Jayaram Patil: In the footsteps of the noble

An inclusive life Jayaram Patil, with B.V. Karanth, and wife Rajni at their home in Mysore. A view of the B.V. Karanth Ranga Theatre Complex at Ninasam, Heggodu. Photos: Netra Raju and M.A. Sriram

An inclusive life Jayaram Patil, with B.V. Karanth, and wife Rajni at their home in Mysore. A view of the B.V. Karanth Ranga Theatre Complex at Ninasam, Heggodu. Photos: Netra Raju and M.A. Sriram   | Photo Credit: M_A_SRIRAM


Jayaram Patil is an unusual man. A close confidant of the theatre doyen B.V. Karanth, Patil is the Managing Trustee of the Babukodi B.V. Karanth Trust and the Rama Govind Trust, both of which are doing exceptional work

Jayaram Patil is always on the move. If he is not walking around, he is driving, and if he is not doing either, you can be sure that he is doing that which is beyond physical action, something that is spiritual in nature. That spiritual can include a multiplicity of things -- in fact, things that defy our conventional ideas of the spiritual. His spiritual is mostly social. It could be an effort to reach out to an animal in distress, it could be the recognition of some unknown human being in some unknown quarter whose air he wants to breathe... it could even be a meditative moment over his fix of betel and areca. A day before the Rama Govinda National Awards are given away in Mysore, Jayaram Patil, the man who works single handedly to identify people for this award, talks about the most enduring influences of his life -- theatre and social cause.

Excerpts from the interview.

How did you get associated with theatre?

After my SSLC, my father sent me to Bombay to look for a job. We were so poor that my father could not afford my further education. He felt that if I took up a job it would do the family some good. But there was no job waiting for me in Bombay: I wandered around. One day, I landed at the Chabildas School – this is where New Wave theatre was emerging in those years. Almost every day there used to be a play: Amrish Puri, Amol Palekar, Satyadev Dubey, Naseeruddin Shah and others. I went crazy watching the kind of work these people did. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched Mohan Rakesh’s Aadhe Adhure and Palekar’s Jhulus! They were life changing moments for me.

It was around this time, in the Seventies, B.V. Karanth came to Bombay with the group Benaka. They performed Mundena Kathe Mundena, Tingara Buddanna, Kattale Belaku and others. I cannot explain my madness to you: there was Karanth of course, Girish Karnad, and G.V. Iyer -- they opened a new world to me. Everyday I sat at their rehearsals. I was completely sucked into theatre. This was my first encounter B.V. Karanth and little did I know that it would become the most influential relationship of my life.

Apart from watching plays, when did you start acting?

The other thing I did was reading. I read a lot, would hang around at the Mysore Association and other Kannada associations in Bombay. It is here that I met K.K. Suvarna, Ballal, ASK Rao and others. A lot of young boys from my hometown Udupi had come to Bombay to work in hotels. They had formed an association and I spent time with them, teaching them songs, acting etc. I acted in Siri Purandara, Kadadida Neeru and some other plays in Bombay.

Jayaram Patil: In the footsteps of the noble

In the meanwhile, I was also watching Marathi theatre – both the Company Natak and the kind of theatre that Sriram Lagoo did. I spent nine years like this, and one day, I decided to go home. Except a few books, I had nothing else with me.

What did you do for your livelihood?

Mr. K.K. Suvarna was running an ad agency, he gave me some work to do. Whenever an ad got dubbed to Kannada, he would ask me to do the Kannada version. I got anything between Rs. 500 – 2000 depending on the work. That was enough for me to survive in those days: you got a masala dosa for 60 paise and a vada pav for 50 paise. I travelled by the local train, and when my pocket was empty I had learnt how to outsmart the TT and travel ticketless! Theatre had taught me survival skills.

When I returned home, I ran an ad agency for newspapers. And as they say, Udara Nimmittam Bahukrita Vesham, I did many things. I used to make rubber stamps also for a while. I came in contact with the Udupi theatre groups and resumed my acting.

When did you meet Karanth next?

In 1984, I came to Mysore after my wedding. Both my wife Rajni and I worked with Theatre Samudaya and Samatento. Around this time, Karanth came from Bharath Bhavan with two plays, Maha Nirvan and Ghashiram Kotwal. After their performances in Mysore, they were travelling to Udupi. The organizer there told me to accompany the group since it was my hometown. Karanth developed a fondness for me at this time, and in some years he came to Mysore to set up Rangayana and our relationship grew in strength. I was neither a great actor, nor was I running a theatre group, but somehow Karanth rested his faith in me.

Once Karanth left Rangayana I became his shadow. He would never leave me and go anywhere. He stayed at our house in Mysore whenever he came. In whichever part of the country Karanth had a programme, he would take me along. By then my situation had improved and I had a small car. So we drove the length and breadth of this country. Karanth would tell the organisers: “Don’t give me any remuneration. Just pay the petrol charges to Patil.” We both talked endlessly during the journeys….

