As lecturers and critics, we routinely perform the delicate task of establishing and reinforcing the boundaries which mark our disciplinary engagements. What, for instance, is life writing as opposed to bildsungroman? At which stage do novellas become novels? What distinguishes literature from reportage? These and similar questions are the stock-in-trade of our work, but it is never an easy or simple job to execute. Since such judgments and critical evaluations are necessarily subjective, we must buttress them with a sense of the collective in order to appear creditably reasonable in our work.
Keshav Reddy’s Bhu-Devta affords a pertinent example in this regard. On the face of it, Bhu-Devta is not an extraordinary story. Unable to bear the burden of debt and bankruptcy, an impoverished farmer passes on from this world. This narrative is by now painfully familiar, rehearsed ad nauseam in the mainstream media by wrangling politicians and journalists who appear to be interested more in prime time mileage than in alleviating agrarian distress. Unfortunately, we are all immune to these small, daily tragedies occurring in almost all corners of our country.
Yet, Bhu-Devta is a hauntingly evocative work of very realistic fiction. We may know all there is to know about rural crises and farmer suicide, but in Reddy’s hands this very everyday tragedy becomes a unique catastrophe with the power to unsettle even the most apathetic heart. This is the true litmus test which separates reportage from literature, the presentation of apparent and alleged facts from the representation of the inner life and subterranean conflicts which underline and constitute our daily lives and lived experience. What fails to provoke interest as news evokes deep sympathy as a novel.