Monday, June 22, 2009

When Chennaiah Came Home

ಬಳೆಗಾರ ಚೆನ್ನಯ್ಯ ಬಾಗಿಲಿಗೆ ಬಂದಿಹನು
ಒಳಗೆ ಬರಲಪ್ಪಣೆಯೆ ದೊರೆಯೇ?

Chennaiah, the bangle seller, comes home and seeks permission to enter. He is from the town of Navilooru, where the women are known for their beauty and the jasmine for its fragrance. The lovely town is where the master's wife is from, where the smell and soul of the earth emanates. An old man, with a cloth bag full of the most colourful glass bangles, hunched from age, walks down the flight of steps to the background of those famous words and sits besides the house of the master. And thus begins one of the most beautiful plays I have seen in recent times, Mysooru Mallige (ಮೈಸೂರು ಮಲ್ಲಿಗೆ) based on the poetry of Dr K S Narasimha Swamy.

The parents and I were at Ranga Shankara yesterday, a delightful place, a brilliant concept. The play, directed by B V Rajaram, is a musical by the playwright Rajendra Karanth who plays Chennaiah. The story, interspersed delightfully with poems of Narasimha Swamy, was humourous and touching towards the end, though it dragged for a wee bit in the middle when my mind went wandering. The play follows the life of the poet from the time he gets married till he grows old, when the children are away and his life's work sold off to buy medicines for his wife.

Most of the actors were good, especially Chennaiah himself. The bangle sellers have always fascinated me. I last wrote about them here. The play brought it all back, the large doses of nostalgia and memories of all those lazy afternoons spent listening to Ajji's stories, humming these songs that my mother taught me or letting my imagination run amok.

Narasimha Swamy's poems are mainly on love, at least that is what he was most famous for. From ನಮ್ಮೂರು ಚಂದವೋ, ನಿಮ್ಮೂರು ಚಂದವೋ where there is a tussle between the girl and the boy, during their courtship, as to whose town is better, to ರಾಯರು ಬಂದರು ಮಾವನ ಮನೆಗೆ ರಾತ್ರಿಯಾಗಿತ್ತು where the son-in-law rushes to his in-laws house where his wife is visiting and is not allowed to meet her for a long time.

Well, you know what, I simply cannot translate those words. His poetry was known for its simplicity and I shall not do any further injustice by attempting a translation. I just wonder how long these poems will survive. Chennaiah is slowly walking away with his bangles, the earth does not emanate the smell of its soul anymore, no one wears jasmine flowers in their hair or wears bangles. Love is no longer waiting for long letters and being happy with a glance from beneath the eyelashes.

Nostalgia? You bet. I am as much a part of this guilt as the next person. These are all songs I knew the whole lyrics of once. I rarely sing them, most people have probably never heard of the poet. What do I do about it? What does anyone do about it? Zilch. We are all so involved in trying to earn a salary that there is scant attention that the practice of living gets. Of course there is that easy way out, that dubious front of 'excuses' we all hid behind and pass off the "burden" of carrying forward culture and tradition. Tradition is nice, to explain away that saree you wear and the rare bindi you sport. Culture is nice too, on a Sunday evening when there is a music concert (most likely a fusion or some esoteric music form) you can attend in a little room with wine and loud speakers. But no, it is not your responsibility to ensure you teach others the songs your mother taught you.

You and I continue to chase the Chennaiah with his bangles away. How pathetic can culture get?

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