When was the Babukodi B.V. Karanth Trust instituted?

In the year 2000, Karanth and Prema decided to form the Trust as they were childless. The Trust got registered, following which we came home and Karanth insisted that I should be the Managing Trustee. There were others who were creatively close to him, had worked with him, but he just wouldn’t listen.

We embarked on his biography project, Illiralaare Alliralaare. And as it is well known now, Vaidehi was its narrator. We made so many trips to Udupi, but Karanth did not survive to see the book.

Jayaram Patil: In the footsteps of the noble

Till 2007, when Prema passed away, she took charge of the Trust and ran it. But after her death, came the question, what next?

What happened after Prema Karanth?

There were 15000 books, so many instruments, and spools and spools of wonderful music. We decided to take Karanth’s memory to places outside Bangalore. He had travelled so widely and practically worked with groups in every corner of India. We called the festival Ranga Namana and took it to Bombay, Bijapur, Shimoga, Teerthahalli, Udupi, Heggodu etc.

We asked the government to set up a Karanth museum in Rangayana where we could keep all his belongings. For two years, they kept saying it would be done. One day, a letter arrived which said that they would give the Trust Rs. 10 lakh and all his collection must be handed over to them. I wrote back saying, “The Trust doesn’t need the ten lakh rupees, instead please create infrastructure where all this can be kept safely.” Nothing happened.

Then we approached Ninasam to take all of Karanth’s books into their library. It was a huge responsibility and Akshara did not agree for nearly two years. Finally, he agreed and the library block was expanded. We had to raise a lot of money for the building, Akshara too mobilized a lot of funds from various sources. On December 2, 2018, the library block was inaugurated, and I am a happy and relieved man. This, to my knowledge, is one of the largest libraries in India on culture and theatre. It has over 25,000 books. We could have given it to any theatre school, but Ninasam is a dynamic space where through the year scholars, researchers and students come. The books will be well used and preserved.

Our dream is to have a Karanth fellowship for needy students. Hope we can do it in the coming years.

Karanth was such a huge part of your life. How did he influence you?

Karanth influenced many people, and now whoever hits the bottle, thinks he has become Karanth! (laughs) I learnt discipline from this great man. He would take care about small things. For instance, he always kept his next day’s clothes ready the previous night itself. Whatever was his state, he never went late for any programme or rehearsal. He worried about theatre all the 24 hours of the day.

Let me tell you what was very special about him: there was a feminine element in him. A motherly instinct to nurture and care, and that to me was the most fantastic thing about him. He had no selfish streak, never went seeking anything, never asked for anything, but just went on doing. There maybe several great theatre people, but none can reach his height. You know why? Not everyone has that mother-ness within them, people are dry and selfish.

The pity is Karnataka did not receive him well. I have travelled so much with him. In the North, people loved him. They called him Baba. Here, our Universities give doctorates to real estate goons, they did not have it in them to give it to Karanth. Shame! If at all he were born in Maharashtra, they would have worshipped him.

How did you get in touch with Prakash Amte?

I read his book Prakasha Marga and went looking for him in the dense forests of Hemalkasa. I am amazed and deeply moved by the kind of work he has done through Lok Biradari Prakalp. Ever since, it has become my pilgrim centre. I go there atleast four times a year. Imagine, an entire family, children, and grand children dedicating their lives to the cause of society!

Do you feel that arts and social activism are connected?

Maybe they are. If you are not a good human being, how can you be a good artiste? See saints sit in the Himalayas and do meditation. That to me is selfish. Look at the work Prakash and Mandakini tai are doing. To live a life for others is the greatest sacrifice. And they are the second couple in the entire world to dedicate their lives to the cause of tribal welfare. Their life is a spiritual journey.

Jayaram Patil: In the footsteps of the noble

I feel extremely fortunate that I could breathe the same air as they did, touch them, spend time with them…. This is a great blessing. I am not a rich man, neither do I have high connections, but I have spent my life in the company of such great people. For me this is unmatched, pure bliss.

You yourself lead a very unusual life. Your home is home to so many animals.

When I got married to Rajni, I had nothing. I was a daily wager and we lived very meagerly. We had to manage with a single loaf of bread for two-three days. Even then, she saved up crumbs for street dogs. Then I realised that if I came in the way of her compassion our life would be damaged. It is because of her that I learnt to love them. Today, there are about 65 monkeys living with us, 25-30 dogs and several cats. We have decided to keep a portion of our earnings to look after them as long as we live.

There is a Kannada phrase, ‘a dog’s life’. Have you seen how dogs are run over by speeding vehicles? They don’t do it to a cat because it is associated with a superstitious belief. It breaks our heart to see dogs wounded, homeless and hungry. A lot of people come and drop off dogs at our gates, we look after them. They have given us great peace and love. Two legged humans are dangerous, but these four legged ones shower you with love. Rajni taught me to care for them. Theatre has taught me to live the life we speak of.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 1:09:07 PM |

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