Archive for the ‘Literati’ Category

Khushwant Singh dies 24 years after his obituary

20 March 2014

Khushwant Singh, the self-proclaimed “dirty old man of Indian journalism”, has passed away at the age of 99.

Exactly, 30 years ago, when Singh was 69, the journalist Dhiren Bhagat wrote a pre-obituary of the “sardar in the light bulb” for the now-defunct Sunday Observer.

Ironically, Dhiren Bhagat was to predecease Singh by 24 years, and Khushwant Singh ended up reviewing a collection of his work for India Today in 1990.

Below is the full text of Dhiren Bhagat’s “obituary”, written for the February 13, 1983 edition of The Sunday Observer.

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By DHIREN BHAGAT

I was saddened to read that Khushwant Singh passed away in his sleep last week. What a quiet end for so loud a man.

How the gods mock the mocking.

Contradictions surrounded Khushwant at every stage of his life. He strove to give the impression that he was a drunken slob yet he was one of the most hard-working and punctual men I knew.

He professed agnosticism and yet enjoyed kirtan as only few can and do.

He was known nationally as a celebrated lecher but for the past thirty years at least it was a hot-water-bottle that warmed his bed.

He devoted his last years in the service of a woman who  decisively spurned him in the end.

He made a profession of living off his friends’ important names and yet worked single-handedly to diminish that very importance.

Empty vessels make the most noise but Khushwant was always full of the Scotch he had cadged off others.

He was a much misunderstood man. So before the limp eulogies start pouring in (how Khushwant would have hated them!) let me set the record straight.

As Khushwant once said, the obituary is the best place to tell the truth for dead men file no libel suits. (An agnostic to the end he didn’t believe in the Resurrection.)

***

Khushwant was born in 1915 in a rich but not particularly educated home. They were Khuranas from Sargodha who made good in Delhi.

His father, Sir Sobha Singh, was the contractor who built the city of New Delhi and who in consequence received a knighthood. In 1947 it used to be said (somewhat inaccurately it must be admitted) that ninety-nine per cent of New Delhi was owned by the Government and one per cent by Sir Sobha Singh.

After his initial education Khushwant was sent to England to appear for the ICS. He didn’t make it.

Later he would tell a story of how he had made it to the Merit List but how that year there was a reserved place for a non-Jat from Phulkian state (later PEPSU) and how some-one with less marks than him filled that place. But Khushwant was always a great raconteur so it is difficult to know what to believe.

Once bitten, twice shy. Khushwant didn’t try for the ICS again but instead enrolled himself at the London School of Economics from where in the course of things he acquired a BA.

The examiners decided to place him in the Third Class. After his degree Khushwant read for the Bar where he was equally successful. (His brother Daljit, now a businessman, was always the better scholar of the two.)

When Khushwant came back after six years in England a family friend asked his father: ‘Kaka valaiton kee kar ke aayaa hai?  (What has the boy done in England?) Sir Sobha Singh replied ‘Time pass kar ke aaya hai jee.’ (He has been marking time.)

It is unlikely the canny contractor was joking.

***

After the Partition Khushwant joined the Indian Foreign Service and this phase of his career took him to London, Ottawa and Paris. In this period he began publishing short stories on rustic themes.

In 1955 he shot to fame when a novel of his won a large cash award set by an American publishing house in order to attract manuscripts. It was a mediocre Partition quickie called Mano Majra (later published as Train to Pakistan).

Years passed. Khushwant kept writing books, on the Jupji, on the Sikhs, on India, stories, translations: many of them provocatively titled and indicative of his deepest desires, “I Shall Rape the Nightingale”, “I Take This Woman” etc. Some of these attempts were successful.

But success and cosmopolitan living did not spoil the earthiness of the robust Jat.

He continued to down his Scotch with a ferocity that made his hosts nervous. He

continued to tell stories that revealed his deep obsession with the anal.

He had a theory that all anger was a result of an upset stomach and instructed his son to ask his mother if her stomach walls troubling her whenever she scolded him.

In his more smug moments he attributed his own iconoclastic calm to the severe constipation from which he had suffered since childhood.

In 1969 Khushwant took over the Illustrated Weekly of India and embarked on the most controversial phase of his career. On the editor’s page Mario Miranda drew a bulb and Khushwant sat in it, along with his Scotch and dirty pictures.

Sitting in that cross-legged position Khushwant took the ailing magazine from success to success, all along illuminating millions of readers on the more outre aspects of the world’s brothels.

Once in a while he tore into a friend’s reputation. So great was our prurience that he became a household name in a short while. Fame he had, honour he sought.

In the early seventies an eminent Muslim journalist friend of Khushwant’s approached Rajni Patel. Could Rajnibhai fix Khushwant with a Padma Bhushan? If the honour didn’t come his way soon Sardarji would have a heart attack. Patel flew to Delhi twice and fixed it. Later Khushwant showed his gratitude in strange ways.

***

Then came the Emergency. Khushwant’s friends and admirers were very troubled by his stand: IndiraGandhi was Durga incarnate, SanjayGandhi the New Messiah and the highways of the land were clogged with smoothly running Marutis.

Many explanations have been offered for his position but I believe I am the only person to know the right one. (Khushwant in an unguarded whisky-sodden moment once opened up to me and told all.) And since it is only in obituaries that it is proper to disclose the little-known details of a man’s personal life I shall come out with it now.

Impotence had claimed Khushwant back in the fifties. At first he had been sorely troubled by this condition (most Jats are) and had tried several remedies, mostly indigenous. This accounted for his immense knowledge of jaree-bootees and his disillusionment with quacks.

When he had finally given up all hope of lighting the wick he had turned to other pleasures with a vengeance. (Exposing his friends’ affairs was a favourite pleasure: it was envy compounded with righteousness.)

It must be remembered that Khushwant’s lechery was of the mildest order: he as a voyeur, he could do nothing. Scotch was a palliative, but in the end even that failed to make up the loss.

It was Sanjay’s power that finally did the trick. So great was the vicarious pleasure the ageing Sardar felt that it went to his head. And after Sanjay’s death Khushwant lost his vitality, his vigour. He grew listless.

And then the quiet end. A lively man all in all. Even as I write this I am sure Khushwant is busy looking up the angels’ skirts. And since angels are constitutionally condemned to celibacy that should suit Khushwant fine.

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Also read: Khushwant Singh on his last day at The Weekly

Why Khushwant Singh fell out with Arun Shourie

Khushwant Singh: 11 secrets of a long and happy life

Khushwant Singh: When R.K. Narayan saw a blue film

Khushwant Singh on L.K. Advani: the man who sowed hatred

T.S. Nagarajan, a legend and a gentleman: RIP

18 February 2014

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tsn_now1churumuri records with deep regret the passing away of the legendary Mysore photographer, T.S. Nagarajan, in Madras this morning. He was 82 years old.

Younger brother of the equally accomplished T.S. Satyan, Mr Nagarajan had been ailing for some time and had shifted from Bangalore to be with his family.

The end came at 10.40 am, according to his daughter Kalyani Pramod.

Mr Nagarajan, a former photographic officer in the photo division of the government of India—who became a photographer thanks to the maharaja’s elephant—spent a lifetime shooting pictures of homes and houses, especially their interiors. He wrote about his “most unforgettable picture” in 2006 without the photograph, letting readers imagine—and then provided the picture (above).

Like Mr Satyan, Mr Nagarajan was brilliant with painting word-pictures and wrote several pieces for churumuri, which he then compiled into a book for private circulation. A 4,624-love story of his wife and life companion for 50 years, Meenakshi—“I thought she would live forever“—was received to global acclaim.

