Judging a book by its cover is a crime we often cannot refrain from committing – especially in its literal sense. Even for seasoned writers and readers, the act of making assumptions about the contents of a book just with its cover or title is irresistible. Same happened when I was handed ‘Mookajjiya Kanasugalu’ by a student.
This was my third or fourth Kannada book, and the previous Kannada novels that I had read were literal masterpieces – one of them by the same author who wrote Mookajjiya Kanasugalu. So I picked up this book with mixed emotions – I was hoping this would be just as spectacular too, but the title conveyed a forlorn idea that it might be the story of an old lady who was probably mute but had elaborate dreams. Maybe she lives a sad little life and dreams of better days that never come. With that strange idea in mind, I began Mookajjiya Kanasugalu and it instantly revealed that my judge far from reality.
Mookajjiya Kanasugalu is indeed the story of an old lady with elaborate dreams, but she’s not mute. While the entire village considers her senile for mumbling on her own, her grandson, the protagonist of the story, believes each word she says and is eager to listen to everything she says. More so, he often brings in elements/items that can initiate conversations with her and makes her speak to him of things beyond what normal people would speak about.
Mookajji was formerly Mookambika who lost her husband at a young age and spent her entire life by her own, quite isolated. Somehow, she obtained a special insight that made her see things rather elaborately and from curious perspectives. This insight is the key theme of the novel, which her grandson brings out at various occasions and using a number of quirky items. She holds an item and has visions of it from its past which she narrates to her grandson. These stories are beyond her physical capacity. She’s not educated, nor has travelled widely. Yet, she speaks of history and heritage and many allied areas as if she’s been there. The idea is an interesting one.
Let’s cover the positives. The first impression that comes to mind while we read Mookajjiya Kanasugalu is the novelty in approach to a story that is completely based in an extreme rural setup. While the elaborate picturing of the rural lifestyle is in itself a treat, the many dreams and visions of Mookajji that surpass her physical being and add a touch of metaphysical power are a pleasant surprise. True to his style, Shivarama Karantha describes his thoughts and elements in the story with great depth and easily keeps us reading throughout.
However, a small concern arises in the minds of readers who are aware of the story of Edgar Cayce, who was apparently the real-life version of Mookajji. There is a high possibility that the character derives its inspiration from the life story of Edgar Casey who displayed surreal skills when it came to seeing the back-story of an item handed to him. Although, it is definitely not a sin for a character to take inspiration from a real life story; and Karantha has fit the story into a completely different and convincing setup that connects greatly to his audience.
While that is one part, the parts where the story talks about the many topics of Hinduism seem extremely half baked and unconvincing – at least to me. The ideas presented by Mookajji are supposed to be great, but somehow they do not sound as convincing or revolutionary as the author would have intended them to. They neither pose the right questions nor provide thought-provoking answers. And I had no idea what to think when the novel ended – the climax was just as disconnected as the other ideas in the entire novel. A revolutionary idea was intended to be presented at the end, but it did not unfold as curiously or effectively for me. I couldn’t even connect the dots between the many ideas presented throughout the novel and the climax. There are so many unanswered or half-answered questions pertaining to religion throughout. For non-believers of Hinduism or agnosts, the questions posed in the novel might seem revolutionary but for believers, they really mean nothing.
Let me put it across that there is a good possibility that the genius of the novel has actually passed over my head. However, the chances of it being very low, I confidently write that Mookajjiya Kanasugalu isn’t Shivarama Karantha’s best work. While his true nature of elaborate description and ideal setup holds true in this novel, the story, the climax and the essence of the main character did not come across as great to me. Considering that Mookajjiya Kanasugalu is a Jnanapeetha awarded novel, I am rather confused about what I have missed in the novel after all. There are other books by Shri Karantha that deserved it more than this one.