Dalit Poetry in Kannada II

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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 DSC01581unnecessary 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

With fireflies.

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:

A sculptor

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 birdDSC01589

Flew down the electric line

And ate the mustard seed

Shattered, the sculptor

Opened his eyes

There was a mustard plant

Before him

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

Sleeping here?

Is my corpse rotting

Every moment?

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.

One response »

  1. NKH’s poetry is symbolical and his dialect is
    quite difficult to understad and feel.I think
    the essential thing in any form of literature is
    to feel and identify their life experiences.Ofcourse NKH’s poetry is fresh and
    new and also thoughtprovoking.

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