Remembering ‘Nityotsava Kavi’ Nissar Ahmed, one of Kannada literature’s foremost poets

The poet, who passed away last Sunday in Bengaluru, won numerous awards including the Padma Shri in 2008.
Poet Nissar Ahmed
Poet Nissar Ahmed
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In 1968 poet Nissar Ahmed wrote the poem ‘Nityotsava’ for Akashvani (All India Radio) that earned him the title ‘Nityotsava Kavi’. The poem is an ode to a mother, mother Karnataka, or Kannada, and the song was popularised by Mysore Ananthaswamy, who sung it in Revathi raga. In an interview, the poet said that he didn’t want to be remembered for just ‘Nityotsava’.

At an event in California, he was told once you’ve written something, a tune has been set and it is sung, then it’s the property of the land (Nadu) and people, and he responded with “Namo Namaha”. ‘Nityotsava’ is sung as an inaugural song at Dravidian University Kuppam in the four languages taught – Kannada, Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam, each stanza translated.

A poet was born

Kokkare Hosahalli Shekh Haider Nissar Ahmed, who went by KS Nissar Ahmed, was born on February 5, 1936 in Devanahalli, Bengaluru rural. He earned a Master’s degree in Geology, worked as an Assistant Geologist in The Mysore Mines initially till that bored him. He then took up academia and worked as a lecturer in Geology in Bangalore, Chitradurga and Shivamogga from where he retired.

It was at the Kavi Sammelana held on September 21 (Vijayadashami), 1959, presided over by Rashtrakavi Kuvempu at Mysuru, that Nissar Ahmed was first recognised by Kuvempu paving the way for a glorious and illustrious carrier in poetry.

Nissar Ahmed was conferred numerous awards: The Karnataka Sahitya Akademi Award for Poetry (1982), Rajyotsava Award (1981), Nadoja Award (2003), Padma Shri (2008), Pampa Award (2017), and an honorary doctorate from Kuvempu University. He was also the 73rd President for the Kannada Sahitya Sammelana held at Shivamogga in 2007.

When the poet inaugurated the 407th edition of the Mysuru Dasara, he was asked how he felt about being bestowed an honour that has always been a Hindu’s. Annoyed, he replied, “This question is irrelevant. I feel nice. Only when you understand another religion, you really understand your own religion. Unless you have respect and sympathy for other religions, you will not be able to like your own religion. Anyway, such questions are politically motivated.”

Nissar Ahmed translated Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream into Kannada. In 1963, he wrote the poem ‘Kurigalu Saar Kurigalu’ based on the Indo-China War of 1962. On the radio he had heard, “‘Why would the Chinese come from Piking through the Himalayas? Not a blade of grass grows here.’ But by then, they’d already reached Tezpur”. His satirical poem was a witty commentary and reaction to the government’s inability in anticipating attacks, reacting to war, and communicating with its people/public.

ಕುರಿಗಳು ಸಾರ್ ಕುರಿಗಳು

- ಕೆ.ಎಸ್. ನಿಸಾರ್ ಅಹಮದ್

ಕುರಿಗಳು ಸಾರ್ ಕುರಿಗಳು;

ಸಾಗಿದ್ದೇ ಗುರಿಗಳು.

ಮಂದೆಯಲಿ ಒಂದಾಗಿ, ಸ್ವಂತತೆಯೆ ಬಂದಾಗಿ

ಇದರ ಬಾಲ ಅದು ಮತ್ತೆ ಅದರ ಬಾಲ ಇದು ಮೂಸಿ

ದನಿ ಕುಗ್ಗಿಸಿ, ತಲೆ ತಗ್ಗಿಸಿ

ಹುಡುಕಿ ಹುಲ್ಲು ಕಡ್ಡಿ ಮೇವು, ಅಂಡಲೆಯುವ ನಾವು ನೀವು -

ಕುರಿಗಳು ಸಾರ್ ಕುರಿಗಳು;

ನಮಗೊ ನೂರು ಗುರಿಗಳು.

Just Sheep

They’re all just sheep;

Walking towards an end

To be the leading one, to be one’s own

Sniffing each other’s tails

heads and voices lowered

we who’re undercover looking for grass and twigs are

Sheep, just sheep;

And we have a hundred aims.

Poetry of the world

Nissar Ahmed was a member of various academic, scientific and cultural committees/boards, organised conferences. His numerous poems and short stories were published in books and magazines and featured in school and college textbooks. When he taught at City College, he always ended the class by summarising the lesson in Kannada. His works belonged to Navya Sahitya, a style of modern Kannada literature that seeks to express a newer sensibility. He said, “If people can’t understand my poetry, I have no right to publish it. I’ll just burn it.”

In an interview, he elaborated on the circumstances that made him write the poem ‘Nimmodaniddu Nimmanthagade’. “In the 1960s, there was a sort of unhealthy competition among my contemporary writers, my colleagues, laced with a streak of casteism… If I wrote poetry that was easily understood by people, then you became a potboiler, and it pained me a lot. They would suspect about one’s caste and religion, and with a lot of pain, I wrote ‘Nimmodaniddu Nimmanthagade’.” (sic)

He also wrote the poem ‘Benne Kadda Namma Krishna’, a popular song in praise of the god Krishna.

The credit of the first recorded format of poetry in Kannada released outside the country goes to Nissar Ahmed. He initially tried to make the recordings himself, later IBH in Mumbai stepped in to buy and sell. Now it is sold and released by Lahari Audios. His poems range in topic and theme from musical, lyrical, nature-loving to witty and satirical. His poem ‘America, America’ called out America for its superiority complex and for destroying nations (Vietnam then, North Korea now) to maintain that superiority. It also hints at America’s effort to demonise Russia and China for their politics. His other works of poetry include ‘Manasu Gandhi Bazaru’, ‘Sanje Aidara Male’ and ‘Manadondige Mathukathe’.

Last days

Nissar Ahmed was diagnosed with cancer and was in the US with his daughters. In January, TOI reported that BBMP had decided to provide Rs 20 lakh medical assistance to the poet, after it was learnt that he and his son Naveed had been diagnosed with cancer, and the family was finding it difficult to meet the treatment expenses.

Talking about the life he had lived so far, the poet said in an interview, “Although I feel a little weak physically, I’m alive in my thinking, and that is because I have lived a clean life. I have never nurtured any hatred towards anybody, nor do I think about anybody’s religious identity. For me, humanity is more important than one’s caste or religion.”

Nissar Ahmed’s wife, Shanawaz Begum, was a school teacher and passed away earlier in 2019. The couple had two daughters and two sons. His son Naveed’s passing away earlier this year shook him.

The poet died on Sunday in his Padmanabha Nagar house in Bengaluru.

Vinay Kumar is a Bengaluru based freelance photographer and writer who drinks too much coffee.

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