Articles and Reviews

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Article: "Many Voices, Many Notes"

(A Note on Post-independence Kannada Literature)

“ Unless you understand your earlier steps, you cannot take a step ahead,” observes the great mystic-poet Allama Prabhu. Supposing we look back at Kannada literature, standing on the threshold of ‘Suvarna Karnataka,’ the fiftieth year of the state of Karnataka, what do we see? What were the major concerns and preoccupations of Kannada literature in the last fifty years? This short article tries to answer some of these questions.
First, let us have an overview of Kannada literature of the last century. It is customary to study modern Kannada literature under these heads: Navodaya (Romantic-Idealist), 1920-1950; Navya (Realist-Modernist), 1950-1975; and Dalita-Bandaya (Satirical-Reformist), 1975-2000. Though in such periodisation, many writers and genres straddle two or more periods, for the sake of convenience, we can continue to use the same terms.
The Navodaya movement, under the impact of colonial pressures, rejected most of its earlier literary traditions, and extensively experimented with newer forms and modes of expression, such as the lyric, the short story, and the novel. It put Nature and Man at the center, and advocated a reformist outlook. It was full of hope and idealism, induced by the ongoing Freedom movement. Aptly, the first modern Kannada epic, Shree Ramayana Darshanam by Kuvempu, came out in 1949, marking both the summit of the Navodaya movement, and the end of an era.
It did not take long for writers and thinkers to realize that the hopes of an egalitarian society to be ushered in after independence were only false hopes. Besides the pangs of partition, the grand plan of modernization and industrialization undertaken by the Nehru regime appeared to them as modeled on the West and a betrayal of Gandhian ideals. Also, the democratic system based on universal suffrage inevitably led to corrupt practices, in a country of poverty and mass illiteracy. Moreover, the poetry and fiction of the earlier period appeared to have reached a dead end. It was in such an atmosphere of dissatisfaction and skepticism that the Navya movement was launched, Adiga’s Chende Maddale (1954) formally marking its beginning.
The major concerns of the Navya writers were mainly two: to use language so precisely that it created by itself what one wanted to convey; and, secondly, to find a critical balance between tradition and modernity in both life and literature. Since exploration and not statement was their objective, Adiga and Sharma in poetry, Anatha Murthy, Lankesh and Desai in fiction, consciously substituted skepticism for idealism, sexuality for love, and the sordid for the sublime. In the place of musicality, they introduced the rhythms of spoken language; and concrete images took the place of fanciful similes and metaphors. In their outlook on life, they were Liberal Humanists, and they considered ‘the essence’ of individuality as endangered by institutions and systems. Hence, they launched an attack on all systems – religious, social and literary –upholding individuality. They decried all forms of popular art and literature; consequently, the works of Anakru, Tarasu, and such, which had built up a broad-based readership, were dismissed contemptuously. While Adiga analyzed, poem after poem, the paradoxical nature of life and the gulf between Man’s vaunting ambitions and built-in limitations, Sharma acutely explored the mystery of creation and sexuality, along with cultural confrontations. In his brilliant stories, novels and essays, Anantha Murthy explored the age-old conflict between tradition and modernity. While in the first phase, as a ‘critical insider,’ he ruthlessly exposed the heartless cruelty inherent in Indian tradition and culture, in his latter phase he was equally ruthless of modernity. Bhumigeetha (Adiga) and Hesaragatte (Sharma) in poetry, Samskara (Anantha Murthy) and Shikari (Chittala) in fiction, and Sankranti in drama (Lankesh) are the most representative works of this movement.
The schism in drama between the professional theatre and amateur theatre, begun with Kailasam and Sriranga, was complete during the Navya period – the ‘Angry Young Man’ plays of Lankesh and the ‘Absurd plays’ of Champa and Kusnur catering only to the urban, English-educated theatre-goers. On the whole, though Navya movement gave some significant works to the Kannada world, it sharply narrowed the contours of ‘literature’ and alienated most of the common readers.
However, before we move on to the next phase, it has to be stated that even at the height of the Navya movement, there were other voices and modes equally strong. In the field of poetry, poets like K. S. Na, Kanavi, G. S. S, and Kambar accepted only the formal concerns of Adiga and Sharma, rejecting their ideology and view of life. They, in a way, successfully brought together the thematic concerns of the Navodaya poets and the formal concerns of the Navya poets. In fact, many others who began in the Navya mode assimilated other forms and concerns, and wrote successful poetry ( Nisar Ahmad, L. N. Bhat, Venkatesha Murthy, Sumattendra Nadig, Lakshmana Rao, … ), and successful fiction (Vyasaraya Ballala, Rao Bahadur, …) In fiction, some of the best novels of Karanth, Kuvempu, and Masti (the major writers of the Navodaya period) were written in the Sixties : Mookajjiya Kanasugalu and Maimanagala Suliyalli (S. Karanth), Malegalalli Madumagalu (Kuvempu), Chikkaveera Rajendra (Masti), etc.
It was Tejaswi, the great novelist, who formally announced his dissatisfaction with the Navya movement in 1973: “ We have to completely give up the Kannada Navya tradition and explore new avenues and directions.” This declaration can be taken to mark the beginning of what came to be called ‘The Dalit-Bandaya movement.’
There were many other socio-political factors that warranted a change in the mode and thought of Kannada writers in the 70s: the land-reform legislation introduced by the Urs-ministry during 1969-71; the rise of Dalit organizations (DSS); and the Peasant movement. These reforms and movements had empowered the classes marginalized for long; and they began to assert themselves both in politics and in literature. The ‘Boosa Episode’ concerning Basavalingappa in the Urs-ministry only fuelled these forces. As a result of all these incidents, ‘Bandaya Organisation’ was formally founded in 1974, which included Dalit writers also initially.
