Kanaka Ha. Ma.
(India, 1964)   
Kanaka Ha. Ma.

Kanaka Ha. Ma. (born 1964) is a critically acclaimed Kannada poet. Based in Mumbai, she has authored three volumes of poetry: Holebagilu (1993); Papanashini (1997); and Arabi kadalu (2006). Her Kannada translation of Javed Akhtar’s Urdu poetry appeared in a volume entitled Battalike in 2003. She has also been active as a theatre actor and freelance journalist for Kannada magazines and journals.

Kanaka led an early life of relative seclusion in malenadu, “the land of the hills”, in the remote village of Halakere situated on the Karnataka backwaters. It was in her teens that she began writing poetry for Kannada journals and newspapers. She once said that it was her experience of intense loneliness in a Puttur college away from home that prompted the early writing. Today her fascination with poetry (as she reflects in the interview that accompanies this edition) is fuelled by the need for self understanding. She describes poems as “a garland of small freedoms” in a long continuous “march towards the self”. Besides, she adds, poetry is an art with the unique gift of allowing one to express emotions in a “veiled manner”.

The veil is the operative word. For Kanaka’s is a sensuous many-layered poetry, that places an implicit faith in the alchemy of metaphor. The image is the protagonist here; her poetry does not translate idea into image, but seeks to allow the image itself to determine the course of the poem. She acknowledges her debt to the Navya (Modern) writers of Kannada literature, but adds that her poetry has been subsequently shaped by various sensibilities across history and language.

While her first book employed a formal idiom, her second and third used a greater degree of dialect. The recent work is characterised by a language that is simple and unvarnished, but deeply attentive to the musical qualities of poetry. The poems selected in this edition include work from her third book as well as unpublished poems. They reveal part of the trajectory that she describes: from the sumptuous lyricism of ‘The Brocade Border’ and ‘Poem’ to the more pared down poetics of ‘Before Dawn’ and ‘Dawn’.

She herself holds that her work is virtually untranslatable, its keen attention to prosody and idiom of delicate inflection seldom journeying successfully into any target language. Nonetheless she believes in the importance of translation, having translated into Kannada writers as diverse as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Katherine Mansfield, Jamila Nishat and Javed Akhtar. Her own work has been translated into Kannada, Malayalam and French.

“The clues connect”, she writes in her poem, ‘Series of Omens’ (featured in this edition), and the line seems to offer readers a possible way of approaching her textured and associative poetry.

© Arundhathi Subramaniam


Holebagilu, Akshara Prakashana, Sagar, 1993
Papanashini, Kannada Sangha, Puttur, 1997
Arabi Kadalu, Akshara Prakashana, Sagar, 2006

Battalike (translation of Javed Akhtar’s ‘Tarkash’), Karnataka Sangha, Puttur, 2003


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