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Laughter all the way...

Our lives are so deprived of humour that we need a laughter club and a Hasya Mela to laugh and preserve our sanity. But one should also perhaps ask whether humour today borders on vulgarity. The recently concluded humour festival made an attempt to invoke some of the genre's past glory.



Audience and artists enjoying jokes at the Hasya Mela Photo: Sampath Kumar G P

IT WAS laughter and laughter all the way — a rare occasion for hundreds of Bangaloreans to put aside all their worries and enjoy three days packed with humour, jokes presented by veteran humorists, and rib-tickling skits. The fact that the H.N. Kalakshetra was jam-packed last week — the audience mainly comprising housewives, office-goers, and factory workers — showed how our stress-filled life is starved of humour.

Hasya Mela 2002 was indeed a resounding hit. Local singers regaled the audience with Kailasam Geetegalu and Ratnana Padagalu, a tribute to the great doyens of Kannada literature T.P. Kailasam (1855-1946) and G.P. Rajaratnam (1908-1979), whose portraits were prominently displayed.

Writer Ramaswamy, popularly known as Ramsami, who started his career nearly 60 years ago, nostalgically recollected the evolution of humour literature in Kannada from the days of T.P. Kailasam.

Perhaps it was Kailasam, the giant among our writers, who earned the epithet "Kannadakkobbane Kailasam". Couched in the great man's humour was a genuine concern for social issues, and it is a tribute to his insight that these issues remain relevant to this day. It will not be an exaggeration to say that Kailasam brought dignity to humour literature in Kannada. How he used it as instrument to make fun of the ills of society is remarkable. His plays such as Home Rule, Ammavara Ganda, Tollu Gatti, Poli Kitti, and so on, which even today are enacted by amateur clubs, are those which narrate situations in a family, its surroundings, and the society of his times.

However, the characters Kailasam created continue to be relevant even in the 21st Century, earning empathy with the common man. His moral message is invariably to set right unhealthy situations in society.

For those who have read Kailasam, his English plays such as Purpose and Karna and his ability to write poems like Kolike Ranga, a rejoinder to the English poem Constantinople, are a constant surprise. He localised alien situations with his typical exuberance, thereby exhibiting his reverence to the land and its language. Kailasam, also laughed at himself, giving a nice, self-deprecatory twist to his name, calling himself "Typical Ass I Am". No wonder his extraordinary talent earned him a coveted place in the world of Kannada literature.

The late G.P. Rajaratnam, who also earned an enviable place in Kannada literature, practically immortalised Yendakudka Ratna, the central character of his monumental work Ratnana Padagalu. This collection of poems, which gives an insight into an alcoholic's life, continues to entertain people, thanks to singers like the late P. Kalinga Rao and Mysooru Anantaswamy, who popularised them right from the initial days of sugama sangeeta.

While Kailasam dictated most of his works to his trusted lieutenants, G.P. Rajaratnam went a step further, publishing his books and marketing them himself.

But the person who tried to popularise humour literature through the journalistic medium was the late M. Shivaram, who wrote under the pen name, Rashi. The fact that his Kannada monthly, Koravanji, which he launched on Ugadi Day in 1942, enjoyed a circulation of nearly 2 lakh, amply testified his success as a journalist-writer. While Rashi himself wrote the column Koravavalokana, he was responsible in bringing to light the latent writing talent of many youngsters of the time like Kefa, Bulla, Aa.Ra.Se, Na. Kasturi, C.K.N. Raja, Girani Ramsami, and T. Sunandamma. Though the magazine ceased publication in 1967 due to financial constraints, many of its writers continue to remain in the field. Of course, at a certain point in time, many more magazines devoted to humour came to the market, but none were a match to Koravanji.

It must be mentioned that at no time Kannada literature had a dearth of humour literature. While writers like the late M.R. Srinivasa Murthy, Goruru Ramaswamy Ayyangar, Pa.Vem. Acharya , Na. Kasturi, Dasharathi Dikshit, and Y.N.K. aimed at only good humour, Beechi and T.S.R. gave humour a satirical turn to ridicule the injustices in society. There is perhaps no need to discuss the impact T.S.R. created through his column Choo Bana in Prajavani, the Kannada daily. While litterateurs such as H.K. Ranganath, Aa. Ra. Mitra, M.S. Narasimha Murthy, and B.R. Lakshmana Rao continue to remain popular among the reading public, a new generation of humorists has emerged with the advent of the electronic media who target a wider audience, including those who are non-literate.

Like Ramsami, who has seen the rise and fall of humour literature and at the same time optimistic about its survival in future, there are many others who hope that both writers and performers use their discretion to differentiate humour from obscenity, and entertain without using it as a weapon to hurt people. It is perhaps wise to remember the late D.V.G's verse in his Manku Timmana Kagga:

Naguvu Sahajada Dharma. Nagisuvudu Paradharma.

Naguva Naguta Noduvudu Atishayada Dharma.

B.S. VENKATALAKSHMI

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