There are two basic forms of writing. One is in prose and the other in verse. Prose is used both orally and in writing, distinct from verse. The prose follows a basic grammatical structure. In verse, in poetry, there are compromises on grammar and even the use of words and phrases. This is called poetic freedom. It follows a metric structure.
With this brief and succinct introduction to prose and verse, allow me to pick up a book that landed on my desk for review and critique. The title of the book “A Place Apart – Poems From Kodagu” is seductive. It is originally written in the Kodava language, a dialect, using the Kannada script. The author, a junior lecturer at Kodagu and a purebred Kodava.
Much thought and work seems to have gone into the writing and production of this book which features both a translation from the Kodava language (written in Kannada script) into English and a transliteration where the Roman script (English alphabets) is used to write the original poem, just like Kannada is used in the first part of the book which contains 21 poems.
Translation and transliteration are by Kaveri Ponnapa, the famous author of “The Vanishing Kodavas”, a magnum opus of an illustrated book based on research into the Kodava people, their heritage, their culture and a dismal future. She holds an MA in Social Anthropology from London. Naturally, the book gains its importance due to the quality of the translation and transliteration which allows the reader to understand the sound and pronunciation of the Kodava spoken language.
She indeed played the role of James Boswell to Dr. Samuel Johnson, the English lexicographer, so to speak. Of course, Boswell made Johnson more famous by writing a masterpiece of a biography of the latter. So be it. But here, the book of 21 selected Kodava poems written by BP Appanna and translated into English by Kaveri Ponnapa, seems like serendipity for BP Appanna in getting a scholar of Kaveri Ponnapa’s stature to select his works for this English book . To me, these poems, described elsewhere as “poems of deceptive simplicity,” did not seem to depict at all, as claimed, “the sense of dislocation and erosion of identity” of the Kodava people. This was the subject of Kaveri Ponnapa’s book “The Vanishing Kodavas”. Here it is a poetic narration of Kodagu’s natural beauty – the deep green valley, the cloud kissing the peaks of the mountain ranges, the dark forests, the wildlife – almost like soulless, emotionless prose, without inflaming the soul. imagination of the reader.
Even so, this book will surely expose the author and translator to the world outside Kodagu ignoring Kodagu and Kodavas, a land and its people with a distinct geography and culture.
The Kodava language, the dialect, has its vocabulary limited to that of the hunter-gatherer of the early ages related to farming, hunting and skirmishing. Naturally, a Kodava writer or poet must express himself using only this limited vocabulary. To overcome this handicap, he must necessarily borrow words from another language, here Kannada. This is why, for example, in a poem where he should have used the pure kodava word “Bat” for road, he used the word “Marga”, road in Kannada. Possibly for alliteration purposes in the stanza.
The transliteration section of the book testifies to Kaveri Ponnapa’s patience, tenacity and dedication to his work. This is a transliteration of the Kodava poems (written in Kannada script) into Roman, with a Kodava-English key to read them. It provides an opportunity for those who do not know Kannada but know English to approach the sound and meaning of the Kodava language.
According to Kaveri Ponnapa, a romanization like this will provide a practical opportunity to keep the language alive by reaching a maximum number of speakers. Indeed, very true. As she further asserts, “If we are looking for a way to bring endangered languages into the future, we need more speakers (and also readers).”
Here is his final word to those who have tried to develop a new script for the Kodava language, including renowned Kodava author IM Muthanna. She says, “Languages like Kodava Takk don’t need new scripts, they need more accessible scripts that open them up to more speakers or readers.
We read in ‘Alice in Wonderland’, ‘What’s a book without pictures’ and ‘A picture is worth a thousand words.’ Fortunately, for the reader of this book, there is much consolation and compensation when they see these watercolor illustrations of people, places and artifacts in the land of Kodagu, by artist Rupesh Nanaiah. I wish they were in color. They speak more eloquently of the subject of the book than all these words.
I also wish that Kaveri Ponnapa had chosen poems by other Kodava poets for this book as well.
There are some brilliant poems written by non-Kodavas about Kodagu and Kodavas like Panje Mangesh Rao, for example. A Kodava Sanyasi of Ramakrishna Ashram Swami Shambhavananda, IM Muthanna and others have also written about the people, flora and fauna of Kodagu which evoke nostalgia among the ancients and the Diaspora.
Either way, A Place Apart is a significant contribution to the Kodava community and its literature. The book should adorn every Kodava household as well as the libraries of every Kodava Samaja. To purchase the book, contact: Dushyant on WhatsApp 99009-99994 or place your order at: https://www.coorg.com/kaveri.
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