A remarkable Kannada book publishing house
Karnataka’s literary heritage multi-faceted!

Literature, music, theatre unparallel!

It is a happy news that the latest Bharat Rathna went to the legendary Hindustani musician, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. With this recognition and also with the announcement of Kannada as a classical language, the state emerges to the front rank as a cultural powerhouse.

From those who speak other languages and those who live in Karnataka, the emerging cultural trend gives a lot of new insights.

One, the state of public awareness and the means to reach out to the rich cultural heritage of the state have also widened.

Just a few days ago we went to witness the plays staged by the very new and almost avant-garde theatre complex, Ranga Shankara.
The very theatre complex is an architectural gem. So tasefully designed, it is like a Greek theatre set in a modern busy metropolis.

The moving spirit behind the theatre complex and the theatre movement is a remarkable personality. Arundati Nag is not just a person, she is a phenomenon. She was there and everywhere, from the humble task of receiving the visitors to come on stage and introducing the players in such a straightforward and unassuming manner. I am not sure whether she is a Rajothsava award winner or a Padma Bhushan. In the India of today, we have all become  yes, materially well-off, socially and even politically upward mobile, yes, see the sort of persons who are ministers now, but in terms of  acquiring the finer values of life, in terms of culture and etiquette and manners, oh, we are mentally still poverty-stricken!

Yes, that is why culture matters a lot, a great deal indeed and it is here we see the relevance of what Ms.Nag doing is a terrific job!

Nag, this for new comers and outsiders, comes from a culturally top class family, her dear husband, the later Shankar Nag was a theatre artiste and well-educated and well endowed family, the other brother is none other than the actor and politician, Ananth Nag (he was a minister in the J.H. Patel government) and after the car tragedy in which Shankar lost his life, Arundati too went through hell. And God was kind enough to command her to complete her lifetime’s job, to create a fitting memorial, what better a memorial to a great artise than a permanent theatre complex. I enjoyed the very environment there, it is all so sophisticated and subdued, it is pleasure to wander there and our family, after witnessing the play and returned home, all said in one voice: “Oh, now we all feel much refined, the very cultural experience was worth the mad drive that took nearly one and half hours to reach the complex!

The particular play that day in the series of the theatre festival with the year’s theme of Company theatre, was a Telugu mythological one, Maya Bazaar. It was none other then the eternal theme of Mahabharata episodes. As it turned out, the play was simply gripping, in its quaintness and in its own innovative ways to engage the audience so patiently and at the same time so uproariously as well! It really was a new window to the old world entertainment. The artistes all belong to one family. It is a long-surviving family theatre groups. It was heart-warming experience. The family theatre, Surabhi, is almost 120 years old! It had survived all these years, from pre-Independence days to the post-Independence days! The play was Maya Bazaar and as Arundati Nag introduced the group, it was “pure magic”!
What a remarkable magical experience it proved to be! It was really a celebration of the Golden Era of the Indian touring companies that went from place to place and staged their plays, on a wide variety of mythological tales and how these families survived the ravages of time, so to say.

As I was witnessing the whole family of some 60 people, from tiny tots to the old age figures, it was heart -moving and also heart-rending as well.
Culture alright, but where is the patronage?

I was almost near tears when I reflected that in the city of Bangalore there are any number of rich IT men and they only need some culture sensitivity, they wont get any real cultural experiences and never any culture shock as well, they would just exist in their newly acquired wealth and that if only a few of them among themselves only come to witness such traditional family theatres they would be surely rewarded and these artistes rewarded with some financial help.

Yes, there are so many rich among us, but only very few among them are aristocrats! And even among the few there doesn’t seem to be one aristocrat or aristocratic enough to show himself off.

Gubbi Veranna is a household name in Karnataka. The name is synonymous with Kannada theatre.

Now his granddaughter, B.Jayashree, actress, singer and owner and director, had brought the legacy to life and she staged the Gubbi theatre’s famous play, Sadarame to   a full-house and the  artiste is about to hand over the legacy to someone to carry forward. Such efforts need modern patronage in a new and innovative ways.

Oh, how some of the great theatre artistes, the 80-odd year old R. Nagaratnamma who started a Company theatre all consisting of female members! It is a remarkable saga for this daunty old artiste of great will power and determination. Says she: “Has she any unfulfilled dreams? My life has been a dream. What more can I dream for?” How wonderful!
I just wanted to call all of the poor and humble artistes (who are otherwise, remarkable world class actors and players) for a breakfast or a lunch just to say how much I cared for them. Alas! We have just found the new wealth and we are yet to find our real culture’s wealth!

So, from Ranga Shankara, I wanted to see the new world of Kannada culture and much else.

