BENGALURU: ‘Duryodhana’ thunders on stage mouthing powerful dialogues to the cries of ‘Once more’ and loud applause. Nobody would imagine that this artiste is actually the Engineer-in-Chief of the Water Supply Board. Mention the names of ‘Krishna’ or ‘Duryodhana’, his face lights up. For, these characters of the mythological world, far removed from the everyday cares Kemparamaiah faces in ensuring drinking water to all Bengalureans, are truly magical for him.
The 57-year-old engineer’s passion for the theatre fetched him an honorary doctorate in ‘Social Activities’ by the New Delhi-based Indian Virtual University of Peace and Education in 2017. Bengaluru Development Minister K J George felicitated him recently for this rare achievement.
Kemparamaiah’s love for the theatre dates back to his childhood, when he grew up savouring stage performances at hometown, Alilaghatta village in Tumukuru district. Grandfather R Linge Gowda, a ‘Jatre’ performer, was his first role model.
At 11, when Kemparamaiah debuted on stage at school as ‘Shalya’ in the play ‘Kurukshetra’, he was deafened by chants of ‘Once more’ . Recalling his debut, the Engineer says, “I did not have the slightest stage fear even then.” Strongly attracted towards negative roles, ‘Mahishashura’ and ‘Rakta Beejasura’ were his favourites.
A topper at his alma mater, Government Primary and Secondary School in his village, Kemparamaiah was offered a scholarship to study at Siddaganga High School. After his PU course at the Government Arts and Science College in Tumakuru, Kemparamaiah relocated to Hubballi and joined B V Booma Reddy Engineering College to study Electrical engineering (1979 to 1985).
“I joined the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) as an Assistant Engineer in 1987. It was here that my theatre life revived.” At the Harohalli pumping station, Kemparamaiah donned the grease paint to impersonate Duryodhana in ‘Kurukshetra’, a performance given a rapturous response by the villagers.
He was later transferred to Thoraikadanahalli and then to Thippagondanahalli. Kemparamaiah clearly remembers the year 1998. “That was when the water in the TG Halli lake touched its highest level of 74 feet. I performed the ‘Teppotsava’ to celebrate it.” With the BWSSB having three cultural organisations including ‘Kaveri Kala Sangha’, Kemparamaiah took to the stage for all official functions.
In July 2004, he got a chance to perform in Ravindra Kalakshetra for the first time. “I donned the role of Krishna and it was a memorable day for me.” He later donned the persona of Bhima, Drona, Ravana and so on on this coveted stage. “I love depicting the role of Duryodhana, my favourite character,” he says. His family — wife, two daughters and a son — make it a point to watch his performances.
Meanwhile, professional career progressed. He became an Additional Chief Engineer in 2005, Chief Engineer of Quality Assurance in 2008 and finally the EIC, the No. 2 post in BWSSB, in August 2016.
Simulataneously, his theatre career flourished. He won three awards in 1996: the International Women’s Indira Priyadarshini award, the Karunadashree award and the Karnataka Padmashree award. Social worker Mahesh Gowda noticed his stellar performance as ‘Duryodhana’ in the play, Bhabra Bhahu and recommended his name for the doctorate degree.
Any regrets? “My dream to enter the Sandalwood industry remained unfulfilled. Many big names in cine industry like B.Jayashree and Girish Karnad, had a strong background in theatre,” he says. The role of EIC is highly demanding with four Chief Engineers reporting to him. “I try my best to give performances whenever time permits. But life is very hectic in the Water Board due to work,” he says. “One can perform in plays as a hobby but it can never be one’s main livelihood,” he cautions. With retirement imminent in July 2020, one hopes Kemparamaiah gets surplus time to pursue his first love.
How does he memorise pages and pages of dialogues? “I was a very good student and possessed a good memory. So, memorising speeches, though they were in old Kannada was never a problem. I could look at the dialogues just once and could deliver them. However, once I forgot a couple of lines when playing the role of Ravana in the play ‘Prachanda Ravana’ at Ravindra Kalakshetra. It was just
a few seconds and then I managed!”
Asked about any unforgettable episode in his theatre life, Kemparamaiah says, “A minor fire accident occurred on the stage after one of my plays at Ravindra Kalakshetra. It was doused immediately and none of us were affected as the play had been completed.”
In Father’s Footsteps
One of the daughters of Kemparamaiah, K Manjushree, has also taken to the theatre. She donned the male role twice in a performance given by an all-girls troupe in her college, where she is pursuing her MCA degree