LEAFING THROUGH Complete works of one of the most influential writers A.K. Ramanujan and Etta Haaride Hamsa, a play with contemporary resonances

A.K. Ramanuajan Samagra (Complete Kannada works of A.K. Ramanujan)

Edited by Dr. Ramakant Joshi and S. Divakar

Manohara Granthamala, Rs. 500

A .K. Ramanujan is a rare combination of multi-faceted and bi-lingual creativity, erudition suffused with valuable insights and a mind that grappled with the complexities of modern life. Ramanujan delineates problems of living abroad in an alienating environment in his well-nuanced poems and stories. His uniqueness lies in the fact, that his creative output both in English and Kannada, his translations of some of the classics of Dravidian literature and his continuous engagement with folklore in its myriad forms were complementary to one another and revealed various possibilities of cross-cultural exchange.

This volume contains his poetry, stories, plays, a novel and other writings some of which are unpublished, and some appeared in literary periodicals decades ago. It also includes a monograph on proverbs, a trendsetter in the field of folklore. It is however a matter of debate, whether Ramanujan would have approved publishing writings that were raw and unfinished. Ramanujan was a product of urban, educated, upper caste, middle class. His works read like an autobiography of a man submerged in existential angst without hopes of redemption. Not for him, the celebration of life in any of its manifestations. Pettiness, morbid sexuality, squabbles caused by jealousy and vengefulness inhabit the world created by him and they, in turn, also act as external symptoms of a wounded civilisation. Of course, these factors constitute an integral part of the human psyche at all times. Ramanujan's cynicism springs from an innate sense of atheistic disbelief. This universe holds a mirror to the persona of the readers. However, Ramanujan was acutely sensitive and could fathom the depths of agony, malice and certain well springs of joy and he tried to realise them in an appropriately disjointed idiom. He shunned sentimentalism, rhetoric and verbosity like poison. His poetry and fiction achieve their effect in divergent ways. Ramanujan was perhaps the first poet in Kannada, who created rhythm patterns as they manifest in prose, rather than poetry. He experimented successfully with new syntactic patterns and breaking of lines to surprise his readers and thereby create different layers of meaning. Kannada culture which thrives on hyperboles did not appreciate his merit and his style was dubbed as merely experimental. Ramanujan's fiction is a clean departure from the realistic mode and presents a series of apparently unconnected micro narratives that coalesce into a meaningful scenario. His depictions revel in repulsive and abhorrent details bordering on “bheebhatsa rasa” depicted in Indian poetics. One should mention important works such as “Annayyana Maanavashaastra”, “Ondu kode, ondu watchu”, “Angulahuluvina Parakaayapravesha”, “Nalavattu Neralu” (Forty Shadows) and “Kuntobille” (hopscotch) wherein he delineates his confrontation with themes such as tradition, alienation, uniqueness of art et al.

This ultra-sensitive poet has raised certain philosophical and existential questions that are both contemporary and universal. He tries to understand the very nature of reality and the modes in which they are moulded by our patterns of perception. They do not transcend into a vision because he was too disillusioned to embark on such a task.

However, recurrent engagement of this polyglot with Indian folklore made him familiar with alternative, local, marginalised traditions as opposed to the western modes as also the points of view presented by the mainstream in India. These worlds were kept apart in his oeuvre even though he used many folktales from various regions of the world. But one is inclined to think that there was a disjuncture between his modernist preoccupations and the wisdom gained from past. It is also possible, that he was shrewd enough to understand that a nostalgic return to the past is not a panacea to the agonies of the present.

S. Divakar, one of the editors of this volume has provided an erudite and perceptive introduction. A translated version of Ramanujan's critical writings and his works on folklore into Kannada would be a worthy companion to this remarkable book.

H.S. Raghavendra Rao

Etta Haaride Hamsa by Raghunandana

Akshara Prakashana, Rs. 70

R aghunandana is among the most ambitious, creative theatre personalities in our midst. He has successfully brought many Sanskrit dramas, Western classics and Kannada plays on stage, urging us to see beyond literary texts.

He has extended the possibilities of the medium by creating theatre out of poetry and fiction as well. Paying equal attention to both poetics and politics, Raghunandana has successfully involved his audience in a serious engagement with life and art without compromising on aesthetic nuances.

“Etta Haaride Hamsa” is a meaningful by-product of his continuous commitment with theatre, music, literature and politics for well over three decades. Raghunandana's play attempts to explore the three mega narratives of the 1930s. The playwright is not interested in making his play an authentic historical document for the perusal of scholars and academicians. His major concern seems to be coming to terms with major historical happenings vis-a-vis the quotidian. What does history mean to them? How political are these seemingly apolitical people? These questions reverberate throughout the play.

The playwright has consciously avoided the realistic mode to reflect on these issues. He has intelligently integrated dramatic actions with many indigenous forms of story telling.

He has judiciously used folk songs, traditional and modern poetry and rhetoric. Raghunandana's experiment with the Kannada language is par excellence. Very few contemporary playwrights have dared to experiment with the form and diction as Raghunandana. As a result he has been able to create a rich myth, though there are direct references to historical figures and events of a particular time and space in the play. The playwright calls his work a melodrama. In this case it works as an adjective, not a noun. The play centres round Ramachandra Rao, a civil servant in the Mysore province during the 1930's. To begin with his loyalties are divided between the royalty and Mahatma Gandhi. He is anti- British but not opposed to modernity. He is influenced by Vishvesvaraiah and dresses like him. Though he is not anti-Muslim, he is attracted by the Hindutva rhetoric of Pippalananda, who says he continues Vivekananda's mission. Challenged by Pippalananda, he resigns his job, becomes a Gandhian only to be disillusioned. He embraces Communism and finally becomes a M.N. Roy follower. As the story unfolds, Raghunandana presents the contradictory nature of our perceptions, and through Ramachandra he says, we do not see beyond acquired idealism and illusions. The play is not a simplistic, one-sided rejection of Vivekananda, Gandhi or M.N. Roy. It only offers a critique of its ill-advised, blind followers and self-proclaimed idealists.