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The morning song of birds and newspaper...

Dr. H.S. Venkatesh Murthy is one of the few Kannada writers to have explored almost every genre of literature with success. Having just turned 60, he grieves over the state of Kannada medium schools and warns that it may rob an entire generation of its past.

H.S. Venkatesh Murthy: schooled in the Kannada sensibility. His collection of three plays will be released on August 20.

IT SEEMS like it was only yesterday that people called H.S. Venkatesh Murthy Yuva Kavi. And today, he is 60! The poet, who made the Kannada literary world sit up and take notice of him with his evocative lines on Draupadi's predicament in "Pakka nodidaralli yenide mannu sannage kannu konkisi, tereda kitakiya horage achege nota chachidalu" (Sougandhika) today sings "Soni andare soni, beldingala battalu" ("Soni is Soni, she is a cup of moonlight") in Soni Padyagalu, a collection of poems for children, dedicated to his granddaughter. One wonders if there has been another Kannada writer who has lived with the Yuva Kavi tag for so long!

H.S.V., a post-Navya writer, is perhaps one of the few committed writers of the recent times for whom writing is not only serious business but also a passion. Though poetry is his forte, he has competently tried his hands at various other forms, including plays, children's literature, criticism, translations, sonnets, and epic poetry. He has earned popular appeal with his work for Kannada films and his bhavageethes.

Interestingly, H.S.V. has in him a blend of two sensibilities — 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."). One can see in his works the traces of Pampa, Ranna, Kumaravyasa along with Masti, Bendre, and the consciousness of Adiga, Ananthamurthy, and Lankesh. "A good poem should have in it the history of a thousand years," says H.S.V..

Curiously, he does not identify himself as part of any movement. In fact, post-Navya, there hasn't been another significant movement in Kannada literature (of course, with the exception of dalit and feminist voices) that altered an entire mode of thinking, though there have been significant writers such as A.K. Ramanujan, Devanooru Mahadeva, and Chandrashekara Kambara, who devised their own individual models of self-expression. Commitment to an ideology determines a writer's perception of society and also his interpretation of social processes. The lack of it, H.S.V. attributes it to society and the times that we live in.

Before Independence, he says, there was a single-minded preoccupation of wanting to attain freedom, to build a nation. So, the whole country was bound by an emotion. That was also the period of Navodaya. Post-Independence, there were disillusionments. Even this kept a people together — the Navya period. And Adiga was at the forefront of this movement. Then came a period, he reasons, that was characterised by neither great enthusiasm nor terrible disappointments. So, the lack of a common ideology/feeling led to the gradual disappearance of a community movement. "Wasn't the age witness to breaking up of joint families, and cries for separate statehood? The same thing extends to literature too," he argues. Well, wasn't it about the same time that Yeats prophesied: "The centre cannot hold, things fall apart... " in Second Coming?

"At one point we had Marx, then there was Ambedkar, Gandhi, and later Lohia. Every writer during Navya embraced Lohiaism. So, we badly need a binding philosophy, or something must emerge out of our social context. This is what Kurtkoti spoke of in Yugadharma and Sahitya Darshana? So, we have to wait for a yugadharma," he maintains.

In the absence of a common emotion, uniqueness of each individual experience, the freshness and a variety of patterns are what mark the new age literature. While one sees a yoking together of different mindsets in H.S.V., one also sees strong feminist overtones even in his early writings.

"Ramaniruvatanaka Ramayanavu mugivude? Ante Seeteya chinte saayuvanaka ("Can Ramayana be over as long as Rama lives/Seeta's sorrows will live till she dies")," he writes of Seeta's plight in Shishirada Paadu. The seeds for his radical play Chitrapata Ramayana (here, Seeta falls in love with Ravana!) were perhaps sown in this poem.

"It's largely my upbringing," recalls HSV. For a child whose father died before his birth, it was the loving care of women, his mother and grandmothers, that nurtured and protected him. How beautifully the colossus of romantic poetry, K.S. Narasimha Swamy, put this: "Banda baagilu mannu, biduva baagilu mannu, naduve kaapaduvudu taaya kannu." (We come from soil/ we go back to soil/What guards in between is the mother's gaze). So, even when there wasn't a congenial climate for feminist thinking, H.S.V.'s writings strongly took the woman's cause. In Raga Vi-raga, the 12th Century poetess Akkamahadevi, who renounced the physical world for a greater metaphysical attainment, Channamallikarjuna, has an encounter with queen Amrutamati. The poem drives home the point that the two embodied similar intentions, while the routes they took were different. So, Raga (desire) and Viraga (detachment) are, after all, the same.

Having studied and practised Kannada writing all his life, H.S.V. is a true desi, unlike the earlier writers for whom it was a Western model at work. Having been schooled thoroughly in the Kannada sensibility, he bemoans the state of Kannada schools today and fears that it might rob a generation of its history.

Despite his several serious works, H.S.V., to the common man, is the man who wrote those earthy songs for Chinnari Mutta, or the man who stormed the bhavageethe world with lyrics that raised intense questions about nature of relationships as in "Ishtu kaala ottigiddu, yeshtu beretevo" or "Lokada kannige Radheyu kooda ellarante ondu hennu" (For the eyes of the world, Radhe is a woman like any other).

H.S.V. did, however, make attempts to break away from the routine framework of lyrical poetry, introducing stark modern images. What would have been another song about morning with expected images of the rising sun, the songbird, the dewdrop, H.S.V. introduces some unanticipated images in his poem Hoovarali. "Hakki pakki jotege vrutta patrike... Gudi gopura karkhaneya mudige." He talks of the songbird along with the newspaper, temple, towers, with the factory in the same breath. Nevertheless, they almost went unnoticed.

Such ironies are true of even the past with respect to great poets such as Adiga and K.S. Narasimhaswamy. For the common Kannadiga, Adiga's works probably begins and ends with "Yaava Mohana Murali" and K.S.N. with Mysooru Mallige. But H.S.V. is rather stoic about it: "It is important to reach out to a range of people."

In these troubled post-modern times, he finds solace in Gautama Buddha. The miseries of mankind that Buddha set out to resolve, suffering, old age, death, are contemporary and have troubled writers of all ages, even across geographical boundaries. (Chittala wrote long poems about aging and Keats too speaks of it in his poems). H.S.V.'s work on Buddha is likely to be completed by next year. "The grumpy face of modernity needs a peace-evoking, untarnished, moonlight smile like Buddha's."

(Dr. H.S. Venkatesh Murthy is being felicitated by Kannada amateur theatre groups on August 20, ADA Rangamandira, 6.30 p.m.)


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