Amrith Someshwar in Conversation with Muraleedhara Upadhya Hiriadka
Muraleedhara Upadhya : Please tell me about your childhood days spent in Bombay.
Amrith Someshwar : A few years of my childhood were spent in Bombay. My father was a chauffeur at an embassy office here. The sea was the first impressive thing that gripped me at that time. It still has the same attraction for me. We lived in Warden Street, very close to the sea. In that area, the sea was almost calm and quiet with all its lyrical beauty of the waves. To my young eyes, it was a sight full of curiosity. There were small black boulders on the shore. In between them I could find tiny crabs running hither and thither. I usually tried to catch them and often failed. The sight of the dancing waves still attracts me. Once, the officer with whom my father was the chauffer came to our flat. Probably my father had incurred his displeasure; probably he had come there to bang my father. By nature, my father was a bit proud. The officer was hefty, but my father was not. When that red-faced man rushed towards my father to attack him, my father simply pushed him back. That red-faced man fell down and blood started oozing from a head injury. It was such an insignificant incident. But, at that moment I admired my father for his act. The event is still fresh in my memory. Because it happened during the pre-Independence days.
My father was not directly involved in the freedom struggle, even though, by chance he was once beaten during a lathi charge and, as a result, lost control over one of his fingers. During the Second World War, whenever planes flew over our heads creating ear-piercing noise, our mother pushed my sister and me under a cot. She did like that because someone had told her that that was the method to be adopted to save oneself when there was bombing.
There was a Christian family living next to our flat. A woman named Anjoli Bai was very fond of me. In fact, people used to comment that the Christian woman was my mother as she had breast-fed me. Most probably it was a joke, but I believed it then.
Muraleedhara Upadhya : It seems your father knew many languages. What was the effect of his personality on you?
Amrith Someshwar : Because my father resided in Bombay, it became possible for him to learn a number of languages. He had only a conventional type of primary education. But, out of curiosity and incessant efforts, he had learnt about twelve languages. He had the basic knowledge of Italian, French and Russian. His knowledge of English was commendable. He knew all the South Indian languages. Collecting old books was a hobby with him. Once in a way he used to read out to us stories and articles from English, Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati magazines. There was book in Gujarati called Subhh Sangraha: It was a book where knowledge was encapsuled. I still remember those days when he used to read out a page from that book. He tried to sing Malayali ‘Pattu’ before us. When in good mood he exposed me to different types of knowledge taken from various books. There was a book: Rangile Rasool. It was about Mohammad the Prophet. It was a banned publication. Still he had given us ideas taken from that book. His thirst for knowledge was inspiring. In one of his letters, he had written that it was better for me to learn as many languages as possible. Without minding his old age, he had taken an examination in Sanskrit. I know that I cannot be a match to my father in this respect. Still, his thirst for knowledge has left a profound impact on me.
Muraleedhara Upadhya : What does inspire you to write in Tulu even though you teach Kannada in College?
Amrith Someshwar : Tulu is the common language of the region. Naturally, people of this region must love it. My mother and two grandmothers were experts in singing Malayali ‘Pattu’ and Tulu ‘Paddana’. Tulu enchanted me while listening to them. I started collecting Tulu songs right from my young days. In the last century, Rev. Father A. Manor had published a collection of songs under the title, Tulu Paddanolu. A copy of the book was with Rashtra-Kavi Govinda Pai. I borrowed and copied the whole book. The literary value of the songs was great. The beauty of the language of the Oracles, of the Deities, its expressive power stunned me. Most probably that was the moment that made me a writer in Tulu.
