‘My poems are my autobiography’

Every generation discovers its own poetry Prathibha Nandakumar; (below) at the poet’s meet in Chintamani, Prathibha was the lone woman voice among all the writers Photo : Sudhakara Jain  

It is nearly four decades since poet Prathibha Nandakumar wrote her poem, Naavu Hudugiyare Heege (1979, This is How We Girls Are), but even after hundreds of poems have shot out of her creative quiver, Prathibha is still recognized by her very first poem. In fact, unlike other writers who take years to be known, Prathibha arrived with Naavu Hudugiyare Heege. The Kannada literary world was star studded – Pu.Ti. Narasimhachar, K.S. Narasimha Swamy, Ekkundi, Gokak, Lankesh, U.R. Ananthamurthy, and more -- but Prathibha was received warmly and in no time this gifted writer found herself in the ‘company of poets’.

“The poem was hailed as path-breaking. The life that it got is amazing,” says Prathibha, still reliving the magic of that first poem. “I was also a bit surprised, because personally, for me, it was an extension of my upbringing and personality. I did however come to realise that with this poem, the general feeling was that women’s writing in Kannada had come of age.” In fact, Prathibha is the pioneer of modern women’s poetry in Kannada, for, when she started writing there were hardly any women poets. Bhagyalakshmi N. Rao, Shailaja Uduchana, Sa. Usha were contemporary writers, but none of them shook the literary world like she did.

Prathibha came from a family that was well educated, socially aware and progressive. “The concept of women being treated as different was unknown to me. We were seven girls and four boys. My father, Ramachandra Rao, introduced the scout movement in Karnataka. My mother was an enlightened woman with a modern outlook and had friends like Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay. My aunt was remarkable, with a kachche dhoti tied around her waist, she would go swimming and horse riding! D. V. Gundappa and G.P. Rajaratham were frequent visitors to our home,” Prathibha speaks of the people who shaped her attitude to life. She grew up in an environment where if one wanted to say something, it could just be said – man or woman, poetry or otherwise.

So what then does feminism mean to Prathibha, who was seen as harbinger of modernity, with an ultra, urban sensibility? “If something is being denied to you simply because you are a woman, then it needs to be protested. Feminism certainly doesn’t mean reducing all women to rebels and street fighters. Out in the world there are lakhs of women who are dealing with it hands on, every day, without uttering a word of feminism ,” explains Prathibha, “my instincts are my guide”.

This Prathibha who is viewed as a hardcore feminist, who is bold, fiery and radical, says she cannot be fixed as “feminist or feminine” -- she can be unapologetically both and needn’t be any. She strongly proposes that experiences are what lead her.

Writing for Prathibha Nandakumar’s collection “Rasteyanchina Gaadi”, poet K.V. Tirumalesh says that if you imagine literature is a mirror and approach it, it turns out to be a window, if you think it’s a window it could well be a mirror. What Tirumalesh says is true of Prathibha’s poems: she is poised between tradition and modernity. She has neither turned away from tradition nor is she an unequivocal propounder of modernity. If there is ‘present’ in Prathibha’s writings, it is the result of her continued negotiation with the past – and this dialogue can be of varied nature.

Let’s for instance take her poem Ee Margavu Chalaneyalillla: “Hasivadare HotelgaLuntu/Baayarikeyadare BaarugaLuntu/Shamanake Aha Daari Noorentu”. This poem is modelled on Akka Mahadevi’s vachana, but Prathibha tweaks it to suit the philosophy of modern life. Again, in “Ellidde” she takes Akka’s imagery of “teraniya hula” and mockingly asks the man about his promises of companionship.

“I think I was branded as bold because I was writing for Lankesh Patrike. When Bandit Queen came I wrote a daring piece, similarly when Lankesh turned 60, I wrote a poem Uncle Uvacha that was in no way hagiographical. When the first Black American won Miss World, I wrote a poem… all these probably made people think I was firebrand variety!”

Prathibha, in this four decade journey, has brought out 14 collections of poetry, two short story anthologies, translation from Dogri, English, she has tried her hand at screenplay, filmmaking…. she has pursued the creative path in every possible way. In fact, she is always trying to expand her horizon. In the recent past, she undertook research work on the Devi cult and wrote a set of Devi poems. “When I wrote the Devi series, I realised that I had to realign myself to the Bhakthi path. All along I thought and wrote as a rationalist. The struggle is evident in my poetry. In our fetish for modernity, we have brushed away so many meaningful things.” Similarly, Prathibha wrote the Coffee House poems, which was completely urban – its style, structure, and content, everything was different. “I felt very happy writing it. Somehow, it did not generate an enthusiastic response…. Yet, I am very proud of those poems.”

Poems are no longer what they used to be. “Barring a few poets, I don’t see a struggle in their writing. Their outlook to life is so easy. You know...a poem is born when you cannot say something; it is born in that anxiety, restlessness, desire, trauma... all this has to happen to you. A poem comes as a release. But today, you can pick up your phone and text, whatsapp and mail -- the ease with which communication takes place has had a huge impact on poetry...,” she avers. Prathibha says she feels weary with cliched images -- “how can you write a love poem with words like Indramukhi, Chandramukhi etc...? It irritates me. I tell youngsters, if you write a love poem your page should burn. Every generation has to discover its poetry. And you have to wait for your words to become a poem.”

Does Prathibha look at her poems any differently from the way she did years ago? “The basic instinct of writing a poem is the same in me. The technique may have changed. Over the years, I have learnt the craft of writing. As Kamala Das used to say, ‘I can write a perfect poem’. You can see my intellectual shifts in my poems. My poems are my autobiography.”

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Printable version | Oct 19, 2021 5:11:30 AM |

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