The process of remembering Pu Ti Narasimhachar (ಪು ತಿ ನರಸಿಂಹಾಚಾರ್; 1905-1998) inevitably creates an atmosphere of warmth and affection. Any memory of PuTiNa has to be a fond memory of PuTiNa.
My interactions with the elderly poet go back nearly 50 years. I first saw him in 1968. It was a small village in Shimoga (Shivamogga, Karnataka). I used to work there in a high school. PuTiNa, who was residing in Mysore at that time, Gorur Ramaswamy Iyengar and Mysore K Venkataramappa had come to our school as chief guests of a function. Prof Venkataramappa, who had a deep voice delivered an exceptional, arousing oration on the medieval Kannada poet Kumaravyasa (to this day, I remember Prof. Venkataramappa’s speeches on many things). Venkataramappa concluded his speech. Then, it was PuTiNa’s turn. Everyone in the audience sat on the edge of their seats and eagerly waited to listen to this great poet laureate. PuTiNa started speaking, rather he gently oscillated up and down on his toes once in a while as he spoke. He was inaudible. May have been a technical fault. An eagerly anticipated speech with an aura had turned in to a mute display. It was as if the audience did not deserve to listen to this great poet. The school administrators became restless. They asked the technician to check the microphone. The technician went on the stage and tried his tricks. The microphone did not like his torture and screamed painfully. While all of this was going on, PuTiNa’s soliloquy continued as if nothing was wrong. It was as if he didn’t care or perhaps as if he wasn’t aware. He spoke for around 10 minutes. Someone suggested that microphone was to be turned off. Without the microphone, PuTiNa’s voice became an inner voice that was inaudible even to him. This was how the first speech of PuTiNa that I heard finally came to an end.
This incident epitomises the personality of a poet. It is easier to follow the speech of an author who writes prose. When poets speak, no one understands what they say. We refer to this as dhwani (allusion). It is the talk that hides behind the actual talk. Kumaravyasa refers to this and calls it ‘the hidden say’. PuTiNa was an expert at this. He was poor at speaking on a big stage. But, he excelled when he spoke to smaller audiences, especially in a group. One on one conversations with PuTiNa lasted for hours. I haven’t seen anyone who could engage you personally as effectively as he used to. He had remarkable memory. The great poets such as Valmiki, Vyasa, Kalidasa, Bendre would all come to life when he spoke. He would almost enter a trance after a while. It was as if he weren’t a merely human being rather he was a force, a special talent. Whenever I saw PuTiNa, my feelings were akin to those of a child in awe of an ocean. He was an ocean. There were so many waves. Every day there was something new. There were no repetitions. His was a talent that renewed itself every day. When he spoke, his words/speech did not come out due to some or other kind of deep intellect. His was a mysterious creative genius. We could never miss opportunities to spend some time with him.
I used to regularly meet him in his Bangalore home. If I did not see him for a while, he would send for me. He would remember the telephone numbers of people who were close to him. He would ask his wife Sheshamma to ring me and dictate my phone number from memory. He would say “it has been an eternity since I last you, why didn’t you come?” I would have seen him the week before, but that did not matter. I learnt a lot from him. Often he would say “I read your latest poem…it is good…but why does it appear so similar to one of my poems?” I would giggle and explain that the idea for my poem was actually his. He was not just a poet who created poems. He was also a creator of poets.
PuTiNa was very fond of carnatic classical music. He would often ask me whether I had any interest in classical music. I would reply, offended a bit, and say that I was madly in love with music. He would ask again whether I had any interest in listening to classical music in a live concert, which I rarely did. From that he would conclude that my interest in music was not something that could be talked about. For him, real musical experience (for a listener) was to be felt in a large gathering listening to an established singer. Playing music from a recorder was of no use.
Let me take you back to my first meeting with PuTiNa…on the day at a village school in Shimoga. The same evening, there was a Hindustani concert by vocalist Pandit Athanikar. The singer was enthused by the presence of knowledgeable connoisseurs in the front row that included PuTiNa. After the completion of two or three compositions, Venkataramappa prompted the singer and publicly requested the rendition of a composition by Purandara dasa. This act enraged PuTiNa and he expressed his anguish. He was of the view that the singer was lost in melody and one shouldn’t pin the artiste down with verbal lyrical meaning. A composition would be an unnecessary drag.
I haven’t understood that even to this day. PuTiNa, a poet, whose whole trade is built on being a wordsmith, was complaining about words and meaning? How could that be? I asked him why he was going after naada (musical sound) and he replied, “someone who is won over by melody will not respond to words and meaning”. I was perplexed. How could a poet come up with this? Language is bound to its meaning. How the two could be separated? According to PuTiNa, meaning was a burden on language. It was the job of a poet to relieve language from its meaning. There was no need to build poems that had words as its organs. It was important to free the language from its wordly endeavors and thus give it new meaning. A poem can redeem its purpose (saartha) only when it transcends the boundary of meaning (artha). PuTiNa was one of those poets who contemplated the importance of purpose in any aspiring poem (not poet).
part 2 to follow.