I have heard about the literary work of my predecessors in Tulu. I have read some of them. There was one K. Balakrishna Bhandary of Kotekar who has written a number of dramas in Tulu: Fight for the Land, Queen Abbakka, The Blind Can See, etc. I liked those plays. Thanks to ‘Rangabhoomi’, Udupi, an amateur drama troupe, I got a chance to translate Jokumara Swamy by Chandrashekhar Kambar into Tulu. While translating it, the subject matter of ‘Gondolu’ flashed before my imagination and I wrote that play in Tulu; in fact that drama was written mainly to be staged by students during college day celebrations. By that time, plays in Tulu had started appearing in profusion. So many dramas! But most of them were highly melodramatic in treatment. I decided to write dramas on different lines. Hence dramas like Raya Ravutha, Puttoli, Tulunada Kalkude came from my pen. To a certain extent, Akashavani, Mangalore, pressed me to write some of those dramas and also some more poems. Whenever there were chances to preside over or participate in poets’ meets, I recited my Tulu poems. Prof. K. S. Haridas Bhat wanted me to translate a part of the Finnish epic poem ‘Kelevala’ into Tulu and I did it. There is enough material in traditional folk songs which could be used to create imaginative literature in Tulu folklore, I have tried my hand at writing a number of dramas, ballads, radio-plays, story-poems and Yakshagana plays in Tulu. By taking models from Tulu folklore, I have created a number of new proverbs.
It is my firm opinion that working in Tulu is complementary to teaching of Kannada in college. In this district you can find a number of writers writing both in Kannada and Tulu. This is what is required.
Muraleedhara Upadhya : Mandara Keshava Bhat wrote Mandara Ramayana originally in Tulu and later translated it into Kannada. Keeping this in mind, please allow me to ask you whether your writing in Tulu has brought you recognition and fame?
Amrith Someshwar : Because the original Mandara Ramayana is in Tulu, it does not catch a wide readership. So, Sri Bhat might have translated the work into Kannada or he might have translated the work to make it known to the public the design of the Tulu work. Gondola and Tulunad Kalkude, dramas written by me are staged in many places. Tulunada Kalkude has received Karnataka Sahitya Academy award. A number of cassettes of my Tulu compositions sung by singers have reached a wide section of music lovers. A number of books written by me in Tulu is not appreciable. Still Tulu people have received them well. I am invited to a number of Tulu functions. In 1989, All India Tulu Sammelana met in Mulki and I was chosen as its President. By conferring its membership on me, the Tulu Academy has honoured me. I am on the Editorial Board of Tulu Lexicon Project. All these recognitions have come to me because of the regard shown to me by the Tulu people.
Muraleedhara Upadhya : Is Tulu an oppressed language?
Amrith Someshwar : Linguists agree that Tulu is a fully developed language. There is ample folk literature in this language. Ancient compositions like Sri Bhagavadgeetha, Devi Mahatme, Kaveri are there. It has an independent script too. It is the link language of the region. It is the language of the commoners. Even though Tulu has all these virtues, literary works are rare. Because, for centuries, the official language of the region was Kannada, and literature in Tulu could not develop properly. Moreover, the kings who ruled the region were all Kannadigas and hence Kannada was used as the court language. That was a blow to the development of Tulu. The poets of the region naturally composed most of their literary works only in Kannada. Creation of literature in Tulu became neither a glorious attempt nor a profitable proposition.
Till recently using Tulu in schools and colleges was considered a crime. Seen from all these angles it can be said that Tulu remained an oppressed language till recently.
Muraleedhara Upadhya : How is the Tulu movement now?
Amrith Someshwar : The Tulu movement during the days of S. U. Paniyadi, N. S. Kille, Nandalike Sheenappa Hegde and Satyamitra Bangera was quite different from the present day renaissance of the language. Political turmoil and the Independence movement made up the backbone of the Tulu literature of those days. The glorious values of Navodaya in Kannada were reflected in the literature of the time. A sense of gratitude to the motherland and the mother tongue could be seen there. A sort of experimentation in the literature too added to the profusion of the language. Like all our national languages, there was a strong note of idealism in the literature of the period.
But the present day literature is completely different. There goes a type of study which tries to discover the connection between language and culture. Throughout the world, the study of folklore and culture are carried out with earnest enthusiasm by the schools. As a result of this, western academicians have started studying Tulu. Many associations in and around Tulunadu are surveying the language. There is good encouragement to Tulu Drama and Yakshagana. One can find a variety in the writings. Competitions are conducted in writing Tulu books. Even at the University level, Tulu is being studied. Tulu functions are arranged in schools and colleges. Such functions were not common a few years ago.
