a war and a race riot have been equated. Taking the very ordinary situations in the lives of ordinary people C.J. Thomas has constructed an extraordinarily powerful model of understanding. It is in his presentation of Saramma who makes the mother-in–law say ‘But Saramma, this!’ that C.J.Thomas has shown greatest insight. Here he exhibits the insight of Jesus who declined to condemn Mary Magdalene. C.J.Thomas has been able to equip feminine sensibility and experience with a novel dimension by creating a context for Mathukutti to think that although it may appear to people that she, Mary Magdalene/ Saramma, has erred, it need not be an error. C.J. Thomas frees himself from the common zeal for incrimination. He does not attempt a downright attribution of blame or guilt targeting only either the inhuman social system or the daughter-in-law/mother-in-law conflict or pacifism or Kunjuvarkey’s dilemma or Saramma’s own inner conflict. Even in 1948 C.J.Thomas had already arrived at the position that it is not given to anyone to be above error. Man cannot but interrogate the Divine-Scriptural dispensation; it is for men that the Sabbath has been instituted — without it being explicitly declared, these and similar views have become clear in the play. The zeal for exteriorisation, which has been ruling the Malayalam stage, has been responsible for ensuring that C.J.Thomas’s plays are not staged. C.J.Thomas’s concern in all his works has been to show the surface, the visible, and then to focus the readers’ attention on the sub-surface, in-depth, invisible aspects.
In Thou art that man the surface level has been presented explicitly. The issue in the play develops a political aspect, as the main character is a king. And when that king happens to be David, a historic moment in the scripture and in western civilisation germinate at the heart of the play. When David, God’s much-loved son, has to perform an act unworthy of a king, the result is that he himself cannot control it. This could have a common lesson — ‘The wages of sin is death.’ But it takes an oracular revelation to bring out its inner lesson. Nathan, a much greater exponent of the divine than the Upadesi, points his finger at the king and says — ‘thou art that man’ C.J.Thomas’s play is not telling or retelling a Biblical episode. Here, man, the concept most valued by C.J.Thomas, becomes charged with sin. In a situation replete with Sophoclean irony, David seeks self-protection by enraging Nathan, seising the truth, and ensuring self-protection by making it an auspicious occasion by a symbolic act of self-destruction. The human consciousness that throbs in the psalms becomes a greater acquisition than Bathsheba for him. If this tragic experience does not dwell there throbbing, how else can David’s Psalms acquire a spiritual/autobiographical significance? What can be seen in Thou art that man is a more or less complete emergence of C.J.Thomas’s visionary insight. The titles of C.J.Thomas plays are signboards, each pointing to the occult level of the play, and like a spearhead, forcing its way in. Nathan’s mode of discourse aims at hitting the bull’s eye of meaning. Nathan can in fact be described as David’s conscience. David’s accuser is within him. That accusation blossomed within him along with the desire for Bathsheba. Because, while he was cheating Uriah skillfully, and attracting and acquiring Bathsheba, David had suppressed his doubt whether his actions were right, the doubt lies suppressed within the text. To fetch it out takes some drastic surgery like his son’s death and Nathan’s oracular revelation.
As in He cometh again, so in Thou art that man, the plot includes a fault in behaviour. Although the outlooks of Kunjuvarkey and David may differ, in both plays the going astray or leading astray occurs in the course of man-woman relationship. The title of the third play Crime 27 of 1128 is a pointer that it presents an offence, which is not committed in reality. In all three plays, death features in the plot. In the third play, which has death as its theme, comedy has been incorporated into the text by means of interiorisation — death encased within laughter is the riddle in the play. And the play’s inside and outside are fully spelled out. On the forestage the master and the pupil unfold the course of the play’s action. On the rear stage the emotional storms of the relatives and friends of Marcose, who is dead or believed to be dead. At times it is difficult to decide which part of the stage has the more richly comic action. Chakki and Eruppukka are characters in the action in progress on the open back stage where a ‘pakarnattam’ is in progress. ‘Pakarnattam’, is a device by which the same actor without change of costume plays multiple roles. Chakki as the prosecutor and the master as the judge, the trial of the real judge, and the turning of things upside down are pakarnattam devices used by C.J.Thomas, who is unlikely to have seen kudiyattam, the chakyar presentation of Sanskrit drama. Here, the karuna rasa, the pathetic and tragic, contains the hasya rasa, the comic ; and the hasya rasa contains the karuna rasa. This mixture or alternation of opposites, determines and controls the structure of the play. When the comic becomes overt, the tragic or pathetic becomes covert. This clash of rasas is evident in the plot, the language and the characterisation in the play. In the title, the English word ‘crime’ is used alongside the year of the Malabar era. And the mixture of rasas works as a justification or validation of the concept of interiorisation. As the play is now dialogue, now debate, it will always exhibit a two-level relationship. In the plays of Shakespeare, Bhasa and Sophocles, at least two levels are always discernible, and one of them would seem to render the other dramatic.
