Articles and Reviews

Friday, December 31, 2010

Kannada Poetry Today: Themes and Concerns -Part 2

C)  Transcending Ideological Frames:  The poets in this group (such as Aravinda Malagatti, L. Hanumanthaiah, S. G. Siddaramaiah, Savita Nagabhushana, H. L. Pushpa, Pratibha Nandakumar, and others) are those that were active in 80’s and 90’s of the earlier century as the angry poets of ‘Dalit-Bandaya Movement.’    However, most of them now have given up the single agenda of Dalit experience and /or women-subordination and have extended their fields of concern to include either the effects of the recent phenomena of Free Market economy and Globalisation or mystic experience in general.

     We find such a change of perspective in the poetry of Siddalingayya who, in 1976, inaugurated, in a sense, Dalit poetry.  In his recent collection, Meravanige (2001), he interrogates many positions and stances of Dalit poetry including his own.  We find a major shift in such poems like “Gandhi,” in which he almost replaces Ambedkar with Gandhi: “You crushed the mirage, and banished it from the country;/ You forced the white sun to set.”   In another poem he registers the newly acquired confidence and self-assurance of the Dalits in these words: “ Why should we fear now / That there is fire, poison, and sharp blades?/ When the full moon of dreams and poetry shines, / Why should we talk about future grievances?”

     Aravinda Malagatti, another major poet of Dalit experience in the past, extends the areas of concerns further in his three collections of poetry published in this decade.  The first one, Shree Chandala Swargarohanam (2003),  is a long  narrative on the model of medieval Kannada epics.  He takes up the Trishanku myth, found in various forms in ‘Brahma Purana,’  and ‘The Ramayana,’ and he deconstructs the myth so as to expose the tyranny of the Varnashrama system inherent in the myth.   What is interesting in this deconstruction of the myth is the poet’s two-fold objective: he exposes the inhumanity of the powerful priestly caste through Vasishtha and his sons; at the same time, he fiercely asserts the identity and culture of the ‘lower’ castes through the parents of Matangi.      

     The other two poetry-collections of Malagatti also exhibit a dual thrust.  Both  Silicon City Mattu Kogile (2003) and Vishwatomukha—Hu Balu Bhaara (2010) contain two easily distinguishable parts: while the poems in the first collection expose the ‘internal exploitation’ based on caste within the Indian society and the ‘external exploitation’ due to Globalization common to all Indians, the poems in the second collection document the work-ethics, family-relationships, and culture of the Dalit communities.  Intentionally, Malagatti uses literary or sophisticated form of Kannada while exposing external exploitation, and a rural-colloquial form while asserting ethnicity.

     S. G. Siddaramaiah, whose two collections were published during this decade (Kaaya Maayada Haadu, 2007; Uriva Batti Taila, 2010), alternates between the dignity of the ‘backward castes,’ and the soul’s yeaning for mystic experience.  Poems like ‘Giduga mattu Erehula’ (‘The hawk and the Earthworm’) register the unfortunate situation of the working castes losing their work-ethics and becoming a part of the acquisitive society ushered in by the open-market economy.  The ‘Jogi’  poems in the earlier collection  and most of the poems in the second collection give expression to his second concern, of mystic experience.   Also, he successfully uses the rhythms and idiom associated with the oral traditions, kept alive by the ‘lower castes.’   

     Many other poets like L. Hanumantaiah,  Subbu Holeyar, Baraguru Ramachandrappa, and Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy are active in this decade  (Karnaraga, 2007, Sujigatrada Kolaveyinda …, 2003, Chappali Mattu Naanu, 2001).  They continue the tradition of Dalit poetry of the last century and write very forcefully on the plight as well as dignity of being a Dalit or of backward caste in a so-called secular society. 