This is the English translation of a speech in Kannada delivered by poet H S Venkatesha Murthy on a Putina memorial function held in Bangalore several years ago. I was lucky to be there in the audience.
PS: I found today (Sept 3rd, 2013) that in his own blog called paraspara, poet H S Ventakesha Murthy had recollected the Shimoga incident involving PuTiNa. I quote him here for the pleasure of reading it in his own words
“ಸಂಜೆ ವ್ಯಾಸಪೀಠದಲ್ಲಿ ಪುತಿನ ಭಾಷಣ (ಇದು ೧೯೬೭ ಅಥವಾ ೬೮ ನೇ ಇಸವಿ ಇರಬಹುದು). ಪುತಿನ ಮಾತಾಡಲಿಕ್ಕೆ ಶುರು ಮಾಡಿದರು. ಅವರ ಧ್ವನಿ ಯಾರಿಗೂ ಕೇಳಿಸುತ್ತಿಲ್ಲ. ವಾಲ್ಯೂಮ್ ಜಾಸ್ತಿ ಮಾಡಿದ ನಮ್ಮ ಸೌಂಡ್ ಸಿಸ್ಟಮ್ ಎಕ್ಸ್ಪರ್ಟ್ ಗುಡ್ಡಪ್ಪ. ಮೈಕ್ ಬೇಸರದಿಂದ ಜೋರಾಗಿ ಕಿರುಚಿಕೊಳ್ಳ ತೊಡಗಿತು. ಟಿ ಎಸ್ ರಾಮಚಂದ್ರಮೂರ್ತಿಗಳು (ನಮ್ಮ ಮುಖ್ಯೋಪಾಧ್ಯಾಯರು) ಗುಡ್ಡಪ್ಪನ ಮೇಲೆ ಕಣ್ಣು ಕಣ್ಣು ಬಿಡತೊಡಗಿದರು. ವಾಲ್ಯೂಮ್ ಕಮ್ಮಿ ಮಾಡಿದ್ದಾಯಿತು. ಪುತಿನ ನಿಮಿರಿ ನಿಮಿರಿ ಅಂಗಾಲಲ್ಲಿ ನಿಲ್ಲುತ್ತಾ, ಮುಂಗಾಲಲ್ಲಿ ನಿಲ್ಲುತ್ತಾ ಏನೂ ಸ್ವಗತ ಸಂಭಾಷಣೆ ನಡೆಸೇ ಇದ್ದರು. ಅದು ಯಾರಿಗೂ ಕೇಳುವಂತಿಲ್ಲ. ಮಹಾಕವಿಯ ವಾಣಿ ಕೇಳಬೇಕೆಂದು ಎಲ್ಲರಿಗೂ ಆಸಕ್ತಿ. ಆದರೆ ಮೈಕಿಗೂ ಕವಿಗೂ ಹೊಂದಾಣಿಕೆಯೇ ಆಗವಲ್ಲದು. ಗುಡ್ಡಪ್ಪನಿಗೆ ಸಹಾಯ ಮಾಡಲು ಮತ್ತೆ ಕೆಲವರು ಬಂದರು. ಈ ಹಿಂಸೆ ತಾಳಲಾರದೆ ಮೈಕ್ ಮತ್ತೆ ಕೀರಲು ಧ್ವನಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಆರ್ತನಾದ ಮಾಡತೊಡಗಿತು. ಈ ಯಾವುದರ ಪರಿವೆಯೇ ಇಲ್ಲದೆ ಪುತಿನ ತಮ್ಮ ಪಾಡಿಗೆ ತಾವು ಮಾತಾಡುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾರೆ. ಮೈಕ್ ಆಫೇ ಮಾಡಿಬಿಡಿ ಎಂದು ಸ್ವಾಮೀಜಿ ಆಜ್ಞಾಪಿಸಿದರು. ಪುತಿನ ಮಾತಾಡುವುದು ಈಗ ಸ್ವತಃ ಅವರಿಗೂ ಕೇಳದಾಯಿತು. ಹೀಗೆ ಕವಿವರ್ಯರ ಮೊದಲ ಭಾಷಣ ಒಂದು ನಿಗೂಢ ಪಾತಳಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಸಂಭವಿಸಿತೆಂಬುದನ್ನು ನಾನು ಮರೆಯುವಂತೆಯೇ ಇಲ್ಲ!”