Authors

Finding meaning in the mundane

If you have to describe, say a writer, you would perhaps speak of the key features of his writing. Maybe his style, his language and his chief creative concerns. But in the case of K.V. Akshara, this more or less general methodology, needs to be altered. A playwright, an essayist, translator, theatre director, teacher, and a diligent student of philosophy, who, with his unconventional, bold views, surprises even the masters. In modesty, Akshara calls himself a la Jack of all, “ellakku edataakuva edabidangi” as he dabbles in mythology, economics, science… with the seriousness, rigour and curiosity of an academic. It is impossible for an individual to become these multiple interests all at the same time, and it is true in Akshara’s case as well. What is different is that these several pursuits are never insulated from each other at any given time – so if one stream takes centre stage, the others fuel from the periphery. Let us illustrate this with his essay “Maatina Nona” from the collection, Sammukhadali Svagata. The essay begins on a note of remembrance – a joke made on the weariness of the word by the late critic D.R. Nagaraj. Using the “word or speech” as his starting point, Akshara unravels its hidden meanings from philosophical, scientific, literary and theatrical points of view. He evokes Shakespeare’s “Words, Words, Words” from the play Hamlet and climaxes it with the “bhrunga” of Bendre’s poem, Kalpana Vilasa. Akshara’s writing is not merely an indulgent collage of his varied interests, but it is inherently inter disciplinary through which he expands the very meaning of what he seeks.

Early on in his writing life, Akshara published an anthology of poetry, though prose writings and drama are his key interests. Apart from being a playwright, he teaches drama at the reputed Ninasam Theatre Institute which he heads. Theatre, for Akshara, is not a pastime, neither is it his profession. For him, it is a way of life. Even while he is addressing his other interests, it is through the language and mimetics of theatre that Akshara negotiates with the world and interacts with his fellow beings. In other words theatre is his modus operandi. His literary writings are also marked by his essential dialogic imagination. For instance, Akshara’s essay “Naanu” based on his theatre production of Gopalakrishna Adiga’s poetry (with Channakeshava, 1999), is starkly different from conventional literary criticism. His two major productions G.K. Maastarara Pranaya Prasaga (Chandrashekhara Kambar) and Babugiri (Rabindranath Tagore) are based on fictional narratives. Akshara deals with his literary experience through theatrical tools, thereby opening up rich, new possibilities of these texts. In fact, summing up his approach is his collection of essays titled, “Rangabhoomiya Mukhaantara” (Via Theatre).

Akshara, like his father K.V. Subbanna, has a remarkable sense of language: it is at once poetic, charming and quirky. Since both Akshara and Subbanna are translators, they have often come up with new coinages, which eventually have become part of the Kannada lexicon itself. If Subbanna coined words like “antahpatya” to mean subtext, Akshara has come up with brilliant words like Akarmaka, Sakarmaka as Kannada equivalents for French words ecrivain and ecrivaint. This keen and dynamic sense of language, renders Akshara as one of our finest translators. Shakespeare’s outstanding rhetoric acquires equally grand poetic dimensions in his Kannada translations. So much so that they refrain from being literal translations and embody Kannada itself. Speaking about the right approach to translate Shakespeare, Akshara says: “He has to be captured in meaning, the way we hold on to a song. To be able to get him into your language successfully, the contempt of Navya writers for rhetoric has to be abandoned. You must don the playfulness and love of language that the Navodaya writers had.” The rhythm of the text is so creatively exploited that one can read his translations and also watch them on stage without losing out on its poetry, politics or philosophy. Akshara interprets Shakespeare in the immediate context of our time and space without being over indulgent or didactic. Akshara’s love of the word, its inherent drama and also his reading, can be seen in his choice of titles itself: Merchant of Venice becomes Venissina Vyapaara, Winter’s Tale becomes Shishira Vasanta and so on. Apart from this, Akshara has also translated Chekov’s Cherry Orchard, Gogol’s The Inspector General of Police, Dario Fo’s Virtuous Burglar which are also memorable productions for theatre audiences.

Akshara, in all his five plays, deals with contemporary issues. The problems they negotiate are the real problems of contemporary India. If Sahyadri Kanda is about the ripples caused in the life of the people in a village on the Western Coast which will soon have a nuclear plant, Choorikatte Artharth Kalyanapura, deals with communalism. While the former addresses the notion of development, the latter raises questions on identity politics. His trilogy Swayamvaraloka, Bharatha Yatra and Sethubandhana dwell on the seeming binaries of village-city, success-failure, modern-traditional… but examines the nature of human relationships in the changing world. Even when Akshara deals with “real” problems of life and living, he never traps his plays in the realistic mode. His plays reflect an ambition to elevate the real experience to a mythical level. While most playwrights attempt to echo contemporary concerns by reinterpreting history and mythology, Akshara reverses the process: he transforms contemporary experience into myths. For Akshara, the epics, their grandeur, the struggle, the wars are not episodes that happen in kingdoms and palaces and battlefields, they are also that which takes place in the microworld of one’s consciousness. Each time you encounter the epics -- either through reading them or reliving them in the mind, it is to live life all over again. The repeated talk of dharma in these classics is the constant search for an anchor in the seamless ocean of infinite possibilities of being in the world, feels Akshara. Each character in these epics find their own dharma, yet it offers no model for the reader, and remains only a pointer to the complex process of finding it.

In his play Sethubandhana, there is a ‘play within the play’ which is an interpretation of not just politics but also aesthetics. Akshara, through the character of Jois, seems to say that it is only through art experience that one can re-encounter life experiences.

This takes us to two things: one is Akshara’s engagement with Kavya literature where emotion takes precedence over the world itself. To put it in Akshara’s terms “bhaava is higher than bhava”. While Akshara constantly waters his imagination in the Kavya mode which stresses on the nurturing of the antahkarana (inner emphathy), he lives it in his everyday life working with students at Ninasam, doing theatre with farmers and fellow villagers at Heggodu, mentoring and guiding all who come by. Writing, theatre and the politics that he believes in, bears meaning only when it is practised in the life around him -- as in kriyajnana (the knowledge of action), to which philosophy accords the highest place. Speaking on contemporary Indian theatre, Akshara, by way of validating these observations, says: “We have reached a point where we need to develop our capabilities to address politics in radically different ways. The trite political correctness of being with the oppressed, or the more intelligent way of problematising oneself – all these are becoming easy ‘conventions', and we urgently need to develop deeper philosophical modes of questioning.”

A reader of Akshara’s writings is familiar with his deconstruction mode. He strips the layers of meaning, only to reconstruct it with fresh meanings. Whether it is a foreword, or an essay, or a play, writing for Akshara is not a commodity with which he wishes to woo his reader, it is an unsparing tool of self exploration.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2021 12:13:27 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/Finding-meaning-in-the-mundane/article16282813.ece

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