The rejection of the traditional, satisfactory ending with the cathartic effect is a typical mark of the vast experimentation in narrative technique by modern authors. The open-ended conclusion of U.R. Ananthamurthy’s modern psychological novel, “Samskara” has also attracted the attention of the critics and the readers alike. The novel ends but does not conclude. Much is left for the readers’ imagination and guesswork to decide and have free play. After his ‘anxious return’ to the village, Praneshacharya’s fate may take any turn, but deliberately the story of the novel ends in the middle of the action.
The novelist has designed the plot to suit the fictitious biography of his character. The events take place very rapidly and there are quick shifts in focus by the novelist. The main protagonist Pranesacharya is involved in a sexual affair, and after the death of his ailing wife Bhagirathi, suffers alone in his search for Chandri. It is only after he gets some knowledge in worldly affairs that he decides to return to his village and his ‘anxious return’ marks the beginning of a new life for him. His reunion with Chandri would not have been satisfying, and what will be his image now in the village after he had failed in solving a problem? The author deftly captured and ended the novel amid all the tension, anxiety, confusion, and uncertainty “Four or five more hours travel. Then, what ?….. He will travel, for another four or five hours. Then, after that, what? Praneshacharya waited, anxious, expectant. And along with the Acharya, the readers also waited, anxious, expectant”. All these questions continue to haunt the readers’ mind after reading the novel.
At the beginning of the novel, we saw that life in the village is dominated and regulated by rituals and orthodox beliefs. One striking feature of the novel is that death remains the leitmotif in the entire course of action. The archetype of ‘thanatos’ (meaning the death-instinct) seems to have gripped the existence of the villagers. Not even a single incident of birth or marriage takes place in the course of main action. Praneshacharya, the spiritual teacher of the village, is the only character with positive values in his personality, but he too is under the shadow of life negating forces. After his encounter with Naranappa’s concubine Chandri in the dark forest, his quest for this biological woman is, in fact, a quest for his residual self. His journey through the forest, villages, and towns denotes a deep spiritual crisis. Now he suffers from the sickness of his soul.
In this state of great spiritual crisis, the Acharya found that the former security is forever lost to him. He is now in a fix as to whether he should confess his guilt, his changed self, or not. The decision to confess gets more and more difficult the longer it is postponed. Actually, he lacks the will to make an existential decision. His journey back to Durvasapura also happens rather than is undertaken voluntarily. The cart going in that direction has only one seat, so Putta is left behind and Pranesacharya moves towards yet another climactic moment of confession.
But, at that climactic moment, the novel ends abruptly leaving much for our imagination to visualize. The story does not conclude. The Acharya may find Chandri in the village expecting her child by him, or he may have acquired a new state of consciousness-nothing is clear. The open ending of the novel is compelling and it lends a new dimension to the structure of the novel. Anantha Murthy may have left the novel unfinished deliberately with the possibility of another novel as its extension and continuation. The quest motif has been left on halfway.
The open-ended conclusion, however, has lent even a greater significance to the novel and its central protagonist. Praneshacharya’s decision to confess is linked with the knowledge that a rotten corpse awaited his return. The absence of this corpse might still change his decision, but the novel ends before his journey is over, tracing from the static certainty of “the crest jewel of Vedanta” to the dynamic uncertainty of a lonely individual in search of a code by which he can completely be himself without any self-deception. Because of the contradictions within the protagonist, the possibilities of the age ever being completed into a circle are remote. The Acharya will perhaps never attain the pure state he is searching for, but his experience has encompassed a larger area than he had known in his earlier limited life, and he cannot go back completely to his former position.