When we switch to C.N. Srikantan Nair’s Ramayana trilogy, we see a different model of application of the interiorisation principle. In the play Kanchanasita, with the image of Sita in front, the story of her banishment is elaborated. The main mode of expression here is exposition. The play would seem to assume that the depiction of Bharata, Urmila and others cannot be presented on the stage without the use of exteriorisation. So explicit is the rendering of character and style, more on the stage than in the mind, more in speech than in action. Among the four aspects of acting, in some, exteriorisation, performance and costume are rated most important; next in importance is dialogue, less in importance are gestures, and least important of all is the emotion. In an interiorisation-based play, this scale is inverted. The order of importance is — emotion, gesture, dialogue, and costume. In Srikantan Nair’s Saketa, the advance that interiorisation achieves by inversion of historic values is evident. The obstacles in the course of Dasaratha’s life lead him into a perfect wilderness — — from the Putrakameshti Yaga onwards the kind of ‘pre-planning’ required to ensure missing or losing all that was desired has been completed in his previous life — particularly, the offer of the realm, the grant of the boon and the sage’s curse. Even as he looks on, the internal blindness spreads, and he could understand it. He sees how the dasa-rathas, ten chariots, that had done his bidding had now reversed roles and were controlling him. In infirm old age, like Shakespeare’s Lear, he has to learn afresh the comings and goings of life. The unbridled flow of words in Kanchanasita has here grown into controlled eloquence. The king is obliged to realise that behind, or within, Kaikeyi’s and his passion for each other can be seen the utterly pure nature of Kausalya’s and his mutual love. Precisely because of this, the decision to install the crown prince that formed itself during Bharata’s absence moves into a blocking of the coronation. Memories of past deeds haunt the present and the future. The sounds of the coronation celebrations have to make way for the silence of the defeat of the project. The Queen Consort has to defer to the fulfillment of the favorite queen’s wish. Except in two or three matters, here too the verbal text has priority over the stage script.
As we come to Lankalakshmi, we are within sight of the full force and power of Srikantan Nair’s dramatic imagination. In this play, in order to present Ravana’s power with intensity and vividness, the essential character of Rama has been suppressed within the interior. Having made the name of a minor character, Lankalakshmi, the title, the dramatist covertly attracts the readers’ attention to the main events. A Rama-Ravana War with Rama missing. Rama’s complete concealment in the text helps the splendid unveiling of Ravana’s glorious supremacy.
We observe how Rama’s hidden greatness is enhanced when the hero of the epic is made invisible and the villain is installed as the hero. Each fall, each death in Ravana’s forces reinforces the hidden might of Rama’s army. The invisible Rama’s potency is multiplied tenfold by the visible image of the enemy. Ravana’s lust for conquest and victory only works to the greater glory of Rama. As Ravana kicks his way up the planets and soars ad astra, each expression of his power adds to Rama’s splendour. There are ample contexts in Lankalakshmi for enacting every mood and every emotion. From Lankalakshmi’s meeting with Hanuman — the beginning of the end for Lanka — to Ravana’s recounting his past before his assembled court — then the regular arrival, from the battlefield, of news of defeats, the Ravanayana, the tale of a steady movement to a condition in which Ravana, tired in body, in mind, and in soul, ceases to be, the play demonstrates the creative skill needed for smothering up the Ramayana in the inside of the Ravanayana. Interiorisation has incorporated the Ramayana within the Ravanayana. And it smoulders in the dramatist’s mind that by interiorisation he has ingrafted Ravana’s self-sacrifice as his own sacrifice. The grief in Kanchanasita has been successfully interiorised in the words spoken by Sita to Hanuman in the ‘uttaranka’ of Lankalakshmi: ‘even in the incandescence of the dawn, there is a strange blue tinge left.’ Sita could have known at that moment what the blue tinge was. The Ramayana is being rewritten backward — Kanchanasita first, then Saketam, and finally Lankalakshmi. In this cyclic process, the play incorporates the playwright within itself.
