Neelam Mansingh Choudary
I met Shivram Karanth when I was in my second year at the National School of Drama in 1974. Although I had never heard of him or of Yakshagana, a form of dance he came to teach, I knew for sure that I was in the presence of greatness.
“Growing Up Karanth” is a powerful and radiantly stunning autobiography that gives insight into the life and times of Koto Shivram Karanth. It is a warm and revealing book, so full of vivid images that the reader enters into the time and terrain of his life. Like one participant, I felt witness to the bustling noises of his home and creative spaces, full of life and sulfur.
The book is full of magic and short stories that make the reader “contemplate” the life of a man who spanned the worlds of literature, popular science, social activism, yakshana, and politics. Amar Chitra Kata wrote stories in Kannada, illustrated with illustrations, and then translated into English, with credit for the translator, a satirical fact.
A man is multidimensional, with multidimensional qualities, it is impossible to talk about him in singularity. One can only understand his genius in the loops and swirls flying in different directions, reconfigured, and reassembled to present an icon warrior standing tall in the complex of Indian artists, intellectuals and scholars.
Karanth was a brilliant figure in Karnataka, but unfortunately, his genius and achievements are not well known outside his state. We hope the autobiography, written by his three children, will fill this gap. Karanth had four children. The eldest, Harsha, died in 1961. The other three, Malavika Kapoor, Ulas Karanth and Kshama Rao, came together to write his autobiography which is certainly not a eulogy for children who remember their deceased father. It is personal, subjective and explanatory; With warts, wounds, nuts and bolts, no attempt at valuation.
The three children sometimes wrote about the same incident through their individual experience, giving a diverse perspective to a complex man with a complex mind. This method of inquiry was to revisit their most powerful childhood experiences, and to investigate these experiences sympathetically, within the framework of the unfolding social and political constraints of the time.
The book has the form, quality, and vibrancy of a conversation with the reader – the story of people, places, and events as they occur; Colorful stories of his family members. the influence of friends and mentors on his life; the legends and mysteries that surrounded it; Personal details, hitherto undisclosed, emerge, shift and transform in his art and life.
One feels as if you have entered Karanth’s house, smelled the various cuisines, inhaled the aroma of spices drying in the sun, played with pets, and watched the mysterious light seeping through the trees, with his beloved wife Leela Alpha Karanth welcomes you with a calm and warm smile.
Leela appears as a vibrant and passionate woman who cemented his life and, very early in the narrative we are introduced to, proposed to Karanth (as she claims, ‘seduced by his beautiful hands’). Her Descent into the Dark by Amnesia is narrated with poignant and sensitive effects, without slipping into emotional pity.
The place of all this work is Balavana, their family home, which has always been open. This was where Karanth wrote and reframed the Yakshagana, by removing the unnecessary paint he had acquired, withdrawing the original impulse and making it palatable to a new generation, without compromise or subterfuge.
On a personal note, working with him was an unforgettable experience. As a student learning Yakshagana at NSD, I felt an irresistible pull at his unbridled energy and unbridled spirit. He was walking to the studio stage wearing a crisp white dhoti and kurta. As soon as he arrived, he would drop his kurta and dance crazily with Dottie’s heights and his jacket would hang over his body. The shaggy white hair, which during dance lessons sprayed with a mist of sweat as he wandered about in a cat abandonment, greatly amusing his students. The two-month workshop culminated in a Yakshagana play, Bhishma Vijaya, based on an episode of Mahabharata.
Karanth, with his big, piercing eyes, like an X-ray machine, made us feel as if he could measure your deepest thoughts. This was his piercing charm! Unashamedly open, his speech, full of sensational slang, debunked the mysticism associated with the teacher/teacher.
In this fascinating and compelling biography, I read that the Kota Brahmins (the Karanth dynasty) followed the Advaita philosophy, their primary deity being Narsimha, the half-lion avatar of Vishnu. A cult-suitable family deity as Karanth resembles the bone of a lion, with his wild white mane and steady gaze that can both burn and love.