“I think that the audience here at the Bangalore Literature Festival reflects the spirit of Bangalore for its Kannada literature. It was encouraging to see a small enthused crowd, who really understood and appreciated literature,” says the poet Nisar Ahmed, who’s a household name in Karnataka.
Twenty years ago he retired as a professor of geology for the undergraduate and postgraduate courses at Central College (Bangalore University), a job he chose over a post as assistant geologist, Mines and Geology, Mysore Government in Gulbarga in the late fifties. “The latter was an executive job, which meant that I often had to be on the move. So after about serving for seven to eight months, I thought I should resign as there didn’t seem to be enough time to write,” he says. Ahmed says that his calling was stronger than the desire for a lucrative job.
“Kannada is not my mother tongue and I’ve never formally studied Kannada literature, but I’ve been writing since my intermediate (pre-university) years though I took it up more seriously after I started BSc Honours,” he says. But it was another unexpected incident that made him the literary genius that he is today - being transferred to Shimoga after marriage. “My little boy wasn’t born yet, and my wife was back in Bangalore. Those years were like penance - I would go off to nearby sugarcane and coconut plantations or orchards by the Tunga channel and sit and read for hours while all my colleagues and friends went into town during the weekends,” he reminisces.
It was then that he was introduced to the treasure house of Kuvempu’s prose, whom he cites as one of his major influences. He also continued writing - both prose and poetry - and he noticed that his language became richer. “Some of my poems like Raman Satta Suddi, Masti(a poetic portrait of the great laureate), Nimmodaniddu Nimmantagade and Nityotsava were written in that solitude,” he shares. Ahmed, whose best known work are Nityotsava, Ella Maretiryvaga, Kurigalu Saar Kurigalu and Benne Kadda Namma Krishna, has also authored several articles and commentaries and translated Pablo Neruda’s Gentleman Alone into Kannada titled Bari Maryadastare as well as Muhammad Iqbal’s Saare Jahan Se Accha. “I was also the first to translate Othello into contemporary Kannada,” he declares, “And many followed my lead.”
On his experience at the lit fest, he says, “Well, my only suggestion is, Kannada culture should be more celebrated, perhaps by putting up pictures of the greats that this region has produced. This will help newcomers understand our heritage.” Lauding the efforts of the organisers, he believes ‘unconventional’ festivals like these in the landscape of Kannada literature will bring writers and their works closer to people.