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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



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To purchase Bharathipura

Title: Bharathipura
Author: U.R.Ananthamurthy
Genre: Novel
Written: 1973 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 289 pages
Original in: Kannada
Availability: Bharathipura - US
Bharathipura - UK
Bharathipura - Canada
Bharathipura - India
ಭಾರತೀಪುರ - India
  • Kannada title: ಭಾರತೀಪುರ
  • Translated by Susheela Punitha
  • Previously translated by P.Sreenivasa Rao (1996)

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Our Assessment:

B : intriguing novel rooted in specific time, place, and tradition(s) (literary as well as social and political)

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Hindu . 6/3/2011 V.S.Sreedhara
Indian Express A 12/3/2011 G.J.V.Prasad
The Telegraph . 24/6/2011 Shams Afif Siddiqi
Wall Street Journal . 1/7/2011 Chandrahas Choudhury

  From the Reviews:
  • "In many ways Bharathipura is a quintessential Ananthamurthy novel. Highly complex in its treatment of social change and the contradictions of revolution, it was misunderstood by both progressives and conservatives alike. However, it inaugurated a new culture of criticism that celebrated a text's complexities and ambivalences, the ability to “go beyond” all ideologies as a true hallmark of Kannada aesthetics. Even to this day, it has remained a dominant paradigm in Kannada literary judgement (.....) The novel offers an incisive narrative of the social and political tensions of the nation during the 70s marked by a disillusionment with radical ideologies. It is also an attempt to rethink the values associated with the national modern" - V.S.Sreedhara, The Hindu

  • "The book is also intensely about personal relationships -- familial, social, personal and sexual. Letters express minds as well as destroy mental peace. Ananthamurthy bravely explores what constructs the feudal world of Bharathipura and the ambiguities and ambivalences that revolutionary zeal carries for the sensitive individual. The book raises serious issues and confronts them head on. It is a relevant piece of work even for our times. Get to the nearest bookshop." - G.J.V.Prasad, Indian Express

  • "Some of the images in the novel remain etched in our memories. (...) But such moments are few and far between. There are certain things that Ananthamurthy seems to have blissfully forgotten, probably because of the medium he has chosen to do his writing in." - Shams Afif Siddiqi, The Telegraph

  • "Yet, while this novel can be read as an allegory of the fractious forcing open of a door in Indian history, its power resides in the way its universal ideas are worked out through the frame of the local. We never forget we are in a single small town, thinking our way through the particular names, histories and legends that inflect its thought. Mr. Ananthamurthy brings to his material considerable gifts as a technician." - Chandrahas Choudhury, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Bharathipura is named after the town in which it is set. The central character is Jagannatha, a Brahmin whose family wealth makes him the richest man in town. Having spent six years studying in England he has returned to Bharathipura and is now terribly disappointed by the rigid and stultified society here. In particular, he detests how the local temple and its idol, Manjunatha (i.e. Shiva), dominate everyday life. The temple -- and the pilgrims who come visit it -- are the source of much of the town's wealth; indeed, it's a must see (and must-pay-tribute) attraction that everyone goes to worship at, as apparently:

Gandhi was the only person who had visited the town without making a visit to Manjunatha.
       Jagannatha wants to shake things up, and the way he wants to do this is by leading the local Harijans (Dalits, 'untouchables'), the Holeyaru (responsible in this ultra-structured class society for dealing with the local excrement) into the holy of holies, the temple. As he notes in a letter he writes to the local newspapers announcing his plans:
There is a belief that Holeyaru who enter the temple will spew blood and die. If we can prove to them how baseless this belief is, I am very sure a different mode of thinking will dawn in the minds of these people.
       Needless to say, the community is not thrilled by the idea. The rigid caste society has taken some knocks over the years as politicians have been forced to try to be more open and inclusive, but in a backwater like Bharathipura that has only gotten so far. Equally problematic, the Holeyaru are hard to convince, too. It's understandable, perhaps, that they don't want to be guinea pigs if the expected outcome is that they will: "spew blood and die", but, in fact, Jagannatha faces smaller hurdles even before that, as he tries to teach some of them to read -- but finds that, in respecting the rules of caste, they won't even come into the slightest physical contact with him.
       Jagannatha is well-meaning in his wish to shake up society, but of course part of it is his own wish to be a man of action rather just someone who lives in easy comfort, able to do pretty much as he pleases. He insists:
I must make these people feel the anguish of becoming responsible for their lives.
       But part of the reason he is doing this is his own anguish as he tries to become a responsible adult. While in England (where he pursued an: "aimless, drifting lifestyle") he fell in love with Margaret, and he continues to write letters to her from Bharathipura. A life together still seems possible -- she applies for a position at an international school in Bangalore -- but he understands that they wouldn't be able to live in provincial Bharathipura if they were together:
I may have to rent a house in Bangalore, become an absentee landlord, talk in English -- a radical, throwing parties, living somewhere in the Cantonment with similar rootless people, with an Indianness linked to Ravi Shankar's sitar, the sculptures of Konarak, and folk songs
       And while Jagannatha wants radical change in some respects, he also respects and clings to some of his own roots and has a similar difficulty in letting them go.
       Others also suggest he should limit his ambitions:
Westernize yourself. Stay sane. But don't attempt to change this country. She is amorphous.
       Bharathipura is a novel full of encounters -- with Jagannatha recognizing that often, as in the case with his tenant farmers:
I'm not real to any of them. As soon as I turn my back, they're different people
       Everyone plays the role assigned to them (which varies in relation to whom they are dealing with). Brahmin Jagannatha can, to some extent, get away with proposing his outlandish ideas (though he also meets with quite a bit of personal rejection when he tries to push the issue) but actually changing society is quite a different proposition. "Was any kind of action possible in this place ?" he wonders to himself early on -- but in immediately opting for the most grandiose and loudest of actions also sets himself up for likely failure. "I have to sort myself out through action; I must firm up", he insists -- his undertaking as much for his own sake as for that of society (or the Holeyaru).
       Ananthamurthy's very large cast of characters, and Jagannatha's wanderings and his exchanges among them make for a fascinating portrait of a specific time and place, and of specific influences -- both traditional Indian and (relatively) modern Western, as in the thinkers and books that play a role here. The tension -- felt naturally in a society familiar with the class/caste-issues that are so central here -- is not quite as sustained for non-Indian readers who likely find it more difficult to relate to these issues, and the occasionally very episodic-seeming progression of Bharathipura, chapter by chapter, can stall at times, but Ananthamurthy does ultimately fashion a quite powerful tale here.
       A Q & A with the author, an Introduction by the translator, footnotes explaining a variety of terms and references (including "Byron33": "A British poet"), and a Glossary do provide some helpful supporting material for non-Indian readers, but Bharathipura remains a very foreign-feeling read, too.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 July 2013

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Bharathipura: Reviews: Other books by U.R.Ananthamurthy under review: U.R.Ananthamurthy:
  • Finalist, for the Man Booker International Prize 2013
Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Indian literature

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About the Author:

       Kannada-writing (i.e. from Karnataka) Indian author U.R.Ananthamurthy (also: Anantha Murthy; Udupi Rajagopalacharya Ananthamurthy; ಯು.ಆರ್.ಅನಂತಮೂರ್ತಿ) was born in 1932 and died in 2014.

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© 2013-2021 the complete review

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