In a remote village near Bangalore the author visits Aadima, a cultural initiative showcasing Dalit alternatives in the arts.

Kolar was host to a week-long programme “Understanding Krishna Alanahalli” recently. Srikrishna Alanahalli (1947-1989) was a towering presence in Kannada literature, the author of several novels and short stories that have been translated widely. His novels Kaadu (1972), Parasangada Gendethimma (1978) and Bhujangayyana Dasavatharagalu (1982) — all of them made into movies — are considered evergreen classics.

Film-maker Girish Kasaravalli inaugurated the programme which was attended by filmmakers, writers and cultural activists like Devanur Mahadeva, M.S. Shekhar, Jagannath Prakash, Vishukumar, Girija Lokesh, Chalam Bennurkar. It included paper presentations, discussions, plays, performances, and screening of films based on Alanahalli’s novels. “We did this because Alanahalli represents a live and vibrant tradition in creative writing in Kannada. He eluded pigeonholing into any group or ideology, which is why he is not celebrated by the establishment, despite the power and popularity of his works,” says Ramaiah, Dalit poet, playwright and activist, and the spirit behind Aadima, the organisation that hosted the event.

Aadima is located on the outskirts of Kolar town, 60 km from Bangalore. Its terrain is rocky with hills and huge boulders held together by clumps of trees and patches of shrubs. Tucked behind them are little hamlets and verdant stretches of ragi fields nourished by the small, seasonal water bodies that punctuate the uneven landscape. Apart from the famous gold fields, which closed down long ago, are remnants of an erstwhile kingdom in the form of crumbling watch towers and fortifications. No wonder Ramaiah chose this soil, hard and rocky but fertile with the golden veins of memory and tradition, to house Aadima (The Primordial), a cultural initiative seeking Dalit alternatives in theatre, song, performance, poetry, politics and education. Aadima has been actively developing theatre practices by engaging with oral traditions, crafts, life practices and narratives, and experimenting with organic pedagogy for Dalit students. This unique organisation was established by a group of like-minded people who saved one rupee a day for years to generate the initial capital. Active now for almost a decade, Aadima has carved a niche for itself by promoting and practising alternative education, culture and politics, and by organising workshops, camps and cultural programmes to prepare the ground for — to borrow U.R. Ananthamurthy’s words — a “flowering of the backyard”.

The Alanahalli programme came to an end on October 18, which also marked the 90 full moon day celebrations at Aadima, a regular monthly affair called Hunnime Haadu (Song of the full moon), when the villagers around Terahalli Betta gather for a night-long fare of cultural events — plays, performances, dance, film shows, poetry readings and discussions.

“These nights have a spectral quality to them, they open up before people a magical time and space for free imagination and engagement with cultural expressions from all over the world. For a new politics that is humane and radical, a new culture of collective memory and celebration needs to emerge. We need to nurture such free and open spaces, where creator and spectator, thinking and action, meet.”

One unique experiment in education is in progress at Aadima, in the form of a school where students live and learn, free from the bounds of curriculum and examinations. The summer camps for children conducted every year in May have ignited the creativity of several young minds and produced songs, dance and plays that are performed in different parts of the State. In 2011, one of Aadima’s theatre productions, “Matte Ekalavya”, was staged in many places in India. It won several awards including best actor and best director in Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards in March this year. It was also invited to perform in Colombia.

Though reeling under economic pressure, the Aadima collective has managed to survive with the help of well wishers and friends. “We will continue to knock at all the doors, and try everything to sustain this,” says Ramaiah. Aadima does not wish to pursue partisan dreams, but to embrace all currents of thought and creative practices. We don’t want to shun any tradition or thinker or practice, but critically question and imbibe each one of them to create new synergies and expressions that are politically contemporary, aesthetically powerful, and deeply democratic. We have learned a lot of bitter lessons from the Dalit movement, which has now become splintered and divisive. One has to learn one’s lessons from history to address the challenges of the present. We want to be locally rooted; at the same time be globally combative.”

The relevance of Aadima lies not just in the emancipatory content of its programmes and activities but also in the subversive and subterranean energy that it has been able to tap and nurture in the process. So, as far as Kolar is concerned, the gold mines may be a distant memory today. But, Aadima turns Kolar into a metaphor of sorts, by excavating the ores of memory, history and tradition, sucked dry by modernity, driven to the margins by Brahminism, and laid waste by globalisation.