Beckoning the literary lover

Beckoning the literary lover

Beckoning the literary lover

The first Rashtrakavi of Kannada, Manjeshwara Govinda Pai has left behind a rich legacy. Long neglected after his death, work on converting his old house into a memorial began in 2006. Yet, much needs to be done, feels Ashwani Kumar N K R.

The immortal fruit hanging in the tree of death (Marana Vrkshadalli tooguttiruva amara phala). These words are a matchless metaphor for Jesus being crucified atop Golgotha Hills—given by none other than Kannada’s first Rashtrakavi (national poet) Manjeshwara Govinda Pai, in his collection of poems Golgotha.

Born in Manjeshwara in 1883, Govinda Pai was guided by teachers like Panje Mangesha Rao, one of the pioneers of Kannada literary renaissance.

A kind-hearted landlord, patriot and an avid researcher, Govinda Pai was known for his scholarship and canvas of knowledge which spanned 25 languages.

Gommata Jinastuti, Nandadeepa, Gilivindu, Hrudaya Raga, Golgotha and Vaishakhi are his poetry collections. He also has to his credit plays like Hebberalu and Chitrabhanu and the Kannada translation of Japanese play No among others.

Pai’s galaxy of research works comprised of the antiquity of Kannada language and literature, time period-determination of ancient poets, history of Tulunadu, stone slab and palm leaf inscriptions, foreign historians, Jainism, Buddhism and Vaidika dharma.

Pai’s experiments with poetry raised many eyebrows with the creation of Kannada sonnets and blank-verses by him. This experiment way back in 1903 was taken so seriously by others that Pai’s dearest friend Holis Bhima Rao even wrote a sharp letter to him, criticising the experiment. He mentioned that after reading one of Pai’s poems where he had experimented by way of omitting rhyme, he (Rao) had fallen off his chair in shock! His life itself is an epic--these words by another poet laureate Kuvempu says it all.

Pai was among the few patriotic poets who bridged the gap between Kannada and Malayalam languages through literature, setting a noble example of national integration. Moreover, his name was synonymous with the unification of our state. The Madras Government bestowed the title of Rashtrakavi on Govinda Pai in 1949.

Owing to ill health, the poet had humbly rejected the honorary doctorate conferred on him by the Mysore University in 1963. He passed away the same year.

The residence of the poet still stands in Manjeshwara in Kasaragod – a silent testimony to its rich legacy. Now recognised as “Rashtrakavi Manjeshwara Govinda Pai Memorial’ by both Karnataka and Kerala Governments, the poet’s house awaits a rediscovery of its literary heritage.

Unique example

It is perhaps also a unique example where two separate committees, the Rashtrakavi M Govinda Pai Smaraka Samithi in Kerala and the Rashtrakavi M Govinda Pai Smaraka Pratishtana in Karnataka, are hoping to serve the same noble cause for, the immortal literature of Manjeshwara Govinda Pai has transcended the boundary of language and has been instrumental in bringing the states of Karnataka and Kerala in committing themselves to restore the memorial to its original and intended glory.

In 2006, during the 125th birth anniversary of the poet, the renovation work of Pai’s house was taken up by the memorial committees. Later, Gilivindu, a project named after one of Pai’s famous poem collections was drawn up. Under the project, the poet laureate’s residence was renovated and two guest houses — Saketha and Vaishakhi were constructed in the Manjeshwara Govinda Pai Memorial premises for the benefit of visitors. Work to construct an auditorium, Bhavanika, meant for cultural and literary activities, is expected to start soon.  The memorial houses a library containing six thousand books related to the poet.

Among them are Pai’s collection of self-composed poems and other works published by Kavyalaya Prakashana, Mysore. It also houses furniture used by the poet during his lifetime, including a chair and writing desk where he composed some of his greatest works. Now, they stand as mute witnesses to Govinda Pai’s discussions on literature with his contemporaries, literature lovers and well-wishers, who considered Pai’s house a literary paradise.

Sadly, the memorial today is but a pale shadow of the aspirations of its owner and subsequent guardians. While the building’s facade is better maintained, at the back is a different story, displaying signs of apathy. Cracks have developed on the walls covered in moss, rendering a sharp contrast to the other parts of the building. Time those in charge took care of this aspect and restored the memorial to its splendour, allowing seekers of a heritage a glimpse into a fine chapter in our literary history.                                     

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