Source : The Hindu – S. Diwakar
Sumatheendra Nadig, the forthright Kannada poet, is no more. In his life, in his art, he never hid behind pretty words, even if it made him unpopular
I just think about Sumatheendra Nadig — among Kannada’s important poets — and am inundated with memories. How he gave up his job and went to America to do his Ph.D., how he worked as a part time instructor there and from his meagre income saved money to buy a ticket for the great poet Gopalkrishna Adiga, how he started a book shop in Gandhi Bazaar because there was no suitable job for him on his return from the US, how for two days he wouldn’t put down Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude” even while he ate, how when he was with the BAPCO publishing house he published P. Lankesh, Yashwanth Chittal, Shantinath Desai, Sunanda Belgaonkar, just as he did Ma. Ramamurthy’s thrillers, how he listened to the music of Balamuralikrishna and A. Subbarao, how he went looking for the house of the novelist N. Narasimhaiah, how he took BGL Swamy to Lal Bagh and asked him to speak about each and every tree, how he discussed Avanindranath Tagore’s paintings with K.G. Subramanian, how when he learnt that Lankesh was going to bring out a special issue titled “Panchali”, he cheekily declared that he would bring out one titled, ‘Ganchali’, how he went to court against when the publisher for whom he had edited a book refused to pay the writers, how he rushed to help those in distress, how he so wonderfully recited poems….. my mind is like a dam with its flood gates open….
Nadig published short stories, essays, novels, translations, criticism etc, but he was most successful with poetry. When he was a student of BA (Hons) at Central College, Bangalore, the stalwart of Kannada literature, G.P. Rajarathnam had published an anthology “Padmanjali” with poems by Lankesh, Nisar Ahmed, L.G. Sumitra and Nadig. In 1964, his first poetry collection “Nimma Prema Kumariya Jataka” was published by his classmate and poet Lankesh. Later came collections such as “Kappu Devate”, “Udghaatane”, “Bhavaloka”, “Nataraja Kanda Kamanabillu” (this Nataraj is poet Ramachandra Sharma’s son, an artiste), “Jada Mattu Chetana” as well as epic poems such as “Dampatya Geeta” and “Pancha Bhootagalu”. He has left behind another work-in-progress-poem, “Shreevatsa Sooktha”.
During the years that the Navya (Modern) movement shaped its concerns under the leadership of Gopalkrishna Adiga, Nadig was finding himself as a poet. By the time his third poetry collection “Udghaatane” was out, he had consciously shed his Navya leanings to find his own path. In his later poetry you find not just the shadows of idealism of the Navodaya (Renaissance) phase, but also a metrical form that adheres to a definite mode of thinking. Aspects like experimentation, plot and imagery, resonance of words, poetic embellishment etc. did not escape Nadig’s keen eye. But did he feel that a forthright and simple approach would reach a larger number of people? Is that why he walked a path of his own? If it is not this, how else can one explain the fact that a poet who wrote poems like “Uloopi”, “Kappu Devate” and evocative passages in his epic poems writing extremely talkative poems like “Bharatambe”, “Girish Lokanath Muttenanavar”, “Bhrashtara Bhavishya” and others?
Poetry is a suggestion: it speaks of one thing, while holding pointers to something else. Everydayness dulls the human mind. But a poet, through his creative fires, gives enormous pleasure to the reader by igniting his imagination.
This was not something unknown to Nadig. His enthusiasm was palpable when he spoke about the creative process to younger poets. But there were times when this creative fire went missing in his own works. Once, he gave me a poem to read, I expressed my unhappiness over it. He didn’t justify his poem, instead, he asked me to read this:
Is this a poem?
Are you in doubt?
So am I.
He had written long essays on the works of poets Da. Ra. Bendre and Gopalkrishna Adiga. When other critics wrote about these poets, he came down heavily on them if he felt their understanding of these two literary masters was inadequate. He would make revisions to the poems of many celebrated poets, perhaps for an academic study of poetry, also perhaps for his own happiness. As long as this was for his private study, it was perfectly alright. But when he started altering them in his discussions with other younger poets, he earned the wrath of writers. Editing other’s works as per his literary opinions, distributing his own poetry even when it was unpublished, his unlimited praise on works that he thought were good, and using it as an excuse to attack writings that he didn’t think much off — all this went against him, even as he personally believed it was in the good of literature.
During the 80s and 90s, Nadig used to read a lot. He tried to incorporate some established tenets of poetry into his own. He anticipated and waited for some remarkable poetry from his contemporaries. Nadig always questioned the authenticity of poetic imagery. He openly discussed them, and even wrote about it. There were times, when it indirectly drew attention to his own works; a kind of self critique.
Look at these lines from his poem Svagata:
Face has to confront face not
mask. Cowards can’t see face
to face. When face sees face
it must recognise, the heart must feel.
Nadig abhorred political correctness and never made any efforts to conceal his frank views. He had no pretensions, never learnt how to be an opportunist and curry favours from power centres. He knew no diplomacy. How many of our writers have the courage to speak the truth, even if it is unsavoury? They condemned him as right wing – like it was the most heinous crime to have views that were his own. The power centres of Kannada kept him at a distance. None of the major awards and recognitions came his way. It almost became a taboo to write about him.
When I called poet Tirumalesh to give him the news of Nadig’s death, he spoke for a long time about some of Nadig’s best poems.
He remembered his own essays that discussed Nadig’s poems. Feeling dejected over the injustice meted out to him, he said: “Enappa, how miserly we Kannadigas are. Forget writing good things about his poetry, we ostracised him…”. I remembered the Greek poet, Constatine Cavafy, Nadig’s favourite poet. His poem “Walls” seem to echo Nadig’s predicament in the later years of his life.
Without reflection, without mercy, without shame,
they built strong walls and high, and compassed me about.
And now I sit here and consider and despair.
My brain is worn with meditating on my fate:
I had outside so many things to terminate.
Oh! why when they were building did I not beware!
But never a sound of building, never an echo came.
Out of the world, insensibly, they shut me out.
Translated from Kannada by Deepa Ganesh
The author is a well-known Kannada writer and critic.