Grasshopper versus Horse for the Sun

‘Grasshopper on Rock’; Wen Liang, 15th century.

Grasshopper versus a Horse for the Sun —A Critical Narrative on Social Change in Kannada Fiction

D.R. Nagaraj

Editor’s note: My father used to get the India International Quarterly, and I would go through it cursorily when it arrived. When the essay below by D R Nagaraj came out in 1992, I was still finishing my DPhil in Oxford, and had published my first novel the previous year. I hadn’t heard of Nagaraj: there was no reason to, unless you were in a particular academic circuit. I had sensed, in Oxford, that the social sciences was becoming the new intellectual hegemony in India, but it was still possible to ignore it and spend most of one’s time grappling with literature, cinema, and music.

Still, Nagaraj’s essay interested me, and I took note; it came across as being more intellectually alive, more involved, than the critical and academic work I had generally encountered in India. It was also, I now see, entirely non-academic. Its intellectual compulsions are deep-seated rather than professional.

It was published alongside A K Ramanujan and Manu Shetty’s magnificent translation of U R Ananthamurthy’s short story ‘A Horse for the Sun’ (‘Suryana Kudure’ in the original Kannada). This made sense, as Nagaraj’s essay is a discussion of, among other things, two literary works: a novel by Devanoor Mahadeva, Kusuma Baale that had been published in 1988, and Ananthamurthy’s story. The novel’s non-narrative form, which excites Nagaraj, is described by him below. The short story is about the return of a writer, Anantha, to his village, where, by chance, he runs into his childhood friend Venkata in the market, buying vegetables, oblivious to him and to the world in general. This obliviousness is both alluring and perplexing to Anantha: what, after all, is Venkata contented about? He hasn’t achieved anything. If anything, as Anantha finds out, Venkata’s family life is falling apart. Where does his capacity, and taste, for bliss come from? Is he some kind of visionary – the one who, at the story’s end, says, pointing at a grasshopper: ‘Look! A horse for the sun!’ – or an oaf? Anantha is coerced by Venkata into having an oil massage administered on his head. He resists – then surrenders. The narrator’s record of the polysyllabic, hypnotic gibberish that Venkata utters while administering the massage must surely be one the high points of literature, and literary translation.

When, at the end of the 1990s, I was putting together material for the Picador Book of Modern Indian Literature, I thought I should return to that issue of the IIC Quarterly. Rereading Ananthamurthy’s story confirmed that it needed to be in the anthology; and Nagaraj’s essay, on a second reading, was just as engaging as it had been earlier, and I made reference to it in the headnote I wrote for the story. Though I didn’t know it, Nagaraj had died in 1998, at the age of 44, around the time I began making these investigations.

When this website for ‘literary activism’ went live in August this year, I thought I should revisit the essay, just in case it could be retrieved for new readers. A great deal had happened since I’d last read it two decades ago. Literature, worldwide, had become a category that looked for a home in other domains, disciplines, and bodies of knowledge (the market; history; the social sciences; race, nation, and identity), but in itself was placeless and silent; in India, the social sciences hegemony, which had little understanding of the literary except on its own terms, was still powerful, though it was being arraigned by a government of the extreme right; the question of caste had become a major intellectual preoccupation, and caste and Dalit studies was a significant academic discipline. The last is worth mentioning because Kusuma Baale, the novel Nagaraj champions in his essay, is written by a Dalit writer. Nagaraj himself was of the Devanga or weaver caste, and, throughout the essay, sees this fact – though he never addresses it overtly – both from the outside and inside. He wants to reserve the right to be many things: a ‘student of literature’; a person from, for the want of a better term, a ‘non-upper caste’ category; a Kannada intellectual, which appears to be an identity that carries with it connotations and possibilities indicated by the freewheeling, humorous, and ‘serious’ registers of this essay. Two other things: Nagaraj had become well-known in the last two decades, appropriated by a mainstream in academia that would have been interested in what he said on caste or, say, Gandhi and Ambedkar, and superficially conscious of, and essentially incurious about, his investment in poetics.

