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Poetic parlance

Jnanpith awardee C. Narayana Reddy Photo: Nagara Gopal   | Photo Credit: NAGARA GOPAL

Tone, tenor and metaphor come naturally to C. Narayana Reddy. He can refine a mundane conversation and paint it in wise intellectual thought, leaving you gasping to keep up.

At home in Film Nagar, C. Narayana Reddy rests, humble in thought and demeanour. He wrote his first poem when he was in high school, unpublished works. When nudged a little, he recites a few lines: Maaruta ennado, vishampugundeli jagana, maruta ennado (When will the poisoned heart of the world, change?) Poetry, Narayana Reddy says, is his second nature. “I was terrible at math (he laughs), but I had a flair and aptitude for language. But in those days, when I began writing poetry, there was no one to guide me.” He also had a successful run as a teacher, advised the Andhra Pradesh government on culture and language, and served as Chairman of the State Cultural Council in the cabinet. For his contribution to literature, he was nominated as Rajya Sabha member.

Writing songs for films came as a natural progression. With Nannu dochukunduvate vennela dorasani... in Gulebakavali Katha, he set the musical ball rolling. His lyrics have the profundity of traditional poetry. He is credited with having written more than 3000 songs, but he always looked at writing film songs as a part-time job. “I was a first a professor. A number of film producers and directors began calling me to write songs. But I used to go only during holidays. The choice was always mine. I wrote profusely for a decade and a little more and then I started writing less,” he says. Why the dip? He casually tells us that new writers started coming up and it was only right that they evolve. “I never stopped writing, I just wrote less. Now if I write, it’s only if it satisfies me,” he adds. If he’s asked to recall a favourite, he promptly responds, “I cannot choose between my four daughters or the songs I have written.”

He can’t say when he started writing poetry because he firmly believes that poetry is continuous. “I used to write one in a day. Now I make it a point to write once a week, at least,” he says. Narayana Reddy says that he has made it a point to write according to his age now. Last year, when he turned 81, he published an anthology of 81 poems. This year, he has begun work on a collection of 82 poems.

Narayana Reddy has experimented and worked in many styles. He especially likes writing long poems or deergha kavithalu: Karpura Vasantharayalu, Ruthu Chakram. He has even written rhymed verses but he prefers writing in free verse, about 30 to 40 lines. One such poem, Viswambarah, fetched Narayana Reddy the Jnanpith Award in 1989. How does it all begin for Narayana Reddy? He smiles and tells us that he sits in his room, looking out at the skies and the trees in the breeze, and an idea strikes: the blankness of the paper holds comfort for the words woven carefully. He takes out his diary (where he writes his poems) and offers to read one of his latest works, ‘Bhramavaranam’ – an area of illusion. His poetry is not limited to rhymes, it brims with poetic metaphor and is not bound by time. It is rather reflective of humanism and hope.

Nannu nenu visiresikunnanu (I flung my self)

Ekkadiki? (Where?)

Antu teliyani chotiki (To a place with no destination)

He reads the concluding lines,

Swasanu biginchi (Holding my breadth)

Kallu musukoni (With my eyes closed)

humbuha ani paikiegiranu (I jumped up)

Ippudu nenu ekka raali paddanu? (Where have I fallen now?)

Nannu tana vadilo lalinchina, Naa intlo ne (In the very house that has nurtured me)

It is all nothing but an area of illusion, he explains.. Weaving magic with words, comes naturally. Having studied in the Urdu medium, Narayana Reddy has a strong grasp of the language and has written a few ghazals in Urdu. He breaks into a nazm. “Ji raha hoon maut ko lori sunane ke liye; Unafraid of death, I live to postpone death.” Translations are necessary, he feels. “Bhimsen Nirmal translated six of my works, including Viswambarah, for which I got the Jnanpith. It is important that translations are done, especially in Hindi and English, for regional writers to flourish,” he says.

As the conversation drifts to the current scenario of poetry, Narayana Reddy feels that Telugu poetry is in a good place today. “Young poets are emerging, previously novels used to dominate, now it’s poetry.” That said, he laments the condition of the Telugu language. “It’s a sad story, our younger generation is far from their mother tongue. In fact, the mother tongue has been sidelined into becoming an optional subject. Like W.B. Yeats said in his introduction to Gitanjali, every civilised nation speaks in her own mother tongue. The case in our state is different, even parents want their children to speak English. You can be proficient in English but you must know your mother tongue,” he says.

Awards and felicitations are rather routine for C. Narayana Reddy, but you can see the gleam in his eyes as he recites his poems and explains another of his Urdu poems: “Kho raha hoon mast dhun mein khud ko paane ke liye; I am getting lost in a tune to find myself.” You perhaps cannot help losing yourself in his language and wanting to become a part of his baroque vocabulary.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2021 4:33:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/poetic-parlance/article3306897.ece

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