In high school, my first language was Sanskrit. Correspondingly, Kannada became the third language. Third language Kannada was basically a repetition of what I learnt from Class 4 to Class 7. After Class 10, I didn't study Kannada formally at all.
In spite of that, I had absolutely no difficulty in reading/ understanding the 2010 Saraswati Samman winner by Sri.S.L.Bhyrappa --- Mandra.
The moment this book arrived a few months ago, I had decided to make it my 'monsoon reading'. At nearly 600 pages, of size slightly larger than the usual books, it had the qualifications to make my lonely evenings something to look forward to!
Well! monsoon arrived late this year. By then, I had finished reading the book!
Mandra is about the turbulent life of a classical musician, Pandit Mohan Lal. Panditji's journey begins from Haridwar - as a bhajan- singing beggar-boy on the banks of the river Ganga - and reaches international fame, after plenty of twists and turns...... like the Ganga, actually!
Mandra, in classical music, means the lower octave. Though I'm not a follower of Hindustani classical music, I know that it is no mean task for a singer to achieve mastery over singing in the lower octave.
In Kannada, the word also means low/ base as in 'vile'.........
Revealing more will be like spoiling it for someone who wants to read this book. All I can say is that it must be a very difficult task for a writer to sustain the reader's interest in a 600 page book - and,
Sri. S.L.Bhyrappa seems to have done it effortlessly! It is easily one of the best stories that I have read.
A couple of years ago, I had read Naayi NeraLu. Though I had read some of Sri. Bhyrappa's controversial columns in Kannada newspapers, it was the first complete novel by him that I had read. I guess, that book is not exactly an ideal introduction to the author. Mandra is!
And, after Mandra, he has become one of my favourite writers!