Articles and Reviews

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Review of "Odanata" by S.R. Vijayashankara

S. R. Vijayashankara, ODANATA
Anandakanda Granthamale, 2007                        pp. 224; price: 120/-

               “Warm Portraits of Great Men”

     ‘Odanata’ in Kannada means ‘companionship’; and Vijayashankara  has had the fortune of intimate companionship with many men of extra-ordinary talents.  The gallery he presents in this work contains the portraits of 27 men from different walks of life:  great writers, men of theatre, administrators, cartoonists, journalists, and rationalists.  

Two major concerns that shape the narratives are two-fold: to explore, precisely, the nature of achievements of these people; and to document the ‘lessons’ the author learnt through his companionship with them.

     However, the 27 articles collected here are uneven:  while the portraits of men like  CDN, Ravish Kasaravalli, and H. R. Alva are short, giving only a factual account of their achievements, others, like those of Kurtukoti, URA, and Subbanna, are fairly long, with the emphasis falling on what the author admired in them and learnt from them.  Also, the article on Chaplin could have been omitted; it doesn’t fit the overall framework of the book.  But the  narrative style, throughout, is lively and dramatic. 

     Ironically (considering the title), the portraits of those whom the author knew only slightly, are the ones most successful in this collection –those of B. V. Karanth, A. N. Murthy Rao, Nittur, and such others.  Arguably, to draw a successful portrait, both nearness and distance are necessary. 

     For instance, the article on B. V. Karanth just touches on his personal life, discusses his varied experimentations in the theatre, and makes this insightful point that “although Karanth’s experiments gave birth to ‘New Wave Theatre,’ his very modern experiments appear to be an extension of the classical traditions of Indian theatre” (p.72).  The article on A. N. Murthy Rao gives us both an affectionate picture of the man who was ‘the personification of culture,’ and a valid commentary on his literary/ professional achievements.  Similarly, the article on Nittoor sketches, with love and reverence, a great man who gave Bangalore a ‘cultural face,’ with his educational and cultural institutions.     

      While writing on those with whom the author has had a long-standing and intimate companionship, he seems to be carried away by his affection and adulation towards them.  Memories, incidents, and discussions associated with them  come crowding , forcing the writer to acknowledge that ‘it is not easy to narrate all those experiences I have had  in an orderly fashion’ (p.163).  Still, the author’s bubbling enthusiasm  toward his subjects makes them come alive: Kurtukoti with his legendary memory and deep love for literature, Subbanna with his penchant for native traditions as well as betel leaves, and Ananthamurthy who loves and lives on ‘dialogue’  with his admirers as well as critics.

     Great writers and artists are also human beings; and Vijayashankara has the gift to choose the most appropriate moment/ incident that mirrors the ‘human’ aspects of them.  Bendre’s  rueful comment that just when he  got fame and wealth his wife wasn’t there to share them; Kurtukoti’s  stubborn attempts to sue Kannada Book Authority on copyright; Murthy Rao’s discreet gift of clothes to a poor man; YNK’s  belief that ‘Newspapers are not only to be read, but also to be seen,’ …  Such incidents and experiences make this work both delightful and instructive.

     The form Vijayashankara has chosen is very risky; easily, it can become a part of ‘Congratulatory System’ allowing the author to bask in reflected glory.  However, the fact that Vijayashankara frees himself from this inherent danger to a great extent is a proof of his sound critical sensibility.
Dr. C. N. Ramachandran                 

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