S L Bhyrappa is a renowned writer in the Kannada literary world and has written more than 20 novels over a period of 40 years. A writer of a conservative bent, he has a large following and is said to have written some of the best novels in Kannada literary history, such as Gruhabanga and Parva. Some of his novels have been translated into more than 17 languages including Hindi, English and Marathi. A serious public debate is raging amongst the progressive writers and the rightwing authors over his latest novel Avarana. (Avarana means the act of hiding the truth.)
Lakshmi, daughter of a feudal landlord, goes to the Pune Film Institute and falls in love with an artist Amir. She marries him and gets converted to Islam, naming herself Razia. Her married life with Amir sees many twists and turns but they remain together to make films; documentaries on Indian history. After her son Nazir goes to Dubai on a job, Razia alias Lakshmi comes back to Hampi to make a documentary on Hampi. The ruins of Hampi disturb her mind and she starts questioning her progressive and socialist thinking about Indian history and the role of Muslim rulers. (The author always refers to them as invaders). Meantime she hears the news of her father’s death, who, despite being a Gandhian, had distanced himself from his daughter for marrying a Muslim and converting to Islam. She remembers the last words spoken by her father:
“It does not matter what you have done to your religion. Your future generations, one day would destroy one of our temples, that bothers me.”
On coming back to the village she finds many books her father had studied about Indian history and the rule of Aurangzeb in particular. Metaphorically she finds the photo of Gandhi and the Charkha (spinning wheel) missing from her late father’s room. She stays back in the village to write a historical novel basing on the documents collected by her father about the black days of Mughal rule. Her novel creates a wide spread debate and the government of the day confiscates her novel, and Amir takes his wife back from the village to avoid a possible arrest.
The entire weak storyline seems to be crude fictionalization of the communal view of Indian history of the kind peddled by right wing ‘historians’ and the Sangh Parivar. Throughout the novel, more than the characters, it is the author who speaks and attacks, first Marxists and Marxist historians, secondly Aurangzeb and Tipu Sultan and then the liberal intelligentsia. And of course the main theme of the novel is to castigate the Muslims as aliens and anti-national, a view for which the author tries to provide a historical justification.
In the novel written by Razia alias Lakshmi, Hamdullah, Muslim cleric is the main character, who time and again condemns Akbar of being a Kafir, anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic and at the same time praises Aurangzeb for demolishing thousands of temples across the country, including the Vishwanath Temple of Varanasi. The novelist Razia challenges the view held by Marxist historians that the ruins of Hampi are due to attacks by Shaivite kings, and instead claims that they are a result of the violence perpetrated by Islamic rulers. The other target of the novelist Razia is Tipu Sultan for his so called Islamic and anti-Hindu rule in the Deccan plateau. A eunuch is depicted as a metaphor for the subjugation of Hindu rulers by Mughals, who in the end goes into hiding after having served as a slave with Hamdullah, the Muslim cleric. Coming to contemporary history the author defends the demolition of Babri Masjid and holds Muslim invaders and not the Shaivite kings for destroying Buddhist shrines across the country in the medieval period.
Though the novel claims to be an attempt to rip off the ‘Avarana’ by which Marxist and British historians have hidden historical truth, the fact remains that Bhyrappa’s novel itself is an act of ‘Avarana’, the kind at which the Sangh Parivar excels. The author’s accusations against Mughal rule – regarding the tax system, conversions to Islam, subjugation of women, turning war prisoners into eunuchs and demolition of temples – are all taken verbatim from the communal Sangh fiction rather than from historical data. Though the author submits a list of over 100 books of reference for all the arguments put forth in the novel, the authenticity of the same is highly questionable.
Through out the novel the character of a Marxist intellectual, Mr. Shastry, has been created to lampoon Intellectuals in general and Socialists-Marxists in particular. So much so that the author vilifies the symbol of the beard, comparing the Marxist beard with the Maulvi (Islamic) beard. The author vehemently claims that the Mughals and other Muslim rulers forced conversions at the point of the sword and were out to destroy the Hindu religion. Never in the novel has the author pointed to the atrocious caste tyranny of the upper castes and the feudal elements in the erstwhile Hindu society. The author argues that Islam as a religion hates other religions and would like to destroy them. He fails to explain how a regime could last for so long if in fact it was so hated as a ‘foreign’ one; nor how come so many Rajput/Hindu kings served as generals in Mughal armies; nor why there was never any religious mass uprising of Hindus against Mughal rule. For Bhyrappa, religious identity is the only factor he considers; socio-economic material conditions of existence are ignored altogether.
The argument of the author that the sati system is a byproduct of Mughal rule, as wives of the conquered resorted to mass suicides to avoid being molested by Muslim rulers, flies in the face of realities of Indian history, as the system still persists even in modern times. And the author’s claim that the Mughals captured and converted entire populations of provinces has no historical evidence to back it.
The 275-page novel is remarkable only for being the lengthiest pamphlet, carrying on a hate campaign against a minority community. The prejudices of the author have taken precedence over the historical material. The novel is a travesty of the truth and is nothing but a hate campaign with literary pretensions.