Since my third rereading (which I undertook after I’d relocated the essay), I have read it twice while making very light copy edits for typos. Each time I’ve noticed startling things which I hadn’t before, which make both the essay and its author anomalous in the present academic climate of piety, and hostility to the imagination.

The first is Nagaraj’s humour, which creates a contextual, self-reflexive frame for his journey with some Dalit activists, including Krishna (who is his interlocutor throughout), towards a ‘lower-caste’ village; it also fashions a frame for his own pronouncements. Humour allows him to view both Krishna’s politics and his own state of animation – ‘My enthusiasm knew no bounds, unchecked by irony… my non-stop pompous lecture’ – with affectionate detachment.

The second is Nagaraj’s distaste for the European Enlightenment, and what he sees to be its offspring: rationality; realism (in the novel) – in short, his impatience with an overdetermined consciousness. Against the Enlightenment he posits poetry. In this, he exhibits the classic characteristics of the Indian modern, and of the non-Anglophone Indian writer in particular, rather than the postcolonial academic, for whom the oral and the fantastical are significant (overdetermined) non-Western political categories, but for whom the poetic remains unaddressed. Nagaraj’s interest in Kusama Baale isn’t postcolonial, reliant on ideas of identity: it’s formal. This brings us to his delineation of his difference – despite the proximity of their caste background – from Krishna, the activist. Krishna, Nagaraj implies, sees poetry as a luxury; and why shouldn’t he? For Krishna, a scepticism to do with the artistic dimensions of the cultural inheritances of his caste goes hand in hand with his sharp awareness of their cruelty and oppressiveness. Both the English language and rationality are important instruments for Krishna: they’re ‘empowering’, in today’s language.

Nagaraj shrewdly contrasts Krishna’s way of reading Kusuma Baale with his own: ‘He was interested in the content of the novel, whereas I was more keen on discussing the return to the folk-roots phenomenon’

Nagaraj’s portrayal of Krishna emerges from a sense of intellectual history marked – as the entire essay is – by distance and humour. This leads to his distinctive characterisation of Krishna and his politics – of the tenor, in fact, of both caste and radical activism: ‘Processes of social change in Karnataka have produced individuals like Krishna. For them literary judgement cannot be divorced from the day-to-day political situations…’ And a few paragraphs down: ‘These, in sum, are the attitudes of the modernists and radicals who are products of historical change and the will to change.’ Something obvious is being pointed out, something that’s often left out of at least the Indian Anglophone account of intellectual history: that activists and political action don’t just produce change – they are products of history themselves. For Nagaraj, it’s history, not history-writers, that is the author – again, this creates a qualifying frame. Nagaraj constantly compares Krishna to a fictional character, Chenna, in Kusuma Baale, to point to a context of contingency that Krishna himself doesn’t seem aware of, but which might possibly be illuminated by a novel.

To become aware of the historicity and contingency of our ideas and actions is to gain an angularity that’s often lacking in academia: an angularity that comes from knowing that we aren’t only the students, recorders, and writers of history, but that we have ourselves emerged from a particular history and time. Once we sense that, we don’t need to feel imprisoned within a particular intellectual dispensation as if it were ‘true’, inevitable, or timeless. I noticed a peculiarly unexpected relevance in one of Nagaraj’s many reflections on his young companion: ‘Krishna, my friend, is only a more sophisticated and articulate version of Chenna. For him the art of playing drums is linked with the humiliating task of carrying dead animals.’ This links Nagaraj’s Krishna to another Krishna, T M, a Carnatic musician and writer (a Brahmin and a critic of the Brahminical), whose latest book, on the making of drums in South India, emerges from an ethos that Nagaraj noticed coming into existence almost three decades ago. His Krishna throws light on both T M Krishna and a generation for which the possibility of surrender that either poetry or a cultural tradition – like music – might offer is foreclosed by the control of an overdetermined historical consciousness that’s conscious of everything (injustice; everyday practice; ritual) except its own formation by, and place in, history.

