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Engaging with Life

Deepa Ganesh

By Adya Rangacharya. Translated by Shashi Deshpande
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2006, pp. 186, Rs. 200.00


Writers and literary works have never been in isolation to the dominant forces of their times. One of Kannada’s early playwrights, Adya Rangacharya (1904-84, popularly known as Sri Ranga) was no exception to this. The turbulences of a nation (in whatever form it existed then) in the pre-Independence times, the state that was still a nebulous idea, the Marathi-Kannada overlaps, individual vs the nation-state, all this was clearly visible in Sri Ranga’s preoccupation as a playwright, who began his writing in the pre-Independence period. However, during the later years of his writing, with sweeping political transformations, India’s Independence, the Nehruvian era and its promises, and the unification of Karnataka, it is evident that Sri Ranga’s anxieties changed with the altering socio-political ethos.   It is also crucial to recognize Sri Ranga as a playwright from North Karnataka, for, the impact and the cultural response of the region to the colonial regime was vastly different from that of the flourishing Mysore region. For Sri Ranga, and many others like him—who were not part of the Freedom Movement in a direct way—writing became a tool of protest, also an expression of the Gandhian, satwika mode. One can find many instances of this in the Navodaya Movement of Kannada literature too: writers who pitched in their might to the Movement with writings charged with nationalistic emotions. If in the early plays of Sri Ranga one sees the enormous influence of Gandhism in his desire for social change, in the plays that came in the post-Independence period, the disillusionment with the collapse of social responsibilities and individuals rid with hypocrisies and contradictions, is evident.   Opening Scene is a competent translation by Shashi Deshpande of Sri Ranga’s early memoirs published as Aatma Jignaase in 1973. The Kannada original, Saahitiya Aatmajignaase, is a comprehensive text; it contains in it his changed perceptions on the autobiography. The English version however, limits itself to the early memoirs. Read the first few lines of Sri Ranga’s Foreword to Saahitiya Aatmajignaase and you know you have entered a different time and space. You encounter an alert, thinking mind, constantly putting itself through a revaluation. Read these lines: ‘My friends have been insisting that I should write the second part. But I was not ready. I was not in a hurry to speculate my “end” and write about it. In 1979, my views changed. It’s ...

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