Bara by U R Ananthamurthy
Translation from Kannada by Chandan Gowda


Excerpted and adapted from Bara, Oxford University Press, 2016.

In this excerpt, Satisha, the District Commissioner, an idealist, who is trying to negotiate the complex landscape of bureaucracy and politics to have the district officially declared as hit by drought goes to visit Bhimoji, a local politician who is the president of the Raitha Sangha, a farmers’ organisation, and the secretary of the Municipal Worker's Union.



On his way home, Satisha felt that he had been lukewarm towards Bhimoji, the president of the Raitha Sangha when he had assumed a familiarity with him in his office that afternoon. Behaving like an officer always tired him. But, since he now spent less time at home, both the air of an officer and the courtesy to hide it came easily. The danger of subtle politics taking the place of honesty had begun to trouble him lately. On returning home from work, reading James Bond novels was all he could do.


As it was still not dark, Satisha drove in search of Kalamma Street. In a town with a large number of Muslims, ‘Kalamma Street’ was an unusual name. He had heard of the friction between Muslims and Kalamma’s devotees in the town. An incident that had taken place a few years earlier had failed to attract much attention and was now forgotten. Claiming these as their places of worship, the town’s Muslims had taken possession of a few mosques that the archaeology department considered heritage monuments. Since their forcible evacuation by the police had become news in Pakistan, the government suspected the presence of Pakistani spies in town. There was also a popular belief that the government had set up an Air Force Training Centre here because it considered the town ‘sensitive’. Nobody knew if this was true.


However, even to this day, it is considered below one’s dignity to speak in Kannada in the town. Only villagers and coolies spoke Kannada, a crude form of Kannada in fact. The rest spoke Urdu. Initially, it had not occurred to Satisha that talking to the local people in Kannada could be thought of as looking down on them. Bhimoji mentioned that he had founded a Kannada Sangha, and started a movement only to organise the poor in the district who preserved memories of a nawabi past in their language. In this town, where speaking Urdu was a mark of superiority, most Muslims were very poor.


Bhimoji’s house was among a row of mud-walled houses joined with one another. The board outside read Bhimoji, BA, LLB, Advocate. Satisha parked the car in front of the house. He knocked on the door. From inside came the sound of a sewing machine. The children of the street surrounded the parked car. The elders, who came out to scold them, stood watching the car and Satisha with curiosity. The more daring among the children tugged at Satisha’s bushshirt, ‘Whom do you want?’ Shouting, ‘Bhimanna! Bhimanna!’ they flocked in front of the only window of the house.


Bhimoji hid the surprise and pleasure he felt on seeing Satisha. He scolded the children and drove them away. He told the elderly onlookers that the visitor was the district commissioner. He tried in vain to shut the door. Bhimoji’s wife stopped sewing and went indoors. A boy who was making buttonholes stared at Satisha and continued with his work.


Finally succeeding in shutting the door, Bhimoji offered the only chair in the house to Satisha and seated himself on a stool. ‘If a car comes to our house, it means – on this street – that the police have come to arrest me. If the visitors are well-dressed, though, it means that they will distribute sweets or something among the children.’


‘I couldn’t speak to you properly this afternoon. So I thought of dropping by to see you. Hope it isn’t an inconvenience.’


‘You won’t be able to get the SP transferred, Sir.’


Satisha became angry at Bhimoji’s impertinence, ‘It looks like my office is full of your spies.’


Unperturbed, Bhimoji laughed, ‘No, Sir, I know your character a little bit – I guessed.’


‘But you aren’t cooperating with me. There is plenty that people like you who bond with the masses for the district’s sake can do.’


‘True, but not in the way you think, Sir. Please don’t feel bad. Let me be honest with you. Are you a bureaucrat? A revolutionary? You delude yourself that you can be both. Your brother-in-law, Jayan shares the same delusion. Why can’t you get what a petty politician like me can understand? It looks like you are trying hard to justify your salary. Tell me, why did you join the Administrative Service?’


‘Your kind of politics won’t resolve the problem either.’


‘But I don’t make a mishmash of a clean conduct, a hefty salary, and revolutionary thoughts. The forces that stand still will move due to people like me. Why doesn’t it occur to you that I could have a vision too?’


‘Burn the house to keep the body warm! This appears to be your logic.’


‘It’s better to set fire to houses like mine.’


Satisha tried to change the subject, ‘I didn’t know you had close ties to our village, Mr Bhimoji. How did you get here from there?’


‘By stealth. I fled to Bombay first. I worked at all kinds of jobs there: a pimp, a waiter, a taxi driver, and, in the end, a cashier at a hotel. I earned the hotel owner’s trust. He was crazy about girls. Since I knew something about pimping, some money from the cashbox found its way to my pocket daily. I studied in an evening school. I finished college too. By this time, my father, Narasinga Rao, who made a serge suit for your father, had taken to drink and declared himself a pauper. Since I had made some money, I went back to my village. I married my maternal uncle’s daughter. I passed law, worked with coolie-labour organisations, and eventually reached this town. My wife sews clothes. Life goes on somehow.’


