BENGALURU: Jnanpith laureate Chandrashekar Kambar’s latest book examines the despair of farmers, tracing it, among other things, to the treachery of officialdom.
He began writing Shivana Dangura (Shiva’s Drum), slated for release on Sunday, about four years ago, and the recent spate of farmer suicides in the state has only confirmed what he had feared all along.
Paradoxically, Mandya and Belagavi, the two districts worst affected by the serial suicides, are the best irrigated in Karnataka, he told Express in an interview.
How do you explain the suicides then?
Farmers in these districts only grow commercial crops. Sugarcane needs water for 10 months. They are not like farmers in other districts, who align their lives to the rains. Here, they lay pipes and take loans to be able to do that. And then, nothing is in their hands.
The crushing happens elsewhere, and the sugar is produced in a factory over which they have no control. They end up in debt and distress. My novel is not directly about this, but I have written about something related, something that happened in my village that I know of personally.
Where do you think things have gone wrong?
Something is fundamentally wrong. Our relationship with the earth has changed. The earth was our mother, but now we see her as a cheap woman who can earn us quick money. But that is not all. When we won independence, 97 per cent of the country indulged in farming. Yet, we planned an economy that favoured the remaining 3 per cent, the bureaucratic class.
During the British rule, the officials were servants of the Queen. They made rules for their own benefit. That did not change after independence. What a family of 10 peasants earns in a year, after extreme toil, is way less than what an IAS officer earns in a month. What is the use of such an economy?
Can we continue to talk about an India living in the villages?
Politicians from our mainstream parties now say agriculture cannot sustain our people, and we must industrialise and build more cities.
That is not possible. Gandhi knew our reality. He did not believe in a culture of competition. We are a country of 64,000 castes, 33,000 deities, 12 calendars. Such plurality you can’t see anywhere in the world. But we went after Nehru. Agriculture is the origin of all our festivals. Our scriptures come from agriculture. Without agriculture, we have no peace.
What is the metaphoric meaning of Shiva’s drum, which lends its title to your book?
In our myth, Shiva’s dangura beats the final warning. If we don’t wake up now, we are in for destruction. The British took away our education, our engineering, our medicine. Our way of dressing is gone. Even our food is going now. If we push our farmers to corporatise themselves, and to look at their land as rent-earning capital — as happened when Modi took the Nano project to Gujarat — we do not respect their work, their dignity. That is why I am disappointed with Modi. Is this the way a great leader thinks? He only talks about smart cities.
Why did you choose the novel form to tell this story?
A novel is read more than a play. My novel Shivaratri came three years ago. People have read my novels Shikhara Surya (Sun on the Peak) and Singarevva Mattu Aramane (Singarevva and the Palace). They will read this, too.
Isn’t theatre your favourite medium?
But where is theatre today? There is no audience. Only when there is a vibrant theatre atmosphere does a playwright feel like writing. He needs to interact with the directors, the actors, the audience. Many troupes and repertories are active. The government is going all out to fund and support theatre. Don’t ever think they are real theatre. What they do is not the theatre you stage and watch. It is theatre you read and discuss. Yakshagana is real theatre. Do you know their shows are booked for the next 15-20 years? Can you imagine such a thing? It is theatre of the people. The audiences pay and patronise the art. We also had company drama. They were professionals who went around entertaining people, putting up colourful dramas. Because of the influence of cinema, they are in a bad shape today. We should do whatever we can to bring them back.
Is theatre in decline?
Yes. It is in decline here, across India, even in Europe. It is in decline the world over. A play does not excite people like it used to. I remember the days when a play would be discussed and debated as soon as it was written and performed.
So what happened to the play you were writing about Veerappan the bandit? Readers have been anticipating it for years.
For one reason or the other, I have not been able to complete it. Yes, it is something I am working on. I don’t know when I am going to complete it.
What should India do when Shiva starts beating the dangura?
If we don’t wake up now, we will lose everything. The Americans have lost all their folklore. An American child can’t tell you a folk story. The Mahabharata had just 6,000 verses, and now it has 1.49 lakh verses. As a nation, we are story-tellers like no other.
We are in danger of losing our imagination if we destroy our farmers and our villages. Let us have the modern world, their thoughts, their debates. But let us not lose what we have. Don’t force the farmers to migrate from the villages. Give them education, give them health. Only then will we have an emotional world that can protect us from devastation.