With all these attempts to popularize the language, we cannot come to the conclusion that a type of literary movement has started in Tulu. Tulu-speaking people should mix with people who speak other languages. This will make them less provocative. Excessive importance attached to English is another reason for the lack of development of other languages. Some people aspire for a separate Tulu district. But this aspiration hasn’t gathered enough supporters. To some others, cultural Tulunadu is more important than the political one.
Muraleedhara Upadhya : Isn’t the founding of Tulu Sahitya Academy by the Government of Karnataka a historical decision? How does the academy function now?
Amrith Someshwar : There is no doubt that the founding of Tulu Sahitya Academy by the Karnataka Government is a historical decision. Linguistic states were created by giving importance to the main language of the region. They became possible because people and the government thought alike in the matter. That doesn’t mean that minority languages within linguistic states should not be given attention by the government. Ours is a multicultural country. These cultures influence one another! Tulu, Kodaba languages have given support to Kannada language. It is a healthy sign that within the ambit of the main language cultures too have started growing. Kannada writers of this region are all influenced by Tulu culture.
Tulu organizations work for it from different angles. But the institutions recognized by the government get better exposure, honour and dignity from the people. From this point of view, the Tulu Academy has been received by the people with love and regard.
Tulu Sahitya Academy with Dr. Vivek Rai as its President and other experienced members continues to do good work. It arranges meetings, workshops, festivals on language, literature and culture in different parts of the district. In association with other institutions it arranges a number of programmes. It conducts programmes for uplifting and awakening the downtrodden. A series of books titled Unforgettable Tuluvas is being published by it. Some other unique books are also being published. A quarterly named Madipu is being published, carrying information about the activities of the academy and also other creative writings. General knowledge books are also coming out. Those who have contributed significantly to the language and culture are honoured annually.
Muraleedhara Upadhya : You have written a number of plays in Tulu. What is your opinion about the present day theatre of Tulu?
Amrith Someshwar : On one side Tulu theatre has amply developed. Play after play is being written in the language. There is no dearth of encouragement. There is an audience ready to buy tickets at exorbitant rates. Different kinds of plays are being written in Tulu, mostly humorous. Some of these humorous plays offer good entertainment. But, there is a limit even to mirth making. If all the plays are essentially humorous, then we can say that Tulu theatre is suffering from a lack of variety. A few of our playwrights are making a study of National and International dramas while others don’t. Most of the playwrights simply copy either cinema or T.V. serial. Not that good plays are not there but their number is negligible. The cultural flavour of Tulunadu has not made sufficient impact on Tulu drama. There is scope for creating different kinds of plots by the playwrights because there is a multicultural atmosphere here. The theatre movement of Kannada has not contributed much to the development of Tulu theatre. Critical appreciation of Tulu dramas is almost nonexistent. Tulu theatre has not created any dramas which are artistically satisfying and valuable in content. Some attempts to incalculate these qualities could be noticed here and there, but, in general they are negligible.
Muraleedhara Upadhya : The popularity of Yakshagana is still profound. Even cinema and T.V. cannot dilute its powerful effect. As a composer of Yakshagana Prasanga, what are your observations regarding the present day Yakshagana?
Amrith Someshwar : The popularity of Yakshagana has not dwindled even though cinema and T.V are there. But the indirect influence of other electronic art forms are evident in Yakshagana. There are Yakshagana plays full of cinematic events. This is not sad seen from an experimental point of view. But these cinematic influences have reduced the original artistic relevance and value of Yakshagana.
Still good performance of Yakshagana is seen around here. Three different schools of Yakshagana (North Kanara School) have created a number of great arstists. There are actors who still retain Sampradaya in their performances. Good poets are there and bad ones too. All of them write Yakshagana plays. Commercialisation has forced Yakshagana to undergo many changes.
Yakshagana performed for propitiating the Gods continue to be popular. There are amateur groups who give full length performance. Yakshagana has gained admittance into schools and colleges. Even girls feel delighted to participate in this type of performance. Seminars, workshops, competetions and festivals honouring the artists are all by-products of the main performance. Such by-products contribute to the development of that art form. Yakshagana cassettes have appeared in the market in their hundreds.
Those people who brought about changes in the performance did not do it with the full knowledge of stage technique, artistic qualities etc. of the earlier period. Those worn out grimmicks and unsuitable situations have appeared in the name of visual attractions. Different types of costumes relevant to the period of the plot have undergone meaningless changes. The subtle symbolic fantasy of the Yakshagana Theatre has become a poor theatre as a result of these changes.
