The announcement of Emergency in Independent India was one of the darkest hours of Indian Democracy. It is a culmination of the decade long decline of idealism in all forms of life in Independent India. The time of the freedom movement was a period of great Idealism and hope, Millions of men lived for such lofty ideals sacrificed their whole lives for the idea of Independent India. Once Independence arrived, the system of governance that came into existence was something which was completely dependent on the bureaucracy which was more interested in survival rather than nation building. The satyagraha workers were sidelined as the rule was more centralized and had no room for the ideals of Gandhian Decentralization. Hence India was ruled by a bureaucracy and politicians working over them. As the idealism of the early years withered the revolutionary zeal that was achieved during the independence was lost completely.
This novel is a record of this loss in idealism. The novel reflects this loss in multiple layers.
Obviously the functioning of the government, the License-quote raj system which promoted corruption at all levels and resulted in economic stagnation. In addition it also reflects this on the personal lives of the people, the lives of everyday human beings who crave for power and material benefits where common decency is killed everyday.
In addition to the loss of idealism this novel laments, the other fundamental theme of the novel is the complete loss of authenticity and Indian tradition in all lives post independence.
Especially in the education system we inherited from the British was completely lacking in Indian thought and sensibilities. Resulting system could only produce people who are interested only in the economic affluence that modern education rather than character building which education had to promote.
The novel is brilliant in a sense it realistically captures the pettiness of the upper middle class bureaucracy. Especially the culture associated with Delhi based bureaucracy who relish in tax payer money with lavish parties and the way corruption is normalised in this system of over governance.
It also captures the utter lack of ideals and the depression that anyone with a sense of idealism has to suffer at every step with the careless bureaucracy and corrupt politicians.Classic case is the suffering meted out to Anaiah whose only mistake is to yearn for an education which is Indian thought. This utter hopelessness is the very characteristic which this novel portrays over and over in independent India.
Gandhi keeps coming back in this novel, as a sad remembrance to the reader, and as a clown in the curses of Kanti the suave and sophisticated Delhi based women. She is the wife of Ravindra the central character of the novel who is idealistic and hence unable to earn the money that Kanti wants him to. Kanti leaves Ravindra and becomes a garment exporter yearning lakhs of rupees.
It is through the personal lives and the seeming contradiction between them we see this duality getting played. The idealistic Ravindra and the seemingly pragmatic and opportunistic Kanti representing the existential modernism going at each other is a classic philosophical debate of 20th century. In this sense Bhyrappa has put forth a critique of the modernistic thought and the lonely death Kanti suffers is what Bhyrappa should have felt about the loneliness of existentialism.
Inspite of the external situation we see people still inspired not loosing hope as the karma yogi defined in Bagavat Gita fighting the lonely battle on the side of idealism. Even though the novel seem to end at the announcement of the emergency its message is one of the duty against the modernism rooted in existentialism.