The stated objective of the Bandaya Movement was “ to fight against untouchability, caste-system, and Gender-class discrimination.” It was an umbrella movement, which included Dalit writers, women writers, progressive Muslim and Christian writers, and all those who opposed Establishment. Broadly, they accepted the ideology of Lohia and Ambedkar; and began to work against any hierarchical system, in literature and society. Some of the leading writers of this movement were: Champa (poetry); Tejaswi, Geetha Nagabhushana, Baraguru and Kumvi (fiction), D. R. Nagaraj (criticism), and CGK (theatre). Tejaswi, the most significant writer of this period, influenced by Lohia, depicted the cultural decay of the rural people in his short stories; and, in his fiction, he tried to bring together the local and the general, intuition and scientific knowledge, and levity and seriousness. His reformist concerns, narrated in a comic-ironic tone, are best represented in Karvalo and Chidambara Rahasya.
It was Siddalingayya who ushered in Dalit movement in literature with his Hole Madigara Hadu in 1975. Later, many other poets and novelists like Devanuru Mahadeva and Aravinda Malagatti joined him to create a very powerful body of ‘Dalit literature.’ The major concerns of Dalit literature were :exposure of the tyranny institutionalized by the Varnashrama system; assertion of Dalit identity and culture; and endeavour to establish a casteless society; these are best represented by the poetry of Siddalingayya and Malagatti, and in such novels as Odalala (Devanuru), and Maagi (Manaja).
Another notable feature of this period was the emergence of Muslim and Christian writers, major figures being Sara Abubakar, Boluvaru, Katpadi, and Na. Desouza. As a matter of fact, their novels and short stories bring to mind the early reformist novels in Kannada: Indiara Bai and Vagdevi. Their novels and short stories pointedly expose the exploitation of the common people, especially women, by institutionalized religion and social systems.
However, there were many writers in this period also, who did not formally associate themselves with any movement, Navya or Bandaya. The most important writer in this group is Bhairappa, who, till today, has written 18 voluminous novels (Grihabhanga, Tantu, etc.), and who has the most readership in Karnataka and outside it. Though, at one level, he continues the tradition of Karanth, he has more concern for tradition, and views the West as the biggest threat to ‘Indian culture and values.’ Other notable writers in this group are Raghavendra Patil ( Theru ), Jayant Kaikini and Vivek Shanbhog, and others.
Women poets like Cha. Sarvamangala and Vaidehi (who is a significant short-story writer also), and women novelists like Anupama Niranjana and Savita Nagabhushana wrote from a decidedly feminine point of view in this period. Without calling themselves feminists; they analysed the many-sided suffering of women in a male-dominated society. A host of women poets have emerged in the last two decades who continue the women-oriented tradition, the most notable being Hema Pattanashetty, Sa. Usha, Pratibha Nandakumar, Shashikala Veerayya Swami and H. L. Pushpa.
Arguably, the most creative literary form of this period (1970-2000) is drama. Great playwrights like Girish Karnad and Chandrashekhara Kambar, highly imaginative directors like B. V. Karanth and C.G.K., and committed troupes like Benaka and Samudaya brought the Kannada theatre both national and international recognition.
There were many reasons for this dramatic surge at this point of time: the establishment of National School of Drama, most of the present-day directors being its products; the School of Drama at Heggodu (the famous Ninasam Centre); and the Repertory, Rangayana at Mysore. Those who were trained in these centers brought together the techniques of professional theatre and the concerns of Avant-garde theatre. Also, Karnataka had just begun to understand the vast resources of folk-traditions in poetry and drama.
Both Karnad and Kambar combine an intimate knowledge of the theatre and acute literary sensibility; hence, their plays like Tuglaq and Taledanda (Karnad), Jokumaraswami and Mahamayi (Kambar) are great literary works and also huge stage-successes. While the recurring concerns of Karnad are ‘incompleteness of Man’ and ‘the opposing pulls of power and ideals,’ Kambar constantly probes the mystery of sexuality and the tyranny of feudalism. More importantly, both employ the elements of professional theatre (music, dance, humour, narrator, etc.), to create a ‘total theatre,’ and thus bridge the great divide between the professional and avant-garde theatre. Other notable playwrights of this period are H. S. Shivaprakash, T. N. Seetharam, A. S. Prasanna.
To sum up:
1) Kannada literature in the last fifty years has been vibrant and sensitive to contemporary society. New movements and modes have arisen from time to time to channel the literary currents in new directions.
2) During this period, the category called ‘literature’ has vastly extended its bounds, to include, besides traditional forms, the great oral traditions, creative criticism, scientific writing, and journalistic writing.
3) Many new voices, especially those of Dalits, women, and ethnic minorities, have entered and enriched Kannada literature.
4) How to retain Tradition free from hierarchy of caste and gender, and to accept Modernity free from westernization has been constant preoccupation of the writers, throughout. There is no wonder that such a vibrant literature has received the highest number of ‘Jnanapith Awards’ in the country.


Laxminarayana Bhat P said...

Dear Sir,

Your article surveys the fifty years of Kannada Literature so comprehensively that it serves as a widow to get an overview of all the major literary movements, representative works, and authors. Lines like this -- Adiga and Sharma in poetry, Anatha Murthy, Lankesh and Desai in fiction, consciously substituted skepticism for idealism, sexuality for love, and the sordid for the sublime -- are very captivating.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Dr. Bhat. Please be visiting the blog whenever you find yourself free.