With minimum training, the performers want to become artistes. Practice, patience and commitment to the theatre exhibited by senior artistes are not seen in the present-day performers. Yakshagana Talamaddale still attracts senior artistes, but this form too has started showing stagnation because of the lack of new experiments.
Despite all its drawbacks, the Tulu Yakshagana is not in a desperate condition. There are experienced artistes still performing. Experimentation and tradition are complementary to one aother.
Muraleedhara Upadhya : Can you describe the method of presenting Yakshagana in Tulu?
Amrith Someshwar : Tulu Yakshagana comes within the Southern school of the art. Tulu is not used in Yakshagana for a very long time. More or less, Tulu Yakshagana has a history of four or five decades. An individual style of performance using Tulu language in Yakshagana has not evolved so far.
Yakshagana in Tulu can be found in four forms:
1. Puranic plots written in Tulu (Some of them are translations from Kannada and some independent).
2. Prasangas are in Kannada but its dialogue is in Tulu.
3. Prasanga composition and dialogue in Tulu.
4. Prasanga composition in Tulu as its dialogue too is in the same language.
If a performance is given in Tulu language, it cannot be branded as Tulu Yakshagana. The presentation of folk stories or historical stories in Yakshagana calls for different types of costumes and hence they become more visually dramatic and authentic. When introducing changes in costume, normally much care is not given to the original symbolic meanings, colour combinations and fantasy. Modern dress lacks artistic qualities. There are costumes used for the deities, there are designs carved in wood. Such things could have been used in transforming the old into new. Tulu school of Yakshagana will get shaped only if Tulu plots are used with regional costumes. The cultural background of Tulunadu should be the backbone of such performances.
With earnestness in experimentation, Tulu Yakshagana costumes can be set right. Recently, in a workshop arranged by Tulu Academy, a number of costumes were produced and exhibited. In the interest of the progress of Yakshagana, performance must be succeeded by criticism. It is the need of the hour; writers, actors, art critics and proprietors of troupes must come closer and try to give a definite shape to Yakshagana.
Muraleedhara Upadhya : You have written a number of Yakshagana plays and all of them are in Kannada. What is the reason for this?
Amrith Someshwar : Yes, all Yakshagana plays written by me are in Kannada because all of them were written to be staged by professional troupes. I have not tried my hand at writing a Tulu Yakshagana for professionals. My interest is in writing Tulu plays, and not Tulu Yakshaganas. I like prasanga literature and that inspired me to write Yakshaganas. Almost all my Yakshaganas are based on puranic plots which are not suitable to be shaped as Yakshagana plays in Tulu. Puranic characters conversing in Tulu may look a bit odd.
Muraleedhara Upadhya : Values like casteism / feudalism are highlighted in Yakshagana prasanga. Are these values still acceptable to society? What is your stand regarding puranas?
Amrith Someshwar : Traditional Yakshagana prasangas are all based on puranic plots. These types of plots were the common feature of the Medieval Kannada too. It is not unnatural that the values of the period are reflected in Yakshagana: historical facts, discussion on Dharma moral codes, feudalism, patriarchial society, the tussle between Shaivaites and Vaishnavaites. Most of the Yakshagana plots are based on the literary works of that period. Hence Yakshagana plays contain these values. Wonderful fantasy, incomparable symbolism and some literary values are still respected in society. But, taking puranas as true stories would be improper. Qualities like inappropriateness, irrelevance, life-rejecting ideas, non-progressive arguments which are in abundance in yakshagana plays must be rejected. Those were the values of those days but not of the present.
In a traditional form of the play artistic qualities and thought provoking ideas are to be noted. If both these qualities are present in a Yakshagana Prasanga, then it will be a great literary piece.
The present day yakshagana poets should introduce a bit of change in the plot to suit the present-day taste. They need not copy puranic ideas blindly. Recreation in literature is a natural process. Class conflict can be changed into class harmony. If we search well, we will get plenty of good plots from the puranas. What we require is such great discoveries in the field of writing Yakshagana.
