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This is an account of the first Neenasam camp I attended in 2005. Now that I read it again, I find that a lot has changed. My writing, hopefully for the better, and certainly my opinions on the camp itself. I will try to clarify the latter part and also review the following narration in another post. For now, you can read it as an enthusiastic review of a remarkable annual event.

After a drive lasting around an hour and a half from Shimoga, one enters the village of Heggodu – a place surrounded by rampant greenery; pleasantly infested by areca-nut plantations and whose inhabitants are amicable to say the least. In a way, all the natural splendour (for someone from Bangalore, the healthy trees invoke nostalgia, not familiarity) seems to seamlessly blend with the quiet revolution that this place has been home to.
Heggodu has been hosting one of the most extraordinary annual cultural gatherings in India, which has made ordinary villagers accept the arts as a happy way of life; where curious visitors – both famous and otherwise have visited to experience and feel part of this splendid festival of sorts.
This year, the culture camp at Neenasam (an acronym for Neelakantheshwara Nataka Samsthe) was pregnant with poignancy. The institution had lost its mentor, K.V. Subbanna a few months ago. He had taken over the reins of Neenasam from his father who had started it in 1949. With a keen eye for the then modern, high-quality cinema and his roots firmly based on a love for the theater, Subbanna managed to open up the world for his village. In 1979, he had organized a film appreciation course where around 70 films were shown to an eager audience at the Shivaram Karanth Rangamandira (a structure which is yet another proof of the vision of Subbanna) in the space of a week!
Thus, this year, without the man who had championed this monumental movement, some may have harboured doubts over its functioning. But as U.R. Ananthamurthy said on the inaugural day, Subbanna had not only set out on an improbable journey, he had also prepared a sincere team of people who would carry his dreams along.
Neenasam – Cultural Camp 2005

Violence – left and right, was the subject of discussion this year. From 9.30 in the morning to 6.00 in the evening, experts from various walks of life took part in these discussions, for a whole week.
There were more than a 100 participants who had come from various parts of the state and country. Students, engineers, doctors, theater enthusiasts – young and old, NGO workers, wannabe writers, all made up this cauldron of diversity.
The keynote address was delivered by former Development Commissioner of Karnataka, Chiranjeevi Singh. With vast experience from watching the state’s system of crime (having worked in areas affected by naxalism), Singh gave a straightforward, almost cold, account of facts. An interesting point that he made was about the basic ground of defence that naxals use for their behaviour. Singh said that unlike the contention that it is the poor who take to arms, quite a lot of well-to-do people indulge in these activities.
He also took pride in the fact that it had been in his time in office that the allocation of Rs.30 lakhs, annually, for each Gram Panchayat, was ordered.
Shiv Vishwanathan, the social scientist, while commenting on Singh’s speech felt the rightist violence was as dangerous as it was because there wasn’t an element of confusion in the perpetrators. This confusion, or an uncertainty over the result of their actions, would indeed be the only factor that could bring about a change in their thoughts.
The same day, after Chiranjeevi Singh’s address, two speakers, Giraddi Gopalraj and G. Rajashekhar, spoke on violence in today’s Karnataka. While Gopalraj’s speech was a serene study of the unconsciously accepted corruption of Kannada, Rajshekhar’s was a theoretical rendition of views borne out of unabashed activism. The latter’s study was a vigorous attack on all kinds of violence even if, at times, the speaker seemed to cover an entire gamut of the subject in too short a time.
U.R. Anathamurthy, during the following discussions wondered if writers ought to be more daring in their approach. He cited Da. Ra. Bendre and Chandrashekhar Kambar (who was also present during the discussion) as examples of such writers.
Each day of the programme featured a cultural event at 7.00 in the evening at the Shivaram Karanth Rangamandira. The first day played host to Neenasam’s own play, Patharagithi Pakka. Based on a Federico Garcia Lorca play, and featuring a fine blend of Bendre’s poetry, it showcased the exciting talent this theater group possessed. Directed by K.V. Akshara, Patharagithi used modern song-and-dance sequences with Bendre’s poetry to lasting effect. Though Lorca’s story might have lost its charm following years of plundering it received from Father Time, Akshara’s direction and the energy of the music and cast surely makes this a must-see.
On the second day, Sunder Sarukkai, made a presentation on Violence and Science. With his background in Physics and Philosophy, Sarukkai made a calculated break-down of the role of science in violence. In what turned out to be a precursor to a more remarkable analysis of science and violence that would follow a few days later, he talked about the finite and the infinite parameters, which again, one felt, somehow pointed to Shiv Vishwanathan’s call for uncertainty.
