The essential human struggle

The essential human struggle

Sirisampige, a collection of some of his finest plays, is a treat. While Kannada readers and theatre-goers have been familiar with the plays for long, the English translation helps connect with a larger audience.

Having said that Kambar’s plays are replete with rich folk metaphors, one must note that one of the most touching plays of the collection is ‘The Scapegoat’ (‘Harakeya Kuri’). It is not set in the agrarian world of Shivapura, but in Bangalore. The world that Kambar writes about here has none of the Patelas, Gowdathis or the primordial rituals he writes about in the rest of his plays. Here, he addresses the dilemmas and the crises a middle class couple faces in an urban jungle, and their need to survive in a powerful world.

Going back to Kambar’s folk metaphors, there is ‘Sirisampige’, the play that gives the collection its title. Much like Karnad’s ‘Nagamandala’, ‘Sirisampige’ is a powerful play that addresses issues of a woman’s sexuality, which is another important theme in Kambar’s plays. Here, Shivanaga, a young prince who marries Sirisampige reluctantly, is lost in his own dilemmas, when a cobra pursues her and takes the form of Shivanaga to woo her. ‘Jokumaraswami’ is yet another popular play, set in a world where themes of sexuality, fertility and power play an important role.

Here too, the Gowdathi craves for Gowda’s attentions, but instead it is Basanna, who stands on a much lower step in the village’s social hierarchy, who actually woos and wins the Gowdathi. But, Basanna eventually has to bow to the Gowda’s power, and meets a gory end. Still, Basanna lives on, as he himself remarks just before his death, in Gowdathi’s womb.

A woman, much like the earth is the life-giver and her sexual desires fulfill the larger purpose of the need to continue the cycle of life. The woman also becomes Mahamayi — The Mother Supreme in Kambar’s well-known play that goes by the same name. The Mother’s son is Sanjeeva, the physician, the life-giver, and it is the battle between the Mother and son, death versus life that forms the central theme of this play. In the end, life wins. In that sense, it is again the strong will of man to survive in a powerful world battling forces that are immutable and irreconcilable, like death.

What makes these plays interesting is that even as they are grappling with such themes on one level, on yet another more immediate level, they are rich with lyrical imagery. ‘Samba Shiva — A Farce’, ‘Shadow of the Tiger’, ‘Tukra’s Dream’, all entertaining plays in their own right, form the rest of the collection, which ends with Jakkana, the story of the famous sculptor Jakkanachari, and addresses the classic question of form and content in art.

While the quality of Kambar’s plays is excellent, the same cannot be said of all the translations, some of which suffer from poor editing. Such an important work could have done with extra attention to syntax.


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