Mr Nagarajan’s most selfless act as a photographer was to make available, through churumuri, in 2008 a picture he shot in 1955 for All India Radio of the Kannada literary legends at one table, for all Kannadigas to use and re-use—free of cost, with these words:

“I had just graduated from the First Grade College and was entertaining ambitions of becoming a photojournalist. I had a broken (and repaired) Argoflex camera, a present from my celebrated elder-brother T.S. Satyan, with which I took this picture.

“Akashvani paid me a handsome sum of Rs 6 for using it in their programme journal.

“I stumbled upon this print while looking for another rare picture of my grandmother from a stack of old prints. I feel this picture does not belong to me now. It belongs to all Kannadigas. Therefore, I request churumuri to offer it on my behalf to all lovers of Kannada by placing it in the public domain.”

A book of his pictures Vanishing Homes of India was released by Mani Ratnam and N. Ram last month.

***

By T.S. Nagarajan: I thought she would live forever

The R.K. Narayan only I knew

The Sharada Prasad only I knew

External reading: The T.S. Nagarajan interview

From Bindiganavile to Jind via Central Asia

13 December 2013

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Where is hometown in the world of elastic geographies?

What is mother tongue in the era of mixed parentage?

In this, the first chapter from his new book, Homeless on Google Earth (Permanent Black), the historian, cricket writer and novelist Mukul Kesavan—son of B.S. Kesavan, the Mysore-born scholar who became the first Indian director of the National Library in New Delhi—writes on home in the wired world.

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By MUKUL KESAVAN

When I was 7 or 8, I asked my father where I was from.

Or what we were, which seemed, then, to amount to the same thing.

My father told me that I was a Kannadiga and that we were from Mysore, the name by which Karnataka was known in 1965. At the time I was a schoolboy in Delhi so the information was useful; “where are you from?” was the first question you were asked in class. The second question, but second only by a short head, was “what does your father do?”

My father was a librarian and his “native place” was contained, theoretically at least, within his name.

South Indians (or Madrasis as they were known in Delhi in the 1960s) often had two initials before their names: the first indicated a place name, the second was often the father’s name. So B.S. Kesavan expanded into Bellary Shamanna Kesavan, which made me a Kannadiga from Mysore, and if a classmate wanted me to get more specific I could even supply an ancestral place name.

Only it wasn’t as cut and dried as it sounded.

My father, despite his name, felt no sense of belonging to Bellary. The name was an affectation, a lie: an ancestor who had achieved petty government rank had decided that it was grander to claim Bellary, a district capital, as home, rather than the obscure place to which he belonged, a tiny town called Bindiganavile.

When, towards the end of his life, he felt the need to return to his origins, my father led a little cavalcade of cars filled with members of his extended family to Bindiganavile where his ancestors had endowed a temple.

But even Bindiganavile wasn’t where he (or I) began.

There lurked a pre-Kannadiga identity and the clue to it lay in the fact that my father spoke Tamil fluently, as did his brothers.

Some ten years ago, I visited my uncle in Bangalore and found him in a rage. A militantly nativist movement had begun to attack “outsiders” in Bangalore, speciallyTamilians, allegedly because they didn’t identify with Karnataka’s language, Kannada, and continued to speak Tamil.

My uncle, who like his brother thought of himself as a Kannadiga and spoke Kannada like a native, was infuriated that arriviste politicians had declared that people with names like Kesavan and Natarajan were enemy aliens. “Kannada! I’ll teach these fellows Kannada!” he growled, his moustache bristling.

The language my father and his brothers grew up speaking at home was a dialect of Tamil because, many generations earlier, their ancestors had migrated from the Tamil country to present-day Karnataka, following their spiritual preceptor, Ramanujacharya.

Their descendants – B.S. Kesavan and his brothers amongst them – spoke pidgin Tamil within the family and Kannada to the outside world. This didn’t make them linguists, it made them liminal: “real” Tamils thought they were inadequately Tamil while militant Kannada activists refused to see them as authentically Kannadiga.

But it would be inaccurate to say that Hebbar Iyengars (the jati or caste community of which my father’s family was a part) were Kannadiga in the monolingual way in which language chauvinists like Vatal Nagaraj would have liked them to be.

Linguistically, my father was a cosmopolitan: he could make himself understood in Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Hindi, and English; he read Sanskrit for pleasure, and had leant German in Weimar Germany and subsequently forgotten it.

This multilingual ability was, to some degree, the norm in his family.

Nearly all my cousins on my father’s side of the family speak four, sometimes five, languages. So language alone didn’t, couldn’t define home. Home to them was a curious blend of the towns they had grown up in (and it was always a town or a city; there wasn’t an ancestral village that anyone could remember) and their caste identity as Brahmins of a particular sort.

Hebbar Iyengars tended to go on a bit about how light-skinned they were and this anxiety about pigmentation sometimes became the basis of speculative theories of origin.

One cousin, who had read B.G. Tilak’sThe Arctic Home in the Vedas, explained to me that this absence of darkness indicated the northerly, non-Dravidian origins of the Hebbar Iyengar community. In his mind, he was simultaneously from Mysore and the Central Asian steppes, that cradle of white, Indo-European goodness.

My claim to being a Kannadiga, or even my claim to a hybrid Tamil-Kannadiga identity, was nominal.

I first visited Karnataka when I was 21; I was born in Delhi, educated in its schools and colleges, and I’ve been working in that city ever since.

My mother’s family had been Dilli-wallahs since at least the time of the last Mughal: we had the papers to prove that Munshi Nathmal, our ancestor, once a minor clerk in Bahadur Shah Zafar’s administration, turned his coat and defected to the British the moment Delhi rose in revolt in 1857.

I had none of my father’s languages: for many years I couldn’t even tell if he was speaking Telugu or Kannada or Tamil; it was just a sludge of South Indian to me. I spoke Hindi and English and nothing else, which used to prompt my father to say that I spoke my mother’s tongue, not my mother tongue.

If I had a native place, then, it was Delhi.

In terms of location and language I was more an Agrawal from Delhi than an Iyengar from Mysore, but so powerful was the idea of patrilineal descent that through childhood and youth I believed I was “South Indian”.

But even my North Indian identity was an odd confection of fact and prejudice.

My mother’s family had lived in the old city for more than a hundred years. In the Bania narrative of Delhi’s history, everything bad or coarse that had happened to the city since Independence was put down to the influx of Punjabi refugees.

They were vulgar, thrusting, untutored in Delhi’s ways and especially its language.

They said “mere ko” instead of “mujhe”, and “bola” instead of “kaha”.

I soaked up these notions as a child and came to the conclusion that since everyone must have come to Delhi from somewhere else, and since we weren’t (heaven be praised) Punjabis, we must have arrived in the city from UP. My mother even had a cousin who owned ancestral property in Banaras, which seemed to clinch things in favour of that state.

Some years later a maternal uncle gave me a yellowing book with a family tree that traced my mother’s lineage to Jind. Jind had been part of undivided Punjab and was now part of Haryana. I didn’t want to be from Haryana so I said I didn’t believe the family tree.

My uncle grinned hard-heartedly and told me to count from 90 to 100 in Hindi.

I did.

When I finished he said, “Can’t you hear yourself? Instead of the simple ‘n’ sound of ikyanvey, baanvey, tiranvey, chauranvey, which is how someone from UP would count, all your ‘n’ sounds came out like the retroflexive ‘n’ in Haryana. Because Haryana is where you’re from.”

If I was to look for Home on Google Earth, there are a variety of places that I could plausibly zoom in on.

Bellary, Bindiganavile, Mysore city (where my grandfather worked and my father taught), Mlyapore in Chennai (where my father lived many years of his childhood), Central Asia (whence Iyengars might have sprung), Nehr Sadat Khan in Old Delhi (where collaborating banias prospered), even Jind in Haryana.

