Grand master of modern poetry

ಡಿ . ಆರ್ . ನಾಗರಾಜ್

ಅಡಿಗರು ಸತ್ತಾಗ ಶ್ರೇಷ್ಠ ವಿಮರ್ಶಕ ಡಿ ಆರ್ ನಾಗರಾಜ್ ಬರೆದ ಅಕ್ಷರ ಶ್ರದ್ದಾಂಜಲಿ (ಡೆಕ್ಕನ್ ಹೆರಾಲ್ಡ್ - ನವೆಂಬರ್ 13 ,1992)

    The last conversation I had with Gopalakrishna Adiga was last September, and it centred on the mystery of the human body. He greeted us with his usual mischievous smile and as though he was waiting to communicate some deeply felt thought, immediately launched into a reflection on the human body.

    I watched him carefully. The stroke had rendered him weak, a limb or two had become useless. Yet the poet’s serene face radiated warmth and intelligence. The defeat of his physical self probably compelled him to reflect deeply on the mysterious glory and tragedy of the human body. He was neither scared by the treacherous nature of the body nor bitter about its inbuilt impulse to betray the owner.

    Such frustrated ranting and raving about the body suited Yeats temperament and he even spat on the face of Time. But with Adiga the experience was different.

    I was really surprised by the intensity and perspicacity of his remarks. Listening to him I tried to recollect some lines from his earlier poetry on the human body or related experience. He had not written any significant lines on the experience of the body per se before.

    I suddenly realised that as a poet Adiga had entered a new phase in his career. The man who suffered was in the process of providing the poet with a new theme. It was too transparent a process.Imagination (that favourite goddess of the English Romantics) defies the dictatorial behaviour of the body and its crippling rules. Mind will not be cowed down by the threats of matter. Adiga, as a poet, was trule experiencing this primordial conflict. This abstract philosophical archetype had become real and intensely relevant to him in a very personal way.

    This has been his poetics too: abstract theories became concrete only when they became real in the personal context. In fact, he had revolted against the senior poets of the Navodaya School (1920-50) precisely for this reason. He had even written a brilliant satire on them- Halemaneya Mandi (Inmates of the Ancient Homes) comparing their voices to a broken gramophone record. Adiga had said: “ The line that separates authentic vision from witchcraft is too thin.”

    Throughout his turbulent poetic career, he had tried to separate the two in an agonising way. Navodaya poetry had reached a decadent stage where only god could separate the authentic from fake spirituality. And as a good realist, Adiga distrusted the big abstract themes related to religion and spirituality from the very beginning. This was what made him to father a new kind of poetry in the early ‘50s, the Navya School, which was decidedly different from what the Kannada language had seen before.

    Anyway, to go back to the point where we started, Adiga had never before felt poetic urge to explore the theme of the body. The moment had arrived when he suffered a stroke.

    Irony of ironies! Other poets of the Navya school had celebrated the theme of the pleasures of the body with a great deal of abandon. Particularly, three good poets, Ramachandra Sharma, Gangadhara Chittal and Srikrishna Alanahalli, had brilliantly captured both the pleasures and pains of the body. But the Grand Master of the school, Adiga, had maintained a stoic silence over the matter all these decades.

    Finally, it became a real theme to him, and this aspect is movingly evident in the last poem he finished writing on the night of October 28, 1992. That was a Wednesday, and he gave a reading of this poem entitled, Dvandva Digbandha, (The Arresting Contradictions) to Akashvani,Bangalore.

    According to me, this poem had registered a new beginning, for this theme and tone were not there in earlier poems. But, there was an element of continuity, for this time too the theme was the self; life seen primarily as physical self. The theme of physical self had also transformed itself into a reflection on death. The poem begins with this central paradox.

    “ Death standing guard round the limits of evolving life;

    the stench of the rotting flowers round the fragrance of blooms.”

    The poem next moves to consider various forms of the arresting contradiction and it achieves a magisterial understanding of the paradoxical harmony that exists in the human body. A series of powerful images parade themselves, in a typical Adiga fashion, to reinforce the central theme. A yogi, who has given up food totally, salivates at the aroma of a jilebi. A passionless sanyasi, who has renounced the world, now and then curses his mother in anger. Beauties like Rambha and Urvashi occasionally dance before his eyes. Really arresting paradoxes!

    The poet is deeply puzzled and disturbed by the overpowering nature of these contradictions and he returns to accept the easily available spiritual solutions to this problem. Only the flesh will disappear, the soul is eternal. It cannot be cut by knife, fire cannot burn it. No, Adiga would not accept such positions. Hence tormenting doubt and despair, which are too human, envelop the last lines of the poem.

    Our world is a metrical structure of these contradictions,

    Will it disappear after our death, this arresting contradictions?

    One cannot know this without dying. One cannot come back after death. The words of the dead are not for the living [ Dvandva Nirbandha]

    The philosophical attitude present in these lines is what makes Adiga strikingly different from Bendre, who stands tallest in the present century. Bendre has written many poems on death and most of them see it as the beginning of a new journey. Death is maha prasthana.

    Bendre was nothing if not a transcendalist. He transcends everything that he touches as a poet- nature, woman and yes even death. Adiga’s stubborn refusal to transcend his experiences into something else was central to his mode of creativity till the end.

    Not that his is not attracted by the siren songs of other celestial worlds. Melodies of a lovely flute had always haunted him, but he had always returned to the real world. One of his greatest poems, Koopa Manduka (Well Frog), deals with the theme of the poet’s commitment to the ‘thisness’ of the world in a powerful way. And in  a way, this also seems to be the limitation of Adiga’s poetry. This aspect throws more light on the making of the poetic sensibility of Adiga. He is essentially a poet of the Englightenment; realism and rationalism are the two most important philosophical forces that have shaped his poetic sensisbility.

    But Bendre was moulded in a different way. Pre-modern forms of reasoning and feeling were quite active in shaping the contours of Bendre’s creativity and this accounts for the existence of multiple ways of seeing and feeling in his poetry. But there are also inherent dangers in the working of such sensibility, for, it is difficult to separate the authentic from fake spirituality. In other words, Bendre’s high point of achievement can be really high, but its lowness could be frighteningly low.

    But such rish is not there in Adiga’s poetry. You can count on him to be consistent and authentic always, although it has the danger of becoming monodimensional. To put it differently, it is true that Adiga’s realism diminished the range of his perceptions and his capacity to grasp the unknown affinities was curtailed because of his obsession with the concrete. But to speak in paradoxes, he became a great poet of the age precisely because of this realist mode of reasoning.

    Adiga was a child of the modern age,hence he responded to the fundamental experiences of the present day in a very unique way.

    Bendre was incapable of handling the complex experiences of the individual in the modern day and his inablitiy in this regard created space for Adiga to write a different kind of poetry. Bendre became incoherent in the face of the absurdities of contemporary society. Adiga found his coherence and creativity while responding to such a world.

    Way back in the 50’s, Adiga passionately said that the rise of authoritarianism is the single most important truth about modern societies. The state will not wither way, it is the civil society which will disappear, leaving the individual at the mercy of the all too powerful state.

    This was much before the crisis of authoritarian societies  made their presence felt in Indian intellectual life. Notwithstanding occasional intrusion of Cold War terminology into his poetry. Adiga has given voice to the authentic protest of the creative individuals against the onslaught of authoriatarian states and societies, be they from right or left.

    Leave a Reply