The Indian Village Where Farmers Know Shakespeare & Theatre Is A Way Of Life

The Indian Village Where Farmers Know Shakespeare & Theatre Is A Way Of Life
National Geographic Traveller India

My village, rising from the plain. Shaded with trees and leaves like a piggy bank filled with memories. You’ll see why a person would want to live there forever. Dawn, morning, mid-day, night: all the same, except for the changes in the air. The air changes the color of things there. And life whirs by as quiet as a murmur...the pure murmuring of life.”

Juan Rulfo, Pedro Páramo

And what a village it is. A society united by the love of art in all its many forms and whose communal desire is to share that selfless love is an advanced society indeed. Despite being far removed from India’s towering cities, Heggodu could be considered the modern day monolith of Indian creativity, its stature built upon the an institution questioning and furthering “liberty, resistance, self-hood, equality, democracy, and universality.”

It is a place that gently removes erroneous notions surrounding the intellectual capacity of the ‘common man (or woman)’ like a breath of South Indian wind moving through the thin fronds of a sandalwood sapling, its invisible hands sending a stray leaf on the slow sway down to earth. Although our rendition of their intellectual fruition, a daily occurrence since 1949, will not do the village of Heggodu justice, it may cast a few more curious eyes in the direction of the dusty red road that leads to one of India’s sanctuaries for intellectuals.

The pulse of this village’s passion for knowledge and discussion courses from Ninasam, otherwise known as Nilakanteshwara Natya Seva Sangha, which was established by Kannada writer, dramatist and publisher KV Subbanna in the year 1949. Although KV Subbanna founded the society it originated due to the eagerness with which local culture enthusiasts would meet in the evenings, after finishing their agricultural work, to regularly discuss contemporary issues and events, or host an occasional theatrical production. The Nataka plays of Heggodu and the surrounding area began to morph into bigger and bigger productions, which, in 1969, resulted in the construction of a theater and the decision that the actors would also form a traveling troupe and perform across India.

Still to this day the Ninasam campus lives on for theatre and has partly survived because the centre for the arts follows the guru-shishya custom, where students and teachers have a symbiotic delegation of duties that keep the campus going. That being said the villagers are also intertwined into this custom. The villagers pass through the campus to lend a helping hand or for a stroll, which is an example of how life in Heggodu is nutured by the nature a cohesive, community approach to learning.

Almost every person or piece of writing commenting on this village remarks on how discussions circling the topics of classic movies and plays, even drifting from the vast Kannada sphere, are a part of natural dialogue amongst the villagers. According to The Better India KV Subbana would translate the entire screenplays of movies he wanted to show into Kannada, which is why villagers still fondly remember the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon and Seven Samurai, two films most self-proclaimed film buffs have not seen.

Moreover, Akshara, a publishing house that falls under Ninasam’s canopy of organisations, has furthered much of the literary and theatre learning of the surrounding area. This small publishing entity was established by KV Subbana in 1957 and played a role in India’s literary Modernist movement throught the 1950s and 1960s. They are know for:

I. Publishing a large number of poetry collections unlike many other Kannada publishers.

II. Publishing nonfiction books, such as, literary and cultural criticisms.

III. Publishing books on specialised subjects like theatre, cinema, children’s drama, and the environment.

Although their sales are down because they cater to a niche market and never have recieved bulk buying help from the government Akshara has always offered the locals a bevy of diverse reading material; this might help explain why the the villagers’ literacy rate is around 81 percent, a number one would be hardpressed to find in another village.

Another entity that has helped Hegoddu was a side project of Ninasam’s, which extended from a trust established in 1994 as Kavi-Kavya (Poet-Poetry). It was a originally a literary and cultural organisation intent on forming a training programme for the workers of Anganawadis (Government Childcare Centres) in and around the Heggodu area.

The oragnisation studied village life, spanning: “lifestyle, languages, folklore, theater tradition, agricultural practices, the skills/art of artisans.” They came to find out that the villagers depended too much on agriculture, which was both destroying the local eco-system as well as making the villagers vulnerable to the fluctuations of grain pricing.

Kavi-Kavya realised there was no weaver community in the region and developed such an infrastructure in order to balance out the local economy. In 1996 the Kavi-Kavya Trust handed the entire operation over to 30 female, textile workers forming the Charaka Society, which has expanded and empowered people across Karnataka.

Sriharsha Halemane, an old associate of Ninasam, commented to The Hindu on how he perceives the pros and cons of the level of education in Hedggodu village. “In Heggodu we have a good school, a pre-university college where the pass percentage is 97 per cent this year. Ironically, educated people move out because they want good jobs and those who are not educated leave in search of small jobs.”

India’s constant diaspora from the villages to the city centres is a difficult trend to stop, but at least the majority of villagers leaving Heggodu are departing with a steady grasp on art and culture, which cannot be a bad thing.

Nevertheless, Nisnam’s annual cultural festival continues to draw large numbers of great thinkers. This may be to the only way to sustain the level of education and love for art the village of Heggodu is graced with, and as far as food as for thought goes it may become necessary to host more large, intellectual workshops to fuel the town’s ever-steady fire for learning. One can only hope that Hedgoddu remains one of the few places in India where knowledge is shared like the air we breath.

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