If there is a moral to my story, it must be that the reality of “home” is subject to alteration, that the native place is as often a place of transition as a point of origin, that instead of being a still centre to which we are historically attached, home is an idea to which we choose to belong.

I choose not to belong to Jind.

(Excerpted from Homeless on Google Earth, by Mukul Kesavan; 314 pages, Rs 595; Permanent Black, 2014; with the author’s permission)

Photograph: courtesy Outlook

Also read: How our buddhijeevis became one-tongue ponies

Why some of us just love to hate Sunil Gavaskar

The best actor in the history of Indian cinema is…

The greatest batsman in Test match cricket…

Why not too many Indians bag the Nobel Prize

30 October 2013

Every October, India goes through the by-now familiar drill of asking why there are not too many Indian-sounding names on the list of Nobel Prize winners. And on the odd occasion there is, asking why they weren’t nurtured by institutes and industries here, and why oh why they had to go abroad to earn their spurs.

Despite Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Amartya Sen bagging the supposedly high honour in recent times, the answers haven’t changed much. The usual cliches of Indians being copy cats, masters of learning by rote, of not being inventive or innovative enough, of debilitating quotas, backbiting, crab mentality are belted.

Delivering the foundation day lecture of the Indian institute of management, Bangalore (IIM-B), the Jnanpith award winning Kannada writer, critic and scholar, U.R. Anantha Murthy introduces a fresh new perspective.

India, he says is in this position, simple because the pool of talent isn’t large enough:

“The hunger for equality is the most spiritual aspiration of a human being. The challenge before premier educational institutes is to redefine “arhata” (merit) and “intelligence”.

“We can create excellence only through equality.

“India is not able to produce Nobel Prize winners because there are many castes and many groups in India that are yet to receive education. Education to me should respect not just the so-called cerebral area but the intelligence of the body. I’d like to see a redefinition of intelligence.

“The poet William Blake spoke of the plight of the poor chimney sweep in industrialized London; let us ask ourselves whether technological strides have resulted in ‘sarvodaya‘ (welfare of all) or if it is at the cost of the tribals and the downtrodden?”

View the full lecture here: U.R. Anantha Murthy

Also read: U.R. Anantha Murthy: our greatest living novelist?

Will Kannada literature climb Nobel peak again?

Look, who’s lobbying for the Nobel peace prize!

Chemistry Nobel, yes, but why not physics?

 

‘Indian media is failing Indian democracy’

22 September 2013

Pratap Bhanu Mehta president of the Delhi-based thinktank, Centre for Policy Research (CPR), in an interview with Karan Thapar for CNN-IBN:

Karan Thapar: How do you view the Indian media? Do you share justice Markandey Katju‘s concern, that by and large it is obsessive, it is narrow-minded, it focuses on middle class – urban concerns, ignoring the real problems that affect India such as poverty, such as joblessness.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta: My concern is not so much the issues it covers. It is that whatever it does, with a few exceptions, it is not bringing sufficient rigour and it is not performing frankly the function of being an honest broker in very, very important debates. The media is failing Indian democracy, I would agree with justice Katju to that extent.

Thapar: I know you are not a participant on television debates but do you watch them or do you find them off putting or irritating?

Mehta: You watch them in the way you would watch an entertainment show. In fact my own sense is that I think people are very wisely making the distinction that news is entertainment. It is not news.

Thapar: But of course it should not be entertainment at all.

Mehta: But of course it should not be. It’s exactly that confusion of roles that is crippling us.

Thapar: So TV debates may be entertaining but in terms of informing, educating, illuminating, they fail.

Mehta: Actually they are quite dangerous because they present a false construction of what public opinion is.

Read the full interview: Pratap Bhanu Mehta

Oldest book in President’s house is on Tipu Sultan

14 June 2013

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With Pranab Mukherjee, an acknowledged man of letters, moving into the Rashtrapati Bhavan as President, the library is being dusted and brought back into shape. And the oldest book in the collection, dating back to the year 1800, is on the Tiger of Mysore, Tipu Sultan, or Tipu Sultaun as he is spelt on the cover.

The book, by Lt Col Alexander Beatson is a narrative of the operations of the army under the command of Lt Gen George Harris that resulted in the overthrow of Tipu and the discovery of his body at “Watergate”. The book was prepared for the attention of the chairman and directors of the East India Company.

***

The President’s library also boasts of an 1810 volume that contains “historical sketches of the South of India” in an attempt to trace the history of “Mysoor”, from “the origin of the Hindoo government of that state to the extinction of the Mohammedan dynasty in 1799″, with the downfall and death of Tipu Sultan.

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How BJP is killing B.V. Karanth’s Rangayana

27 March 2013

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VISHWAS KRISHNA writes: If you are in Mysore, or closely following the developments of Mysore, it is unlikely you would have missed the issue of the theatre repertory Rangayana. The organization which should have been concentrating on creative pursuits is now embroiled in a maze of bureaucratic problems.

Nataka Karnataka Rangayana, to give its full name, is a state government-funded repertory started under the tutelage of the theatre maestro, B.V. Karanth, almost 25 years ago. Most of the initial years were spent in training artistes in the production and enactment of plays. Public shows started only after a few years.

It took enormous effort, mainly by Karanth and later on by others, to build the team and for Rangayana to attain the reputation it now enjoys.

It was when Prasanna became the director that Rangayana started the practice of weekend shows. And that practice is in place till date. If you visit Rangayana on a Sunday, you can be rest assured of a play being performed at 6.30 pm (usually by Rangayana or by other teams when they are on a tour).

Being in Mysore, we get to watch other amateur team’s productions too. And as part of theatre festivals like Bahuroopi (organised by Rangayana) we get to watch performances by some of the most renowned theatre groups across the country.

But, having watched the productions of Rangayana, it is difficult to be easily impressed by any other performance. That is the standard which Rangayana has created and we Mysoreans are lucky to have such a repertory here.

After watching so many plays and shows of Rangayana repertory, unknown to them, we, the audience, have developed a kind of rapport with the actors and the team.

But now, the government, on the idiotic advice of Ranga Samaja, wants to split the team and transfer the artists and artistes, whom we have watched all these years as part of Rangayana. The issue of transfer started during the controversial tenure of B.Jayashree in 2009-10.

But fortunately for Rangayana and also for Mysore, her tenure did not last long and after her departure from here, the issue was buried, temporarily it turns out.

Now with the establishment of two more Rangayanas, one at Dharwad and another at Shimoga, the government wants to use the services of experienced actors here. The transfer of 12 actors of Rangayana to the other two branches is with the idea of facilitating the newly established Rangayanas to get proper training.

Imagine: artists, artistes, actors in a transferable job!

This is a very foolish step from the governing body, supported by the Government. It is very difficult to believe that the governing body is acting without any mala fide intention, but even if one gives them the benefit of doubt, one fails to see the logic behind this act.

Ranga Samaja is being lazy in not trying to search for new actors and instead trying to depute the actors here at Rangayana as trainers at the new branches. These people are trained to be actors and not trainers.

Moreover, the team which has been producing plays since 25 years would have developed a comfort zone with each other and it reflects in their plays too.

We Mysoreans are used to watching the plays of the same team since so many years and now, all of a sudden, if 12 actors of the team are sent away, who will act in the productions of Rangayana? Not to be disrespectful to the others, but the 12 actors who are transferred are among the best actors of the team, at least for me, personally.

If they are not part of the team, there is no way I or many other regular Rangayana audiences would watch the plays. It also means that the repeat shows of the old productions, of which, these 12 actors are part of would not be performed or would be performed by the new actors who are not as experienced as the present team.

There is no way the quality of the productions will remain the same. The highest standards of acting which we have come to expect from Rangayana would be lost forever.

Ranga Samaja and also, the government, have to remember that Rangayana Mysore was started with 25 fresh faces. It is difficult to guess as to what is stopping them from doing the same at the other two newly established Rangayanas.