Nagaraj ends his essay with a wry but impassioned account of the liberation that Venkata’s oil-massage – and poetry – comprises. He hints at a critique that is hardly ever heard in discussions to do with caste: that an overdetermined Dalit self-consciousness can become, if it becomes sovereign, as immediate a tyrant, a sovereign, for the Dalit as any identifiable enemy outside the self. ‘If at all Krishna ever agrees to describe the grasshopper as a horse for the sun, it would mean a radical change in our political and social discourses. He would be a different man.’ These are challenging and courageous statements, and they represent the view of a tiny minority that has had a long history in modern Indian literatures and their poetics, but is now, if it exists at all, without voice: a minority that argued not only against Enlightenment rationality, whatever political form it took (‘nationalism’ is the form Tagore argued against), but against the constraints of any form of self-consciousness that became akin to what Ananthamurthy calls the ‘tiger’ – with the aim of cowing, through rhythm and poetry, the tiger to submission.


The figure of the coiled Nagaraja in the Badami cave temple, Karnataka, from the 6th century.

D.R. Nagaraj

Grasshopper versus a Horse for the Sun —A Critical Narrative on Social Change in Kannada Fiction

[Two works of Kannada fiction, Kusuma Baale , a novel, and ‘Suryana Kudure’, a short story, have tackled the problem of social change in two distinctly different ways. Both were written in the mid-80s and they were, immediately, accorded the status of classics. The author of Kusuma Baale, Devanoor Mahadeva (b 1946), is an untouchable by birth and presently an important leader of the Dalit movement. An outstanding fiction writer, he makes his living as a farmer near Mysore. The author of ‘Suryana Kudure’, Prof. U.R. Anantha Murthy (b 1932), is one of our important writers. The present article discusses the theme of social change as explored in these works.]

I shall never forget that evening in my life. We had to walk nearly 5 km in the dusk to reach that little, sleepy tribal village at the foot of a hill. I, in the capacity of a facilitator, was with a group of activists working with a forest tribe, the Forest Shepherds. If you are a stickler for methodological rigour, it is very difficult to describe that village as a tribal one. The community of people that lives there is no longer tribal. Caught up in the process of a tribe transforming itself into a lower caste, it is a classic example of the phenomenon that has been referred to by the Marxist historian D.D. Kosambi, in his studies of Indian history. They only have the memory of a tribe and it clashes bitterly with their modern experience.

The forest of the region had disappeared long ago, leaving only traces of thorny bush and shrub. The district Tumkur was facing a severe drought for the fourth consecutive year. We must have crossed at least four or five tanks totally dried up, looking like huge feet with sores and wounds in the sinking light of the sun. My group of rural development activists was intensely debating the patterns and consequences of social change in Karnataka. An activist, Shiva, lamented that the villagers were just not interested in maintaining the old tanks and lakes. Representative democracy of post-independent Karnataka has taken away the spirit of participatory democracy,which was very much an integral part of traditional society, he continued. The desilting and maintenance of tanks were the responsibility of the entire village. There are more than 27,000 tanks and most of them are dying now, Shiva moaned. We were not in a mood to listen to the said activist who was more attached to the old India. ‘Death of a tank, Saar,’ he said, ‘means a maimed village.’

