Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Remembering Subbanna

A year since Subbanna died; a year that saw Ninasam, his brain child, relocate itself and find its new bearings without his phenomenal presence felt ubiquitously yet unobtrusively for more than four decades; a year that witnessed a sudden spurt of activities as if to challenge death’s inevitability with human sagacity. It was also a year of unemotional obsequiousness offered to a great man who in his life time was able to transform a dithering village community into a group of connoisseurs of art and culture.

Subbanna now conjures up before us only an image – of a fragile frame with a conflation of dark and white beard dotted on a rugged texture of a face. A tiny ‘pan’ bag tucked precariously in the arm pit would necessarily draw people to him for a ‘pan’ and a discussion on issues ranging from the price of areca to literature and to politics and decentralization that saw his reddish lips quiver beneath a pair of glossy eyes hidden behind his fat framed spectacles. Subbanna would as animatedly talk to younger souls as he did to scholars from world over who converged at Heggodu making it a confluence of literary and cultural terms.

The same grace and warmth may be missing now. But then the legacy he has left behind will for sure enliven this tiny village ambience that would remain incorruptible despite a global and corporate bonhomie trying to dislodge it. Subbanna’s absence would be all the more conspicuous.

Back in Heggodu, after finishing his honours degree, Subbanna had a mission to perform. The British had not left India. The freedom struggle was at its peak. As Subbanna himself would say, there was an upsurge of energy waiting to be translated into a zeal, an urge to do something. Alongside an embittered mass trying to drive the British out, there existed an unimaginably insouciant people tethered to a traditional hook-up.

Subbanna had to respond to both kinds of people - the surged up as also those in stupor. He channeled the excess energy along the road of culture and woke up the slumbered lot to the realities of time. Subbanna improvised his traditional wisdom lacing it with lores of modernism on his way to morphing an endangered consciousness into a repertoire of literature and culture. Only Gandhi knew, a village had so much to offer. The result - Ninasam was born.

In cultural terms, Subbanna was a true Gandhian. Politically, he was a socialist who contributed immensely to the movement that offered a counter discourse to the land owning patriarchy. He answered with his concept of a village many of his adversaries, Marx, for instance, who spoke of ‘village idiocy’ privileging economic development alone over other values. He thought big! But Subbanna like Gandhi focused on the very mundane and ordinary.

Subbanna was not an aesthete in the true sense as he strongly felt his cultural and literary preoccupations had to be tempered with the politics of time. Subbanna was a rigid practitioner of an art that always made a political statement. As a socialist, he thought the sound of a bullock cart was as important. At the same time he wanted politics to be rid of its insidious communal appeal. He was equally distrustful of violence of any kind which he felt would overwhelmingly strengthen the state and ultimately pronounce doom on democratic institutions.
Subbanna’s discourses on art and literature as also on culture and society project him as an avid reader of contemporary politics who situated himself very strongly in democratic foundations.

Subbanna’s philosophy of getting attuned to a work force had always hinged on community participation. He never claimed Ninasam was only his and made possible only by his efforts. He made people believe Ninasam was their’s too. Any institution should endure only with people participating in it and as long as they want it. He was therefore against state funding of cultural projects. He rejected the Ford grant when offered the second time as it would deviate Ninasam from the people.

Till the end Subbanna insisted, many places like Heggodu should blossom and operate as a cultural alternative to globalisation – not through state funding but through people’s will. At a time when culture is commodified and multinational agencies are very keen on opening cultural centres of excellence in cities and metropolises, Subbanna remains as a guiding spirit, a beacon whose inveterate ideological indebtedness to democracy as a people’s governance would for a long time keep at bay global operators of culture and art.

‘Excellence’ is a word too often heard. For Subbanna, excellence of any kind was only a pathological obsession which derailed the very idea of progress. By progress, he did not mean development through dams and bombs. But it had a spiritual and metaphysical oeuvre making one at the same time look inwards. Art experience was never apolitical for him. But then it was neither too political to erase our social and cultural memories. On the other hand, it would take us beyond categories of time into the metaphysics of being. He was equally disdainful of politics that refused to allow itself a space beyond its delimited scope of the mundane and ordinary. At the highest level, the experiences of art and politics coalesce at the same point and space. If Subbanna had a specific aesthetics in mind, it was to achieve this space!

A day long function was held to mark the first death anniversary of Subbanna ( July 16 ). A seminar on ‘Crisis in contemporary culture and politics’ was held in the morning followed in the evening by a production of a Shakespeare’s play ‘Measure for Measure’ translated and directed by Subbanna’s son Akshara.

A great play which addresses issues of religion and politics at one end and sex and morality at another, ‘Measure for Measure’ has had a powerful contemporary appeal too. The cast included amateurs from Ninasam who regaled the audience as much as any professionals would. Staid and pedantic while communicating the serious, the play became alive at points where kingship was a butt of ridicule and gossip.

A fine tribute to Subbanna in the end.

1 comment:

Thejaswi said...

Hey!! This is really fantastic!! Very nice to know about this blog and writings of PVS. Do keep it up.

This is one of the best write-ups on Subbanna.