In C.J. Thomas’s trilogy lurks the history of mankind encapsulated in the forty-two years of his lifetime. The ‘knowledgeable brides’ await the occasion for revealing the utter meaninglessness of life. In Crime, the dialogue between the master and the pupil incorporates the story of a murder that never took place and reconstructs the plot of the play and that of life. In Srikantan Nair’s trilogy, the view of man developed during a lifetime of forty-eight years is positioned behind the curtain as the anguish of everyday life. This curtain guides towards silence ‘the shouting and the tumult’ that vibrate between the prologue and the epilogue. It is when the play becomes the playwright’s own self-definition that the play proves a triumphant creation. In C.J.Thomas’s three plays death is the theme, three kinds of death. In Srikantan Nair’s trilogy too, death enters. If we reckon that death in three different ways extends to the dramatist too, it would appear that a play is not something created — it can be that the dramatist’s life incorporates death by interiorisation. The playwright entombs himself within the play — and becomes a sepulcher. This is the harshest form of interiorisation — a memorial, a shrine of remembrance, a material embodiment of immortality.
Fiction: Popularity Versus Excellence
C.V. Raman Pillai’s novels have been categorised, with reference to theme, as historical, political and social. Marthanda Varma, Dharmaraja and Ramaraja Bahadur have been favourably or otherwise, evaluated on the basis of these categories. I have often wondered whether these works do not call for a different approach. When the form of the novel is looked at, it would seem that the mode of narration in them consists in assembling and writing multiple fragments. For instance, in the opening chapter of Marthanda Varma an event suspected to be a murder has been elaborated, mixing suspense and excitement. Is it really a murder? Is the victim of the attempted murder dead? The clue or revelation, in the epigraph ‘fallen and lying on the ground,’ and the question raised in the conclusion as to whether the persons who appear on the scene are the killers are intended to make the story absorb and involve the reader.
With crime as the background, the story continues as an attempt to discover the full and detailed facts. To use a cliché, the story is a knot formed by tying together several exciting happenings — what C.V.Raman Pillai has provided here is the structure of a detective novel. Although the enquiry, in narrating which exciting clues are provided in a semi-shadowy manner and which stretches to the end of the novel, begins as an investigation into the attempted murder, it continues as an enquiry into the truth about the numerous killings and deaths and similar forms of oppression connected with internal turmoil and political dissensions. The strands of the yarn flung forwards and backwards, left and right, are experienced as journeys into the dark interior of the plot. In Dharmaraja too, the vigour and intensity of the criminal investigation expose the unknown, unknowable secrets, the change of personalities, the changes of disguises. In C.V.Raman Pillai’s historical novels, the plot is governed by history, while its unfolding is on the model of detective novels. This characteristic is seen developed as a more complex, extensive and comprehensive feature in Ramaraja Bahadur. A dual explanation can be offered of these novels, that in those which are ostensibly detective fiction, interiorisation has inducted political history and that in those which are ostensibly political, interiorisation resorts to criminal investigation. In C.V.Raman Pillai’s detective fiction, the overt or explicit narration of the events and the open extensive descriptions of the background have the effect of veiling the process of investigations and enhancing the skill and ingenuity of the narration. The course of the narrative in Premamritam is governed by the flair for detective investigations hidden in the life of the individual, the family and the society. Even those who cannot relish the raw generalisation that C.V.Raman Pillai’s works are detective novels in the last analysis will accept that there is something in it. The episodes of Annavayya and the signet ring, the effort to discover the treasure of the Chilampineth family, inter-state spy work, the troubles that Kesavan Unnithan gets involved in, the attempt of Haripanchananan to set up a yajna, the administrative skill of Kesava Das, the martyrdom of Kunchaikutti Pillai, the entry and exit of Azhakan Pillai: all these together have a resemblance to Upton Sinclair’s mega novels describing the espionage activities during World War II.
War fiction cannot do without detection. And a single word or line that is out of step can kill the interest of stories. Knife-edge-treading is the life of the telling of a detective story. Each step in the narration has to be watched. The whole story right up to the end has to be present to the teller’s mind as he proceeds with his discourse. Any slackening of care can make the whole story laughable. The place, the time, the character, the event, the dialogue, the language, the date, the day of the week or fortnight, the time of the day or night — all these must be in the mind of the story writer. A break in the continuity of the chapter should not land him in a muddle. Any turn or twist in the plot should rouse the reader and stimulate his curiosity and challenge his wits. It should tempt him into wrong inferences and conjectures. A mistaken deduction is to be counted as the reader’s defeat and the narrator’s triumph.
