The Literary aroma in politics...
Mr. Mahadeva Banakar fits into the topmost tier of modern writers who have contributed heavily to popular Kannada Literature. He was born in Motebennur in the Byadgi taluk of Haveri district. Any good writer, as everyone knows, is more fond of his writings than his own children. Like most famous writers do, Banakar too did have his share of family related problems. Infact, he never really had any pleasant family atmosphere. With all the problems and physical ailments that he had to endure, it is really his literary engagements that gave some solace and made him forget his family worries and find pleasure in the midst of pains – both physical and mental. Normally the output is less or nil from a writer who becomes hospitalized due to illness. But that was not the case with Banakar. Infact, it was quite the opposite! Every time he was hospitalized he came out with a new book. I actually teased him that he should get hospitalized more often so that we can get more out of him. Usually, poets and writers get inspiration for their work in tranquil natural environs. But for Banakar, it seemed as though the pain and suffering pervasive hospital settings inspired him to write more. Such outpouring of talent, even as he suffered, could only be possible for only a genius like Banakar!
Mahadeva Banakar had a wholesome humorous nature. Anyone around him could hardly be there without laughing. Within seconds he would tickle their feelings and make even the most tight lipped person to burst out laughing. That reminds me of an incident. He had invited me to his daughter’s wedding ceremony at Bangalore. As I was returning to my car after wishing and blessing the newlyweds, Banakar who was on a wheel chair met me. After a bit of casual talk I remarked that his son-in-law was pretty handsome to which he responded with a poker face, “His father-in-law isn’t any less handsome. Is he?” and threw a playful mischievous smile at his wife, Smt. Parvathamma. All his kith and kin surrounding us burst out laughing. It was indeed a scene to cherish as Parvathamma was overwhelmed with shyness!
It is but natural to be funny in happy situations. But, to be funny even when you are in pain is extraordinary and it was natural for Banakar to be like that. His light hearted approach to life makes me draw parallels to Jokester, Tenali Ramakrishna. Once Banakar was recovering from a heart attack. He did not know about it. The doctor was trying to break the news as gently as possible to him that he had a heart attack. Sensing his discomfort, Banakar put him at ease saying, “It is alright doctor. Why are you worried? It only confirms that even I have a heart. That is comforting to know!” An unpublished vachana (verse) related to this incident is very meaningful, logical and heartwarming:
It is said that “Death is the passport to Heaven”
Confused I am, why the death that approached me turned around and left?
Is it possible to squeeze an unripe fruit and savour?
You couldn’t possibly savour me because I am still raw and unripe
Pray, please ripen me so that you can savour me
My holy Lord, Shivakumara Prabhu!
“Poets and writers are the unacknowledged legislators of this world”, says Shelley, the famous English poet. Banakar, even being a poet, had actively engaged himself in politics as well. He had climbed the steps to Vidhana Soudha, and had served in both the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council. His words documented in the official papers of the Legislature give credence to his wisdom and poetic brilliance. Even his criticisms, from the floor of the opposition, of Sri. Ramakrishna Hegde when he was the finance minister in Sri. Nijalingappa’s cabinet, appear to be poetically political! The words from a scholar, even as they are strong and contrary to one’s views, will still come out as enjoyable. Such was the case with Banakar. Here is another of his unpublished poem heard from his own mouth:
As you cruised aboard the majestic steamship
The elixir served by the rose-cheeked maidens
Made you enjoy the beauty of the sun rays
O, the finance minister, you are but only a romance minister!
Fake smiles you adorn on that pretty face of yours
Only to swindle our purse!
For us, you got us what?
What there was, you gulped it alone!
