Santeshivara Lingannaiah Bhairappa is a Kannada writer. He is the author of the popular and much discussed book Avarana.
He retired after teaching at the Mysore based Regional Institute of Education, Sardar Patel University and NCERT, New Delhi.
He was born in a poor Brahmin family in Santeshivara village in Hassan district on July 26, 1934. Now he lives in Mysore. He is married and has two sons.
In college, he majored in Philosophy. He was awarded a Doctor of Philosphy (PhD) from the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda for his thesis Satya Mattu Soundarya (Truth and Beauty).
The novel Avarana
The Mysore University’s dictionary gives the meaning of Avarana as cover, environment, ambience and surroundings.
In his novel, the term Avarana has also been used to imply falsehood and deliberate attempt to hide the truth. He describes it as a novel based on medieval Indian history. His earlier novel Sartha spoke about ancient history. (More details at the end)
It uses the ‘novel within a novel’ technique to tell a bunch of stories.
The book revolves round the lives of Lakshmi, a Vokkaliga who has converted to Islam and is now called Raziya, her husband Amir and Prof Narayan Shastri, teacher, speaker and their family friend.
Lakshmi and Amir are students of the Film and Television Institute of India. They fall in love and marry. Lakshmi’s father Narasimha Gowda opposes the marriage and conversion. Prof Shastri who happens to hail from Lakshmi’s village supports them. Amir becomes a documentary film maker and Raziya becomes a script writer.
However, the husband and wife do not have an easy relationship. Their ideological differences dry up the love between them. They
do not easily agree with each other and have a very argumentative relationship. When young, both of them had leftist leanings. They believed Marxism is the force that liberates the people from their economic and ideological poverty. During college days, progressive thought is the basis of their life and not religion.
However, as years go by, Raziya starts developing an interest in anti –Communist, rightist thought. Amir slowly becomes religious and anti –liberal.
Raziya’s work makers her travel. She cant wear a Burkha or follow the Ghosha system. She wears a bindi now and then. She has trouble learning Urdu well. Amir’s parents oppose her behaviour. She argues and does not obey them. They use the services of the Tablikh volunteers to counsel her. She fights with them too.
Finally, Raziya and Amir move out and set up a separate home. They hire a maid to cook. Amir’s parents bring up the couple’s son Nazir.
Raziya’s father Mr Gowda dies in his village, unknown to her. Prof Shastri informs her of his silent demise. She suddenly feels the urge to visit the village. The village attracts her. Prof Shastri’s father tells her that her father Mr Gowda had taken up serious studies of Islam, Hinduism and medieval history in the last few years. She searches her ancestral house and comes across many books her father had collected and several notes that he had made.
The shock of her father’s death, and her new found religious leanings make her study the books and notes. She stays in the village for four years. The village is so remote that it does not have a telephone.
Meanwhile, her son Nazir is growing up. He studies Petro Chemical engineering and takes up a high paying job in Saudi Arabia. He becomes a devout, ritualistic Muslim. Later, Prof Shastri and Raziya arrange his marriage to Aruna, Prof Shastri’s daughter.
Novel inside the novel
At this time, Raziya starts writing a historical novel. The main novel and Raziya’s novel are weaved together. They are narrated simultaneously.
Raziya’s speaks about the reign of Aurangazeb. The main character in the story is the Prince of Devgadh, a princely state in the Aravali mountains. He is captured by Aurangazeb’s commander Mansabdar Ejaz Ahmed Khan. He is converted at knife point and taken as a slave. He is first used as a male prostitute by Khan. After some time, he sells him to a richer Masabdar Moinuddin Tarazi. He castrates the Hero of the novel and keeps him as a slave in his Zenana.
There he meets a benevolent lady, Udaypuri Mahal, a Hindu wife of the Mansabdar. She treats him with care and motivates him to learn Farsi language and religious texts. His teacher Haji Hamdullah, is a learned man. He not only teaches him the basics of Islam, but also the finer aspects of politics and Palace intrigue. Meanwhile the Hero learns that his wife has also been made a slave by one of the Mansabdars. She is a slave to one of the Aurangazeb’s wives.
The scene shifts to the main novel. Prof Shastri’s mother dies and he is not allowed to perform her last rites as he has eaten beef sometime in his life and defended his action. Prof Shastri however decides to complete her last rites in Prayag near Kashi and travels to that place. His visit is also combined with a lecture he has to give in the Benaras Hindu University. Prof Shastri’s sister and brother in law also travel to Kashi to immerse the ashes in the holy river. Raziya travels with them. She is planning to take up field work, in support for her novel.
In Raziya’s novel, the Hero witnesses Aurangazeb’s style of functioning. The King orders the Kashi Vishwanath temple be plundered. Haji, who is the record keeper of the Kingdom, is asked to go to Kashi to witness and document the event. The Hero also gets to travel with him.
