Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Padmashree Dr. Chandrashekhara Kambar, playwright-poet-novelist-critic, holds a unique place in the field of post-independence Kannada literature; he fuses modern sensibility with traditional forms of performance and expression. With 21 plays, eight poetry collections, three novels, and 12 collections of research articles on theatre and literature, Kambar is one of the most significant writers in Kannada, today.
In the light of the rural vigour and gusto of Kambar’s poetry and plays, it is not a coincidence that he was born in a small village called Ghodgeri, in Karnataka. Born in 1937 into a poor family of blacksmiths by profession, Kambar had to struggle for education from the very beginning. But, while he was growing up in his small rural place, he began to absorb the very spirit of popular performances like ‘Sangya Balya’ and ‘Lavani’; and he developed an undying love for their music and theatricality.
With the help of Sri Savalgi Swamiji and others, Kambar continued his education and finally got his B. A. degree from Lingaraj college,
, and M. A. degree from Karnatak University Dharwad. Later, he was awarded the Ph. D. degree in Kannada by the same University for his thesis on “ Origin and Development of Folk Theatre” (1975). Belgaum
After obtaining his Master’s degree, he taught in many colleges, and worked with Dr. A. K. Ramanujan in
, from 1968 to 1970. Then he joined the department of Kannada in Chicago University where he worked for 21 years (1970-1991). When the Bangalore University , Hampi, was founded in 1991, he was selected as its first Vice-chancellor, in which capacity he worked for two continuous terms (1991-1997). It was Kambar who built up the University as a center for original research and who strove hard to shape it as ‘a university with a difference.’ Kannada University
After he retired as Vice-Chancellor, he was called to head ‘The National School of Drama’ at
(1996-2000). He also served as the Member of the Executive Committee of Sahitya Akademi, Sangeeth-Nataka Akademi, Theatre Expert Committee, and Ford Foundation in Delhi . At present, he is the nominated member of Karnataka Legislative Council (2004 - ). India
During his illustrious career, many Honours and Awards have come seeking Kambar, of which mention can be made of the Padmashree (2001), Kabeer Samman (2003), and Central Sahitya Akademi for Siri Sampige, in 1991. (For a detailed list, see Appendix.)
Kambar’s works, totaling 44, have been translated into English and other Indian languages; and most of his plays have been staged in different parts of the country. (For details of translated works, see Appendix.) He has participated in many national and international Conferences, particularly in
Berlin, Moscow, and . He was a special invitee of the French government to participate in the Avenue Theatre Festival, in 1998. Japan
Kambar’s first collection of poetry was published when he had just completed his college education, Mugulu in 1958. The Modernist movement was at its peak then and Adiga was its high priest. Although Kambar shared many concerns like the concern for cultural identity and self-consciousness of the Modernist poets, he dared to be different from them even in his first collection: he went in for the musicality of folk-rhythms and folk-dialect. His next collection, Heltena Kela, published in 1964, established him as a major poet who differed from both the Modern and Modernist poets. To date, he has six collections of poetry to his credit, of which while Takaraarinavaru (1971) got the Karnataka Sahitya Akademi Award, his next collection Saavirada Neralu (1979) got the Kumaran Asan Award.
As a poet different from others, he uses a dialectical variation of Kannada (which by itself sets his poetry apart from that of the rest); he employs folk-rhythms and oral-narrative techniques in the place of dialogic form and dramatization; and he has a penchant for creating his own or re-interpreting existing popular folk myths. In other words, Kambar successfully brings together in his poetry the elements of the folk and sophisticated consciousness, the local and universal concerns, and this world and the other world.
To illustrate. The long narrative poem “ Navile Navile” (‘Peacock, O Peacock’) equates fertility in the human world with fertility in Nature. It narrates the story of a childless woman and a drought-hit village. She develops companionship with a peacock in the forest. When she conceives, the drought-hit village also gets life-giving rains. But her husband suspects her and gets the peacock killed. In the end, she leaves home and disappears. Very naturally, the peacock in the poem becomes a symbol of virility, wisdom, and beauty, the three qualities Kambar always associates with Nature. The whole poem, structured in the form of a ballad with refrain and repetitions, equates human world and natural world at one level, and at another, contrasts the sterile human world and the virile natural world.
Another celebrated poem of Kambar, “ Aa Mara Ii Mara” (‘That Tree, This Tree’), a variation of the famous Upanishad episode “ dwaa suparna sayujaa sakhaayaam …,” adroitly raises the ontological question of illusion and reality: are they absolute or do they depend on each other to be defined? There is a tree on the bank of a pond, and there is its reflection in water. Their relationship to each other is paradoxical: while their roots are the same, their tops are different; one laughs when the pond’s water is disturbed and the other trembles. The poem ends with a sad comment on the split mind of the modern man:
“Do you know what the tragic weakness of this story is?
The point or space where / The real tree and the reflected tree meet
Has disappeared for ever.”
The poem registers, through apt images of the tree, the relative nature of Illusion and Reality: each is false or true only in relation to the other.
As Professor Satchidanandan points out, the poem “ The Player King and the Clown” is paradigmatic to Kambar’s poetics of inversion. In this poem, the clown forgets his costume, pranks and identity; and appears before the audience as the king himself. The audience accepts him happily. When the real king’s face is seen, the clown declares that it is the face of a buffoon and asks the audience to laugh at the face. Even when the director comes on the stage and declares who is who, the audience does not listen to him. The question here is, how does one become a king or a clown? Is it by intrinsic merits or by the acceptance of others?
There are many other poems which raise such haunting questions. For example, the poem or the song “ maretenemdare mareyali hyaamga” (‘Even If I wish to, How Can I Forget you?’). In this poem, rather ruefully, the poet wonders at the astonishing strengths and regrettable weaknesses of Mao Tse Tung; and sadly records that the new ‘Brave World’ promised by him was never delivered. Many other poems like “Hori” (bulll’) and “Kaadu Kuduri” (‘The Wild Horse’) develop the images in very forceful language to connote vigour, abandon, and sexuality, and reflect on the place of sexuality in an urbane, civilized world.
In short, Kambar brings an alternative sensibility as well as new idiom to Kannada poetry. His whole poetic oeuvre, as Satchidanandan puts it, is an attempt to retrieve those songs, those narratives, and those aspects of human life that dwell in the dark nether world and restore them to light and hope.
Dr. C.N. Ramachandran