The actors are now fighting for cancellation of the transfer order and exploring many ways to solve this problem. And the director of Rangayana, B.V. Rajaram, who also supported the actors in their protest against the transfer order, was immediately sacked.

Curiously, the director was not taken into confidence before the transfer orders were issued to the actors. The incident only shows the dictatorial attitude of the outgoing BJP government towards one of the most prominent cultural institutions of Karnataka.

This is something the actors of Rangayana should have realised long back, but at least now, hopefully, after this issue gets solved, they should realise that the more quicker they come out of the clutches of Ranga Samaja and the bureaucracy, the better it is.

We, the audience, do not know who are the members of the governing body and how are they elected and for how long they remain elected. But we are now aware that such a thing exists and we want the old Rangayana back, free of its clutches from the unknown and faceless Ranga Samaja and the non-empathetic bureaucracy.

Photograph: courtesy B.S. Bhooshan

Also read: M.S. Sathyu vs Karnataka Rakshana Vedike

When Mother Nature wants to talk to Kuvempu

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Time to save S.L. Bhyrappa from Hindutva bigots?

3 March 2013

For an “infuriatingly good” wordsmith whose 21 works fetched him the Saraswati Samman and Sahitya Akademi awards, it is an odd twist of fate that, at 81, the Kannada writer S.L. Bhyrappa finds himself reduced to a Hindutva mascot, who supports bans on conversion and cow slaughter, and thinks “Tipu Sultan is a religious fanatic rather than a national hero”.

The turning point, suggests the Booker Prize-winning writer Aravind Adiga, in an article in Outlook* magazine, was Aavarana.

“For decades, Bhyrappa had said that an artist ought not to preach. In 2007, he broke his own rule. Aavarana (The Concealing), though technically his 20th novel, is a polemic—a list of all the sins that Muslims have allegedly wreaked on Hindus and their culture for generations. U.R. Anantha Murthy criticised the novel, and Bhyrappa entered into a rancorous public debate with him (the two men have a long history of attacking each other). A bestseller in Karnataka, Aavarana earned the aging Bhyrappa a cult following of young, rabidly right-wing readers.

“He seems to enjoy his new role as spokesperson for Hindutva causes, and recently urged the government to scrap its plan to name a university after Tipu Sultan. The result is that the term Aavarana now describes what has happened to S.L. Bhyrappa himself: swallowed by his weakest novel, passed over for the Jnanpith (the traditional crown for the bhasha writer), and in danger of having a fanbase composed entirely of bigots.

“Anantha Murthy and Bhyrappa are the opposite poles of the modern Kannada novel. If one is its Flaubert—the author of a compact, exquisite body of work, left-liberal in its sympathies—the other is its Balzac—prolific, unruly, and right-wing in his politics. If India can absorb an Islamocentric poet like Iqbal, it can accommodate S.L. Bhyrappa. Anantha Murthy may be the better writer, but Bhyrappa evokes more affection in those who speak Kannada.

“More than twenty years ago, as a student in Sydney, Australia, I met one of that city’s richest doctors, a man from coastal Karnataka. When he compared the state of Australia with that of India, the doctor felt depressed; at such moments he flicked through an old copy of Parva that he had brought to Sydney. Seeing how Bhyrappa had modernized the Mahabharatha gave the doctor hope that India, too, could become a prosperous country—without losing its culture. For nearly five decades, S.L. Bhyrappa’s richly imagined and deeply felt novels have helped his readers tide over difficult moments in their lives.

“Now it is time for them to return the favour and rescue this great Indian writer’s legacy from the biggest threat it faces: Bhyrappa himself.”

* Disclosures apply

Read the full article: In search of a new ending

Also read: Anantha Murthy, our greatest living writer?

A 21st century Adiga‘s appeal to Kannadigas

S.L. Bhyrappa versus U.R. Anantha Murthy?

Seven things Amartya Sen told Sharmila Tagore

4 February 2013

Why do more young people read stories titled “Seven things Amartya Sen told Sharmila Tagore“?

For the same reason that more young people are interested in knowing the pet name of Hrithik Roshan than in politics or policy. Which is, because “the stupidity and the villainy of human beings is overemphasised and the ignorance is underemphasised.”

Amarya Sen, the Nobel laureate, was in conversation with Sharmila Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore‘s descendant, at the Calcutta literary meet on Saturday.

He also said, among other things:

1. One-third of Indians don’t have an electricity connection. When the newspapers hollered last year that 600 million Indians were “plunged” into darkness, what they didn’t mention was that 200 million out of those 600 million never had any power. So they were not specifically “plunged” that night, they are plunged into darkness every night.

2.  India is the only country in the world that is trying to have a health transition on the basis of a private health care that doesn’t exist. It doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world. We have an out-of-pocket system, occasionally supplemented by government hospitals but the whole trend in the world has moved towards public health systems. Even the United States has come partly under the so-called Obama Care.

3. India is a country where there is more open defecation than any other country for which data exists. Forty-eight per cent of households in India do not have toilets. That’s larger than any other country. Chad comes slightly close but no other country. The percentage of homes without toilets is 1 per cent in China, it’s only 9 or 10 per cent even in Bangladesh.

4. There is so much to be learnt from China in terms of economic growth. But not in terms of democracy… China spends 2.7 per cent of its GDP on public health care — governmental expenditure. We spend 1.2 per cent. When Jamshedji Tata was setting up Jamshedpur, he felt it’s not only an industry, it’s a municipality. He felt I have to provide free education, free health care for everyone, not only my employees but anyone in the neighbourhood.

5. China wouldn’t be a country to learn about democracy from but Brazil could be, Mexico could be. Good efficient public services with cooperation of the unions is very important for any country and since 1989 Brazil has transformed itself with that. In the same period, India has risen in per capita income but its position in living standards has declined. In South Asia, we were the second best, after Sri Lanka, and now we are the second worst, only ahead of Pakistan. I think Bangladesh has overtaken India in most of these categories, except per capita income.

6. In the 2011 February budget, the government had put in a very modest import tax on gold and diamond imports. And there was such a lot of protest that they had to withdraw that. Because that’s an organised group; a group of underfed kids is not.

7. When people say that this (rape) happens in India, it doesn’t happen in Bharat, they completely overlook the fact that Dalit girls have been violated, molested and raped over the years and there still isn’t adequate protection against that.

By the way, Hrithik Roshan’s pet name, which used to be Duggu, is H-Ro.

Read the full story: The Telegraph, Calcutta

Photograph: courtesy The Times of India

When Fernandes tried to blow up Vidhana Soudha

4 January 2013

Like him or loathe him, there is no ignoring U.R. Anantha Murthy. As an academic, as a writer and as a public intellectual, URA has towered over the political, social and linguistic landscape for more than half a century.

In post-liberalised India and in post-IT Karnataka, Meshtru (as URA is known to friends, foes, friends turned foes and foes turned friends) has tilted bravely and unceasingly at the windmills, taking up unfashionable causes that Mammon had stubbed out.

Now, the indefatigable Anantha Murthy is penning his memoirs, throwing fresh light on a long and colourful life among letters. Excerpts:

***

By U.R. ANANTHA MURTHY

We accept many beliefs without questioning them, and start propagating them. It is possible here to be a revolutionary and a part of the establishment at the same time.

When the Congress declared an Emergency, the CPI helped them along. One could simultaneously be a communist and a supporter of the ruling Congress.

Most Indian intellectuals are like that.

In those days (the 1970s), if you asked those talking revolution whether they would like to visit the US or the USSR, they would choose the first. That’s because there was no warm water in the Soviet Union. No room heaters either.

India’s biggest problem is hypocrisy. It has taken root deeper than we imagine.