When the narrative develops through the kind of mysterious investigations distinctive of whodunits, a single concealment of a move can halt the story. Leave aside major developments such as kidnapping of Sita in Ramayana; on a smaller scale, the urge for unravelling impenetrable secrets that individuals have can be a propellant for the plot. In Ayodhyakanda of Ramayana, the blocking of the coronation can be seen as a defeat for King Dasaratha’s statecraft. In many cases, consciously or unconsciously, one can get involved in the suppression of the truth. As suggested by the words ‘if it is Kichaka that was slain, then Bhima is the slayer,’ the clue or cause factor — even a false clue has a place in criminal investigations, which is an enquiry into the truth, isn’t it? It can be seen as governing the structure of the narrative in epics. Homer’s Iliad is the story of the backlashes of an elopement. The haste shown by Sophocles’s Oedipus in accepting the punishment for an offence committed in ignorance has a similar source. The many inset tales unfolding in the Mahabharata follow the same dual course of narration: simultaneously concealing and revealing. Knowing that the author is at pains to conceal, the reader watches and understands each stage and eventually attains the confidence that he has discarded all the mistaken assumptions and is discovering the truth. Detective investigation is only one model of interiorisation in fiction.
The shorter stories inset by interiorisation in C.V.Raman Pillai’s extended narrations is comparable to those in Mahabharata and to the sub-plots in Shakespeare’s plays. The role that these insets play in the main plot is meaningful in three ways. First, they support certain constituents of the main plot; secondly they impede or interrupt the course of the main plot, facilitating deeper appreciation– much as a short spell of slow motion can do in a movie; thirdly they open a clearing inside the world of the story and foster a sense of width and amplitude. The story of Nala and the story of Shakuntala are examples of the first function. When Unnayi Varier rescues the story of Nala from the status of an add-on tale and invests it with a life and movement of its own, he does not act from a sense of responsibility for supporting or balancing the story of Pandavas’ sorrows. When Kalidasa creates Abhijnanashakuntalam as an independent entity, what he does is to elevate an inset tale in Mahabharata to the rank of the main plot of a play. An example of the second function is the tragic story of Panchavankattu Nili in Marthanda Varma; which promotes a better understanding of the mesmerising relevance of offensive actions. Such stories provide the presentation of the bibhatsa and bhayanaka, disgust and fear, rasas with the sharpness of a nail-end etching. The sub-plots in Shakespeare’s plays can be examples of the third function. The Gloucester sub-plot in King Lear provides fullness for the core of the play. This can at times happen even when the play has a basis in conflicting rasas. In the Falstaff scenes in Henry IV Part 1, the vira, heroic and adbhuta, wonder rasas are equipped with multidimensionality by the hasya, comic rasa.
The undercurrent in C.V.Raman Pillai’s novels that we began by enquiring into is a mode of narration that continues to be universally practised. The search for Sita in the Ramayana can be read as a detective story. We can treat a simple, very ordinary peace of detective fiction as a matter for profound aesthetic study, comparable to the interiorisation of a sub-plot rich in possibilities. Can it be that crime detection seen as a human instinct is the basis for this? Shakespeare endeavoured to exploit the semantic potentialities of every word that he handled. Shakespeare’s style teems with puns. His object was to kill two birds with a stone. Such exuberance in the use of language proved in some places a fault. It is a common phenomenon that this interiorisation of multiple meanings at times spills over the boundaries of English and not only churns up the Latin, French, Welsh and Scottish languages, but within English mixes the palace style, the pub style, the street corner style, the clerical style and the country side style. The Babel formed by the Welsh conjuror, the French doctor, the priests mumbling Latin, the school master spouting grammar and the bleating spring lambs, is heard as a symphony orchestra in Shakespeare’s plays. When a word is run into another word, or a sentence into another sentence, the result is not only obscurity but an abundance of hasya and other rasas. The pregnant word, the pregnant sentence, the pregnant image and the pregnant sense give variety to the interiorisation that fills the whole work. The striking way C.V. Raman Pillai reconciles and mingles palace speech with the rural dialect and makes the union, as in the panchavadya dramatically delectable is noteworthy. Here too, in handling history and in setting imaginative character creations in the historical framework a mastery similar to Shakespeare’s is evident in C.V.Raman Pillai. Yes. In certain respects we can say that C.V.Raman Pillai equals Shakespeare.
