Articles and Reviews

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Review of the book "Uttarayana Mattu..." by HSV

Dr. H. S. Venkatesha Murthy, Uttarayana Mattu …
Malladi Halli: Anandakanda Granthamale, 2008 pp. xx + 80; price: 100/-

Dr. H.S. Venkatesha Murthy (popularly known as HSV) is one of the most significant and versatile Kannada writers in the post-independence period. His first poetry- collection was published in 1968, and, during a span of four decades, HSV has to his credit 64 works including 16 poetry-collections, ten plays, and 12 works of children’s literature. Uttarayana is his 16th collection of poems.

Though HSV began his literary career in the ‘Navya’ or modernist mode (as most others of his generation did), very soon he carved his own distinctive mode which, in a way, fused the virtues of both Navodaya and Navya modes. Consequently, his poetry is characterized by mythical, narrative, and ‘oral’ elements – ‘oral’ in the sense that many of his poems are meant to be sung. Regarding myths, he neither deconstructs them to expose their life-thwarting values nor celebrates them as the carriers of native traditions and values. He employs them as rich metaphors for contemporary experiences. Hence, his poetry is both traditional and modern in its form and concerns.

Uttaraayana is divided into four parts of which, while the first contains 12 stray poems and the third 13 lyrics on Krishna’s childhood, the last five are exhortations of Krishna to Arjuna. The second part consists of one long, eponymous elegy, divided into 24 sections. However, though all these poems can stand independently, all of them are centred on Family and familial relationships; they sing, brood over, and meditate on Life and Death, and human experiences hedged by them.

The title of the collection (and the title of the long narrative in the second part) is very suggestive. ‘Uttaraayana,’ the northward solstice traditionally believed to be auspicious for one’s death, suggests ‘death’ and ‘after life’; metaphorically, the term suggests one’s latter part of life. Also, ‘uttara’ meaning ‘answer,’ ‘uttaraayana’ is a journey seeking answers to the eternal questions of life and death.
The poems in the first part establish the importance of ‘familial relationships’ and the agony of lacking them. While even gods like Srirama and Shiva are ‘gods with a family,’ there are humans who know nothing about their parents ( “ He who sowed the seeds isn’t there, she who begot them is also unknown.”). Such unfortunate ones like Karna, Sita, and Shakuntala represent (in Kirkegard’s terms) the ‘Dassein’ of a mortal being.

The third part consists of a string of songs which, in the guise of narrating child Krishna’s pranks, divinize ‘childhood’s innocence.’ These songs, in the tradition of Purandara Dasa, are marked by their affectionate tone and musical form, very popular among singers. The last part, called curiously ‘the New Testament,’ documents the way one becomes ‘Krishna’ –feeding the cattle, scrubbing the horses, and serving elders. That is, these five exhortations focus on ‘becoming’ rather than on ‘being, and illustrate the principle of ‘kaayaka’ as propounded by Basavanna.

‘uttaraayana,’ the second part of the collection, is a personal elegy, written on the untimely death of the narrator’s wife; and it evokes a welter of emotions and moods through precise and authentic images: disbelief at the sudden disappearance a life-partner (“ Wick burnt out, oil finished, the anguished lamp lies still and peaceful”); despair about his helplessness to alter the situation (“ The reflection inside the mirror – You can’t break the mirror, you can’t catch the reflection); haunting memories of their past life, speculations on her ‘form’ after death; and final acceptance of the inviolable law of nature. Remarkably, this elegy universalizes a personal experience; and broods, as every mortal does, over the enigma called death. Surely, this is one of the most meditative and moving elegies in modern Kannada; and, it can stand comparison with Tennyson’s In Memorium and such other famous elegies.
Arguably, Uttaraayana Mattu … represents the most mature and successful poetic phase of HSV.
Dr. C. N. Ramachandran

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