When the Janata Party came to power in Karnataka in 1983, many of us found it possible to balance out our lofty principles with our proximity to authority. It is difficult to proclaim that our actions were free of selfish motives.

A good number who came looking for me, in the knowledge that I was close to Ramakrishna Hegde and J.H. Patel, no longer remain my friends. Thanks to my obliging nature, I became a vehicle for their vested interests.

I didn’t touch any money, but I am troubled that I watched corrupt acts without saying a word. A mind that hesitates to say what must be said becomes corrupt. The Janata alliance that took on Indira Gandhi was the creation of an affluent class.

***

Meeting George Fernandes

Before the Emergency was imposed, I had written a review of the novel Gati Sthiti (Progress and Reality) by Giri.

I received a huge envelope by post some days after the publication of my review. It contained another review of the book, and criticised some of my observations. I couldn’t figure out who had written it. The letter was in Kannada and English.

“Come and meet me in Bangalore at once,” it said.

I guessed it was from George Fernandes.

He had tried to organise a massive railway strike before the Emergency, and failed. The police were looking for him, but he had slipped away. All the other big leaders of the time were already in jail.

Shivarama Karanth told me: “Only those who have participated in the 1942 movement might know what to do in these difficult times. George is a follower of Jayaprakash Narayan, isn’t he? He must be active in the underground movement.”

It occurred to me that I should contact my friend Pattabhirama Reddy and Snehalata in Bangalore. They were inspired by the socialist leader Rammanohar Lohia, and had turned my novel Samksara into a film.

When I met him, Pattabhi took the envelope from me, winked, and said, “I will take you to George secretly”.

The two of us got into a car one evening. “Good not to know where you are going. Blindfold yourself. Even if the police torture you, you shouldn’t be able to tell them where you met George,” he said.

We drove for 45 minutes, and reached a decrepit church.

We walked into a dark room.

George was sitting on a cot. He was unrecognisable. He had grown his hair and beard long. I went up to him and touched him. He embraced me. George’s younger brother Lawrence came in. He looked older than George. He had a lunch box in his hand.

As we sat talking about his family and mine, worms kept dropping on us from the roof of the church. George was pulling out the palmer worms and scratching himself all through our conversation. He gave me a mission with these points:

Snehalata had to go to a rarely used lavatory in Vidhana Soudha. Making sure no one was around, she had to explode a bomb at night. I had to provide some young men to help her. The explosion had to bring down a portion of the Vidhana Soudha, but not kill anyone.

Our objective was to hassle the government, and not to inflict violence on anyone. The government was convinced it could get away with anything, and people wouldn’t protest. If such subversive incidents took place every now and then, the frightened citizens would feel reassured something was afoot to dislodge the government. It was our duty to protect the people’s will to resist. We had to find a bridge there, and a government building here, and bring them down with dynamite.

If none of this was possible, my friends and I had to undermine the government in the manner of those who had resisted Nazism in Hitler’s Germany. We had to drop burning cigarette stubs into post boxes. That would force the government, as it had in Germany, to post a constable at every post box.

We returned after this conversation. I blindfolded myself even on the way back.

A constable always stood guard at the toilet, making it impossible to place a bomb at the Vidhana Soudha. I returned to Mysore, and with friends like Devanoor Mahadeva, tried to drop cigarette stubs into the post boxes. The stubs burnt themselves out without causing any damage.

George showed the same courage as Subhas Chandra Bose, and is a big hero of our times. We believed he was fit to become prime minister. But what happened to him later is unpalatable.

He never became corrupt for money, but he went to Gujarat after the violence, and came away as if nothing had happened. I could never understand this. Perhaps the desire to remain in power had corrupted his revolutionary mind.

The central minister who refused police escort has now lost his memory, and lies in bed.

***

Esther and home tuitions

My wife was a little girl with two plaits when I saw her as a student in Hassan. She came over to my house for tuitions. When she sang a film song at some event, it brought tears to my eyes. She sings well even today.

I had given her class an assignment: ‘Describe someone you like or dislike.’ She had written about me, and made fun of my style of teaching and gestures. The girl with plaits who could write this way about her lecturer had ignited my curiosity and interest.

The first door of my romantic world opened when I realised she could speak about me with such abandon. I didn’t want a girl who’d adore me; I wanted a companion. I fell in love with the girl who came to me on the pretext of taking tuitions. She was then just 16 or 17. I developed no physical intimacy with her. She was at an age when she didn’t know enough about the world’s ways, or about rights and wrongs. She interacted with me in all innocence. When she invited me over to her house, I felt I was entering another world.

Esther was one among many students who came for tuitions. While the others paid me a fee, Esther gave me her guileless love.

In those days, I liked keeping fish. A student had brought me some fish, which I had placed in a glass bowl. I was often lost in watching their movements. This would make Esther livid. “What are you doing there? Can’t you come here and do some lessons?” she would snap. She was outspoken even in those days.

My sister wasn’t married yet. I knew it would be difficult to find her a bride if I married out of caste. I had to wait a long time even after I had decided to marry Esther.

I went to Mysore after teaching for some years in Hassan. My mother was with me then. When she came to know about my relationship with Esther, she was disturbed. She would suddenly lose consciousness and slump to the ground. She would also complain about some pain.

When we took her to a doctor, he diagnosed it as a mental illness. She was tormented during this period. As a little boy, when she went to the hills for her ablutions in the morning, I would scream, “Amma, are you dead or what?” and keep crying till she called back.

Her agony on my account was something I could not take. I was distressed.

***

Death of my mother

My mother died in September 1995. A month before her death, I had taken a break from my work, and shifted to my brother’s house in Shimoga, where she was bed-ridden. Initially, she was conscious, but towards the end, she lay unconscious most of the time.

I used to sit by her side, talking, while she was still conscious. Anil was her favourite son. Being a doctor, he had fitted her with pipes and tubes, and struggled round the clock to keep her alive.

One day, I told him, “Let’s not keep her alive this way. Take away those things.”

I had gathered the courage to tell him that, and Anil needed the confidence. He did as suggested. I sat by my mother, held her hand, uttered a prayer, and said, “Everything is all right. You may go.”

Since she knew about Esther, I guessed she was apprehensive I wouldn’t conduct her last rites, and said, “I will take the initiative and perform all your rites.”

She left us a couple of days later. I couldn’t sit on the floor, so I broke convention and sat on a stool. I performed her rites with my brothers, trying all the while to understand the mantras.

My mother treated everyone with affection, but had never given up her ritual sense of purity. She was not a modern shy about her Brahmin caste, or rather, her sub-caste.

When she heard the Pejawar swamiji had visited a Dalit colony, she was bewildered. I congratulated him as I felt he was capable of influencing my mother.

Oblivious of the depth of such beliefs, my fellow-writers ridiculed me. Such intellectuals have no desire to change the thinking of people like my mother. My mother wouldn’t give up her caste, but believed taking vows and praying to Muslim holy men would cure children of certain ailments.

***

The house that started a row

I didn’t have a house of my own. I applied for one in Mysore. Poet Krishna Alanahalli took me to someone he knew and said, “Give our teacher a site.”

He did. The site was like a lane. “I don’t want it,” I said.

Krishna took me back to the official and said, “Not this one, give him another.” I got another site. Krishna liked me a lot, and said I should keep the first one, too. Afraid I would give in to temptation, I wrote a letter returning the earlier site. Krishna laughed at my foolishness.

By then, I had decided to move from Mysore to Bangalore. Award-winners are entitled to sites, and I got one during chief minister Veerappa Moily‘s time. It was a good plot, opposite a park.

Since we were about to come away from Mysore, I thought it would be better if we could get a house instead. When I mentioned this to my friend J.H. Patel, then chief minister, he said he would allot me a house in a colony originally meant for NRIs who could pay in dollars. I live in this house now.

