One of the contemporary Kannada poets whose work I am amazed by is N K Hanumantayya. He has two collections so far: Himada Hejje (Snow Steps – 1998) and Chitrada Bennu (Picture’s Spine – 2006). There was an unnecessary controversy in Karnataka around 2004 about eating beef. At the time Hanumantayya wrote a poem titled: ‘Becoming a cow by eating cow-meat’, an excellent poem, which caught the attention of many and NKH began to be liked by poetry lovers. One such is this blogger.
Hanumantayya’s poems are written in standard dialect. His is not the dialect-based poetry. He is also a very frequent user of symbols:
On this ant
I placed my heavy step
And lifted it after a while.
The ant is still moving. (‘Spine of the Picture’)
Check out this from ‘The image in ant’s maw’:
While asleep in the night’s dark cave
She opened her eyes to the sound of dewdrops falling
Like the stars smiling on darkened bones
NKH sees all the small beings. He is alert to the living beings that we take for granted. While in the ‘Spine..’ poem quoted above he goes on to thank all these tiny beings whose life is forever casually endangered by our activities, his poems also frequently show gratefulness to ‘soil’. Creatures populate his imagery. Here is a fine little poem ‘Firefly and me’:
That night unable to sleep
I stepped out
The courtyard was filled
Their light made me
Sweat and scream
One of my favourite poems is titled ‘Elephants that melt in earthworm’s mouth’. Here it is in full:
Carved on a mustard seed
Hundreds of elephants and howdahs
And twisted his moustache proudly
And laughed at time rotting
Before that mustard seed.
A small bird
Flew down the electric line
And ate the mustard seed
Shattered, the sculptor
Opened his eyes
There was a mustard plant
At its bed the elephants and howdahs
Were melting in an earthworm’s mouth.
Violence is common motif in these poems. Often the poems invoke the violence meted out to the community over the ages, sometime to violence in the daily lives of people, creatures. There is sadness about the pervasiveness of violence. Therefore most poems also have macabre images. The author’s preface begins thus:
On this black back
Day and night a cold hurt runs
Are all the dirt-snakes
Is my corpse rotting
Nataraj Huliyar who has written a preface to NKH’s Picture’s Spine says that these poems seem to have emanated from the “lonliness, struggle, sadness, bitterness, survival instinct, masochism, and the violence borne of relationships”. The book also has a blurb by Ananthamuthy who says, “these are poems to be read carefully. They have the ability to expand our cognitive ways apart from enriching our emotional world”.
I think the promise that these senior writers find in NKH is justified by the quality of his poems. He is a poet who cannot be read in a hurry.