     What is true of Dalit poets and poets of protest is equally true of erstwhile feminist poets.  Metaphorically speaking, most of the women poets like M. L. Pushpa, Savitha Nagabhushana, and others, have given up the ‘Amrutamathi model’ and have opted for ‘Akka Mahadevi model.’  (Amrutamathi in Yashodhara Charita was seen earlier by women poets as a model of a ‘rebel against male-oriented establishment; Akka Mahadevi, the 12th-century Veerashaiva saint, like Meera, rejected her husband and earthly bonds and moved from place to place singing the praise of Chenna Mallikarjuna.)

     In fact, Pushpa herself constructed, in her first collection, the rebel model of Amrutamathi in her famous poem ‘Amrutamathiya Swagata.’   But in her fourth and recent collection, Lohada Kannu (Eyes of Metal), she is mostly concerned with seeking the Guru who can lead her to that stage in which she can transcend such dualities like man-woman and this world-other world.  Her agonized soul cries at the end of a poem, “Beyond all these / O God! If you do exist, / To the world beyond the reach of  logic / float  me like a dry leaf. / Unite the hungry soul with the Soul that can only be glimpsed / And shed light, again.”  The long poem ‘Nadee Mukha’ (‘The Face of the River’) continuously equates Woman and the river, exquisitely pictures their varied courses,  and concludes with these words: “Woman means river, River means woman / All boundary lines are false  /  Heaps of rainbows / And pearls and corals, formless/ Hidden in the subterranean flow.”

     Pratibha Nandakumar, perhaps the most widely translated woman poet in Kannada, has been very active in this decade.  She has brought out four collections which include such widely discussed collections as Munnudi Bennudigala Naduve (Between Introduction and Blurb) and Coffee House.  She is witty, urbane, and occasionally satirical.  One of her major concerns in her recent poetry is the ‘onslaught of modern technology on urban life’ (in the form of scores of T. V. channels, colourful advertisements, coffee houses, mobile phones, etc.).  They have created a ‘virtual reality’ blurring the boundary lines of illusion and reality.  However, she is not a ‘doomsday prophet’; she accepts change since it is inevitable.  But she also shows us wittily the nature of such changed life-styles – holding a slanted mirror.  

     Savitha Nagabhushana is another significant poet who established herself in the beginning as a strong voice against patriarchy and gender differentiation.  Her fifth collection, Darushana (2008; Vision), reveals her mellowed view of life and the desire to go beyond binaries.  Though her poetry retains contemporaneity, it is characterized by inward looking and self-analysis.  Even while talking of Gujarath riots, she introspects on the way one can conquer the instinct of violence and aggression hidden in oneself.  At this stage, Rama is important to her only because he could humble himself to eat the fruit already tasted by another and Shiva only because he wandered carrying the corpse of his wife.  She pointedly asks herself: “Why should one remember / Draupadi while wearing a saree, / Shakuntala while taking up a ring, / and Sita while the fire blazes in the  earthen oven?”

         Many other women-poets who belong to this group are Jyothi Guruprasad, Tharini Shubhadayini, Rupa Hasan, Sandhyadevi, and others.

D)     Physical Poetry:  Many active poets come in this category: Jayanth Kaikini,
S.Manjunath,   Agrahara Krishnamurthy, Mamata G. Sagara, Rosie D’Souza, and such.  The distinguishing feature of the poets in this group is that they refuse to indulge in abstractions or generalizations; their poetry deals with concrete and sensuously apprehended things and objects around them, and the very pattern they impose on these ‘trivial’ and unrelated details of daily life creates a perspective of irony or pathos.  Jayanth Kaikini is the most significant poet in this group.

