On the threshold of his 70th summer, poet H.S. Venkatesh Murthy’s passion for poetry and life remains undiminished. Among the finest poets of our times, he releases his new collection, Shankhadolagina Mouna, this weekend
Do the trees ever ask themselves questions like, “Must we flower? Bear fruit? Will there be takers?” Using the tree as his central metaphor, renowned Kannada poet, H.S. Venkatesh Murthy writes a foreword for his charming collection of children’s poems “Baaro Baaro Maleraya”. In this, bringing the philosophies of several other poets into his own, he describes that the act of writing for a poet must be as natural as it is to flower for a tree. Shaping his viewpoint, he echoes Hopkins’ plea for ‘being’ – “Send my roots rain”, along with poet G.S. Shivarudrappa’s “Haaduvudu anivarya, karma nanage”, the inevitability of ‘doing’. He takes his argument further by yoking together the acts of ‘being’ and ‘doing’ as they culminate in Basavanna’s “Kayakave Kailasa”. If producing flowers, fruits and seeds is an organic, biological process for the tree, writing, like breathing, must be a natural state of existence for a writer, he insists. For a deeply committed writer H.S. Venkatesh Murthy, herein lies the continuity of tradition.
“I remember,” he says, “the seed of Kannada poetry tradition was sown in me during my childhood – I think of it and a whole, grand sensory experience is invoked.”
Does that contain the seed of the birth of a poem then…? How do the moorings of the emotional universe transform into poetry?
“All great poetry is born from an intense ‘stirring’,” says the poet, who will be releasing his new collection of poems, Shankhadolagina Mouna. “This gradually adorns an external appearance, wearing the body of language and rhythm. Process constitutes the different stages in which language evolves and rhythm attains perfection. What then is the role of a poet’s rationale, his philosophical outlook – do you ask? A poet’s lived life, his reading, his thought processes are intrinsic to his personality. He tries to comprehend the intense stirrings within him through his entire being -- anubhava shodhane, exploring the experience as it is called. With the persona of the poet getting deeper, he is able to order his perceptions in a profound manner.”
Though the process emerges deeply from the self, HSV, like Eliot, believes in the “artistic extinction of the personality” once the work of art is complete. “ My poem ‘Uttarayana’,” he explains, “was born as I mourned my wife’s death. If a poem doesn’t expand the consciousness of a reader, and remains as an articulation of personal sadness, it’s not a good poem.” Reverberating poet Bendre’s “Yenna paadenagirali…”, HSV insists that the poem should lead you to a whole treasure of meanings beyond the context of the writer.
In HSV’s poetry you can see traces of two entirely different sensibilities — the pre-Navya and post-Navya. The bhamini shatpadi pattern of the old Kannada writing came as naturally to him (“Kenchideviyu poreyelellara”) as does a starkly modern style (“Soudhagragalu sididu, dhoolu melelutta/ bana gummatavanne aavarisuttide, Aha! Aa maha maaranada agnistamba.”). On his grand canvas, there is Pampa, Ranna, Kumaravyasa along with Putina, Masti, Bendre, and the consciousness of Adiga, Ananthamurthy, and Lankesh.
“These distinctions of literary periods are for a general kind of understanding. Every poet is different and he is expected to be so. For instance, we recognize Kuvempu, Bendre and Putina as poets of the Navodaya phase. But when you think about their work, there are more differences than similarities between them. This is true even in the case of poets we recognise as part of the Navya group – Adiga, Ramachandra Sharma, Ramanujan, Gangadhara Chittal. Every writer in that sense is an elephant which has strayed away from its herd. This personal idiosyncrasy is what makes us interested in them. We must not be able to put writers in a single group.”
However, HSV agrees that it is a challenge to guard off influences. “Many times I have felt that it is important to quarrel and protect one ’s self. A ‘yes master’ culture in literature is very dangerous, instead ‘I beg to differ’ is healthy. It is very important to have a respectful difference of opinion.” What HSV argues for is understood perfectly on reading “Udupi Krishnana Swagata”; it’s a poem that reminds you obliquely of “Chintamaniyalli Kanda Mukha” by Adiga. It may have been born out of such a tussle... perhaps…
Talking of poetry and a poet’s relation to his poetry, here’s a recall from Neruda’s poem. “God, help me from inventing when I sing”.
“I completely agree with Neruda’s views,” HSV concedes. “A poet has to function like a homoeopath -- not interested in the ailment but in the ailing. A writer has to be honest. When Akka Mahadevi spoke about metaphysics, she didn’t ignore the body. If Basavanna likens the meeting of two rivers to a mystic experience, Akka says her union with Chennamallikarjuna is mystical. Each unto his own truth. That’s the reason why the two are such great writers.”
As a poet who produces sparkling, refreshing imagery, HSV has been pre-occupied with mythology throughout. Till his recent poem (Shree Samsari), his plays, and in several essays (Ee Mukhena), the poet displays his engagement with mythology. But the manner in which he demystifies them is not to merely render them human, but to also take a poetic tradition forward.
“What we call mythology is the truth that exists in the mindscape. Emotional world is as real as the physical world in which we exist. I agree with you that pre-occupation with mythology is also to take forward tradition. But what is fascinating is that our great poets created a special language for mythology. K.V. Subbanna used to say Mahabharatha itself is a language, and Ramayana is another. Using these languages it is possible for us to speak the truths that inhabit the innermost corners of our mind. Take for instance, Mahabharatha. Why did Pampa want to write what Vyasa had already written? Why did Kumaravyasa write it again? Why did modern writers want to retell these stories all over again? It’s not about telling the same story over and over again, but each of them wanted to share their own thoughts through this language. We must recognise that thoughts are connected to one’s inner self, while language is a wonder that society has given to you. This is like the relationship between body and breathing.
Mythological characters are not characters to me at all. They are eternal floods. I can experience their force, fervour, the biting cold… they are not mere characters, but real personalities.
A true blue poet, HSV has dabbled in all forms of literature. The writer, who has a huge body of creative output, says that the difference between forms are blurring. Subject chooses form, it's not the writer. Any work of art, as HSV says, is born out of intense personal engagement. But the journey must be towards freedom as he says in “Kaviyu Teerida Mele”, “Nettirulu yaavudo gaali beesuva ghalige/ pustakada mai tumba bariya rekke”. Tagore too desired for this as he says in one of his songs – “Let my words gain wings/ And let every tree in the forest break into green…”
Prism Publications release Shankhadolagina Mouna by H.S. Venkatesh Murthy on June 23, 5 p.m. The book will be released by writers K. Satyanarayana and Vivek Shanbhag. Venue is Indian Institute of World Culture, B.P. Wadia Road, Bangalore.