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A mind with a difference: H.S. Shivaprakash

Kannada playwright H.S. Shivaprakash

Kannada playwright H.S. Shivaprakash   | Photo Credit: S. Ramesh Kurup

Kannada playwright H.S. Shivaprakash is a man of extraordinary scholarship. But he is first and foremost a poet

Kannada poet and playwright H.S. Shivaprakash is not only one of our finest minds, but also a mind with a difference. By profession he is an academic, working and living on the JNU campus, but his writerly self is not defined by the characteristics of his profession. He is first and foremost a poet, and one of India’s finest playwrights.

Shivaprakash grew up in urban and modernist Karnataka, but is intimate with medieval and pre-modern India. He is a cosmopolitan not just because he often travels across the globe but because his mind accesses diverse cultural resources, combining the pre-modern, modern, Western, Indian, mystic, folk and many other traditions.

The Word in the World: Essays and Lectures on Indian Literature and Aesthetics — a collection of his speeches, lectures and writings, edited commendably by scholar-poet Kamalakar Bhat — bears testimony to his wide-ranging scholarship. The Preface says that he “was not keen on publishing them in a book form, and he would rather invest his energy on a poem or a play than on an editorial adventure.” That is the guide to reading this volume.

Military to spiritual hero

The 35 articles in the book are divided into four categories: ‘The Bhakti World’, ‘The Kannada World’, ‘The World of Drama’ and ‘The World of Indian Cultures and Literatures’. The essays on Bhakti literature and culture offer rare insights into Tamil Shaivism and the Kannada Vachana movement. He conceptualises Suguna Bhakti of Tamil Nadu and Nirguna Bhakti of Karnataka as binaries (no, there’s no trace of a poststructuralist critique here) to capture the nuances of these two cultural practices.

This serves as a framework for further investigations into South Indian Bhakti culture.

The essays in this section contain seeds of thought that can be developed into book-length treatises. While describing the poetic theory underlying Bhakti poetry, Shivaprakash shows how with historical changes came cultural transformation, replacing a military hero with a spiritual hero.

The essays in ‘The Kannada World’ engage with medieval and modern Kannada literature. The essay, ‘Modernism and After: Some Reflections on the Contemporary Kannada Poetry,’ which explores the journey of Kannada poetry from being transitive (addressing an audience) to intransitive (mediated only by the book), is a powerful one. The arguments presented here compel us to think differently about our literary histories and reshape our understanding of literature.

Points of departure

Shivaprakash is at his best in the section ‘The World of Drama’: he is evidently at home here. He explains how he made the concept of rasa uniquely his own in poetry and drama in the essay, ‘Rasa Production: A Poet’s Perspective.’ As he seamlessly connects global theatre with Indian classical theatre and folk performance, we realise that here it is the artist rather than the art critic speaking about his art. The stress on the performative aspect of theatre shows us how a text is reimagined each time it is enacted.

The fourth section, ‘The World of Indian Cultures and Literatures’, holds up a mirror to Shivaprakrash’s multilingual engagement with different Indian cultures and aesthetics. His views on diasporic writing and translations are useful.

Shivaprakash is pre-eminently a poetic genius, as Manu V. Devadevan mentions in the Foreword; the source of his creativity lies in his disorganised thought and expression. It is difficult to assess the prose writings of a poetic genius. Perhaps the essays would have stood better if they had been rewritten for this volume.

That said, the essays are essential reading for those interested in understanding medieval and Bhakti cultures, and those hoping to research modern Indian theatre and literature. Some of the essays can be points of departure for larger projects.

The writer is Chairman, Department of English Studies, Davangere University, Karnataka.

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Printable version | Jul 13, 2020 2:10:11 AM |

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