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To move them with verses

As a writer, one is often advised ‘Write what you know’. It’s good advice, considering the amount of research and skill required to write, no matter the writer’s expertise on the subject. But some writers take this advice a step further: They write what’s authentic to them.

Dr Chandrasekhar Kambar is one such Kannada novelist, playwright and poet, whose literary works stem from authenticity. He is well-versed in British literature. However, he chooses neither to write in English nor adopt western literary techniques in his writings. Instead, he strives to stay true to his roots by bringing alive the North Karnataka dialect and folklore in his works.

In an exclusive interview with Soulveda, leading up to the second edition of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival, Dr Kambar talks about his inspiration, his goals as a poet, and his contribution in preserving the Kannada rangabhumi (theatre) culture.

You’re a poet, novelist and a playwright. But no matter the genre, your works are clearly influenced by the Kannada folklore tradition. How did this inspiration take root?

I grew up as a cattle herder in Ghodageri, a village in Belagavi district in Karnataka. The Britishers had quarters near the Gokak Falls by the village. Their English ways were always upheld by villagers. Even though I was only a kid, it constantly bothered me that we were trying to mimic them, despite having a rich culture of our own.

This discomfort stayed with me even as I grew up and began writing. So, instead of adopting the English ways, as many writers at the time did, I decided to stay true to my Kannada roots. There is such a gamut of literary devices and techniques in our own folklore tradition that I found no need to gravitate towards British literature.

as many writers at the time did, I decided to stay true to my Kannada roots. There is such a gamut of literary devices and techniques in our own folklore tradition that I found no need to gravitate towards British literature.

“People will carry with them, and pass on, the stories they enjoy reading. I believe a work of literature is celebrated through the ages, when it manages to touch people’s hearts.”


Your works have helped preserve the Kannada rangabhumi culture. Did you see yourself accomplishing this monumental goal when you started out as a writer?

Folklore is often meant to get the audience to empathise with characters and engage themselves in the stories. My works are heavily influenced by Kannada folklore, because I grew up listening to it. I write to move a reader or an audience emotionally. Preservation of the rangabhumi is more of an after-effect, even though I’m honoured to contribute to the cause.

Nataka (play) is, perhaps, the most obvious genre that helps preserve the Kannada theatre culture. In what way does kavana (poetry) lend itself to this effort?

There’s no genre classification in Kannada folklore. Take Bayalāṭa (an open theatre drama, native to Karnataka) for instance: It uses epic poetry in its dance drama rendering. My own works follow suit. Helathene Kela was my first work of narrative poetry or prose poetry. While its first half is a poem, the second half is a play. After all, even a poem can be enacted. As you can see, genre demarcations are blurred in the rangabhumi.

Unfortunately, engagement with poetry is diminishing. Do you believe people might be more receptive to performances or recitals of poems?

Reading a poem certainly evokes strong imagination. However, listening to it evokes stronger imagination. After all, a poetry recital includes intonation and the poet’s own touch. I’ve seen even the ‘manly’ men in my village cry at Bayalāṭa performances, when a recital touches them. 

We call this rasa (catharsis). Rasa is meant to evoke emotions in the audience, rather than feed its intellect alone. It may be expressed through a mix of gestures, intonation, narration, and dialogue. Unlike an audience, a reader won’t experience this kind of totality. So, a performance or a recital of a poem can indeed be very powerful.

What does poetry mean to you? What do you want your readers to draw from your poems?

I do not see poetry as a tool to convey grandiose themes or concerns. As long as I write something any lay person can relate to, I am happy. The heart-felt response I elicit from my readers and audience matters more to me than critical acclaim. People will carry with them, and pass on, the stories they enjoy reading. I believe a work of literature is celebrated through the ages, when it manages to touch people’s hearts.

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    Known for effective adaptation of the North Karnataka dialect of the Kannada language in his literary works, Dr Chandrasekhar Kambar is a prominent Indian poet, playwright, and folklorist. He has been conferred with many prestigious awards, including the Jnanpith Award, Sahitya Akademi Award, the Padma Shri, Kabir Samman, Kalidas Samman and Pampa Award.

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