Once the house was sanctioned, I returned my site.

Several people, under P. Lankesh‘s leadership, pounced on me, ignoring the fact that I had returned the site. A story first appeared in Lankesh Patrike. My utterly emotional and dear friend G.K. Govinda Rao demonstrated against me.

I wrote to Patel, requesting him to take back the house and give me the site again.

He tore up my letter and said, “Everything is legal, whatever people might say. If you don’t want this house, there’s another in my name. Shall I get it registered in your name?” I declined. Many articles appeared in the papers.

After some time, my detractors began to see the truth. Lankesh called up my house one day and asked Esther, “May I visit you?” She said, “Ask him,” and handed me the phone. I called him over. He arrived with a friend.

Esther went out of the house the moment he stepped in. I got some tea made for him. “Saw the new house?” I said. He replied, without any embarrassment, “Never mind, Ananthamurthy. All that’s over now.” He didn’t say another word about it.

We try to show our integrity through our prejudices. I don’t like this practice, among Kannada writers, of flaunting their integrity. We must hide our integrity, like we hide our love.

My friend B.S. Achar was struck by cancer. Lankesh wrote about it in his paper and announced he was giving him some money. Achar was disgusted. He returned the money. It didn’t occur to Lankesh, whose aim was publicity, to reflect if it was all right to write in his paper about his own acts of charity.

***

The modernist debate

Our discussions at Coffee House with Gopalakrishna Adiga inspired many of my writings. We lived in a world of our own, amidst the shared coffee and cigarettes. We were busy ushering in modernism in literature when a juke box, which we thought of as a symbol of modernism, arrived at Coffee House.

Attracted by its loud music, young people thronged the cafe. Modernity had snatched away the comfortable cane chairs that encouraged discussions about modernism.

We went to the parks, looking for space under the trees. Without coffee, our discussions lost their charm. We didn’t have money for beer at the pubs. And in any case, Adiga wouldn’t drink even though he was a modernist!

Translated by S.R. Ramakrishna

Excerpted from Suragi, U.R. Ananthamurthy’s autobiography, due for release soon

***

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: The U.R. Anantha Murthy interview

The mahaan elastic buddhijeevi of the year?

CHURUMURI POLL: Smooth, smart, stupid?

URA: A people’s manifesto for the 2008 elections

Is Anantha Murthy‘s Samskara a little too sexy?

URA: ‘India is the loser if Hindus become communal’

T.S. SATYAN: Small, simple, casual, basic, humble

12 December 2012

Satyan_1

Tomorrow, December 13, is the third death anniversary of Tamabarahalli Subramanya Satyanarayana Iyer better known as T.S. Satyan, the legendary photojournalist and contributor and well-wisher of churumuri.

Here, a friend pays tribute.

***

By ASHVINI RANJAN

All photographers working with life-forms, more so humans, would at some time or the other have wished they had the power to become invisible.

A power to enable them to take pictures without the subject becoming conscious of being photographed.

The sight of a camera has something hypnotic on the human mind.  It deep freezes expressions and transforms them to look anything but natural. A kind of rigor mortis of the facial muscles sets in. Further damage is caused when the photographer announces his readiness by saying ‘smile please’.

Barring blissfully ignorant children who have  not yet come under the spell of the camera, the effect is universal.

Even veteran actors struggle all their lives to look their natural self in front of a camera.

The incredibly true-to-life human portrait that T.S. Satyan was able to capture in his camera was largely due to his remarkable skills of camouflaging  not only the camera but himself as well.

***

Satyan’s  presence in a crowd was hardly noticeable. The man was of average height, lean, brown skinned, soft spoken, dressed in a dull bush shirt and pant, wore chappals for foot wear, and seldom established eye contact.

As nondescript  as R.K. Laxman’s ‘Common Man’.

He even spoke the language of the common man.

Unlike most of us who are prone to draw attention or be recognized in an assemblage of people, Satyan worked hard on remaining  unnoticed. He seemed to have perfected the art to the extent he came close to being non-existent. Being physically small made, his movement too was easy and without a rustle. He took small steps when he moved.

Everything about him was casual and unhurried.

Satyan belonged to the age of black and white films and SLR cameras. He refused to be lured by the technological marvels of the digital camera.

He remained a Brahmin in that sense.

The camera he used was basic, compact and each exposure required manual settings.  He carried the equipment in a cloth bag slung over his shoulder which reached down to his hip.  It had a wide opening at the top which enabled him to remove and slip in with ease.

The camera came out of the bag only after he had seen a setting worthy of a picture.

With a basic camera that Satyan carried, there wasn’t too much scope for fiddling with the settings.  He seldom carried more than one lens and therefore no fuss about changing them and drawing attention.  The picture quality was discovered only after the film was processed.

To Satyan’s generation of photographers, the mind, the eye and the body had to be in total sync, before freezing the frame.

***

Once I spotted Satyan in Devaraja vegetable market; his favorite haunt in Mysore where he has taken some of his best known pictures.

I resisted the temptation of  catching up with him.  Instead,  I walked behind him keeping a distance.

There was a young man selling raw peanuts.  Satyan stopped a distance from the vendor, stood awhile possibly assessing and exploring  the possibility of a picture.  He then went round the subject looking at the surroundings, frequently looking up at the mid day sun and the shadows it cast.

He then went and sat on a folded gunny sack used as a mat not far from the peanut vendor and the heap of his merchandise in front. The young man momentarily noticed the presence of a stranger sitting close by. I soon noticed that Satyan’s disarming smile and the banter that had put the youngster at ease.

After perhaps a few pleasantries, the peanut vendor went about his business unmindful of the stranger.

The time Satyan sat there hunched and cross legged, the world went by including the local populace.  Neither the vendor  nor the many shoppers noticed that the man sitting there was a celebrated photo journalist whose photographs had appeared in the  prestigious Time and Life magazines.

A recipient of the coveted Padmashri award and a internationally acclaimed  photographer.

Contrary to my expectation, Satyan did not take a picture of the young man. When he got up to leave, the peanut vendor picked up a fistful of peanuts and offered it to Satyan. The gesture was gratefully accepted and Satyan put the offering into his camera bag.

Later when I caught up with Satyan,  I found him feasting on the nuts that he had received.

Curiosity got the better of me when I asked Satyan why he had not taken a picture of the peanut vendor.  It was when he told me that the young man was too conscious of his presence.  With this acquaintance established with the peanut vendor,  he would come back at a later date to shoot him.

***

Satyan2

Satyan once volunteered to take pictures of children of  the Pratham Mysore Balavadi schools.

When we arrived at Kesare, one of the less developed areas of Mysore, Satyan insisted that we park our car at a distance and walk the last stretch to the school where the children had assembled to make a quiet entry into the school.

He preferred to be by himself with the children and sat on one of the steps outside a class to talk to the children in Urdu as it was predominantly a Muslim locality. The chocolates that he had carried in his camera bag attracted the children like ants to a honey pot.

Of the hour that we spent at the school, Satyan played with the children for a good part of our stay.  They were all over him playing and tugging at his clothing and his bag.  All the  pictures that he finally captured were taken in less than ten minutes.

The children continued to play paying little or no heed either Satyan’s  camera or his work. Needless to say, the man had given thought of all possible situations that he was likely to encounter before venturing out on the assignment.

***

I met Satyan through his son Nagendra. I was drawn to Satyan from our first meeting both because of my interest in his  profession,  his inimitable sense of humor and his unique story telling abilities.

During our meetings, Rathnamma, his wife, would sit through the evening unmindful of the number of times she had heard the stories.  Except for the occasional reminder not to exceed the quantities of his favorite cashew nuts,  she remained the quiet dutiful wife.