C.V.Raman Pillai’s descriptive passages with their impressive grandeur are like fortress walls hiding what is within. Inside the rock-built fortifications can be found creepers of great beauty that lean and sway and match the royal consorts with delicately sensitive hearts. Parukutty who tells her beloved not to forget to buy kumkum from Chalai bazaar, Subhadra who speaks in the manner of ‘Slash, mine uncle, slash!’, the erotic fragrance of Chempakam who dozes off and hums within the heroic-furious Subhadra, the devotion and affection and moral sense of duty enshrined in the solitary words ‘Kesava!’ and ‘Your Highness,’ the silent sensitivity of the moist eyes of Meenakshi, the self sacrifice of Kunchaikutti Pillai where the sublime and the majestic and the demoniac beat and blow hard, the venom of Kodantha, my lord Unnithan’s fascination for dilemmas, Kesava Pillai’s obsession with duty and soaring ambition — how many such wide-ranging emotions gleam through the chiaroscuro of C.V.Raman Pillai’s cluster of oral and written splendour! The multi-coloured magnificence of C.V.Raman Pillai’s language that encapsulates the essence of multiple transformation from Chandrakkaran to Kaliprabhava Bhattan and thence to Manikya Goundan cannot be subjected to a monotone. The Gandhari gait of C.V.Raman Pillai’s ornate descriptions carrying ever so many embedded sentences is not always of uniform speed. What is important here is not just the mixing of the slow and fast. Not many other Malayalam writers can lay claim to a prose where one can hear varying pitches. It is a matter of wonder that subtle details could be interiorised even in what was taken down from dictation.
Originating with Marthanda Varma, the multiple-dimensional radiance of C.V.Raman Pillai’s prose developed through Dharmaraja and achieves fullness in Ramaraja Bahadur. When a style suited to the presentation of the conflict between minds or souls was first used for the narration of a contemporary story in Premamritam, the features of the satirical novel first became visible. And when, just as in Shakespeare’s plays the use of disguise has helped both in tragedy and in comedy, in C.V. Raman Pillai’s employment of the Grand Style, appropriate for the evocation of the past, for comic purpose, we get a new mode of narration. It could be said that it was by inhaling the oxygen in C.V.Raman Pillai’s farces that the comic scenes in Premamritam took shape. The dramatic interaction between styles paves the way for satirical comedy from the title of Premamritam downwards. When non-serious characters speak in grand style in non-serious contexts, rasabhasas and bhavabhasas become available to our experience, and the novels and plays look like parodies of historical works, and incongruity in styles shapes the language configuration in comic novels. Interiorisation in style is very rare. James Joyce is a modern novelist who has experimented this successfully. His novel Ulysses has in one chapter reproduced eighteen different styles one after the other. By practising whole-hearted, full-fledged imitation, he can be said to have made imitation essentially creative and achieved perfection in the employment of interiorisation in style.
Interiorisation can be used as a effective tool for reading the works of the renowned Malayalam novelist, Thakazhi Shivashankara Pillai. Although Thakazhi Shivashankara Pillai is famed as the chronicler of Kuttanad, that is not all there is to it; and that is not to be made the yardstick for measuring and defining his greatness. A location is not just a geographical pointer; the area of experience of those who dwell there must be taken into account in determining the meaning of the term. He who knows only Kuttanad does not know Kuttanad in its entirety. It is only when in the place known as Kuttanad the pulsations of universal human life are made to appear, that from being a particular area on earth Kuttanad will blossom into being a site in the realm of imagination. It can’t be just said that it was because he made Kuttanad his location that he attained his exceptional standing. His mode of treatment of it as a setting has also to be taken into account. What gives Kuttanad a literary reality and being is the skill and beauty of his imaginative portraiture of the life of the people of that region, which was to him all too familiar and real. If a certain spot gains meaningful acceptance in literature, if the author imparts universality to it by his vivid and profound representation of it, then he can be recognised as a writer of world status. This status does not accrue to one just by being a western writer. Neither does popularity or publicity make it available.