There was a commotion outside. The children were pushing the door. ‘Bhimanna, Bhimanna, open the door….’ Bhimoji was furious, ‘Bastards! Gangadhara Swamy’s paayasa has made them arrogant.’ He opened the door. Everyone from the street seemed to have gathered outside. Those seeking to submit petitions through Bhimoji jostled each other and tried to grab Satisha’s attention. ‘A peon’s job for my son.’ ‘The street doesn’t have proper water supply.’ ‘The Muzrai department must sanction new wheels for Kalamma’s chariot.’ The clamour increased. Bhimoji pushed the crowd back. ‘Hand me your petitions. I’ll speak with the saheb later,’ he said, pushing the people down the steps. The crowd was bigger than his outstretched arms could manage; breaking free from either side, it surrounded Satisha who stood inside the house. A group of young men, who were in the majority, entreated him with folded hands to help them get funds to buy new wheels for Kalamma’s chariot.


Satisha had never seen so many children together: they were inside the house and around the car outside. While he tried to listen patiently to the youth who argued that the rains had failed because Kalamma’s damaged chariot was not used the previous year, his car horn went off. A child shrieked alongside. Bhimoji rushed out followed by the crowd. Standing beside the car, he cried, ‘Get down! Get down! You have eaten too much!’


The children could not have opened the car door to get inside. Satisha guessed that they had entered the car through the window he had forgotten to roll up. As the car horn continued to blow, people from the other streets also rushed over. The only way to silence the horn, which sounded like a fire engine’s alarm, was to bring the children out of the car. The sight of their anxious mothers made them cry loudly. The children forced their heads out of the window and made an even bigger racket when they could not draw them back inside the car. Bhimoji chased the mothers into the distance and tugged at a couple of tiny legs. Not only did his efforts fail because a couple of other children were trying to make their way out, he also worsened the situation inside the car. Satisha peered through the windshield. Struggling and climbing on top of one another, the children were crammed inside. Bhimoji pulled the legs of a child who firmly held another child’s buttocks that were pressed against the horn on the steering wheel. Climbing on one another, crying, scratching, and tugging at each other’s hair, the children had piled on the back seat, the front seat and the floor, and against the windshield. The women who had surrounded the car shouted ‘Come out, come out!’ and caused more confusion. The mother of another child arrived and, fearing the vehicle would start moving, cried, ‘Hold the car!’ The women at the front and back of the car held it firmly to prevent it from moving and alarmed the children even more. Meanwhile, the two daring children who had climbed into the car first got out quietly and fled.


Unlocking a front door with his key, Satisha stuck his hand in to open a back door. He opened both the doors slowly without hurting the heads that stuck out of them. Ordering the children to be still, he pushed back their heads one by one, and then opened the doors fully. The children, who were huddled inside, fell out. He opened the other front door and lifted the child who lay face down and helpless on the steering wheel. After all the children were brought out, an unbearable stench arose from inside. He saw his wet hand in the light and realised that the frightened children had urinated and defecated inside the car. Bhimoji’s wife brought the only vessel of water in the house. Satisha washed his hands. But where could one find water to clean the excreta from the car seat? Cursing and hitting their children, the street residents brought out the drinking water they had stored in tumblers and vessels and gathered around the car. Satisha said he did not need water. As he wiped the car seat with the newspapers he had asked Bhimoji to get, everyone stepped forward to help and, pressing the horn, created a commotion again. Bhimoji scolded and pushed the people aside. While helping Satisha he said, ‘Look, Sir. A funny thing has happened. None of the newspapers have reported on the grim situation of the district. Gangadhara Swamy has made a statement today that he will donate some of his barren land. See if this will appear in the papers tomorrow or not!’ Satisha did not need any talk at this time. He was alarmed to see the street’s elders who stood with folded hands on either side of the street, hoping to express their grievances. The women had chased their children inside their houses and were beating them.


Satisha ignored the bystanders and the wailing children and drove away quickly. Stench filled the car. He needed air.



Written in 1976, Bara (Drought) appeared in a collection of short stories, Akaasha mattu Bekku (The Sky and the Cat), Akshara Prakashana, 1983.


U R Ananthamurthy was one of India’s key literary figures and an important representative of the ‘Navya’ movement in the literature of Kannada. His works have been translated into many Indian and European languages and have been awarded major literary prizes, including the Jnanpeeth Award in 1994. He was honoured by the Government of India with the Padma Bhushan in 1998.

Samskara and Bharathipura are among his best known novels.

Out of Print has previously published two works by him, a short story and a novella.


Chandan Gowda is Professor, School of Development, Azim Premji University, Bengaluru. Besides academic publications, he has translated Kannada fiction and non-fiction into English, and edited The Post Office of Abachooru, a book of short stories of K P Purnachandra Tejasvi (forthcoming, HarperCollins, 2017). He has directed Sahitya Sahavasa (In the Company of Literature), a series of video lectures of U R Ananthamurthy on modern Kannada writers, which was telecast on Doordarshan in 2014. He has also edited Theatres of Democracy: Selected Essays of Shiv Visvanathan (HarperCollins, 2016). He writes a weekly column on culture and politics for Bangalore Mirror. He is presently completing a book on the cultural politics of development in old Mysore State.

His translation of a short story by Purnachandra Tejasvi has appeared previously in Out of Print.