Muraleedhara Upadhya : What are the plus points of Bootha Aradhana? What drawbacks can you notice in that folk tradition?
Amrith Someshwar : Bootha Aradhana in different forms are commonly found in different parts of our country. North Malabar, South Canara districts are the two regions where this colourful, unique type of performance still remains. It has affected the shape of the cultural life of the region. If we analyze the action and rituals connected with Bootha Aradhana, a striking feature can be noticed: it is full of social qualities which are dependable. This is a type of ritual theatre where historical events are recreated. We can notice a bit of ‘group culture’ too exhibited in this art form. Anthropological ideas and historical disciplines abound in this folk performance.
Imagination, fear, submission, sacrifice, aspiration, assurance and group festivity are found here with the clear picture of a process where Gods and other supernatural forces are humanized.
Architecture, wood carving, different types of weapons, decorative ornaments, make-up, musical instruments, dance and dialogue are the main features of this ritual. All these aspects of the ritual are stylized. The stories presented in the paddanas and sandhis are a tich mine of folk literature. In fact, these stories can be called ‘the Puranic code’ of this region. These different aspects are so profound that they desrve separate and deep study.
Totem-worship, ancestor-worship, hero-worship and worship of the unseen natural forces do happen here. Thousands of people participate in this event today. There is scope here for a psychological study of how belief works on human minds.
One of the important features of Bootha Aradhana is passing judgement on many family and social problems. Our other Gods never speak. But these spirits do and give reassurance to the worried and troubled minds. When people go wrong, the spirits get wild. When people do good, they bless. They behave more or less along human lines.
This ritual is an important part of rural culture. People belonging to different castes and communities contribute their share of work to put up this show. This creates a sense of cohesion among the people. A very interesting feature of Bootha Aradhana is that those people who bring the spirit into their body for the ritual belong to scheduled castes namely, Pambada, Parava, Nalike etc. These spirits are truth personified. Hence they are called Satyolu (truths). This is quite meaningful. By believing in such Boothas many people experience deep psychological changes.
Negative points like feudalism, casteism, ‘madi-mailige’, ‘sutaka-pataka’ (purity-impurity) are all found in this ritual along with positive points. The rootsof this ritual is in feudalism. The spirits are more or less on the side of the rich.
Rich people conspire with the performers and get the judgement favourable to them. There are instances of oppression in villages and this is partially encouraged by the Boothas. The traditional form of the ritual doesn’t allow any changes to take place within its ambit. Untouchability is still practiced in different aspects of the ritual; outdated rules and regulations are followed here. Heredity is a lost idea now, but still it exists here. As a result, even some useless people get prominence here. Casteism is strongly supported by this ritual.
This ritual creates a terrible sense of fear in the minds of some devotees. This fear can damage human faculties. Many people consider this as an incarnation of an evil spirit and then worship it.
This ritual lays stress on purity and so impure persons are not allowed to participate in this ritual, hence women participation is minimal. The ritual can be used to improve the living conditions of the prople if some timely changes are introduced.
Muraleedhara Upadhya : Please tell me your ideas about the study of Tulu fokfore and other researches in the language.
Amrith Someshwar : First of all, it was some foreign masters who started studying Tulu folkfore. Scholars like Peter Claues, Martha Aston and Lorry Honko still continue working in that field. Local researchers too have contributed to the analysis of Tulu folkfore. Different types of oral literature in Tulu have been collected, recorded and kept ready for any reference, at Udupi. You can find them in the Regional Folk Art Centre, Udupi. Many books are being published in this subject. Tulu folkfore has become a subject of study in Mangalore University. Study of Tulu up to M.Phil and Ph.D level is possible now.
Tulu Sahitya Academy, established recently, is giving support for research work on Tulu folkfore. Folkfore societies, collection of songs, publication of collected materials and seminars have been introduced in some colleges.
Apart from collecting folk literature, a systematic study of them has become possible. Folkfore is being analysed through history, sociology, psychology, economics etc.
State, National and even International level seminars are being held on this subject. Compared with the studies done in the field of other Dravidian languages, what is done in Tulu is highly commendable. But still, there is more to study. By applying modern linguistic theories to the study of Tulu, a lot of more work can be done.