Dr. Venkat Rao, from the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad, presented a paper on Violence of Action and Memory. While he sung songs from his memory of childhood and showed videos of the Naxalite activist, Gadar, Rao also spoke at length on epistemic memory, allusions, and what he referred to as, mnemoculture.
The second day’s cultural event in the evening was theater-person Atul Tiwari’s version of Romeo and Juliet. Unlike the first day’s play, this Neenasam production seemed half-baked. Firstly, the task on hand for Tiwari and his crew was to make the everyday story of two lovers look interesting. That they couldn’t do it was not unacceptable. But most of the factors in the play looked jaded; not the least, the acting. This was surprising as just the previous evening the same cast had performed outstandingly in Patharagithi Pakka. There were also those utterly redundant, and hence irritating, interludes featuring two musicians who act as Sutradhars, and hum the same tune throughout the play. Tiwari, during the next day’s discussion session felt his actors could do a lot better, but perhaps the idea of performing Shakespeare even in this day (with hardly any novelties) provides little space for curiousity. What was striking also was the idolization of the 18th-century playwright by people involved in theater. Even if one accepts the colossal form that Shakespeare is to this day, does he in some way kill creativity in modern times? Or is it just much ado about nothing?
Shiv Vishwanathan would come back, now with a full-fledged presentation, speaking with energy and gusto which somehow most social scientists seem to be blessed with. He spoke on violence, politics and the combustible combination the two make. He talked about the panoptical surveillance idea of the 18th century devised by Jeremy Bentham, whose theory still seems attractive to well-off governments. (The Panopticon was an architectural design which was so sophisticated that the inmates of a penitentiary were always watched by a controller, but the controller was never visible to the inmates.)
Vishwanathan’s widely researched lecture was so full with ideas and views that at one point it became difficult to keep pace with him. As he agreed later on, to simplify his dramatic speech, he would have needed a few more hours than what he got.
The afternoon session on the third day featured what were to be the two best plays of the week. Neenasam not only has three theater groups of its own (one of them is the Thirugaata which travels around carrying two new plays every year, and has scores of shows each year), but it also encourages people inside the institution – like the faculty members – to form groups of their own. One such offshoot is the group formed by a teacher at Neenasam, Ganesh. His two plays, Shraddha and Hanathe, based on Shrinivas Vaidya’s short stories, were both simple and touching – two qualities that generally elude modern experiments. With minimal props, the two plays made a deep impact as if they had come straight out of R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi Days.
Vaidya, who, during the inaugural day’s introduction had claimed that he had always missed the bus to literary achievement, spoke about how his works had been recognized by Subbanna, and why there was a need for unknown authors to be recognised thus.
As a repartee to Vaidya’s views, Kannada literary critic and teacher, Kee. Ram. Nagaraj, said that anybody who felt there was a specialized group that scoured the land for a new writing star, was mistaken.
The third day’s evening play was called Talakadugonda. It was a historical and was anything but arresting. However, what puzzled and delighted anyone who sat through the show and hurried for his dinner after that was how quickly the actors on stage had changed jobs. All the cast members were amateurs (this was another of Neenasam’s theater groups) and most of them worked in helping out visitors like us during our stay there. Thus, while the cook in the mess became a queen’s confidante in the play, the person in-charge of the day-to-day arrangements would play a courtier. Even more astonishing was the fact that before we made our way to the mess, the actors had shed their mascara and were ready to serve.
The fourth day saw the first presentation from Anand Patwardhan, the well-known documentary film-maker. But before Patwardhan came up with an excerpt of his films, Shiv Vishwanathan presented the second part of his lecture. This time, he spoke of the poignancy of partition. He rated, among others, Franz Kafka’s works and Alexander Solzenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago as works which had profound political significance.
Mark Lindley, an American expert on Gandhi, gave a presentation on globalization and violence. He also focused on the failings of Richard Attenborough’s much-acclaimed film on the Mahatma.
That evening, Hindustani Classical musician, Rajshekhar Mansur, from the Jaipur Athroli Gharana, performed in front of an appreciative audience.
There was more of Mansur, as the next morning, he held a sort of interview-demonstration as he sung various compositions with Manu Chakravarthy making the requests.
Then, Patwardhan screened his Father, Son and Holy War, to an audience which was surprisingly in good spirits for a film like that. The reason was not far away. The documentary focused on the subject of masculinity and violence. Somehow, while dealing with a subject as serious as the Sati rituals and communalism, it produced laughter thanks to the clever editing. One wonders, for effectiveness, if there is at all any other way to document violence than ultra-seriously; because, for all his good intention, Patwardhan’s Father, Son and Holy War seemed even frivolous at times.
