Flights of fancy
Poornachandra Tejaswi, one of Kannada's brightest modern minds, passed away recently. He shunned public spaces and journeyed into mystic realms, in life and in writing
PHOTOS: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT
CULTURAL LEGACY Poornachandra Tejaswi, among the greatest of modern Kannada writers, juxtaposed man with nature, even as he tried to grapple with a constantly changing society.
Along with the news of the death of one of Kannada's greatest modern writer's, Poornachandra Tejaswi, there was yet another piece of news that seemed like a shocking coincidence. Bees attacked a line up of politicians at a function in Bangalore, and were driven away by them even before they could make their speeches. If only Tejaswi was alive, he would have enjoyed reading this. There is a similar instance in his famous novel, "Carvalho". The recurrent image in most Tejaswi's works is of how bees, animals, birds, rivers and forests with their natural, untamed behaviour throw human life completely out of gear. In his celebratory world of literature, nature is a superior entity and beyond human control; thus humbling the man who swanks off as the most powerful creature on the earth. It could be the flying lizard of "Carvalho", the forest fires of "Chidambara Rahasya", the hillock that caved in in "Nighooda Manushyaru", the tumbling rocks of "Kiragoorina Gayyaligalu", or the stream in "Mayaloka"... in all these instances nature is not just invincible, but also a profound, mysterious entity, that remains a constant wonderment for man.
Why does Tejaswi bring face to face with human civilization the workings of nature, functioning at its own pace, independently? Is it to bring to scrutiny the human race which is stripped off all its genuineness and now takes recourse in falsehood and deceit? Whatever the reason, in this constant encounter between man and nature, Tejaswi's writings have tried to grasp the flux in the society. Placing human life on this huge canvas, Tejaswi's literature does the job of exploring nature's vitality as well as its malevolence. This is the trigger that embarks him on his mystical search even as he tries to perceive a new social order. Tejaswi carried out the unique experiment of fusing the knowledge created by modern science on human evolution with contemporary socio-political consciousness. Therefore, labeling him as an environment or science writer would be too simplistic.
Tejaswi as a little kid with his parents, Hemavathi and Kuvempu, and brother Kokilodaya Chandra
Enigmas are not just in nature. It's true of human life too. He discusses this in what according to me are his finest stories, "Avanati" and "Nighooda Manushyaru". The answers to every unsolved mystery of nature as well as human life must be explored in a state of curiosity and awe. The explosion of creativity takes place in such a search. This also forms the main premise of Tejaswi's works. For him, the finding is not as important as seeking. (It's important to note that he chose to name his house "Niruttara" which roughly translates to "no answers".) In "Carvalho" even a collective search for the flying lizard remains futile. And so is the case of "Mayaloka", the source of the river can't be traced.
That's probably why in Tejaswi's writings the hunter dog comes as an important character. His works assume the air of detective writing because of their exploratory nature. This feature, inspired by the adventures of modern science, rendered him the hero of young readers. But what saved him from becoming a writer of detective thrillers is his seeking for the mystic. There are few writers who have achieved what Tejaswi could: he was able to cater to two categories of readers - those who looked for entertainment in literature as well as to those for whom it was a serious intellectual pursuit.
Tejaswi was majorly drawn towards modern science and technology. Along with the dog and the bee, you find that a jeep, a scooter and a water pump becoming characters in his writings. He had great respect for the achievements and adventures of European scientists. Remember that the protagonist of his novel "Carvalho" was a scientist with a Eurpoean mind: a modern, humanist thinker. Writing about the river Nile, he reveals great reverence for Livingstone who became a martyr, while on his mission. But unlike other greens who are anti-modernity, anti-development and anti-technology, and strongly advocate the traditional way of life, Tejaswi was unique. Though he moved faraway from the din and bustle of city life, he was a worshipper of modernity and technology.
It is at this point one should understand why Tejaswi took a stance that was so anti ancient customs and beliefs. He was greatly angered by the caste system and the various religions. Tejaswi strongly believed that they came in the way of creative explorations of individuals and worked as hindrance to progress. He also felt that the unthinking adherences of the civil society was the other face of blind tradition. And so, one got to see in him, a crude defiance of all customary observances. So much so that Tejaswi argued such violations were the beginning of an imaginative flight. One saw an extension of this in his literature, which projected individuals as dynamic and collectives as static. Therefore, Tejaswi's heroes were young men who abandoned their homes, escaped the din of daily grind, and lived a life of wild abandon, with no social standing to boast off. His literature indicated it was these people, with no defined aspirations, who were capable of inhabiting innovative realms. Tejaswi equated the itinerant nature of man with inventiveness.