I, a professional student of literature, was holding forth, while walking, on the formal innovations of Devanoor Mahadeva’s latest novel Kusuma Baale (1988). I was quite excited by the work, written by one of the most talented writers of Kannada, a Dalit, which had sought to question, not all that gently, the very foundations of the traditional novel. The author had called it Katha Kavya (Narrative Verse). The formal experimentation of the novel has its roots in the traditional folk narratives which seek to dissolve the difference between prose and verse. Enveloped by layers of dust which rose from the road, I argued that the parameters of realism could never faithfully reflect and communicate the psyche and the world-views of lower castes. Realism to them is neither reliable nor real. One has to break with realism to get an entry to the gods, goddesses, spirits, myths and dreams of these communities. Realism, rooted in Western inspiration, carries within it certain restrictions. These act as a kind of censoring mechanism to prevent any meaningful encounter between the philosophy and practice of the arts of the lower castes, and (Ed. there’s possibly a word missing here) the realist novel as a documentation of life. For the first time in Kannada, Mahadeva had made it happen! Here the spirits of the lamp, Jothammas speak the language of human beings and they even narrate stories.

My enthusiasm knew no bounds, unchecked by irony. The activists listened to all this silently, without reacting to it. Even then I could not fail to notice a feeling of distress on the face of another activist friend, Krishna. He too had read the novel, and only once during my non-stop pompous lecture had intervened to say that the theme of the novel focuses on the violent conflict between the upper and lower castes. The novel has only reflected, he remarked, the increasing conflict between the untouchables and caste Hindus in rural Karnataka. He was interested in the content of the novel, whereas I was more keen on discussing the return to the folk-roots phenomenon. For me it was a very authentic effort to escape the clutches of colonialism. It is true that Frantz Fanon has warned the Africans about the inherent political dangers involved in such an enterprise…

The debate stopped. We had reached the village by 7 in the evening. After a humble meal at the house of the Headman of the village, we sat down for a real feast of folk performances. Both men and women sang folk lyrics and passages from oral epics. The Kannada language was at its primordial best. Even in the midst of poetic trance, I did not fail to notice that Krishna was looking very uncomfortable. I realised suddenly that he was from the same village. Krishna had fought with the whole village when he stubbornly refused to observe the traditional rituals and practices. He was nothing if not a radical.

The conflict had turned violent when Krishna’s pregnant wife had to stay alone in a hut to deliver her child, as was the practice with the caste. Krishna protested and admitted his wife to the nearby Government hospital. This had enraged the elders of his caste and he was forced to leave the village. This was his first visit to the village after the bitter feud; all this came back to me with force.

Once the performances were over, the Headman himself rushed towards Krishna. There was a melee and many youths in the village wanted to break Krishna’s skull. I intervened and protested. The Headman and other elders of the village argued that it was their internal affair and we better stay away from it. We did not yield. Finally, I managed to pull him out of the scene and we left the village immediately.

We walked back to NH4 to get some transport, possibly a truck, to reach Bangalore. My mind refused to connect things. I talked about Kusuma Baale again, but this time with less enthusiasm, describing the novel’s battle royale with realism in the use of language. Realism can’t accept the fusion of poetry and prose. After all, the Enlightenment, father of realism, had treated poetry with deep suspicion. Hobbes abhorred deviationist practices of poetry in terms of language. It was even considered a feminine discourse, a thing to be monitored and controlled.

In Kusuma Baale the style becomes an end in itself and it weaves myriad patterns which defy translation. This has also lent a great deal of political value to the novel in terms of its refusal to become a commodity of literary consumerism, I argued. This time Krishna did cut short my monologue in a bitter and passionate tone.

‘D.R. Saar, didn’t you see the violence of the villagers’ reaction? The enchanting beauty of the epics and narratives of my caste is organically linked to their value system, which is by and large detrimental to the interests of their own folk. It is opposed to change. If you want to use their art forms or narrative forms, you should also become an insider to their value system. You can’t separate the two. You can’t be authentic in that case.’

Krishna had stated his case clearly. In these days of social change, a major problem faced by contemporary Kannada writing is the ultimate contradiction between traditional forms of culture and social experience. This contradiction assumes frightening forms, particularly when the social experience is judged from the viewpoint of radical politics. Processes of social change in Karnataka have produced individuals like Krishna. For them literary judgement cannot be divorced from the day-to-day political situations.

