Bara by U.R. Anantmurthy can be read in one sitting. It is a short book with an intense depth.
What is the book about?
Bara is modeled on the author’s own experience of meeting a civil servant who was trying to resolve the drought prevalent in his district.
The novel is translated from Kannada by Chandan Gowda, who teaches at Azim Premji University in Bengaluru.
The civil servant in the novel, Satisha, is also trying to do the same in his district, which is possibly Bidar in Karnataka.
Satisha is sympathetic toward the people. He tours his district to get a closer look at the problem. He actively takes responsibilty for finding a concrete solution and he does already have remedies planned but he is obstructed by warring political factions.
His own sense of impractical idealism also comes in the way along with his facade of being someone who is in power but pretends to not have any. This facade is not at all useful for the drought affected people. This was the view that was constructed in my mind about Satisha which was accentuated at the end of the novel when there is rioting.
Of course, through such a portrayal of Satisha, the novel, Bara, does bring up important questions about the effectiveness of civil servants and the Damocles Sword of politics that hangs over them, making them rather ineffective and forcing them to act out a pretended powerlessness.
One last reason to pick it up?
My one grouse with Bara was that it seemed too short and not so well detailed and developed.
Perhaps it would have been better to read as a short story and not as a novella as in the latter format, a reader expects more full fledged development of the themes and characters.
Nonetheless, the novel does explore the idea or theme of “bara” in depth. In Kannada, it means drought but also carries the connotation of barrenness. The translator in “Translator’s Note” states that “bara means a drought and connotes meanings of barreness, shortage and sterility.”
These literal and metaphorical meanings suffuse the entire story. The literal drought is the main crux of the book whereas its connotations are seen in the houses of the villages and in the clipped conversations of the politicians. The writing style itself is sparse and laconic, briefly providing the readers implications of the events rather than luscious proses of descriptions.
A thought provoking read!
This book was part of my October Yellow Book Cover Month. Read more about it here!