Baman by Na. D'souza
Ankita Pustaka, Rs. 80
Na. D'Souza has always written with an explicitly stated need to respond to the compulsions of the time. But he has also always been successful in keeping his works away from sloganeering. Baman is an admirable addition to this endeavour. In the foreword, mentioning the oft-repeated remark that the Karnataka Christian life worlds have not been adequately represented in Kannada literature, D'Souza foregrounds this novel almost as a social-engineering effort that sheds light on the life of Karnataka Christians if only in order to move towards greater harmony between themselves and the `larger' community. Even as one could entertain doubts about the legitimacy of such an understanding of literature and society, the novel itself remains engrossing. Further, what makes this novel distinct is that it is an attempt at writing what can be called a historical novel.
Among the many Saraswat Brahmin families that migrated to the coastal Karnataka from Goa, some converted to Christianity. But as it has happened almost everywhere, distinctions and markers of caste remained with many of them - a trend resilient even to the present day.
This novel is about a Christian, Christopher Pai, who retains a pride in the fact that his ancestors belonged to the Brahmin community. Yet, that does not render him apologetic of his Christian present, for the other aspect of his familial past that he is equally proud of is that his ancestors (post conversion), when Tipu Sultan imprisoned them along with many other Christians from Mangalore, refused to give up their religion, despite great deal of hardships and enticements. It is this curious man's journey into his past and future that D'Souza describes.
Even as Pai embarks, upon retirement, on a journey to the past seeking to historically authenticate the glorious journey of his family from its Brahmin roots to the present Christian-ness, he is equally glued to the future - in seeking to reproduce the sense of pride in this past among his children. But, alas, his children have increasingly very little to do with Pai's world - whether his past or even his very present. He travels all around the region consulting records, old men etc, becoming prouder by the moment as each and every fragment of history that he uncovers firms up what had till then only been a belief concerning his illustrious heritage. His children, though, have their own lives which are so foundationally different from that of their father that they have little time and even regard for Pai's passionate urge to remember and memorialise the past. It is this simultaneously unfolding authentication of the greatness of the past of his family as well as the irredeemable crumbling of his own present and future worlds built assiduously around his children that offers this novel its tautness but also emotion. It could perhaps be a significant entry-point for an inquisitive historian, but the novel is also a reminder to us that the identities that we invest so much in are historically made and unmade.
Ramesh Bairy T. S.
Are Shatamanada Ale Barahagalu
Collected Essays (1954-2004) by K.V. Subbanna
Edited by T.P. Ashoka
Akshara Prakashana, Rs. 375
The exit of K.V.Subbanna has created a void that cannot be measured merely in terms of his contributions to various fields. The volume under consideration is a book born out of his concern for the well being of the rural community and his genuine desire to expose that community to all that is good in the intellectual and artistic world. It is a collection of eighty-eight articles spread over six sections Society, Culture, Literature, Arts, Individuals and Prefaces. This classification is purely technical because it is impossible to separate these elements in Subbanna's writings. All of them coalesce in to an integral whole dealing with temporal and spatial realities. They represent the views of a critical insider rather than a firebrand radical. But they gain a unique significance because of their cultural activism and unflinching courage of conviction. As T.P. Ashoka, the editor of the volume puts it, this is not merely a collection of articles but a cultural autobiography of Subbanna.
The first section is concerned with the contemporary problems of Karnataka. He speaks about the socio-cultural movements that have taken place in Karnataka with understanding and optimism. KVS gives a warning whenever something disturbs him. However, he is not a frustrated and bitter individual: "Our entire nation is on the face of it a huge and rotting garbage heap. It is truly revolting. We should not overlook it. But we should not fail to notice the genesis of a significant something, which is slowly making efforts to crystallise deep within. We should recognise it and protect it with loving care as one fosters a baby in the family." (Page 81)
Most of the articles on culture are his reactions to contemporary trends and events and deal with their etiology and repercussions. They scan a wide spectrum ranging from Peter Brook's Mahabharatha to Kannada Sahitya Parishath. They stand apart for their courage and objectivity, and transform Subbanna into an un-acknowledged conscience keeper of Karnataka.
KVS was not overtly fond of literary criticism as he had an abiding faith in the wisdom of the community. However, his occasional forays into that genre have resulted in trend setting articles. This section includes a monograph on Kuvempu and his academy award winning book, Kavirajamarga mattu Kannada jagattu. Classics such as Pampa's Vikramarjuna Vijaya, Pu.Thi. Narasimhachar's Gokula Nirgamana and the celebrated novels of U.R.Anantha Murthy have received insightful attention.
Theatre and Cinema were all-consuming passions for Subbanna because of their unique ability to forge meaningful links with the community. His writings in this category should be taken in collaboration with his epoch making experiments at Heggodu. His transcreations of the works of Kalidasa and Brecht and his negotiations with the classics of cinema find a theoretical framework in these articles. The last two sections of the book contain some intimate pen-portraits and his prefaces to books, literary and otherwise. These luminaries include unsung heroes such as Ramappa and Subba Rao as well as personalities like G.B. Joshi, Mary Seyton and Fritz Benevitz. Subbanna is more concerned with their ability to identify themselves with the needs of the community rather than their individual brilliance.
Subbanna had this unique ability to be a part of a given movement and yet distance himself from it. He started Akshara Prakashana a premier publishing house in Karnataka to promote modernist literature in Kannada. But his writings at that time are not given to similar pursuits. He writes about theatre, films and classical writers such as Pampa. His abiding commitment to socialism, Gandhian ideals and democracy are not in total accordance with the modernist concerns. His homage to Kusuma Shanbhag is a touching testimony to his passion for environmental protection and women's emancipation.
These articles show an equal concern for the text as well as the context. Being a committed student of cinema he was aware of the significance of even a single frame. This understanding is carried to his analysis of literary texts and social conditions. But he does not miss the wood for the tree because of his global and local concerns. T.P. Ashoka deserves to be appreciated for his competence and commitment for the manner in which he has put together these articles.
Subbanna's style is at once transparent and unpretentious. He comes out as one of the makers of the Kannada prose, particularly suited for communication of impassioned ideas. It is almost impossible to find another individual in Karnataka where the man, his activism, works and style merge into an integral whole to create a phenomenon.
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