Common man is still out of touch with the research work produced in the field. It is better to introduce study of Tulu folkfore in colleges. Established firms should come forward to help this venture.
Muraleedhara Upadhya : Tulu Lexicon project has become famous as a unique one. What are the reasons for it?
Amrith Someshwar : It is true that the Tulu Lexicon project is unique. Because the written work in Tulu is not considerable in quality, field work is undertaken to collect words and this venture has ended up in compilation of an excellent Tulu Dictionary. There is no record of such volume of field work being done to collect words in other languages. Words in Tulu with their provincial and social undertones are given in an internationally accepted form with meanings in Kannda and English. Different types of prepositions, different forms of the same word in different languages, meanings in English and Kannada and also usage of words, phrases, proverbs etc. are also given.
This is not only a Tulu Dictionary; it is a cultural encyclopedia of the language. The secret language used by the performers of Kola, names of thousands of medicinal plants and their uses are also mentioned.
It is prepared according to the science of lexicography. It can throw great light onTulu language, literature and culture. It is also a reference book for students who undertake the study of National and International cultures.
Muraleedhara Upadhya : Don’t you think the craze for English has become dangerous to the development of other languages like Tulu, Konkani and Kannada?
Amrith Someshwar : There is no doubt that such a trend is dangerous. Love and respect for a language is different from the craze for it. Even after fifty years of Independence we have not succeeded in coming out of our blind love for English. It is a wonder and at the same time highly disturbing. English, as a language which exposes us to the world of knowledge, is helpful. But it is a tragedy if the same language is the cause for ignoring other languages.
Ours is a competetive world. To gain an upper hand in industrial competition and to get a chance to go abroad, knowledge of English is a must; English cannot be a threat if the other regional languages are given relatively greater importance. Unfortunately, the mother tongue suffers because of the lack of opportunities in it. If innocent children fall prey to the lure of a foreign language, the result could be disasterous. Those children may not feel proud of their own mother tongue and honour their motherland.
If the Government and society do not confront this danger and find an effective solution, provincial languages, literatures and cultures are sure to wither away.
(Translated from Tulu by B. R. Nagesh)
The Child Ever of Belegola
Renouncing all wordly things
You stand bare and alone on the hilltop,
O graceful nudity!
Lost in inner bliss,
Your radiant, divine smile
Cleanses the sins of thousands around
My salutations to thee
O thousand-year-old Divine child.
Beholding the winning smile on your face
I purify my eyes,
But how can I attain
The timeless spirit of your sacrifice?
How can I imbibe the pure innocence
Of the infant’s heart?
How can my mind discard the veil
Of worldliness and emerge in Holy Nudity?
Your stature is without stain, and pure as butter
But I am a trivial blade of withering grass.
Your curly locks of undying charm
Have overcome the coils of wordly illusion.
But I am a poor, ignoble soul,
Ever marooned in a losing struggle.
Will you teach me to rise above
The mad frolicks of humans,
And smile away their failings as you do?
My salutations to you
O, thousand-years-old Divine Child.
Note: The poem is about the divine, serene smile on the face of the thousand-year-old monolithic staue of Gomateshvara at Sravanabelegola.
Old and New
Mine is an old house-
Mine is an old house-
Renovated of late-
Its base ancient, walls, raised recently
And its roof, repaired only yesterday.
The old, solemn swing-cot
In the eastern nook sanctum
Is consecrated to the ancestral deity.
Placed on the other side is
A new blabbering television set.
Inside, a child is sleeping
In a creaking old cradle,
And a shriveled old granny, bent with years
Is swinging it, crooning a lullaby.
From my good old well I draw
Fresh, pellucid, spring water,
And as I water my nodding coconut palm,
I look up and behold a polite reminder
Of the rich debt I owe to the kind yesteryears.
The old sacred pedestal
In front of my house
Nourishes a new, beaming Tulsi plant.
Beside it is a Parijatha tree,
Showering sparkling fragrance.
The old ornaments of grandmother
Are fashioned anew,
Which now glitter on the grand-daughter’s body
And I put my old grimy pillow
In a fresh, new cover
But when I wake up and reflect
On them all, I do not know how to make out
What is new and what is old.
Translated by Surendra Rao.