What happens when a husband and wife talk

C. NAGANNA writes: Among all the versions of the Ramayana, Muddanna's Ramashvamedha written in the late 19th century commands a place of its own because it introduces us to a literary tradition called the sallapa—a lively, cheerful conversation between the writer and his wife that veers into the actual telling of the tale.

Padyam vadyam/ Gadhyam hrudyam (poetry goes over my head, prose is one for my heart), says Muddanna's wife Manorama, thus prompting the former drill master to telling Valmiki's classic in a contemporary idiom.

Muddanna, born Lakshminarayanappa (1869-1901), thus strikes a different path from others before him, earning high praise from D.V. Gundappa: "Not all can be wealthy (dhanikaru), but with a little effort we can all be rich aesthetes (rasikaru)."

Why do we bring it up here? All India Radio, Bangalore, recently broadcast a recorded interview between Make-Up 'Nani' and his wife, the actress Bhargavi Narayan, in its Bala Belaku programme. It is a close approximation of the sallapa tradition.

Nani and Bhargavi Narayan were yoked together not by the flowery arrows of cupid, but the ever-vigilant elders whose match-making acumen proved to be flawless and fruitful.

After nearly five decades of conjugal togetherness, Nani, the senior partner, chose to take a bow from this world, leaving his wife and versatile children behind.

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Make-up Nani: Why and how did you choose me as your husband knowing fully well that I was just a make-up man?

Bhargavi Narayan: Theatre brought us together, isn't it? My mind goes back to Vijay College days. Being a girl I had to don the role of a man in a play….

Nani: Yes, yes. I remember very clearly. I myself had done the make-up. I had stuck a moustache. That was the close-up view I had of you. Probably, the first step towards "courtship". What was your feeling towards marriage and all that at that time?

Bhargavi: I was scared of marriage because of the fear that I would lose my independence. I was worried that wedding would mean life-long subservience to a man.

Nani: Now you have a different opinion about marriage?

Bhargavi: Yes (laughs).

Nani: Do you remember that all-important date, 21 January 1958? Initially, I approached 'Upasana' Seetharam to consult him about the appropriateness of our alliance. I discussed the matter with a few others too. They all said, 'Don't tarry, go ahead.'

Bhargavi: I had lost my father very early in life. My elder brother, who was two years senior to me, was studying his BE. I did not want to be a burden to him. I had even told my mother that she should not spend unnecessarily.

Nani: During those days people believed in celebrating weddings by selling jewels and other valuables at their disposal.

Bhargavi: Do you remember, your mother herself had given me a pair of ear-studs?

Nani: What's important is that you accepted that low-key wedding.

Bhargavi: The speciality of that wedding was that they staged a play at the time of solemnisation instead of other distracting rituals. You wore neatly pressed old pyjamas and I had worn my mother's saree. Dashrathi Dikshit, Sriranga and other such well-known people attended our wedding.

You were very particular about punctuality. If someone invited us for lunch at 12.30, you would be ready well in advance and would wait for us at the gate restlessly. I was always late as I took my own time for everything. (Addressing the listeners) His punctuality was always taxing as far as I am concerned.

Nani: Now, let me ask you a question that has been bugging me. How did the cinema bug bite you?

Bhargavi: To act in films was not a happy proposition at that time for me. When I acted in a play called Subba Shastri, my neighbours were sarcastic. They told my mother that she was helpless and hence she could not control her daughter. That was long ago. I made bold to act in films. I have even won an award for my "supporting role" in the film Prof Huchchuraya made by Narasimharaju. Mr Narasimharaju explained to me the content of my role. The woman is supposed to have crossed 26 years of age but still is unmarried. I told him I was 10 years older for that role and a married woman at that. Mr Raju convinced me that I could do justice to the role.

Nani: Now I would like to turn the camera towards me. People never took the back-stage work seriously. They always thought it was a second-grade occupation. I was determined to win the respectability and honour that it deserved.

Bhargavi: They did not know anything about back-stage work. Now the scenario is different; they even give awards for back-stage work.

Nani: The Aacademy gave me an award in 1979. Since then my responsibility has increased. I have tested my versatility beyond my make-up. I even acted in Abechoorina Postafissu.

Bhargavi: But I have a complaint against you. You were the one who cast all the roles, but you never thought of me. I asking you, why did you do so?

Nani: I didn't cast you in the film because you were always like a mother-in-law in the family. I didn't want to cast you as a mother-in-law in the film too. That would have been asking for trouble.

Bhargavi: That was your line of thinking. Maybe you're justified.

Nani: When the shooting for the film (Abechoorina…) was in full swing, I had almost become a postman in Chikmagalur during those days. When I won an award and attended the award ceremony at Delhi, the master of ceremonies stopped me from proceeding to the dais as he thought I was not the actor. It took the life out of me to convince him.

Bhargavi: Our elder son worked as an engineer but he came back to theatre; the second son studied engineering for three years and he gave up and come back to the theatre.

Nani: I should say, 'Like father, like sons'. It's not surprising. I was studying at National College, Bangalore. Dr H. Narasimhaiah was the vice-chancellor then. During the practical examination, the examiner indicated that I should observer my neighbours and do the experiment. I knew next to nothing about the so-called "connection diagram" and as expected I failed because copying is also an art.

Bhargavi: Our children literally grew in the vicinity of the stage and it's very natural for them to be attracted by theatre. It has been a long journey. The state nataka academy honoured me during my 60th birthday anniversary.

Nani: When one attains 60 years one goes bonkers! Anyway, I'm 'Make-up' Nani. She is Bhargavi. Even the overseas people like my job. When I staged Kailsam's Gandaskatri in London, they appreciated the production wholeheartedly. Nowadays there are innumerable associations abroad. Kannada programmes receive a lot of encouragement from them. The sitution was different then…

***

As the sound faded and the anchor took over the mike to announce the programme just ended, my heart filled with a feeling of gratitude to a family that has dedicated itself to art and theatre overcoming the allurement of other "high-yielding vocations".