Poetry came very naturally for Banakar. But he was honed as a “Vachanakara” (creator of Vachanas) under the guidance of our late spiritual guru “Sri Shivakumara Shivacharya Mahaswamiji”. “Will not the calf grow into a bull?” This calf was spotted, his talents identified, extracted and extrapolated to perfection by our holy spiritual father. Guruji made him not only a vachanakaara, but a worthy human being as well. Banakar himself has clarified this fact in many of his writings and speeches: “I was after all a burnt piece of cloth! Could not be kept, could not be worn. But it was fixed worthy to be kept and be worn by the kindness and nurturing of Sri Sirigere Swamiji. That is why he is my spiritual Lord. When I was not treated as a human being by anyone including my own kith and kin, Guruji spotted and saw something in me. I was mentally wasted in the political mess that I was in. I erred in my actions and lied in my words. I became a legislator. Gradually, my intellect was kindled, mind was stabilized and sanctified, and my desire to realize the knowledge and essence of the soul was intensified by the blessings of my Guruji. The fruition of those efforts are these vachanas”. Referring to him, our Guruji wrote, “There is no dearth of politicians in our country, we are not lacking in the saints and swamijis. But there is a genuine lack of better writers and moralistic swamis. Banakar is crazy about politics. By God’s grace that addiction to politics is down now. The vachanas he has created are an asset for the mankind. This is not something I say for the sake of saying as a Guruji who is fond of his disciple. Even Banakar’s enemies would say this”.
The vachanas of Banakar in the book, “MAHADEVA BANAKARA VACHANAGALU”, carry the signature line, “my spiritual Guru Shivakumara Prabhu” as a mark of his devotion and dedication to our Guruji. These vachanas closely resemble the vachanas of Shivasharanas from the 12th century in the command and clarity of their meanings. If handed over to a reader as a blind copy, most likely, it would be classified as a collection from a 12th century vachanakara. Please note a sampling of his vachanas below: (Please keep in mind that English translations can never do justice to the originals in clarity, narration or fluidity of their meaning or intent. At best, it is a digested filter of the original! – translator)
Husband is dead, mother-in-law is semi-insane
Father-in-law is aged, sister-in-law is fickle in mind
Brother-in-law is her puppet!
Daughter is forsaken by her husband
Peon, a looting thief
I am the daughter-in-law in such a household
Young I am with heat of the youth
And not lacking in the beauty;
Evil eyes a plenty as I am widow
Which path do I get into, Say so
My spiritual guru Shivakumara Guru? [vachana 879]
Milk flows from the Cow that ate grass
Egg comes from the hen that ate rock
Sandal gets out of the champak that drank water
Honey pours out of the bees that sucked the nectar of the flower
Jealousy is bathed by those that partook milk and honey
For this reason, show me the intent of man
My spiritual guru Shivakumara Guru? [vachana 924]
Mahadeva Banakar has done yeomen service to the society not only as a writer, but also as a researcher and a coordinator. My memory says that I was a school boy when I first noticed him. In March, 1962 our late Guruji had organized a holy trip, “ KADALIVANA YATRE”. The noted litterateur, Dr. H. Thipperudraswamy had accompanied us on that trip. (After that trip only, he had written, “KADALIYA KARPURA”, a biography of Akkamahadevi). Along the wretched forest ways from Srishaila to Kadalivana, in the rest areas, both Banakar and Thipperudraswamy used to narrate vachana sahitya prior to Guruji’s discourses. As a young boy I was a witness to all this sacred learning.
Banakar has written books related to Kannada Land and Language , “ Kannada under the English Rule”, “ Review of Mahajan Committee Report”, etc., and also, “ VISHWA BANDHU MARULASIDDHA KAVYA” under the able guidance of our Guruji, using the harder version of Bhamini Shatpadi. Using the same style ha has also written, “SHIVAKUMARA CHARITE”, a life history of our late Guruji.
An interesting episode that relates to how he used to tease politicians goes like this: “One day, a doctor happens to come face to face with a man in clean khadi clothes near Vidhana Soudha. The man somehow seemed familiar to the doctor. Then he recalls that he was the same individual who had been hurt in a road accident and was admitted to the hospital for emergency treatment. The doctor had performed the surgery for him. He also recalled a horrible mishap that had happened then. So he goes to this man and says, “Look here Sir, I am the doctor who performed surgery to your head. But I need to tell you that I forgot put back your brain in your head before I sewed your head back. I have kept your brain in the laboratory safely in the cold. I f you can please come with me, I can put it back into your head and sew it”. The individual is annoyed and says, “It is OK doctor. Don’t worry. I don’t need it anymore, really. Because, I am a cabinet minister now. Look, I am really busy and I need to go for a cabinet meeting right now. After that I have a Television interview! Bye now.” The man bolted from there without even waiting for the doctor’s response!