Mahadeva had chosen one particular way of handling this contradiction. A sure way of enhancing the self-respect of humiliated communities like the Dalits is to revitalise their cultural forms. But modernists and radicals, particularly the Ambedkarites, resent such efforts. For them any attempt to see creativity in traditional Hindu folk culture is tantamount to support the unjust society it has sustained.

A similar controversy rages between two groups of radical scholars regarding the attitude to be adopted towards folk culture. Here the debate is localised to a discussion on Bhutaradhana1 of Dakshina Kannada (Coastal Karnataka). Dalit radicals like Dr Arvind Malagathi seriously challenge any attempt to see radical meanings and motifs in the cult of Bhutas. Whatever motif of protest is found in this form has already been explained by anthropologists as rituals of rebellion. Read Evans-Pritchard or Max Gluckman to understand this. It is only a ritual; a safety-valve mechanism, perfected by the system to guarantee its survival and growth. On the other hand, the group represented ably by Dr Vivek Rai, Purushothma Bilimale and Chinnappa Gowda, in understandable enthusiasm, upholds Bhutaradhana as a radical practice.

It dawned on me that Krishna after all, was voicing misgivings, widely shared by movements for radical social change, about traditional culture. It also occurred to me that life and literature had met and clashed in that conversation. In other words, Krishna was talking exactly like Chenna, the untouchable boy in Kusuma Baale who had fallen in love with an upper caste girl, Kusuma, and had even fathered her child. For Krishna alias Chenna, social change does not necessarily mean upward social mobility; but it definitely means violating taboos of the caste system. Man-woman love knows no caste or class, true, but it has been conditioned by forces of caste and class. The college-educated Chenna naturally suspects anything that is connected with the culture of his past. He is seen carrying an English newspaper when he meets the arch-conservative Brahmin. English becomes a weapon in itself.

Krishna, my friend, is only a more sophisticated and articulate version of Chenna. For him the art of playing drums is linked with the humiliating task of carrying dead animals. The joy of singing oral epics is associated with, by tradition, the insult of the artist standing outside the houses of upper caste landlords with a begging bowl. Old culture means humiliation; self-respect, in this case, essentially means repudiating one’s cultural past. These, in sum, are the attitudes of the modernists and radicals who are products of historical change and the will to change.

For them change means writing in the socially respectable genres and modes of literature. Realism is their natural ally; when the Krishnas and Chennas turn writers, they prefer to use that mode. To them, mimetic contract and empirical verifiability, the cornerstones of realism, offer perfect ways of presenting and evaluating their experiences. No wonder Realism is the most important and authentic mode of writing for the writers of radical literary movements, Dalit and Bandaya2

In his novel, Mahadeva has rightly sought to turn things upside down. He has realised that even the rebel has to have a tradition of memory. Social change in the modern context, given the ideologies of aping the powerful, could also lead to obliteration of cultural memory. Krishna and Chenna would feel perfectly happy to use the standardised linguistic registers of the mass media. They have lost the capacity to invoke their memory. And they don’t feel sad about this—for the present. Yet in their collective memory, which has shaped the everyday living speech of the community, images and symbols exist of a very different kind.

Mahadeva has established organic links with his collective memory. Here radicalism lies in his capacity to dissociate the meaning and form of the arts in the collective memory from the context of performing them. The context of their performances, folklorists will do well to remember, has been a demeaning context in the larger political sense.

Krishna, in one of his moments of despair, had screamed that night:

I want to forget all this, I want to forget their gods, their folk epics, their violence.

After a while, he shouted again, this time with more force and determination. ‘If I don’t escape from this memory, I will become a quietist, incapable of any action like the old man Kuriyayya in Kusuma Baale.’ He had uttered the unspeakable truth. For modernists, quietism or inaction is the leprosy of the soul.

In U.R. Ananthamurthy’s ‘Suryana Kudure’ (‘A Horse for the Sun’), Ananthu, the narrator, is also horrified by this experience of quietism or inaction. In our conversation Krishna had argued that the highest ideal of our traditional culture is nothing but inaction. It is also a state of perfect bliss transcending all forms of rationality and discrimination.