Bhimsen Joshi, 86, gets Bharat Ratna
There is now a vibrant musical culture in Bangalore. Carnatic, Hindustani and Western music and rock too thrives in this hospitable soil.
Our own dear Balamurali Krishna is almost living here! Here he finds enough admirers and an committed audience and a welcome change than from the stuffy Chennai where narrow coterie-type music culture and a degraded literary culture too. In Bangalore, there is a healthy mix of genres. In Western music there is again a single-handed legacy, sustained by determined will by one lady legend. In Hindustani music, the state is famous. Dharwad is the home and legends like Gangubai is a contemporary of Bhimsen Joshi, names like Sawai Gandharva, Basvaraj Rajguru are much venerated.

Bhimsen Joshi is too much of an all-pervasive presence, both in Karnataka and Maharashtra where he lives in Pune. His range is vast.
Dr.S.P.Balasubramaniam, you forget from which state or language is he from? He was honoured rightly by the Karnataka government’s Rajyotsava award! That is Karnataka’s culture and ambience! A real large-hearted people with a remarkable cosmopolitanism and much else.
Literature’s imprint on the Kannada culture is significant.

As I write there is a two-day literary celebration on the birth centenary of the legend, Raja Rao, the writer who made Indian English literature known in different continents. A pioneer he lived in France, then in the USA. He wrote in English but the idiom was basically an Indian English tinged with his Sanskrit and Kannada ethos. That is again a distinctive feature of Kannada writers even now.

You will see fierce literary debates almost continuously, unlike in other Indian languages. Raja Rao’s Kanthapura novel set a new trend in Kannada novel writing. And you have endless arguments and evaluations of literary merits of works that win prizes and others who are equally gifted. One more distinctive feature of Kannada writers, poets, novelists, and playwrights, some of them went on to make films, acting in cinema and adopt the high literary classics like Aanathamurthy’s novel, Samskara, into a film that went on to win the President’s medal and usher in a new genre of films in Kannada.
In what other Indian language you can see such healthy all-round growth in creative writing, film making and film acting?

A publishing house turns 75!
Now, I read about an old and established publishing house. Its name is : Manohara Grantha Mala(MGM). It is located in Dharwad. It is now celebrating its platinum jubilee. It is still going strong! That is the point.

75 years in book publishing? It is unheard of these days, more so in the Indian languages. They have published some of the great names in Kannada literature. Shivarama Karanth, V.K.Gokak, A.N.Krishna Rao, U.R.Ananthamurthy, Girish Karnad, also D.R.Bendre, A.K.Ramanujam and many other names, most of the MGM authors had gone on to win the Gnanapeeth awards. Kannada is the only Indian language to win a record number of Gnanpeeth awards. It has published more than 200 authors. It is remarkable the MGM has spotted the talents by  publishing their first writings! It was so with Girish Karnad as well as U.R.Anantamurthy. The founder of the MGM, the late G.B.Joshi was a remarkable person and he is the real   promoter of Kannada language and its literary and cultural richness. From 1993,it is Ramakanth Joshi, the editor and publisher of MGM. The Grantha Mala has published the works of all the Jnanapeeth award winners, except Kuvempu. “We run the publications on a no-profit, no loss basis and our aim is to satisfy  readers with our literary taste. We have an annual subscription system and the response from our readers is still good” says Sameer Joshi, manager of MGM and grandson of late G.B.Joshi.
The story of the growth of literary tastes of a high order is told by the MGM publications and it is only high literary figures like Bendre, Gokak and now Girish Karnad had helped the Kannada literary culture even today to a high level and there is no doubt it is this high level culture that helped the modern Kannada writing to gain such national level appreciation and recognition.
The founder himself was a famous playwright and so he went on to wins a Padmasree and a Sangeetha Nataka Academy award! And he also succeeded  as a high class literary publisher.

There is only one immediate parallel that comes to mind. In Malayalam, there was (and still is, or functional?)The writers’ co-operative in Kottayam and it of course did so many revolutions and it succeeded to change the very Malayalam literary taste and Malayalam language attained international level recognition and progressive literary values. There are too many names to mention here. Thakazhi is only one such name. Another one is Vaikom Muhammad Bhasheer.

S.K.Pottekad is another. Oh, the Malayalam literary excellence and so too its cinema and even popular cinema all gained by a clutch of writers ands poets and film directors.

But now Kannada culture, Karnataka society and even polity  seem to be setting new trends. As I mentioned the  new modern theatre complex , Ranga Shanka, its architecture, its new approach to promote plays from all the Indian languages, including in English and its robust innovative programmes  bring to mind what we see in foreign capitals, in Paris or London.
Such is the level of modern artistic tastes and one has to thank again  individuals Ms.Arundati Nag for  turning catalysts and  cultural pioneers in times of such rapid changes in society and the material levels of living and consumerism threatening our own indigenous and ethnic cultural forms.

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