Bom­bay High

India Today - - LEISURE - —Tr­isha Gupta

Shikari is Chit­tal’s big Bom­bay novel, an ode to its streets

Prat­i­bha Umashankar-Nadi­ger’s long over­due Eng­lish trans­la­tion makes it clear why Shikari, orig­i­nally pub­lished in 1979, is per­haps ac­claimed Kan­nada writer Yash­want Chit­tal’s best­known novel. Off­beat and ab­sorb­ing, it pro­vides a stir­ring por­trait of ur­ban Bom­bay, and a rare in­sight into In­dian cor­po­rate life un­der the Li­cence Per­mit Raj.

Chit­tal’s nar­ra­tor Na­gappa (of­ten mod­ernised to Nag­nath, and fur­ther to

Nag) was born, like the au­thor, in Hane­halli vil­lage in Kar­nataka, and his mem­o­ries of­ten take him back there. But the novel un­folds in the Bom­bay by­lanes of Khet­wadi, Prarthana Sa­maj, Charni Road, Grant Road, Chow­patty and Dhobi Talao—as Na­gappa’s dis­tracted me­an­der­ings guide his thoughts. Pass­ing the Com­mu­nist Party press re­minds him of health haz­ards at his com­pany’s Hyderabad fac­tory. Buy­ing the Times of In­dia sets him dream­ing of an al­ter­na­tive life as a news stall owner.

He re­sponds to ur­ban stim­uli like an au­tom­a­ton: buy­ing a bus ticket to Worli makes him re­alise he is go­ing to see his friend Si­taram. To­gether with Shanti­nath De­sai and Jayant Kaikini, Chit­tal formed a triad of post-in­de­pen­dence Kan­nada writ­ers for whom Bom­bay de­fined ur­ban­ity.

Shikari is Chit­tal’s big Bom­bay novel, and his fine-grained ob­ser­va­tions feel like an ode to its streets, even when its nar­ra­tor is at his most anx­ious. How­ever, the fa­mil­iar­ity of the chawl and the neigh­bour­hood, Chit­tal sug­gests, can turn into op­pres­sive so­cial sur­veil­lance. And eco­nomic rise does not guar­an­tee be­long­ing: nei­ther Nag nor his bete noire Shrini­vasa is con­fi­dent of re­tain­ing his so­cial sta­tus.

If Shikari is pre­sciently pes­simistic about ur­ban alien­ation, it is down­right de­press­ing on the in­ner life of the cor­po­ra­tion. De­spite a cen­tury-and-a-half of in­dus­trial moder­nity, the white-col­lar work­place isn’t a fre­quent In­dian lit­er­ary set­ting. Kr­ishna Sobti’s Yaaron Ke Yaar (1968) and Amitabha Bagchi’s The House­holder (2012) vividly por­tray cor­rup­tion in gov­ern­ment of­fices.

Shikari is about cor­po­rate in­trigue in a Bom­bay that feels con­tem­po­rary in some ways— say, in use of jar­gon like MD, DMD, R&D—but not in oth­ers: the only women in Nag’s work­ing world are sec­re­taries, re­cep­tion­ists or air hostesses, who are ei­ther Parsi, An­glo-In­dian or Goan Chris­tian.

The re­lent­less mu­tual sus­pi­cion in Shikari is in­formed by sex­ual hypocrisy and naked ap­peals to caste and com­mu­nity. Their pres­ence in this ‘mod­ern’ white-col­lar mi­lieu makes this a trag­i­cally In­dian clas­sic.

by YASH­WANT SHIKARI CHIT­TAL Tr. Prat­i­bha Umashankar-Nadi­ger Pen­guin `399; pp 352

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