Literature has stayed aloof in generating environmental consciousness, leading to inter-generational disconnect in transferring the subtleties of inter-dependence on nature and myriad other life forms.
Whether auspicious or propitious, the bee-stung protagonist from village Mudigree in Chickamaglur district takes the reader on an exploration of many worlds of human existence, both natural and exogenous, in the pristine forest ecosystems of the Western Ghats. Known for his astute observations, curious reflections, imaginative narrative, and unpretentious writing, K P Purnachandra Tejaswi weaves a simple but imaginative story that interconnects nature with human follies, inquisitiveness and wisdom. Carvalho, the self-effacing scientist, connects dots in the enticing story through Mandana, the bee keeper; Raami, his lady love; Kariappa, the born tree-climber; and Kiwi, the Golden Spaniel; towards reconfirming nature as a living laboratory where evolutionary forces are still at work. Laced with wit and humour, the multi-layered narrative unleashes the power of insightful observations as the guiding spirit for being in harmony with nature.
Three decades since it was first published, the novella has not lost out on its popularity for its style and simplicity in creating narrative engagement that helps the curious, observant and indulging child come to life in each of its readers. It is only as a child that one begins to make learning a reality. To this effect, Tejaswi adopts the role of both as a participant and narrator in pursuing his childlike curiosity in creating a literary form that remains non-judgemental but perceptive and persuasive nonetheless. Carvalho helps the reader face the perils of modernity with the right mix of native beliefs and wisdom.
Language and literature have curiously stayed aloof in generating environmental consciousness, leading to inter-generational disconnect in transferring the subtleties of our inter-dependence on nature and myriad other life forms. In the words of author Amitav Ghosh, an absence of serious literature on the subject has contributed to society’s collective failure in getting a sense of the imminent ecological crises. Western Ghats region has imprints of ecological callousness like none other but without much anxiety reflected by its inhabitants. Further, the conventional cause-effect narrative on the emerging environmental catastrophe rarely engages many.
Carvalho ought to be read in light of such reality. As a storyteller, the narrator doesn’t lay undue emphasis on environment but leaves it to the reader’s imagination to create possibilities in his or her own depth of understanding. Neither obtrusive nor preachy, the story in search of the elusive flying lizard is a narrative axiom that has environment as its central character. Engaging in both concept and setting, the reader is taken through real-life experiences in the wild as a lived reality. What’s more, it is an effortless ease with which the power of prose creates an enduring relationship between the reader and the human/non-human characters.
By fusing the evolutionary processes with contemporary realities, the writer provokes his readers to contemplate ‘why has nature transformed humans into quadrupeds while the likes of flying lizard remains unchanged’. There are not many like Tejaswi who have immersed themselves into deep intellectual pursuit in getting closer to our current state of being. The author shares his fascination for nature’s beauty reflected in the subtle composition of colours and the structure in beetles, butterflies and grasshoppers which convinces him to let them be an observer’s delight.
Carvalho is a remarkable story that acts as a non-imposing guide to observing nature in its pristine state without losing on the feelings of excitement and wonderment. Packed with humour and rustic wisdom, the story evokes the awe of the unknown as an emotion that can ignite the imagination of children and adults alike. Tejaswi is clear that it is only through such writings that literature can move closer to meeting its primary responsibility towards society. In doing so, he calls upon his contemporary writers to move away from self-serving modernist writing of the early seventies. Not many could emulate the Sahitya Akademi laureate though.
Tejaswi’s legacy lives on, and so has been his craft of storytelling. The distinction in his writing stems from his ability to accord equal importance to all the major and minor characters in taking the story forward. In Carvalho, he lays emphasis on inter-connectedness, between humans, animals and non-humans, as the leitmotif for understanding and appreciating nature. It makes for an interesting and absorbing read, with measure of its excellence partly resting on the translation being close to the original. In Prof. D A Shankar, Carvalho has had the benefit of an accomplished litterateur who hasn’t missed out on detailing the characters in same light as conceived by the superior craftsman. It is an enduring work of fiction with all the necessary ingredients – simplicity of language, strong imagination, and formal inventiveness.
Carvalho by K P Puranchandra Tejaswi
Translated by: D A Shankar
Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi
Extent: 98, Price: Rs.80.
First published in Seminar, issue dated Nov 2020.
(Sudhirendar Sharma is a writer on development issues based in New Delhi, India)