In ‘Suryana Kudure’ the battle lines are drawn at the very outset; the two conflicting characters, Ananthu and Hade Venkata, have understood each other too well to begin on any false moves. For Ananthu, the narrator, any gesture of forgiving after having acquired historical knowledge is an impossibility. From the beginning of the story he is annoyed with the ‘simpleton’ Venkata; although the original Kannada word ‘Hade’3 has more complex implications. What follows is a bitter battle of descriptions. By describing the other in a certain way, it is hoped that he would be reduced to the state described. Ananthu wishes to evaluate Hade Venkata’s character in a certain way by providing the reader with a set of descriptions:

Why should someone like him father children? Live as the butt of every passerby’s joke? I began to think: the village idiocy that Marx spoke of, which is the cause of this country remaining backward… and so on, Venkata seemed to symbolise for me everything that lived in a state of inertia. I tried as seriously as possible to expound to Venkata my anxieties about the stagnation in this country that I had been sharing of late with my friends. But is he the kind who would listen? (‘Suryana Kudure’, translated by Manu Shetty and A.K. Ramanujan)

The strong point of ‘Suryana Kudure’ is that Ananthu’s viewpoint does not succeed in annihilating Hade Venkata. In sharp contrast to the narrator’s anxiety, Venkata is quite relaxed; and it seems as though he is shaped by a different cultural mould. He describes himself as ‘a devotee of Kali, and so even her wrath is a blessing to me. Thus have I managed to remain blissful in this earthly existence.’ Anxiety is countered with bliss.

Social change is the theme of both Kusuma Baale and ‘Suryana Kudure’, and they have many other things in common. Differences between the two are on the surface itself and we can return to them later. Interestingly, one of the minor characters of Kusuma Baale, Kuriyayya, a Dalit, has grown into a full-blooded Brahmin—Hade Venkata or Venkata krishna Joysa. In the eyes of their society, both seem to be utterly useless; but the contempt of others hasn’t prevented them from developing their own philosophy of life. The ridicule has not destroyed them. It is not all that surprising that ‘passivity’ is the central state of existence to both of them, for the upper and lower castes are organically linked to each other in traditional culture. Call it coercion or consent, the fact is that they are organically linked. Dalit activists in Kusuma Baale are amused and annoyed by the world-views of Kuriyayya; it is too weird for them to take it seriously. But with the narrator in ‘Suryana Kudure’, the case is different.

Kuriyayya traces the problem of hurt egos, in this instance social or caste ego, at the root of the conflict between caste Hindus and untouchables. Through a story on the Dalits kidnapping upper-caste women and living with them merrily in some mythical past, he explains the deep-rooted hatred that has poisoned the relationship between these communities. Being an untouchable himself, Kuriyayya refuses to take sides. He says both the communities are at fault. So he rejects the notion of ego itself, be it collective or individual.

Explicit intellectual encounters are not one of the strong points of Kusuma Baale, and the author leaves Kuriyayya at that. But the narrator in ‘Suryana Kudure’ takes on Hade Venkata with brutal force, and challenges him in a cruel way.

‘Hey, you fool. Can you live without an ego? Even a saint needs an ego.’ Saying this, I thought—without destroying the likes of Venkata, there is no electricity, no dams, no penicillin, no dignity, no respect, no joy of sex, no woman won, no peaks, no aircraft, no evolution, no memory, no passion, no joy.