On the 13 December 2009,  I was away in Bangalore when I received a call from his son Nagendra informing me that Satyan was no more.  By the time I reached Mysore that evening,  the house was nearly empty with only members of the grieving family.

True to his persona, Satyan had made quick and quiet exit.

This time to remain truly invisible and  forever.

Also read: Once upon a time, early in the morning

The R.K. Narayan only I knew

Once upon a time during the Quit India movement

Mysore’s shortest man was only in height

The Raja said, ‘Why don’t you go with Mohini?’

The cop who stopped the maharaja

The genius of the Indian villager

Hurgaalu and Black Dog on the way to Vaikuntapura

T.S. SATYAN: Once upon a time with Sir C.V. Raman

‘Simplicity and grace born out of true greatness’

If the Mahatma could rethink his xenophobia…

8 October 2012

Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

R.K. Narayan did not write in Kannada, but his works sensitively portray the people, culture and landscapes of the state of Karnataka. His 1938 book, Mysore, remains a classic of travel-writing; still valuable for anyone who seeks to know about, or visit, the shrines, towns, and water-falls of the southern part of the state.

The Malgudi of his novels was almost certainly based on the town of Nanjangud, on the banks of the river Kabini, some 15 miles from Mysore. The name, Malgudi, was made up from the names of two venerable Bangalore localities, Malleswaram and Basavangudi.

The restaurant-owners, printers, shopkeepers, teachers, housewives and students who people Narayan’s stories are as authentic Kannadigas as one can get. Which is why the television serial, Malgudi Days, was such a hit in Kannada and among Kannadigas. And it continues to be watched, 30 years after it was first made, available in DVDs that can be downloaded from the internet.

I hope the Kannada writers [who claimed Narayan was, so to say, a ‘foreigner’, have the good grace to withdraw their protest after this necessary intervention by Girish Karnad and U.R. Anantha Murthy. To admit that one was wrong, or mistaken, is in the best traditions of writing and scholarship. Besides, there is the example of Gandhi; if he could rethink his impulsive xenophobia, so can the rest of us.

Read the full column: Good Kannadigas and bad Kannadigas

Also read: Four reasons why R.K. Narayan deserves a memorial

What Kannada racists can learn from a Raja-rishi

How can Bhyrappa & Co be the same as Yedi & Co?

How can Bhyrappa & Co be same as Yedi & Co?

2 October 2012

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: Parochial thoughts. Narrow-minded pettiness. Divisive ideas that spell acrimonious discord. Ttaking cheap potshots at men and twisting core issues out of proportion. Displaying a reckless and irresponsible sense of disdain towards the sensitivities of society.

Raising issues of language and even caste….

These, as no one would dispute, have been observed for long as the in-built characteristics, perhaps the very genetic make-up of men and women, who identify themselves as politicians in this country, of course with the odd exceptions, who anyway show up on our political horizon, as regularly as a certain comet named after an English astronomer called Edmond Halley.

But for writers, for men of letters?

The commentators of society at large, those who, with their power of the pen and their intellect can dissect and disseminate thoughts?

They, who tell stories of man and have the talent to chronicle the ways of humankind?

They, who are supposedly adept and capable of sifting the chaff from the grain of life itself; those who have been endowed the powers and gift of serious, sensitive, responsible, fair, meaningful, and worthy intercourse on matters profound and intelligent?

They, who are the arbiters of all that should be invoked in society in order to make it a better entity for lesser men to inhabit; those ordinary members of the public who obviously do not have the talent and the powers of serious writers?

For a group of such writers to make a case for a fellow-writer, R.K. Narayan, to not have the posthumous privilege of a memorial in his name; in a City (and at a home) in which he lived and wrote for close to 50 years is something that simply confounds, confuses and numbs the minds of all right-thinking citizens of the great city of Mysore.

Narayan was a man who traversed its lanes and by lanes with fond affection; someone who made a fantastic connect with the very ethos of the city, its people, their ways, their eccentricities and foibles, their loveliness and innocence, their very being in a sense; and weaved some of the most rollickingly interesting, sensitive, comical, gentle, poignant and tender stories of his age and time about a certain unique culture, and immortalised in print, the very soul of a largely unknown city called Mysore which was widely presumed to be his literary muse, among the rest of India as also in the eyes of the west, save for those few westerners who had had the pleasure and honour of having been invited to the city and acquainted to it by its Maharaja as his guests, perhaps for Dasara or the Khedda in the jungles of Kakanakote.

That Narayan did not speak Kannada; that he chose to move to Madras during his later years; that he did not donate his manuscripts to the University of Mysore and chose to give them away for a price to a foreign university; that he was not a Kannadiga in the first place but a Tamilian.

So what’s new about such haranguing?

What is new is this, perhaps not so new but something that needs to be reiterated at this juncture.

That R.K.Narayan was a man who had the gift of the pen like no other Indian writer in English had some 75 years ago, that he was a man who had the confidence and the literary flamboyance to make an English publishing house in England of that era sit up and take notice and finally agree to publish his stories, for their sheer flow and flair, for their simplicity of prose and the absolute enthralling grip of the narration; about a people and their culture, that was I’m dead sure, to the publisher himself as alien, strange and unknown as the river Avon and the denizens who populated its banks was, to the dramatis personae of Narayan’s stories!

The decision to become a full time writer and endeavour to make a living off it, with a family to feed; at a time in history when Indians at large, barely comprehended the alien language, let alone write or speak it with any great expertise.

Narayan’s tensions, his worries, and the patience he exercised in waiting for replies from a place, England, so far from Mysore that it could well have been on another planet, every time he either sent excerpts of his writings or plainly corresponded with potential publishers.

At a time when the red-coloured post box was all that existed as a symbol of communication. And not the power of the telephone or the speed of the internet, for heaven’s sake.

At a time when most Indians were ridiculed for their lack of English proficiency, so much so, that most of them were thought to not even be able to write four meaningful lines by way of a leave letter to be presented to their bosses in office; for Narayan to be able to write not four but perhaps forty thousand or four hundred thousand lines in English that not only impressed but had the west in thrall is a decent enough reason to remember him.

To cut to the chase, let’s give Mr Narayan a memorial for sure.

And as soon as possible.

For in his memorial shall lie the story of one man’s inimitable brilliance and perseverance in making the impossible possible. To put it simply, that is.

It simply shouldn’t matter that he was not born 16 miles west of Holenarispura or some such place in Karnataka and that his father was called Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer.

Cartoon: courtesy Mahmud/ Praja Vani

Also read: Four reasons why R.K. Narayan deserves a memorial

What Kannada racists can learn from a Raja-rishi

4 reasons why R.K. Narayan deserves a memorial

25 September 2012

15, Vivekananda Road, Yadavagiri, Mysore 570020: the home R.K. Narayan built in 1952 and lived in for nearly half a century

K.C. BELLIAPPA writes: R.K. Narayan is in the news again thanks to the objections raised to a memorial for him by a host of Kannada writers. The fact that many of them are giants in the Kannada literary scene made me sit up and read their press release with utmost care.

Let me respond to their objections.

The first objection is that R.K.Narayan is not a Kannadiga. This is stating the obvious but we should remember that Narayan is first and foremost an English writer. He did not write in any other Indian language. They are unhappy that Narayan while he translated Kamban’s Ramayana into English did not introduce any Kannada literary work to the outside world like A.K. Ramanujan.

To draw a comparison between Narayan and Ramanujan is manifestly unfair.

While Ramanujan was an acclaimed translator who had inwardness with three languages — Tamil, Kannada and English — Narayan was not a translator in the real sense of the term but what he managed to do was to render a free translation of Kamban, generally regarded as a work of inspiration.

Narayan had neither the competence nor the talent to translate Kannada works into English. Hence, this is not a legitimate complaint.

