Will there be any poems in dark times? Yes there will be dark poems in dark times!!!- Bertolt Brecht
G.N. Mohan aptly recollects this poem of Brecht in his foreword to the book “B Negative” by Ravikumar K.S, which attempts to bring the form of sketches, started and popularised by the master story teller Sadat Hassan Manto, to Kannada.
This book, which is a collection of 38 sketches, attempts to capture the communal violence which surrounds us. They look at the small actors of the mega-narrative of communal violence. Women, children and dalits are the main actors in these sketches.
This sketch encapsulates all the main actors of the sketches: “Mom… vegetable curry!” “Shhh… stop the fuss and eat what I’ve given you. Haven’t sold a thing in four days, they are shouting ‘Hindus! and Muslims!’,” “Why is all this happening Mom?” “What can I say…perhaps just to finish off all other religions to emancipate their own.” “Then who are we, mom?” “We are untouchables, son”, the mother sighed.
The brutality of men is another archetype in the sketches of Ravikumar K.S.As one flips through the pages of the book the echo of Manto is heard and reheard. With flashes of brilliance, “B Negative” fails to escape the shadow of Manto’s sketches. The echo is so obvious that at times one can see Manto’s signature more on certain sketches, than that of Ravikumar.
While it is debatable if it is the failure of Ravikumar or the strength of Manto, Ravikumar accepts the strong influence of Manto on his writings and justifies it saying “I have tried to continue the legacy of Manto.”
Some sketches also appear unconvincing perhaps, because Ravikumar has not directly encountered communal violence. It is through reading newspapers, watching television and reading stories of the Partition that he has sculpted these stories. It is through imagination that he tries to construct the real world and not by witnessed reality, and in that he creates fiction.
But he does succeed in certain places to transcend the inexperience through his creativity. The book is meaningful, specially in the context of the violence in Karnataka. And it is sad that even after more than 60 years of Independence and Partition we are forced to recollect the lines which G.N. Mohan quotes in his foreword:
“This mottled dawn, this night-bitten morning. No this is not the day we had set out in search of!!!” -Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
26 July 2009