The Incompleteness In Completeness

Book Review: 'Hayavadana' by Girish Karnad

 Before I start my article, I would like to quote one of the greatest Indian writers I have ever come across in my life. The writer is none other than Girish Karnad who says, “The world has never before had as much drama as today. Radio, films, television, and video inundate us with drama. However, while these forms can engage or even engage the audiences, in none of them can the viewer’s response alter the artistic event of itself. That is why theatre is signing its death warrant when it tries to play too safe. On the other hand, that is also the reason why although its future often seems bleak, the theatre will continue to live and to provoke.” By this, I am assuming all my readers know what my article is going to be about today. Today, my article is going to be a book review written by one of the greatest playwriters in Indian literature. The book’s name is “Hayavadana” and was available in the year 1971.

Understanding the area and other aspects of Hayavadana

The original language of the writing of the book Hayavadana is in Kannada. Kannada is the state language of Karnataka. Girish Karnad hailing from this state has many publications in Kannada. With a lot of persuasion from people around Mr. Karnad, he decided to translate the Kannada play of Hayavadana into English. He has brought out the translation of the play and was available in the year 1975. Before we get into the detailed aspects of the play, let us first understand the area of literature.

As I mentioned before Hayavadana comes from the area of Indian Translation in English in Literature. You must all be wondering what exactly is Indian Translation in English. Indian translation in English is where Indian language text such as Kannada, Tamil, Assamese, Bengali, Hindi, etc is translated into English. Of course, there are many questions in people’s minds. One of the most common ones out of them all is whether justice is done to the real text when the translation happens. The answer to this question is simple. During the process of translation, the people who are responsible for it do intense research about the language that the text is written and the language that the text is going to be translated into. Let me make this very clear that it is not any translation app that translates the word into another language rather people who are working hard constantly and who through different things while translating the text. Therefore, the translation is very precise but it is not flawless and might have some human errors in it.

The next thing that also comes to mind would be how can Indian languages be translated into a foreign language? We have heard people say why cannot text written in different Indian languages be translated to a common Indian language and why is it done to English. The reason we translate Indian texts into English is that English is the most common language spoken in and around the world. English is no more just a language rather it has become a means of connecting people of different countries languages ethnicities and religions together. Therefore, when Indian texts are translated to English the availability of the text becomes much higher and the rich cultures, traditions, of India spread around the world.

The introduction given by Kirtinath Kurtkoti in the book itself has given readers the history and an understanding of the plot. The plot of Hayavadana comes from Kathasaritasagara, An ancient collection of stories in Sanskrit. However, Girish Karnad has borrowed it through Thomas Mann’s retelling of the story in ‘Transposed Heads’. The original poses a moral problem while Mann uses it to ridicule the mechanical conception of life, which differentiates between body and soul; he ridicules the philosophy, which holds the head superior to the body.

Girish Karnad in his play poses a different problem than that of human identity in a world of tangled relationships. The story tries to reveal the ambiguous nature of human personality.

Karnad uses conventions and motifs of folk tales and folk theater elements such as masks, curtains, dolls, and the story within a story to bring about a bizarre world. It is a world of incomplete individuals, indifferent gods that speak and children who cannot, a world indifferent to the desires and frustrations, joys and sorrows of human beings.

Play Review: Hayavadana - KITAAB

Review of the Hayavadana

The word Hayavadana comes from the words “Haya” which means horse and “Adana” which means man. The reference is taken from Hayagriva, which is a Hindu mythological horse god.

 The main theme of this play is completeness and incompleteness. This has been brought out beautifully in the first scene itself. When the Bhagavata introduces the audience to the play by singing the songs of the Hindu mythological God Ganesha, he brings out the fact, that Ganesha is incomplete because he is half human and half elephant. Lord Ganesha has the body of a man and the head of an elephant. Through the singing of the Bhagavata in praise of Lord Ganesha, it brings out the fact of how people worship and accept incompleteness when it is seen in gods who are considered above human beings but at the same time constantly do so much to attain completeness.

Girish Karnad very smartly named the characters in his play. The names of the characters are not just given blindly rather it has an inner meaning in them, which can be seen while we read the play. Girish Karnad has used traditional methods of storytelling to bring out the reality of the world. The idea of completeness and incompleteness is also shown through the character of Hayavadana who is half man and half horse. The hypocrisy of a man is brought out when the Bhagavata praises Lord Ganesha for his incompleteness but a blessing to Hayavadana to become complete.

The story within the story speaks mainly about how our actions and behaviors have an impact on our bodies and mind. The female character Padmini in this book is not shown as a female who is shy, silent, always listening and worshipping her husband, etc rather she is shown as a woman who knows her value, looks after herself, can stand for what she wants, never hides her feelings or desires. She is a character that stands out until the very end.

The beauty of this play is that it has smaller themes in it, which are subtly brought out during the play. The traditional elements of folk tales and tradition are not lost even when the story is about the present situation of the world. The audience or the readers feel various emotions during the play, which makes the book of Hayavadana stand out and mesmerizing.

The other thing that caught my attention in this play is the representation of gods done as supreme and beyond human beings and at the same time the story shows god as any other human being who has basic needs like us. The use of sarcasm, wit, reality, feminism, etc has been beautifully done in the play.  I do want to ruin it for the readers by explaining everything present in the book of Hayavadana. By reading this article, I hope this book has caught the attention of the readers and brought out the urge to read the book.

To conclude, we often hear people saying, “Do not judge a book by its cover” but I would also say that do not judge the book by its size of it. Hayavadana is a small book but it has so much in it that needs to be comprehended by us. It is truly a magnificent piece of writing that left me awestruck and thinking even after a year of reading it.


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