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Writing Matters: In conversation with H.S. Shiva Prakash

By Dr Kamalakar Bhat

H.S. Shiva Prakash

O my Kannada words
You became my companions
In far-off Peru
Thanks for keeping me company
From day dreams amidst clouds
To the heights of Machu Picchu
Where eagles circle
And from there
To the cities of the ocean-goddess
And of a god with thunder’s name
With bricks and stones stained with blood
And from there
To the depths of Caral the mother city
And you, voices from the Machu Picchu poem
By my elder brother Pablo
Beloved hearts of my dear readers
That befriended me on my lonely journey;
The fruit of our journey
Was not sand, stone or ancient Peru’s mother city
But these few proverbs I stole from primordial dreams:
Peace is inevitable; not war
Dying is inevitable; not killing
Worship is inevitable; not sacrifice
Mating is inevitable; not longing
Trade is inevitable; not cheating
Enchanting flowers, the dreams of rocks;
Beauteous forms, the dreams of deserts;
Exquisite cities, the dreams of void;
The joy of all, the longing of the soul
Write these down in the slips of paper
Of our dying worlds,
Tie them to the claws of dream doves,
Let them go flying
Into all times
Into all spaces
Into all worlds

— From “Heights of Machu Picchu, Depths of Caral” by H. S. Shiva Prakash

Poet, playwright and translator, H S Shiva Prakash (born 1954) is among the foremost living writers of India. He began as a poet and playwright writing in Kannada and eventually became a bilingual poet and a translator across multiple languages. He teaches English at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and has served as the Director of the Cultural Centre at Berlin, known as the Tagore Centre.

He has nine collections of poems, fifteen plays, and several other books to his credit in Kannada. He has also published a collection of poems in English and many of his plays are available in English translation. His works have been widely translated into French, Italian, Turkish, Spanish, German, Polish, Hindi, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu. His plays have been performed in Kannada, Hindi, Meitei, Rabha, Assamese, Bodo, Tamil and Malayalam. Shiva Prakash has also translated the Kannada vachana literature into English. His interests include Bhakti movements of India, and Sufi and other mystic traditions. He has to his credit many ‘best book’ prizes for his books of poems, plays and translations accorded to him by Sahitya Academy, Delhi, Sangeet Natak Academi, Delhi and Karnataka Sahitya Academy. He is also the recipient of many awards including the Rajyotsava Award given by the Karnataka government and the Kusumagraja Award given by YCMOU, Nashik. While he has been invited to read his poems or present talks in various countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and America, he was also invited to the International Writing Program in School of Letters, University of Iowa.

Shiva Prakash began his writing career when ‘navya’, the modernist literary movement was dominant in Kannada. No doubt influenced by some of the major modernist Kannada writers, when he began writing, Shiva Prakash, wrote out of the many memories housed in him through the years of his growing up. In so doing, in his initial output, he marked a distinct poetic manner – both in form and content – from the one that was then popular. By the time his second collection was published, this difference began to be celebrated by his readers.

Kamalakar Bhat: Your poems forsake the path of obscurity that much of the navya Kannada poetry had chosen though you began writing during the period. Was reaching out to the reader important to you? 

Shiva Prakash: When I first started writing, I thought that my business is to write without bothering about reach and accessibility. Because I was influenced by modernist poetics and thought that one writes for a discerning individual. That was my belief at that time. Later, I discovered that when I read my poems in person, well-read people expressed admiration but the common people were not feeling good.  Then I said no, I must write for these people, not for the scholars and critics. I decided I should make the simple style my model.

Looking at the whole tradition of Kannada poetry and what kind of relationship exists between the poet and the audience, I discovered that in the best of Kannada poetry, even in classical Kannada poetry, the most memorable lines are very simple and they are immediately communicable. Whether it is Pampa, Ranna, Raghavanka, Kumaravyasa, all are very simple.

See, once a poet establishes a kind of rapport with the audience, people remember him.
Because poetry is not a communication of meaning. It may be the discovery of meaning for the critic and the scholar, but for people poetry creates an impact. And nobody reads poetry for accessing meaning. I think I endorse the classical notion that poetry is about impact, not communication.

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The man who saw the future: Yashwant Chittal and his place in modern Indian literature

The city — as a place of immense possibility and wrenching displacement — made only a fleeting appearance in Kannada literature in the decades after Independence. In the 1970s, Bengaluru was more Malgudi than Mumbai, more a sleepy town of towering rain trees and slow living than the city it burst into three decades later. For readers, a foretaste of life in a teeming metropolis came in Shikari, a novel written in 1979 by one of the most important Kannada writers and modernists, Yashwant Chittal. “To read Chittal is to see the whole nightmare and vision of a city,” says Girish Karnad, writer, filmmaker and playwright.

