In his celebrated Kannada novel ‘Shikari’, Yashwant Chittal strikes at the heart of human betrayal

First published in 1979, the skilfully-crafted novel capturing the vagaries of corporate India (and Mumbai) is available in a new translation.

Finally, one night, Shrinivasa himself brought the letter Nagappa had been waiting for. He said the personnel and administration manager gave it to him when he had gone to Nagappa’s office on some work. And this SOB 1 obediently offered to deliver it to me! Nagappa thought, seething with anger. So there’s no doubt that this SOB 2 has a hand in the conspiracy the company is hatching against me. He mentally showered on Shrinivasa the choicest abuses he had learnt at Koligiriyanna’s feet, like some religious chant, as he took the envelope to his room and bolted the door.

He read the letter. But it didn’t make any sense:

“A departmental inquiry has been instituted to investigate a complaint insinuating your role in a recent accident at the factory in which three workers lost their lives. The DMD will personally conduct the inquiry. Please get ready to proceed to Hyderabad as soon as you get the fight ticket, which is being arranged.”

He read the note again and again, and by the time he realised its implications, he knew its contents by heart. In all this, he had forgotten to break into a sweat in instinctive anxiety. Instead, he stood absolutely erect, still, with the hair on his skin bristling. Animal courage, which had sprung from some unknown depths, had taken over. This trap that Phiroz has laid out for me isn’t something new. I know it well. I know how it works. I know all its pitfalls, as if from a previous birth, he thought, surprisingly unperturbed by anger, fear or hatred. It no longer scares me. This is the decisive moment – the moment when I’ll have to choose between life and death. The arena has been set. Let everything be thrashed out between us once and for all. Look, I’m standing, ready and waiting for the final confrontation. Phiroz, the poison you’ve been spewing at me from the beginning, the needless cruelty, the contempt, the enmity...let everything be finally resolved. I’m prepared for the endgame. I know your evil designs behind this so-called “departmental inquiry”. For you, it may be a mere game. But for me, it’s the question of my career, my professional integrity, and that’s why a question of my existence and annihilation. I know I might lose. But I won’t go down without a fight. It might spell my end, but I’ll expose you, your malicious intent and the web of deceit behind your victory. You sisterfucker, be ready for it! I have the courage to face you, fight you!

Nagappa’s chest swelled. From where did I get all this courage? he asked himself. And why this sudden surge of joy? This rush of strange emotions? Some brute strength passed on from generations, flowing through my veins, must’ve found a momentary spurt, priming me for the final face-off.

His spirit rose. His mind was clear, free of anxiety, as if a cloud had been lifted. He was once again in possession of his razor-sharp intellect. It thrilled him.

He had to decide his next move: “I’m enjoying this, Phiroz, I’m enjoying this thoroughly,” he said, smacking his thigh in exhilaration. His words echoed in the closed room, and he realised where he was. The thought of Shrinivasa being part of the conspiracy momentarily unnerved him – not because he was frightened, but because he was aware that he was gullible. Shit! Why do I trust people so easily? he cursed himself. Of all the people, why did I seek refuge in this slimy creature’s house, forgetting all that has happened in the past? I’m sure there was nothing noble in his invitation. It must all be a carefully planned ruse. Why must be. It is! Or else, how come I bumped into him at Santosh Bhavan after such a long time? I had gone there for coffee, and he sauntered in. It was the day I’d got the call from the personnel and administration manager! Why that day of all days? It can’t be a coincidence. He had come there to lure me home. How could I have walked into this trap? It was an ambush, and I walked straight into it! How could I have not seen through it right away? Why didn’t I make the connection between the call from the office and the “accidental” meeting with Shrinivasa? How could I stupidly accept his invitation? Never mind, Shrinivasa of Nadoo Mhaaskeri, I know you haven’t forgotten that incident twenty years ago. Nor have I. And I haven’t forgotten the hatred you have nurtured towards me since then – this king cobra of Koligiriyanna’s ghetto with a soft hiss hasn’t forgotten. It’s good that we both know it. It’s good that it has all come out in the open.

Shrinivasa had inherited his vindictive nature from his mother. The story Nagappa had written about her had portrayed this trait in her, and the extent she could go to destroy those who had incurred her wrath, waiting for the right moment for years.

In a moment of epiphany, something suddenly struck Nagappa: Shrinivasa fears me.

Shrinivasa, with his immense wealth and his power and prestige among the members of his community in Bombay, fears me because, I, the mild- mannered Nagappa, know of Shrinivasa’s past, his poverty, the battle he has waged against it and the means he has used to win it. And every moment he enjoys his wealth and position, he fears me. And his decades of hatred towards me is based on nothing but fear. And it goes back to Netravati’s suicide – the events that led to it and the evidence I had given in the coroner’s court. I’ve always known of his fears and his bravado. I know why he reads all my stories. He’s frightened. Could it be the same kind of fear and deep-rooted insecurity that’s behind Phiroz’s hatred towards me? I know what he fears – his own ignorance – his appalling ignorance of technical matters. And I alone in the entire company know about it. And he knows I know. And despite his ignorance, he was the technical director of the company for several years! And now he’s the deputy managing director! Ignoramus, empty-headed SOB 2! He has risen to the top only through his cunning playing politics...camouflaging his ignorance behind his swagger, his carefully cultivated image. But how come these two villains, who have gone through life hiding their mediocrity, come together, that too at the exact time when I’m about to go to America? Why now, when my true merit has at last been recognised? Or is this the very reason why they have decided to join hands to conspire against me.

Excerpted with permission from Shikari, Yashwant Chittal, translated by Pratibha Umashankar-Nadiger, Penguin Random House India.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.