The evening had to endure one major absentee of this year’s programme. T.M. Krishna, the Carnatic singer, failed to arrive thanks to heavy rains in Chennai. As a replacement, Patwardhan’s War and Peace was screened. A rabid criticism of the nuclear programme, War and Peace seemed to follow the same rule book that Father, Son and Holy War adhered to. Juxtaposition of ironical shots drawing humour and interest; past talks by leaders and scientists to achieve that irony; normal villagers speaking out against the programme, etc. all form the basis of War and Peace.
In the following day’s response to his films, Patwardhan was taken aback when Sunder Sarukkai came up with a few explanations from scientists to the criticism the film leveled against the nuclear programme. The scientists contended, Sarukkai said, that the nuclear arms race and nuclear energy development are two fields that are conveniently confused by activists. The nuclear energy development according to them has become a necessity so as to support India’s spiraling ride of consumerism. They also felt that the plants set-up in India have all been safer than other energy sources and the number of diseases or deaths reported due to nuclear radiation in India was also negligible. Also, an even greater danger of waste disposal came from discarded computer hardware, Sarukkai added.
This clinical tabling of an opposite perspective seemed to unbalance Patwardhan’s defence. He had earlier accepted that even for a documentary film-maker like him, it is impossible to avoid taking sides. He had even mentioned that given the amount of footage he has to edit for each film, the end result becomes, in some ways, a work of fiction. However, an unbiased approach, if at all it is possible, might have given him more substance for a discussion. In another film of his, the Narmada Diary, shown later, Patwardhan had replaced his clever editing for a style which was a mere record of his and co-director Simantini Dhuru’s days with the Narmada Bachao Andolan and its chief activist Medha Patkar. This film was his best of the three shown. It was one-sided, alright, but there was a certain simplicity about it which effectively drove home his view that innumerable villages face a watery death thanks to the hope that the dam would send more water to the cities. In all, Patwardhan’s was an eventful visit, which if analysed, could bring about a discussion on the role of activism in the visual medium.
Later on, literary critic Samik Bandyopadhyay, a regular Neenasam visitor for some years now, spoke on violence in such mediums as films. He also screened the latter half of Akira Kurosawa’s Ran. One of his last films, Kurosawa’s Ran is an unrelenting study of violence with Shakespeare’s King Lear as a basis.
An interesting discussion took place in an evening session when Ashadevi, Savitha Nagabhushana and author, Vaidehi, spoke on violence related to women. While Ashadevi’s was a cold, honest look at the subject, Savitha Nagabhushana read a few verses of hers and Vaidehi read a delightful story that she had written.
On the penultimate day of the culture course, Jaimini Pathak performed a one-act play called Mahadevbhai; an experimental play on the life of Mahatma Gandhi’s secretary. This play too was a worthy addition to the list of positives derived from the week-long event.
Sadananda Menon, journalist-cum-photographer-cum-theater lighting expert, was the next key speaker. His first point was on the depiction of statistics. Arguing that when someone says 44% of India earns less than a dollar a day, he means that 44 crore people are so poor. Menon felt this is a simple reason for the rise of naxalism. He was scathing in his condemnation of the government’s policy towards eradicating naxalism, where Rs. 2000cr are allotted to counter it, but only Rs. 20cr were sanctioned for further development in such areas. Menon felt the surge of capitalism would create a greater divide between the rich and the poor and there had to be contextual solutions for each situation.
The tour-de-force speech was left to the fag end of the course. After the feedback session on the final day, U.R. Ananthamurthy extemporized on the core subject of debate. He spoke of a writer’s predicaments while chronicling right-wing violence and also about his tryst with the Left’s workings in earlier times. He felt the more one tried to describe the background of a rebellious faction, one felt their acts or views justifiable. The feeling of helplessness few writers felt when he had to balance the narration of violent acts of one community by mentioning an equal amount of violence by another community was also something he touched upon. Much of Ananthamurthy’s views were interspersed with anecdotes from his life. He seemed to be someone who had attained a state of simplicity that only experience provides.
The final performance of the week was a dance programme by a troupe choreographed by Chandralekha. As each leg and arm of the dancers took the longest route possible from one body part to another, with the Gundecha brothers’ Dhrupad vocals as background, the curtain came down on the magnificent idea of the culture course.
A note has to be added about the volunteers who kept the daily goings-on steady with their efficiency; the current batch of students and their early morning Kolaata; the exceptional quality of translation by Jaswanth Jadhav and of course the village of Heggodu which bears Subbanna’s ideas with pride.