BOOK EXCERPT

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 manipulations...by 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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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.