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Rural love, urban life

HI. SHI. RAMCHANDRE GOWDA

In H.L. Nagegowda's passing away, the world of folk arts has lost one of its most ardent votaries

PHOTO; K. GOPINATHAN

VISIONARY For H.L. Nagegowda, Janapada Loka was never a mere museum. He always wanted it to be alive and vibrant like the village itself; some of the folk forms of the State that have gained popularity owing to HLN's rigour

Just as he stepped into his 91st year, H.L. Nagegowda (1915-2005) left this world, shedding all its obligations. To call it a mere death would be simplistic, it was the fruition of an achievement. Nagegowda, who, for most part of his life lived in the city, could never put under check his intense love for the "rural culture". He was determined to get the two cultures into a dialogue. For many years now, people have questioned this man complete with Western outfit — coat and pant, tie and boot — about his madness for the village. This appearance came from his job, but in his inner being, he was a complete rustic.

Somebody who came from the thick of rural life and went on to become an IAS officer had complete access to a luxurious life in the city. But somehow, they didn't seem to impinge on him. They must have fled with fear on seeing this "Mahagowda" we often joked. His looks were so boorish. But like he himself wrote: "I am a fierce-faced tame cow. I have never made anyone cry, but on the contrary have wiped many a tear." It was the same soft interior that kept his doors open to many a rural artiste. As a result of this, he set up the Karnataka Janapada Academy in 1979. The core capital for this was the funds that he garnered from friends and what he got as retirement benefits.

With the money he bought 15 acres of land on the Bangalore-Mysore highway and started Janapada Loka. He wanted to turn this dream place into Disneyland. He collected ancient and contemporary objects from different cultures and put them on display here. To prevent it from slipping into a perfunctory display, he organised exhibitions, and made it come alive like a village, vibrant with all its arts and crafts. Based on the model of a village in its true spirit, he set up Janapada Loka.

PHOTO; K. GOPINATHAN

As one enters Janapada Loka, the first thing that strikes the eye is the Dodda Mane (Big House) and Dodda Ragikallu (Big Ragi Mortar Stone). In a village, a mortar stone is an essential part of every household. A big house and a big mortar stone was the mark of a successful household. In fact, Nagegowda's most important work, his novel is called Dodda Mane. People would even address him as Dodda Mane Nagegowdaru.

Because he loved the rural way of life, it wasn't like H.L. Nagegowda was against urbanisation. He hated the fact that it came riding on the village. Life in the city is an in-between; but the rural culture is something that has evolved over years, standing sturdy. Nagegowda believed that the art, literature, culture of the village was enduring, and he loved traditional food. He had an abiding faith in Gandhiji, the freedom movement, and the principles of the Navodaya poets. These were the guiding principles even as he planned welfare schemes for folk artistes and during his compilation of folk literature. His creative writings too, were based on these beliefs. Nagegowda never approached modernity with reason. In fact, he didn't ever see it as something that would liberate the lower classes.

Janapada Loka is not a mere museum. For the people of Karnataka, it is of charismatic value. For all the tourists who travel on the Bangalore-Mysore highway, it is hard to escape its attraction. Even politicians who turn their back at culture and literature know the value of this place. If they don't visit it, it is simply because it doesn't have any economic interest. For the rich people who stop by to eat at the Kamat restaurant next door, this comes as a surprise.

Caters to all

On the one hand, there is a static display of objects that are part of the life in a village. But on the other hand there is a dynamic display of folk literature, arts and the festivals. The annual Lokotsava has performances of the various folk arts alongside felicitation to the veterans in the field. Children love their kite flying contests. During Dasara people from the neighbouring villages throng the place. They have workshops on folksongs, seminars and many others activities which lead to diploma courses too. Janapada Loka not just attracts Indian tourists, but foreign tourists too.

PHOTO; K. GOPINATHAN

Nagegowda's love of the folk tradition did not stop with the setting up of the Janapada Loka. Two years ago, he set up another institution called Siri Bhuvalaya on a patch of land to the left of M.S. Ramiah Medical College in Bangalore. He said: "I have come to Bangalore with the belief that we have had enough of the unlettered people learning from those educated. It's time the educated started learning from the unlettered. The teachers in this mode of education will be the folk artists who carry the wisdom of their tradition."

Nagegowda had come to Bangalore with a new cultural agenda: To introduce our own native culture to the youngsters and make them see that our songs and dances are superior to what they see in films; to use folk as a means of personality development; to take folk arts and artists to colleges and invite students over to Siri Bhuvalaya; to urge those interested in the arts to invest money on propagating the folk arts; to involve women in the process of preserving traditions such as sobane songs and present them to people with a new perspective... and so on.

In response to this plea, a group of non-Kannadiga women learnt songs from the Rathi Kalyana episode of the Mudalapalya tradition at Siri Bhuvalaya and presented it at various venues. Youngsters have learnt folk arts such as Dollu Kunitha, Karagada Kunitha, Rangada Kunitha, Karapala, Kolata and so on here. Nagegowda had asked for extra funds from the government for all these activities and the government had promised help, considering the success of his work. It remains to be seen if this promise will die with the architect of the project or will be realised.

As the President of the Karnataka Janapada Parishat and the Karnataka Janapada and Yakshagana Academy for two terms, Nagegowda travelled the length and breadth of the state and brought to light artistes and art forms that have been sidelined. He even organised and helped folk artistes in financial crisis, which indeed was his life mission.

Nagegowda's contribution to creative writing is also noteworthy. He has written poems, novels, stories and essays, besides translations. His novels are Dodda Mane, Bhumige Banda Gandharva and Sonneyinda Sonnege. Nanaguve and Gijagana Hakki are his collection of poems. He has translated works of Kenil Worth and Verrier Elwin. Nannuru and Bettadinda Battalige are his prose works. Pravasi Kanda India is his travelogue that opened the entire Western world to Kannada readers. His works on folk traditions include Sobane Chikkammana Padagalu, Karnataka Janapada Kathegalu, Padavave Namma Yedeyalli, Helavaru Mattu Avara Kavyagalu, Aaadana Banni Daniyetti, Maramma, Janapada Sangeeta and Janapada Pada Kosha.

Many awards came his way, including Sahitya Akademi Award, Rajyotsava Award, Janapada and Yakshagana Academy Award, Pampa Prashasti, Nadoja Prashasti and so on. He has worked as the District Commissioner, Labour Commissioner, a member of the Public Service Commission and a member of the Legislative Council. During his tenure, he held two folk festivals, in Mangalore and Nagamangala.

Nagegowda, who worked incessantly for the cause of the folk, wasn't particularly fond of folk scholars. He looked upon them with suspicion, as people who use the folk artistes for their own reasons and made a career out of the folk arts. He believed that the entry of excessive sophistication killed the very character of the folk traditions: its maternal and humanist core.

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