The tug of war between the two acquires more abstract forms, and it is eventually presented as a war between two irreconcilable life-styles and world-views. All other characters in the story are either hysterical or on the verge of despair. Only Hade Venkata is an ocean of tranquillity. The narrator has accused him of passivity, but, in the concrete context of the story, Hade Venkata is far from that. He moves from victory to victory in the story in an unobtrusive way. What gets ripped up is the rationalist mechanism of the narrator. In his battle against Ananthu, the weapons employed by Hade Venkata belong to the world of Panjurli and Jettiga spirits and fire-spitting Kali. Of course, Ananthu also concedes that ‘he had a personal philosophy too, shaped in the presence of the various spirits of the land.’ One of the ambitions in Hade Vankata’s life is to bring around a tiger and pacify it with an oil massage. He would grab it by its whiskers and beginning with its forehead, he would gently massage it. Faced with a tiger, once, a long time ago, Hade Venkata had passed out. But he has grown stronger in the meanwhile.

The great irony of the story lies in the art of now presenting Ananthu himself as the tiger! He too had wished Hade’s destruction to pave the road for progress and change. But the massage philosopher doesn’t treat the narrator as his enemy. Finally, Venkata succeeds in grabbing Ananthu, the tiger, and begins with his forehead. The gentle act of massage is not all that gentle in the symbolic sense, for it becomes the sacred act of washing away several layers of ideological dust that have enveloped Ananthu. In this crucial part, the story makes a great leap to escape from the chains of realist narration. The purpose of the realist prose is to place enough material in the body of fiction to enable the reader to understand the manners and morals of a certain individual. But when Hade Venkata forces himself to the centre of the story, he doesn’t do it exactly as a value system, but as sheer poetry. The narrator loses his power to describe, to evaluate, which means to dominate, Hade Venkata.

It takes several pages to describe what exactly happens in the oil massage. Ananthu has also forgotten how to invoke collective memory. A sort of amnesia has taken him over totally. In the massage Venkata makes Ananthu forget his present self. Amnesia is used against amnesia and finally Ananthu begins a significant journey, led by Venkata, to reach those forgotten realms of existence.

Ananthu, Ananthu, you have now entered the forest. Entered the forest… in the forest, tree, tree, tree…In front of you a tiny plant. On the plant, a leaf, on the leaf something is springing and leaping, springing and leaping… like this one day, long ago… (you) stood watching…You stood watching the sun’s horse… On its humped back the big sun lightly sat, gently sat… Listen to what the sun’s horse has to say… Ananthana carrying the sun on his back… Now it’s gone… gone Anger’s gone, arrogance’s gone. Love of money’s gone. Pride of name’s gone. Everything’s gone.

A few weeks ago I asked my activist friend, Krishna, whether he would ever describe an ordinary grasshopper as a horse for the sun. He replied in the negative, and surprised me by saying that the ending of the story could be read as annihilation of the reasoning faculties of the narrator.

If at all Krishna ever agrees to describe the grasshopper as a horse for the sun, it would mean a radical change in our political and social discourses. He would be a different man. Krishna gets furious at the very mentioning of this possibility…

1. Rev. W. Reev in 1858 had described Bhuta as ‘ghost, a demi-god, evil-spirits’. In 1992 Prof. A.K. Ramanujan has modified it as ‘demonic divinities’. Bhutaradhana is a ritual whose celebration ranges from a single day to a whole week. Dr Chinnappa Gowda, a folklorist, calls this a ‘ritualistic complex’ to indicate the range of things it has: sacrificial killings, music, poetry, theatre and dance.

2. Dalit and Bandaya are the two most important radical movements in present-day Kannada literature. Dalit writers are, mostly, from untouchable castes. Devanoor Mahadeva and Siddalingaiah are two significant personalities of this movement. Bandaya is the movement of young leftist writers and its important writers are Baragoor Ramachandrappa, Kum. Veerabhadrappa and Kalegowda Nagawara. Both these schools of writing began in the mid 70s. Various forms of social and economic exploitation are the central themes of their literature.

3. In the usage ‘Hade’ means irresponsible and useless.

First published in the India International Centre Quarterly , MONSOON 1992, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Monsoon 1992).

A version of this essay was subsequently included in The Flaming Feet and other essays: the Dalit Movement in India by D R Nagaraj, published by Permanent Black.

It’s reproduced here with the kind permission of the IIC Quarterly and Permanent Black.