     Ondu Jilebi (2008), the fifth collection by Jayanth,  also reflects his abhorrence of theoretical statements and disembodied abstractions.  Even the kind of language used in this (as in other collections) has been consciously shorn of any lyrical or ‘poetical’ elements.  It is the juxtaposition of disparate images of daily life that leads to a distinct experience and a new awareness of life. Consider these typical lines:
If only he had felt  the affection at the blue finger  tip/ Of the Lambani girl wrapped in a yellow daavani /Engaged in cleaning the glassy eye /Of the young man, holding his head, staring at  his eyes intent, and blowing into them/ While the young man stood tottering under the huge load on his head/ In the middle of the road, at noon, deserted, …”  The kite, flying high, appears to the poet like  “ a short application/ For the vacant site / In the mysterious world, priceless and incomprehensible. / For ‘immediate disposal’ / It needs the will of the cloudy system, above.”  Through such unexpected collage of images, Jayanth shocks us to a new recognition of the despair, agony and excitement of  life around us.      

     S. Manjunath also, like Jayanth, dislikes statements and attempts to bring out the ‘thinginess’ of the concrete things around him.  His seventh collection, Jeevayana (Journey of life), is a cluster of 34 poems; and a loose thread of autobiography runs through all of them.  Interestingly, highly emotive sketches of his childhood are pictured through kinships like ‘elder sister,’ ‘elder brother,’ ‘aunt,’ ‘father,’ and such.  It is here that Manjunath differs from Jayanth; while Jayanth’s poems are apparently impersonal and his imagery is urban, Manjunath’s poems are seemingly personal and he draws his images from rural life.  However, both of them connote a variety of experiences which are both personal and impersonal.

     Mamata G. Sagara is a poet who writes differently from all other women poets; and her poems carry traces of modern thinkers and linguists like Derrida and Saussure.  But, again, it is through concretely observable details that she constructs her poems, very consciously.  Her new collection, Heege Haaleya Mele Haadu (‘ Casual songs on loose sheets’, 2007), has poems that poignantly register the agony of the victims of Gujarath riots, the hollow logic of religious fundamentalists, and such contemporary issues; however, it is her sensuous and concrete images that immediately catch our attention.  For instance, consider these lines: “ The shadow of ear-rings / sways  this way and that/ and desires swing”; or, “ On the pointed knife tip/ of sharp  grass blades / a drop of snow./ It is poised as if / it might fall now or the next moment.”  

Now a few generalizations:

a)     One need not bemoan, as many critics often do, that there are no influential literary movements today in Kannada.  For, an influential movement patronises only such poetry which adheres to the assumptions and expectations of the movement, and hence breeds monotony.  But, today, when there are no strong movements, Kannada poetry is varied both in form and concerns (as I have attempted to show in this paper, hopefully).

b)    Secondly, a curious situation exists in Kannada today.  According to publishers, readers have given up reading poetry; and hence, publishers are reluctant to publish poetry.  However, good poetry continues to be written and new poets continue to enter the field.  Does the ‘bulk-purchase scheme’ of the Karnataka government explain this paradox?  I am not sure.

c)     Another novel feature is that the frontiers of poetry are getting extended and the boundary-lines between different forms of literature are getting blurred.  The same poet (let’s say, H. S. Venkatesha Murthy or B. R. Lakshmana Rao or Jayanth Kaikini) writes what we call serious poetry, for ‘Sugama Sangeeth’ (songs set to music), and also popular film-songs and songs for the T.V.  Perhaps, the time has come not to indulge in such differentiations as ‘serious poetry’ and ‘popular poetry.’

Again, full-fledged plays are made out of medieval epics as well as modern poetry.  That is, Pampa’s Vikramarjuna Vijaya, a difficult epic written in old Kannada, is turned into a play in which the verses of the original themselves are used.  Similarly, selected poems of a single modern poet (let’s say,  K. S. Narasimha Swamy or G. P. Rajaratnam) or even single long poems (like Adiga’s Bhoomigita) are strung together (the narrators of different poems being the characters) in the form of a play, and such plays are staged successfully.   

     In other words, much significant experimentation is being carried out in the field of Kannada poetry during this decade; and I am curious to know if similar /other experiments are being undertaken in Marathi and Konkani.   Thank you.

Dr. C. N. Ramachandran
  (presented in the KOKAM Seminar, held at Goa, on December 5, 2010)                                                         

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