That nightmare is seen through the eyes of Nagappa, the protagonist of Shikari, an engineer at the peak of his career in a chemicals company in Bombay. The novel begins, dramatically, by shoving Nagappa right into a mysterious ordeal: “As the situation he found himself in began to make some sense to Nagappa, he recalled K, the hero of Kafka’s novel The Trial that he had read years ago. Just like it had happened with K, somebody must be spreading false rumours about him.” Those rumours have led him to be suspended from his job on “serious charges” that have not been specified. As the novel proceeds, Nagappa is swept away by a swirl of paranoia and conspiracy in a cut-throat, competitive world in which nothing is as it seems to be. In an essay written for the Outlook magazine in 2012, author Aravind Adiga had described Shikari as a searing Bombay novel, and Chittal as a novelist “who has captured the city as well as Suketu Mehta or Salman Rushdie”. An English translation of the novel, Shikari: The Hunt, published by Penguin Random House, releases this month.

So, who was Chittal? What is his place in modern Indian literature? How does he imagine an urban modernity? Was he the man who saw tomorrow?

Yashwant Chittal was born in Hanehalli village in Uttara Kannada district in August, 1928, in a family of remarkable talent — the eldest of five brothers, Damodar, was a lawyer and politician; Gangadhar, five years older than Yashwant, was one of the finest modern Kannada poets.

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‘The writer feels more isolated than ever before’: Hindi writer Uday Prakash

Born in Shahdol in Madhya Pradesh, Hindi writer Uday Prakash is best known for his short stories Peeli Chhatri Waali Ladki and Mohandas, the latter a disturbing tale of a Dalit boy who sets off to rediscover his stolen identity. Later made into a film, Mohandas fetched Prakash the Sahitya Akademi Award for Hindi in 2010. Through his writings, Prakash has explored themes of displacement and alienation, and given voice to the concerns of the marginalised. Last year, Prakash was the first of many artistes to return his Akademi Award over the killing of fellow recipient, Kannada litterateur MM Kalburgi. He was objecting to the literary body’s silence over the assaults on writers, and sparked a national debate over intolerance and nationalism.

uday-prakash

You returned your Sahitya Akademi Award a year ago in protest over the killing of M M Kalburgi. How do you look back on that decision?
Honestly, it was fear that prompted my decision. All these killings were done by fanatics, by people of a particular mindset. Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and Kalburgi — they were all people like me, elderly. They were shot at home or while they were out on a walk. I had met Kalburgi twice. I knew Dabholkar too. These people were killed in cold blood and what surprised me was that there was no uproar over their deaths. The institution that had awarded Kalburgi did not even hold a condolence meeting for him. Read more


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UR Ananthamurthy, one of India’s most courageous writers, dies at 82

UR Ananthamurthy

One of India’s most courageous writers, UR Ananthamurthy, today died at a hospital in Bangalore. He was undergoing treatment for kidney failure.

The 82-year-old, who was Jnanpith awardee and renowned Kannada writer, was hospitalised for infection and fever 10 days ago.

An educator, writer, and commentator second to none, Ananthamurthy was a new voice in Kannada literature – part of the Navya movement. His novel Samskara questioned established caste conventions and caused controversy when it was published in the 1960s as it was strongly critical of Brahmin conventions.

Ananthamurthy was a staunch critic of the Sangh Parivaar. He had created a stir a few months ago when he said that he would not like to live in an India under Narendra Modi. Modi was then seeking to lead BJP to power in the parliamentary elections. The news of his death was greeted with  fire crackers in some parts of Karnataka. Ironically, the Prime Minister Modi gracefully tweeted on the writer’s death: “Shri UR Ananthamurthy’s demise is a loss to Kannada literature. My condolences to his family. May his soul rest in peace.”

“I felt completely broken when U.R. Ananthamurthy passed away on Friday evening,” said Shiv Viswanathan in a tribute in The Hindu. It was as if a cosmos had collapsed, a way of life had disappeared. It was not the achievements of the man as a writer and a public intellectual, but the man himself as an achievement that mattered.

Here are some of the reactions on Ananthamurthy:

Remembering UR Ananthamurthy: A socialist who took a stand against Modi

U.R. Ananthamurthy’s first novel was a landmark

It was impossible not to be influenced by UR Ananthamurthy

Samskara changed the course of Kannada literature

(Various sources)


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India 11th Century Kannada Literature Now on Wikisource

In Kannada poetry, Vachana Sahitya is a form of rhythmic writing that evolved in the eleventh century and flourished in the twelevth, as a part of the “Lingayatha” movement. More than 259 Vachanakaras (Vachana writers) have compiled over 11,000 vachanas. 21,000 of these verses, which were published in the 15-volume “Samagra Vachana Samputa” by the government of Karnataka have been digitised. Two Wikimedians, along with a Kannada linguist and author O. L. Nagabhushana Swamy, are involved in the Unicode conversions, corrections and writing preface for these verses. The entire work is now available as a standalone project called “Vachana Sanchaya”and ready to enrich Kannada Wikisource.

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