A Preta finds himself in Yama’s court where he is grilled about his suicide, and directed to return to earth as a Sakshi (Witness) to read the minds of, and understand what goes on in the lives of the people he had left behind. The deceased was an embodiment of Dharma, a practitioner of truth and had committed suicide because he had uttered a lie in a court of law to save his estranged son-in-law, but subsequently found it untenable to live on with this act of perjury. That he was manipulated into giving this false testimony by his son-in-law who promised to mend his ways and return to his daughter, who in-turn did not ask her father to desist from helping him, further compounded his misery. He felt irredeemably polluted, and hence chose to end the farce of his life, led as far as possible as per the rules of dharma.
That it was not this vague, half-hearted testimony that led to Manjayyah’s acquittal in a murder trial did not matter to Parameshwarayya. He saw in his deed the negation of his life’s principles, and saw no point in further carrying on. But it is not this man of truth, the man who used to perform Annadana every single day before his own meals, and tried to live as simply as he could, who is the lead character of Sakshi.
Rather it is Manjayyah, his estranged son-in-law, a handsome libertine, a force of nature, a wild beast, fearless, forthright, master of words and possessor of forked tongue, a man of the world, given to excesses and indulgences of the worst kind, a bhogi of arth and kama, and a veritable personification of libido who represents the central axis of the novel. But is Manjayyah’s way one of adharma?
If that be so, what explained his popularity with women of all shades and opinion? Why did men envy his charm and admired his guts? How could he convince Lakkhoo, the wife of the very man he had killed, to testify in his favour? Why did Sarojakshi, the wife of the man he had entrapped in a bribery case, and who was well-educated, discerning, and sought a strong, stable lover by her side, eventually give in to his strength? Why did Savitri, Ramkrishna’s noble daughter and Manjayya’s separated wife, fall for him in the first place, and marry him despite staunch opposition from her father and brother, and was still not averse to giving him another chance if he reformed his ways and came back to her? Why did the villagers not blame him for killing the thief who used to sneak into coconut groves? Why was he successful as a contractor, and even respected for his street smartness? The author goes to great lengths to suggest that despite being raped by Manjayya after years of separation, Savitri, despite the loathing she felt for him, and herself, was not completely shut to the idea of bearing his child, reading motives into his sudden expression of violent desire, and being guiltily hopeful.
The dead thief’s wife, Lakkhoo, was not a whore. Savitri was a saint. Saroja was an evolved, educated woman who had aspirations. These females were not novices. They knew the ways of the world. Yet Manjayya left them dazed and confused. Such was the power and charm of that monster who possessed animal magnetism. This also says a lot about how evil attracts common people and gains wide acceptance.
Bhyrappa is a doyen of Kannada literature and has written 24 novels, 6 non-fictional works and an autobiography. It comes as a shock that the author of Aavarana and Parva has not yet been awarded the Jnanpith Award, which both his literary and ideological adversaries, UR Anathmurthy and Girish Karnad were decorated with. Sakshi was published in 1986, but the work, its setting in time and in space are timeless.
As is his wont, Bhyrappa explores fundamental human emotions in deep Indian ethos, and creates elaborate drama around his strong characters to further the narrative. Readability of his prose is of such level that it just sucks you into its fold and leaves you with suspension of disbelief. The author lays threadbare the fundamental struggles running inside all his main characters with consummate ease. Savitri stands for self-respect, but does she not crave the warmth of company? Sattyappa, Parameshwaryya’s son-in-law, aims to be the flag-bearer of truth and constructive work, but struggles with the residual passion left inside. Ramkrushna, Savitri’s brother, is caught between dogmatic truth and dharma on one side, and his anger on the other. His wife and son are not with him on this, and want to enjoy the wealth left behind by her father, a reknowned miser.
Dharma struggling to stay afloat in a flood of vices is what the author has tried to picturize. This is the age of Kali. Interestingly, Parameshwarayya and his wife both commit suicide- out of shame of straying from their dharmic paths. Satyappa attempts to kill himself for having gone astray, whereas Savitri thinks of ending her misery after being raped by her estranged husband. But the chief villain, Manjayya, responsible for causing tumult in all their lives, does not contemplate suicide even once. Did Bhyrappa intend to draw a correlation between the guilt of straying, with the urge to end one’s existence?
Read Sakshi to find answers to these questions.
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