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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