Kanaka talks to Priya D’Souza about poetry as a continuous march towards the self.
PD: How did you start writing? What drew you to poetry? Have you been drawn to any other genre?
KHM: I grew up in a small village, a remote place on the backwaters, in Karnataka. The school didn't even have a building, and there were very few students. My mother taught me at home. I was shy and introverted. I lived such a sheltered, isolated life. As a child, I was fascinated by my brother who wrote poetry. He read a lot of Navya (Modern) writers and spoke to me about them. When he went away to engineering college, he wrote me letters which read like stories. He also encouraged me to read and translate children's story books.
Most teenagers write poetry and I did too. I also wrote a few stories. I feel that good short stories are actually long poems. But I lack the patience, endurance and focus necessary for short stories. One can respond to a particular feeling or thought or idea with a poem and this can bring instant relief. Short poems are a garland of small freedoms. And it's easier than writing a short story or a novel. Many women prefer writing poetry because they can express certain emotions in a veiled manner. And I think I write poetry because I was destined to.
PD: Who inspired you? Who inspires you now among Kannada writers/poets or any other language writers/poets?
KHM: I don't think I read as much as I ought to – that's a source of guilt. When I was in college, Navya writing was already at its peak. UR Ananthamurthy and P. Lankesh were stars. A new breed of writers like Jayant Kaikini and Prathibha Nandakumar were budding writers at that time. And AK Ramanujan and KV Tirumalesh were writing about mundane things of life in a very simple way. I grew up reading all these writers in literary magazines. I wrote very little then.
A lot of us who were influenced by the Navya style were prejudiced against Romantic poetry and poets. We had an unspoken understanding that Navya should be the norm and all writing should be only in that style. When I moved to Bombay, exposure to different kinds of people and different experiences helped me understand literature more, I think. I also came to realize that 'good' poetry existed in every time, place and style. One cannot reject a poem on the basis of its style.
PD: Any influences outside Kannada literature?
KHM: I was also highly attracted to Anna Akhmatova, the Russian poet, at one point. I had read her work, translated into Kannada by Sha. Balu Rao. I liked the sheer intensity of her poetry. I did write some poems in response to it, but tore them up.
PD: Could you describe the Kannada poetry scene now?
KHM: Today, there are many more people writing than before. And there are more women writing, especially poetry. Some of their poetry is very candid. During the Navya period, writers met frequently but now they only meet during seminars or literary functions. There are many such events nowadays which get media coverage. I don't know whether this is good or not but poetry is becoming a 'product'.
PD: What are the current trends in Kannada poetry?
KHM: In Kannada poetry today, complex and subtle feelings are being expressed in simple language. But one cannot point out any one particular style. Poets of my generation write in many different styles. It's not like the earlier Navya period.
PD: You have done a lot of translation of short stories and poetry from other languages. Has this helped you in your own writing?
KHM: Yes, certainly. When I was translating Javed Akhtar's Tarkash from Urdu to Kannada it brought a kind of discipline to my work. I don't sit down to write poetry every day, but when I was translating this book, I did work daily and it brought focus and order. I think translating is a very creative process too. The experience is like writing poetry. It cannot be just a literal translation. One ends up learning about that culture. I think it enriches the translator immensely, expands her imagination and helps her expression.
PD: What about women poets? Do you have a special relationship with any of them?
KHM: I do get opportunities to interact with women poets at seminars and functions. So, I have become close to some of them. But I do have male poets as friends too. I guess it's like any other profession.
PD: Do you think there is anything like a 'female' sensibility?
KHM: I think men and women have the same sensibility. Female sensibility or Dalit sensibility exists only up to some point, but these compartments disappear when one goes deeper.
PD: From your first book to the present book, how have your poems changed?
KHM: In the beginning I used to write using formal language with an inbuilt rhythm. But in my second collection I tried to deviate from that and use words from my dialect, and continued that in my third collection. But now I want my poetry to have not just rhythm but rhyme as well. It's difficult to integrate rhyme, rhythm and intensity. But I strongly feel that I should write poetry that could be sung as well, like the poetry of old.
PD: What does poetry mean to you personally?
KHM: Writing poetry helps me to come close to my self, to find myself and through that to understand others. It's a continuous journey towards myself, towards truth. It sounds very pompous, but it's true.