The events in Kashi are described in detail. Haji and the Hero are given royal treatment and they travel back to Delhi. Here the Hero’s mind undergoes a change and he decides to run away with and wage a war against Aurangazeb. His wife has two children from the Mansabdar, apart from an earlier one from the Hero. The Hero plans to take his wife and her children along. He plans to seek the help of Shivaji, Chatrasal and Bundelkhand rebels.
Raziya’s novels ends here.
Meanwhile, Amir has married again, without divorcing Raziya. His new wife is half his age and not well educated. She is a Muslim and teaches Urdu in a school.
Later, she participate in an all India conference on harmony along with Prof Shastri.
There, she accuses Marxist historians of deliberately covering up the truth of the medieval ages (Hence the novel’s name ‘Avarana’). She makes strong allegations that Muslims Kings of medieval periods like Tippu Sultan and Aurangazeb were inhuman and anti Hindu. They levied taxes, forcefully converted people to Islam and massacred those who refused to convert. They also destroyed Hindu temples and built Masjids and prayer grounds on the place where there were temples. She also says that for all such actions, they had the sanction of their religion.
She suggests that communal harmony is not possible without exposing the truth of the atrocities of Muslim Kings and the “fundamentalism enshrined in Islam”.
Amir is also attending the conference. He gets drunk and tries to have sex with her in her hotel room. She refuses and sends him back to his room.
Towards the end, she tries to publish her novel but there are no takers. Finally, the book is published and there are many protests. The government decides to ban the book and arrest her.
In a twist in the tale, Amir comes to know of it and saves her. He makes her evade arrest and is fighting to get her bail and seek back the books taken away by the police.
Avarana ends with a list of reference books that Raziya prepares. She says she has used these books to find facts to support her in writing her novel.
Issues raised in the novel
The novel reinforces many prejudices held among the people about Islam and the rule of Muslim Kings. Dr Bhairappa also tries to bring out the ritualistic differences between Hinduism and Islam.
The first taste of it is obtained in the first page. Amir is staying in a government guest house in Hampi and is sick of vegetarian food. He demands chicken biriyani from the cook. When the cook refuses, Amir threatens to complain to higher authorities. He says he will “feel weak” without non vegetarian food.
Beliefs and prejudices about Jehad, Iconoclasm (idol worship) marriage, polygamy, and Talaq, Sunnat, Zenana, and women’s status in Islam, conversion and the fusion between the religious head and political head of the state are also reinforced.
The author makes fun of rationalists and communist thinkers. Some people say Prof Shastri’s character is based on writer U R Ananthmurthy. Prof Shastri is pictured as someone who does not have strong ideological commitments and can adjust himself to any environment. He has married a Catholic from England, but wants his son and daughter to be brought up according to Hindu rituals.
He can be rational and defend his beef eating. But he can also be religious and travel to Prayag to perform the last rites of his mother. He lacks courage and does this secretly. His head is shaved during the last rites. He later travels to America to hide his bald head and comes back to India after carefully growing and dying his hair.
Secular and Marxist writers are shown as if they support Muslim fundamentals but not Hindu religious leaders.
The author also ridicules some things like the Zenana and polygamy system. He also makes fun of castrating the slaves. One full page is used to describe the process of castration. The word “castrated slave” to describe the Hero, appears at least 20 times in the novel. This probably refers to the Hindu masses who silently suffered the alleged atrocities by Muslim kings.
In the preface to Avarana, Dr Bhairappa has said he has proof for all his claims in the novel. He has also reiterated it in many other interviews and public functions.
“None of the historic facts mentioned here are the products of my imagination. I have historical basis and proof for each of these facts”, Dr Bhairappa says in the novel.
The book has received a great amount of criticism, from writers and critics.
Critics have said the book is based on guess work and not on facts. Secondly, the book does not look at events in their proper context. Thirdly, the book tries to push forth the retrograde Brahminical agenda.
Fourthly, the author adamantly tries to force the reader that all that is said in the book is truth and nothing else is.
Prajavani Kannada daily published a series of debates about the book.
Film maker N S Shankar has brought out a book “Avarana Anavarana” (Unraveling The Cover ).
Dr Ananthmurthy has described the book as an expression of fascist agenda. He has also said that Dr Bhairappa has acted as a debater in writing this book, he has said.
Kannada Sahitya Parishat president Chandrashekar Patil has said that Dr Bhairappa has not tried to say that whatever said in the book is his opinion. Dr Bhairappa argues that what ever he says is the truth. It is difficult to accept such claims as being historic facts discovered by a researcher. It is, at the most a record of a writer’s personal beliefs, Prof Patil has said.
However, Dr Bhairappa continues to maintain that he is happy the book has started a debate as to the role of Muslim kings in the medieval period.