The birds, which navigated their lives at a free will, inspired Tejaswi tremendously, and worked as a compelling metaphor in many of his writings. In all his writings, there is the streak of a social rebel, which comes across rather subtly. These radical positions are probably derivative influences of two major Kannada writers: Kuvempu and Shivaram Karanth. In fact, he even admits to it in one of his essays; he says Kuvempu's aesthetic outlook, Lohia's rationalism and Karanth's exploratory mode were his chief inspirations.
Nevertheless, extolling Tejaswi's virtues as a writer and as an individual do not undermine the presence of his limitations. Even as he went into raptures over the world of insects and animals with great admiration for their notion of independence, he turned a blind eye to the emancipation of those hundreds of workers in his own estate? Why? Tejaswi had tremendous respect for all those individuals who lived a life zealously, but at the same time had disdain for all social and political movements that intended to mobilise the society. Without exceptions, when activists appear as caricatures in his work, it does seem a problem. Most of Tejaswi's protagonists - the one's who broke away from fixed path and discovered their own worlds - are men. Was "Kiragoorina Gayyaligalu" an effort to make amends for such a glaring inclination? Even while it did make an attempt to salvage, it wasn't convincing. His admiration for Europe was so unabashed, that it also became his blindspot. Therefore, in "Tabarana Kathe", while you find him lament the insensitive Indian bureaucracy, in a very discreet manner he appreciates the British administration.
Poornachandra Tejaswi has shockingly disappeared from our midst, without prior warning. This forthright man, who refused to brush shoulders with politicians and the glitterati, kept himself far, faraway from public attention. He refused to go on foreign trips and remained committed to what he perceived as truth.
This unsual man, from the outside, seemed rigid like the bark of a tree, though deep within, he was a man of refined sensibilities with numinous visions. His works in various genres of literature has strengthened the Kannada language. Tejaswi, in his writings, took on the enormous responsibility of shaping the cultural world of the reader.
UNTIMELY EXITPoornachandra Tejaswi (right) with his friends the late P. Lankesh (centre) and K. Ramdas
To the final destination
The sudden demise of Poornachandra Tejaswi, came as a rude shock to his close friends in Mysore. His departure has cast a pall of gloom over the city, as Tejaswi was part of Mysore, as much as Mudigere, where he lived till his end. He learnt to walk, talk, write at "Udayaravi", V.V. Mohalla, Mysore. It's here that he began his journey as a writer, a non-conformist who refused to fit into the Navya tradition of Kannada literature.
In the last several years, he rarely visited Mysore, but drew huge crowds whenever he did. His death was too sudden and many of his close friends were in such a state of shock that they could barely speak.
Tejaswi studied in Maharaja College. He spent his early days in Mysore, while his father Kuvempu was a towering figure and the vice-chancellor of Mysore University. However, after completing his studies, he chose to move away from the clamour of city life and loved amidst nature in the sleepy Mudigere, at the foot of the Western Ghats. "Annana Nenapu" (Memories of Father), one of his finest works, even ran as a column in Lankesh Patrike. The locality Ontikoppal in Mysore, poverty of civic workers, Paduvarahalli school, Mysore's tongas, his father's hairdresser, his fight against corruption with Prof. Nanjundaswamy, music lessons in Maharaja College hostel and experiments in photography form the contents of the book.
His very close friend K. Ramdas said: "I lost a dear one and have become an orphan. After P. Lankesh and Prof. Nanjunadaswamy, now it is Tejaswi."
Noted short story writer Abdul Rasheed, who was closely associated with Tejaswi, said: "Tejaswi never wrote with the intention of preaching. He recorded what he was interested in and minced no words. Tejaswi rebelled against his father in a creative way."
Prof. G.H. Nayak and Meera Nayak, who were close to Tejaswi broke down.
"When a younger member of the family dies even while the elders are still around, it is painful," said H.S. Krishnaswamy Iyengar. Prof. K.N. Shivatheerthan described him as the "Hemingway of Kannada". Prof. Kalegowda Nagavara said Tejaswi was the guiding force behind many progressive movements.
Tejaswi's sister Tarini, living at "Udayaravi" said: "I have lost my brother, who was a remarkable person. I cannot explain my loss in words that are redundant."
Translated by Deepa Ganesh
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