While remaining a son of the Kuttanad soil, Thakazhi Shivashankara Pillai has established himself as a world citizen. What is more, he has earned this status precisely because he is a native of Kuttanad, precisely because he has been more successful than anyone else in the artistic re-creation of human life in Kuttanad. The point is that it has been possible for him to project universal human existence within the miniature world of Kuttanad. Because he is a chronicler of Kuttanad, he has, while remaining a chronicler of Kuttanad, become a chronicler of the world. If his epic Kayar is the history of the world, it is because it is a history of Kuttanad. Almost all the characters in Kayar are images of Universal Man.
It is chiefly by three or four narrative strategies that Thakazhi Shivashankara Pillai has re-presented universal humanity in the milieu of Kuttanad society. The first of these is to follow, as Acchoma Kurup does, the tradition of discourse of tellers of tales of long ago, and as in the manner of narration of puranic stories, incorporate the past in the present. The second strategy is to incorporate by interiorisation life elsewhere into the range of experience of Kuttanad people. Thus the Moplah Revolt which took place in Malabar is translocated in the annals of Kuttanad by making the story of a namboodiri family from Malabar part of Kuttanad life. Similarly, the incorporation by interiorisation of the national struggle for independence through the satyagraha etc. in Kuttanad has the effect of achieving all-India scale for the plot of Kayar. This gives us the impression that Kuttanad has become a miniature India. The messages and money orders received in the days of World War II by people in Kuttanad from those on the battlefront serve in Thakazhi Shivashankara Pillai’s narrative to re-create the war experience. Although the theatres of the fighting were far away from Kuttanad, the scenes that bring home the tragedy of war have been incorporated in Kayar by means of placement. Similarly, events in Thiruvananthapuram are studied in terms of their probable impact on Kuttanad. Thus Thakazhi Shivashankara Pillai is able to make us imaginatively experience Kuttanad as Kerala, as India and as the World. Perhaps an even more important feature, which has, spontaneously as it were, appeared in the narrative mode of Kayar, has helped to impart a kind of universality to the plot and characters. The events, contexts and characters are not just uni-dimensional. Thakazhi Shivashankara Pillaihas been able to lift the events, contexts and characters to the level of suggestiveness where they can be described as archetypes or key images. This represents a big leap forward from Thakazhi Shivashankara Pillai’s early novels. These elements have been able to achieve a totally symbolic dimension by acquiring a quasi-allegorical character, while retaining their basic realistic role. Characters are mere stereotypes in the early novels like Patitapankajam, Fallen Lotus, and Paramarthangal, Realities. Here in Kayar Thakazhi Shivashankara Pillai is able to create archetypes of profound meaning in place of these stereotypes. This gives Kayar a four-dimensional halo, which is lacking in the early novels. The narration of events gets a poetic quality without losing the impression of realism.
Another factor, which enabled Thakazhi Shivashankara Pillai to make the story of Kuttanad the history of the world, as it were, is the universal relevance of the theme. In fact, the plot of Kayar is structured around one of the fundamental emotions of the human beings. The bond between man and soil is quite evident in Kuttanad, but it is also on a global scale, the seed from which humanity has sprung and grown. From the time there arrives the ‘classifier’, in order to measure and determine the land, and the time of the making of land legislation, delimiting and regulating land under cultivation, it can be said that Thakazhi Shivashankara Pillai carved out a period of time from the interval between the two systems. He indicates how the relationship of land and man changed from what it had been prior to the first system to what it has been since the coming of the second. The urge to acquire land has been replaced by the urge to do without it.
Besides, drawing upon the oral narrative tradition, looking at the history of the world from the Thakazhi-Kuttanad observatory, and making the land-man bond its theme, there is another significant factor that equips Kayar with a universal dimension. Rejecting the western model delineated by Kesari Balakrishna Pillai, Thakazhi Shivashankara Pillai adopted India’s, Kerala’s, Malayalam’s, Kuttanad’s narrative mode, in which countless strands meet and part and meet, each is a member of the total weave and contributes to its sturdiness. This mode is evidence of the unspoken repudiation and defiance, though not of the master, but of the master’s directive. Thakazhi Shivashankara Pillai has been able to discover a narrative model, which unites time’s main threads — the past, the present and the future — which puts him ahead of Balzac and Maupassant and Zola. By portraying, through the Eastern art of narratology, life through the ages, Thakazhi Shivashankara Pillai earned the right to impress his independence on the thinking of the readers of all countries. Kayar, which presents an alternative to Western narratology, needs in this sense to be ranked as a universal text.
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