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  My Life, My Literature
 
         K S Narasimhaswamy 
 
 

About 50 years ago when I was a high school student, a good Samaritan gifted me a poetry anthology of Robert Burns. After reading the anthology I too wrote a poem in English imitating Burns. I read it out to my friends and they were the ones who first called me a poet. Later it was B M Shri's English Geethegalu that welcomed me, who was resting in the rose garden of English poetry, to the world of Kannada literature. 

From then on I cherished the idea of becoming a Kannada poet. I initially listened to the legendary Gudugina Bharatha of Kumaravyasa. Burns loved folk songs. Following his footsteps, I went to my village and filled my heart with the loveliness of our folk poetry. Goldsmiths and silversmiths were at work, day and night, in the courtyard opposite our village home. The idea of metre first came to me there. My mother was a village accountant's (shanuboga) daughter. My father was a clerk in a shop. He used to play on the violin every evening. Illustrious musicians visited our home quite often and I used to get absorbed in their singing. Then, there was a flower shop in front of the watchtower in Mysore. The Muslim owner of the shop was a fine person and I visited the shop every now and then. I loved to observe the way they stringed flowers together. Even while they spoke to me, they knit together on a very thin plantain fibre, thinner than a silk thread, a variety of flowers like rose, champak, maruga (sweet marjoram), pacchetene (plant with fragrant ears), and so on, and when they finally pleated it to a garland of jasmine, it was as if a poem had been created. They were poets who wrote poetry with flowers. I picked up the art of constructing a poetic line there. All these factors may have influenced my entry into the field of poetry.  

My very first Kannada poem was titled Kabbigana Koogu. It was published in the journal Prabuddha Karnataka with the help of A R Krishna Shastri. I was then doing a pre-engineering course in the Mysore Intermediate College. K V Puttappa was teaching Kannada there. A R Krishna Shastri, who had by then recognised my poetic curiosity, wrote a letter to me and suggested that I show my poems to the poet-laureate. The very next day I went to the Ramakrishna Ashrama and met K V Puttappa. I showed him my rags of poetry. He received me well and gave me some useful tips. The encouragement that he gave worked out to be a foundation stone for my poetry. From then on I pursued my path with a resolute will. 

For some time my poetry bloomed under the patronage of Thi Nam Srikantaiah, and it also received the affection of the greatly revered T S Venkanaiah. I regularly published my poems in Prabuddha Karnataka between 1932 and 1941. Later, A R Krishna Shastri and Thi Nam Srikantaiah decided that I should put together my poems in an anthology. The Maharaja College Karnataka Sangha agreed to publish it. At the same time I learnt that Masti Venkatesa Iyengar also had plans of supporting the publication of my poetry anthology. I met him in Bangalore almost immediately and disclosed to him the arrangements being made in Mysore to publish my writing and sought his blessings. I also went to D V Gundappa seeking a foreword for my poems. He did not write one but I received a letter from him and it was in fact more precious. One January evening of 1942, at a function held on the premises of the Maharaja College, my first poetry anthology Mysura Mallige was released. Many elders blessed the occasion. In order to further strengthen the bond that existed between the blessed poet Burns and me, which could well have persisted from an earlier birth, I included a translation of his poem Highland Mary in my first anthology. 

I should admit that when I started penning my first poems I did not bother much about things like the poetic structure and character. When I realised that I had a new experience and intensely felt that it should be presented in a language communicable to many, the poem by itself suggested its first lines and took shape. 

It was during the dawn of modern Kannada literature that I started writing. Many persons with immeasurable talent were contributing to the various genres of literature. I too lent my voice from a bough. The freshness of the times was infused into my poetry without my knowledge. 

The experience recorded in my poetry anthologies published between 1942 and 1959 is of a wide spectrum. One can notice the change in the rhythm of my poetry accordingly. I attribute the subtle shift in my poetic perception to the English poetry lessons that I had at V Seetharamiah's house. In fact I greatly benefited from his sharp criticism of my new poems. It was at his place that I realised that poetry recitation, like poetry writing is an art.  

After 1960, for almost 16 years, I abstained from publishing an anthology of poems. I devoted all those years to thinking. I scrutinized the progression of my own poetry from one anthology to another. I ruminated on the possibilities of language and the various figures of speech. I even travelled to different places and saw for myself the power and beauty of speech that people used in their day-to-day life. I endeavoured to adapt them into my poetry. I read out my poems at many poets' meets. As I had narrated the experience of a common man in a language he himself had taught me, I got a feeling that my poems had been largely accepted. I grew confident that some of these could be picked and put together in an anthology:  

Experience had been sifted through 
but the right words were yet to come.  
I waited,  
and dreamt of phrases flowing free  
beyond all the cacophony. 

When speech joins hands with 
the innermost feeling, 
when heat grows into a glow, 
there's a poem.  
In the open, I now wait,  
for the right tidings to come.... 

By December 1976, my Thereda Baagilu anthology, comprising 16 poems was ready for publication. Critic friend L S Seshagiri Rao wrote a foreword. My relative G Venkatasubbaiah helped me in publishing the work. Ha Ma Nayak released the book. On the day of the release function clouds held back the rain that was forecast. I felt that nature too had complemented a human endeavour. The book was received well. This is the story of my poetry. I have not included all the details for two reasons: One is that I am narrating it myself and two, there are time constraints. I have also not explained the context of individual poems. What is t here is there and what is not there is not there: 

We are not feigning as if  
we have not seen it! 
We are merely waiting in the hope 
that the naught on the paper 
would acquire eyes tomorrow 
We stand here for the water to clear  
for ships that have come  
to the azure harbour  
in moonlight.  
On the either side of the dark marine line 
stand pearl shops and fish stalls. 
What's there in the hut  
is there and what's not there 
is not there.  
In the mirror there is an untainted anticipation,  
a smile and pain of a face 
seen only once  
at the doorstep.  

What is a poem? I don't know. The eye is a sea-shell sized boat, but the sight is a sea-like being. I'll have to find an answer while I continue to write. But for the moment I would like to summarise my poetry thus: a few poems, a few songs, a few attempts, a few successes, a few distant lamps and a couple of intimate voices. Many people who do not know me have known my poems. Some have read them. Some have heard them being sung, on the radio, at music festivals and in films. Young couples have gently smiled at me while I have walked past Balepet. Youngsters have recognised me in city buses and made place for me. A few have felicitated me thinking that the experience narrated in some poem of mine is also theirs. Friends of my poetry have also taken me round in a steamer down the river Sharavathi. Villagers have patted my back to confirm if I was indeed their accountant's sister's son. The city elite too has appreciated my poetry. Among my fans, the poor boy in Dharwad bus stand, who sang a few altered lines of my own poem and extracted money from me, stands included. I may need a book to narrate all the pleasant incidents that have befallen my poetic career. I am grateful to everyone. I thank my poetry, which has given me countless friends in the past 60 odd years of my poetic life. It has also ensured that I never get tired on my path and the essence of my life does not dry up.  

My father was a clerk in a shop. I was a clerk in various government offices. I have had my share of difficulty and pain. But all this has dissolved in the fragrance of my poetry. My poet-friend G S Shivarudrappa has likened my life to sandalwood. What a fine simile. Namaskara. 

Translated by S Sugata 

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