Ki.Ram, lived with the zeal of a saint on the mission to propagate Kannada

Words desert me as I struggle to describe the intense relationship I shared with Ki. Ram. for over thirty years. His death has disturbed me deeply: we were physically apart, but the fact this rare human being who formed the core of my being was present in this mortal world was comforting.

Ki. Ram. was the sum total of all those supreme values that kept individual identity transparent. He was unselfish, his love made no distinctions of caste and religion, and would go up in flames and get severely resentful of a wrong doing. Ki. Ram. shied away from being praised, but he was ever so eager to share with his community a literary work that excited him. Ki. Ram's enormous love for literature, his sharp intellect, and his intense engagement with the progressive movements are other dimensions of his unusual personality.

The early years of our being together, that is the Seventies, was almost the end of the best of the Navya period. Greatly influenced by leftist literary thought, we were all in the throes of finding a language that could capture the multiple dimensions of human life, so central to creative literature. Ki. Ram. through his extraordinary erudition and imagination could delve into the nuances of poetic language. In what to us seemed as an ordinary piece of poetry, Ki. Ram. could see sparkling creativity and an unusual play of language. He was a touchstone who gave shine to a poem. From the classical poet Pampa to the vachanakaras, Harihara, Kumaravyasa, the desi poets and the modern Kannada poetic tradition — he saw it as a huge, magical cauldron, that not only threw up never-ending possibilities, but also contained in it the essence of Kannada. There is none else who can analyse, describe and savour the vast spread of Kannada poetry like Ki.Ram. did.

In 1975, dalit poet Siddalingaih's “Hole Maadigara Haadu” was yet to be published. Under the shade of the trees in the Bangalore University campus, Ki.Ram. had got Siddalingiah to read his poems, loudly. In fact, the novel use of language in this collection of poems was instrumental in giving a new twist to the language used in Kannada poetry. Ki. Ram., greatly excited by this, was also responsible for the collection to be published.

Ki. Ram. was of the firm belief that literature had the power to encounter and find answers to all the problems of the contemporary world. From his thought process it was clear that he believed that the Kannada literary world could offer to the Kannada way of life a firm grounding in the physical world as well as give it a spiritual dimension.

Time and again the Kannada literary world hailed Ki. Ram. as the single adherent of the oral tradition; in fact they called him the only continuum in the present times. Preserving his name for posterity through the written word was not what Ki. Ram. desired. Writing, he insisted, bore the stamp of the individual writer, but the spoken word he said, materialised in the listener. There were two things that Ki. Ram. was forever indebted to: he often remembered with gratitude and respect poetry which took him to great heights and was inspiration for his talks, as also the community which was its beneficiary. He was of the belief that his talk was born in the organic relationship between the two. That is probably why Ki. Ram's talks had the unusual power to realise in that very moment in the listener's consciousness. He slung a cloth bag over his shoulder, packed with his notes and books, and looked like a saint who had set out for the propagation of literature.

Ki. Ram's role in most progressive movements was big. He was among those responsible for the inception of the theatre group Samudaya. In fact, Ki. Ram. suggested the name and always remained an active participant. During the Emergency, he edited an anthology of poems “Apathkaalina Kavithegalu” that expressed its strong dissent towards fascist outlook. During the Gokak Movement, Ki.Ram. had a lurking suspicion that the report was pro-English, and did not hesitate to dash off a letter to the Kannada daily, Prajavani. His pro-community agenda insisted that English had to be implemented from the first standard in Government schools. When writer L. Basavaraju took a philosophical stand against Math heads at the recent Sahitya Sammelana, Ki. Ram. spoke in his favour and said that the Maths as an institution had become highly politicised.

Being in Ki. Ram's company always soaked you in warmth. He knew the cuisine of Karnataka in all its rich variants. Ki. Ram. could walk you into obscure bylanes of Bangalore for the best dosa and idli. He wasn't a great foodie himself, but revelled in feeding others. He treated the ayurveda school of Pandit Taranath, a system in which he believed, like his soul mate. I remember him turning up at the dispensary and pleading for Ashwagandha. Ki. Ram. was adept with the desi traditions like his unassuming father Rangappa; he was an aroma specialist and had discovered the nationally famous scented agarbathis through a series of experiments.

Ki. Ram. held Kannada very dear to his life. Bendre who turned the anxious moments of mortal love into poetry, Adiga who wrote poems on political degeneration with hot breath, and Allama who charged the physical world with the inevitable spiritual desire – these three were life breath for Ki. Ram. All his life Ki. Ram. roamed around with his cloth bag telling the Kannada world where to look for the Kannada spirit and the paths that would lead them to a deeper search.

(Translated by Deepa Ganesh)

Keywords: Ki.Ram


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