New meaning to old tale

O.L. Nagabhushana Swamy
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Leafing Through Chandrashekar Kambar’s play Sivaratri is clearly an extension of his earlier works

Sivaratri by Chandrasekhar Kambar

Translated by C.N. Ramachandran

Ruvari, Abhinava Imprint

S ivaratri is Jnanapith award winning writer Chandrasekhara Kambara’s latest play. This Kannada play has been rendered into English by critic and translator C.N. Ramachandran. As it often happens, the appearance of a work in translation prompts the readers to take a fresh look at the original and also to contemplate on the act of translation itself.

Sivaratri is an ‘utterance’ in the ongoing dialogue of contemporary Kannada with the socio-political-religious-literary movement of the 12{+t}{+h}century Karnataka. It is, at the same time, also organically related with Kambar’s body of work comprising 21 plays, eight anthologies of poetry, and four novels. Basavanna and his sharanas obeisance to personal god was a way of protest against political authority and established religion. This submission and protest resulted in an attempt to annihilate discrimination of castes, create a ‘society’ based on equality and dignity of labour. As a result, the downtrodden sections of Karnataka found in Basavanna — along with the Buddha and Ambedkar — a source of inspiration to find their own paths. Many modern Kannada poets found the literature of 12{+t}{+h}century close to their sensibilities. Sankranti by Lankesh, Taledanda by Girish Karnad, Mahachaitra by Shivaprakash and Kettittu Kalyana by M.M. Kalburgi are recent and important examples of modern negotiations with Basavanna and his times that have preceded Sivaratri. Kambar’s play is not a historic documentary like Kalburgi’s play; it doesn’t seem to be an attack on traditionalists like Shivaprakash’s play; it doesn’t deal with the theme of crime and punishment as Karnad’s play does; nor does it give prominence to the love between an upper caste girl and an untouchable boy, the way Lankesh dealt with it. Sivaratri deals with the same incidents and themes as all these plays do, but from a different perspective and for a different purpose.

It is this purpose and perspective that relate the play with Kambar’s other works. Unlike his other plays which have a strong storyline, Sivaratri works in the absence of one. It deals with a ‘historical’ subject directly, and songs, an essential part of Kambar’s plays, are not part of his scheme here. The comic too finds no place. Yet, the search for Shivapura , the utopia of Kambar, is the thread that binds the play with his novel Chakori , his major poems and plays. The nightmarish atmosphere of the play reminds one of Singarevva. Sharpness and intensity of dialogues, interspersed with echoes of vachanas lend poetic quality to the play. The play attempts to interpret history through a legend and this attempt binds this play with his other ‘folk’ plays.

Sivaratri deals with the happenings of a single night, which happens to be Sivaratri, the fourteenth day of the black fortnight in the month of Magha. Harihareshwara, the Brahmin court priest prompts his son Damodara to steal an expensive necklace from the palace. The necklace finds its way to the house of prostitute; Bijjala finds his way to the same house in search of pleasure; Basavanna finds his way to the same house in search of Mugdha Sangayya. The house of the prostitute becomes the melting point of conflicts between politics, religion and social change. The drama of this conflict is created through the intensity of dialogue. The house of the prostitute is the place where the two other houses, the spiritual house maha-mane, the king’s house aramane and the house-less saint find themselves enacting the climax of a political, religious and social upheaval. As the details of the final days of the 12{+t}{+h}century movement is etched in the memories of Kannada readers, Kambar doesn’t try to recreate history but reinterprets it through a legend.

C.N. Ramachandran, true to his words in the preface, has remained faithful to the original text. Though it is not possible to capture the caste-class specific dialects of Kannada in English translation, the non-Kannada readers can certainly grasp the drama of conflicting ideas, and Kambar’s interpretation of them.

Owing to historical and political realities, works in languages like Kannada have to be translated into English by Kannada writers to whom English is an acquired language. In spite of this limitation the translators who translate from Indian languages to English facilitate cultural exchange in our multi-lingual country and provide currency to writers in other languages and cultures. It is unfortunate that our culture is not generous enough in giving due regard to its translators.

O.L. Nagabhushana Swamy

The English translation will be released today as part of the Bangalore Sahityotsava, Tripura Vasini, Palace Grounds, Bangalore.



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