***

The Kannada writers are unhappy that Narayan sold his manuscripts to an American University and did not donate it to any University in Karnataka. They regard this as injustice to Kannada readers who know English.

I honestly fail to understand their specious logic.

Let me now give the real reason behind this decision. During one of my visits to Narayan’s house in Yadavagiri with Prof C.D. Narasimhaiah, he held forth eloquently on his reason for giving the manuscripts of his novels to Boston University library.

He said:

“CD, if I had given my manuscripts to the government archives, they would have dumped it in some corner where it would have been lying gathering dust and I would have got an acknowledgement on a buff paper. In Boston, they are preserved in air conditioned lockers.”

Of course, he added that he was paid $5,000 for each manuscript. In a manner of speaking, Narayan was a professional writer and looked at his writings wholly from a commercial perspective. I am not too sure whether we can question this premise of his.

***

They further argue that Narayan did not know Kannada well enough except for four or five sentences which he spoke with a mixture of Tamil. I think his Kannada was much better than that and this accusation has to be seen in the context of their opposition to the memorial.

Finally, they are of the view that Narayan’s relatives are selling the house just as Narayan did his manuscripts solely for money. The major burden of their argument is that Narayan as a non-Kannadiga does not deserve a memorial in Mysore and the government of Karnataka should not spend any money over it.

To be honest, I read the press release repeatedly to make sure that they meant what they had said.

I cannot understand how writers, eminent ones at that, could take such a stance.

***

Literature at its basic level teaches us to transcend all differences, be it linguistic, religious, cultural or any other for that matter. If they were genuinely concerned about memorials for other famous Kannada writers, they ought to have raised this issue dispassionately without questioning the decision of the government of Karnataka to build a memorial for Narayan.

R.K. Narayan by virtue of his being a writer in English is a pan-Indian literary figure of international acclaim. He is an eminent Indian English novelist who along with Mulk Raj Anand and Raja Rao was responsible for putting Indian Writing in English on the map of world literature.

He is possibly the most widely translated Indian writer.

I suspect that he was also the bestselling author among Indian writers and should rank as one of the richest among them. Narayan will reign supreme in world literature as far as readability is concerned.

There is a larger question whether governments should spend money on building such memorials for writers. England, for instance, has preserved the house of every writer, for that matter of all artists irrespective of their being considered major or minor in importance.

For the lover of arts, it is bound to be a memorable visit wherein he feels the ambience and the spirit of the place.

Depending on one’s familiarity with the artist, memories will come rushing in and result in an aesthetically satisfying experience. As a matter of fact, this is the nearest that one can come to experiencing the real thing. Surely, there is no substitute for this.

I would like to add that all such houses of writers should be seen as slices of literary heritage and not as pieces of real estate.

Here, I am reminded of what a friend from the fourth estate told me. Apparently, the heirs of a well-known politician of Karnataka demanded a fancy price for the house of their ancestor. When the officer concerned demanded that they offer the house free to the government, they refused. It was clear that they were more interested in the money part of it rather than the desire to perpetuate the memory of their illustrious forefather.

To be fair to Narayan’s relatives, they offered the house for sale as there was no one to stay in it. Only when the demolition of the house began did this become a public issue. Star of Mysore Editor-in-Chief K.B. Ganapathy, an ardent admirer of Narayan’s writings, wrote about the necessity of converting the house into a memorial.

Officials and Ministers responded favourably to this demand and it was officially announced that the government will buy the house and make it into a museum. It is more than a year since this happened and hence it is regrettable that such renowned writers are making an issue of this so belatedly.

(Former vice-chancellor of the Rajiv Gandhi central university in Arunachal Pradesh, Prof K.C. Belliappa is former faculty of the department of English, University of Mysore. This piece originally appeared in Star of Mysore and is republished with kind courtesy)

Girish Karnad: J.P. Nagar to China via Singapore

8 May 2012

Girish Karnad in the Daily Beast:

“Only 20 years ago, when my wife and I decided to move to Bangalore from Bombay, we could visit a new suburb, buy a site of our choice, and then sit down with an architect to design the house we wanted. No more.

“As the demand for housing overran the availability of land, the estate developers took control, eating into the villages surrounding the city, occupying farms and open spaces, razing houses to the ground, and installing multistory apartment buildings in their place, with little regard to the city’s existing infrastructure.

“The current joke is that the only buildings to remain unscathed by the onslaught may be Vidhana Soudha, the building that houses the legislature, and UB City, a complex that is a hideous combination of the Empire State Building and Internet kitsch, built by a liquor baron….

“Twenty years after we built our house in a residential zone, we have now been informed that the road in front of it needs to be widened to accommodate the traffic. Any day now an entire swath could be cleared from our front garden, and the wall of our living room knocked down.

“A city planner told me: ‘Every day 400 four-wheelers and 1,200 two- and three-wheelers are added to the roads of Bangalore. We have to compete with Beijing.’

“It was not so long ago that the city was competing only with Singapore.”

Read the full article: Karnad on Bangalore

***

BANGALORE‘A city whose soul has been clinically removed

C.N.R. RAO: If IT takes away Bangalore’s values, burn IT

PAUL THEROUX: Bangalore’s idiots who speak an idiolect at home

CHURUMURI POLL: Who killed Bangalore?

Bharat as seen from the City of Baked Beans

Has the IT boom quelled Bangalore’s tensions?

How China changed the face of Karnataka politics

When R.K. Narayan went to see a ‘blue’ film

16 April 2012

Khushwant Singh in the Hindustan Times:

“Once while attending a writers conference at Hawaii the only participant I knew was R.K. Narayan. He was a saintly sort of person, not great company for the likes of me. He was a strict vegetarian.

“In the evening he would buy a carton of dahi and go from cafe to cafe looking for plain boiled rice. He insisted I keep him company.

“One evening I tried to shake him off with the excuse that I wanted to see a blue film. ‘I come along with you,’ he announced. So we went to a locality where there were a few cinemas showing blue films.

“After an hour I got bored. So did he. We came out and resumed our search for dahi-chaawal and place where I could also get a meal of fried fish. I have not been able to find out why sexy films are called blue films. Why not red, yellow or green?’

Read the full column: Lost romance of candlelight glow

Is M.G. Road the world’s longest mausoleum?

15 April 2012

Bangalore’s most prominent thoroughfare, Mahatma Gandhi road alias M.G. Road, looks more and more like Bangalore’s longest mausoleum, one iconic establishment after another dropping dead or lying comatose at the feet of fatcat chains and real-estate bandicoots.

Coffee house one day, Plaza the next, Brindavan the third, and now Gangarams, the book store.

Like the drunkard at the crematorium who is numb to the sight of death—and laughs at those who have a tear in the eye—the long line of accumulating casualties barely activates the lachrymal glands of locals who have “moved on” to a new world sans a sense of history.

But rest assured, they will be sitting at Koshy‘s and gassing about Notting Hill or You’ve got mail and tch-tching about how much concern westerners have for these things.

Also read: Oh god, what have they done to my M.G. Road

Saturdays, girlfriends, popcorn and other memories

ARAVIND ADIGA on Mangalore’s circulating libraries

External reading: Manney’s closes down in Poona

Even a crown jewel needs a nice coat of paint

20 February 2012

An artist gives final touches to the statue of Kuvempu near freedom park, in Bangalore on Sunday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

CHURUMURI POLL: Is India a liberal Republic?

20 January 2012

On the eve of the 62nd anniversary of the “sovereign socialist secular republic”, a nice little knife has been stuck into the heart of liberal India by goondas and moral policemen. The author Sir Salman Rushdie has pulled out of the Jaipur literary festival following threats from “influential Muslim clerics” of the Darul Uloom Deoband, who suddenly remembered that his banned 1989 novel The Satanic Verses hurt the sentiments of Muslims ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections.

Considering that the book was banned the cowardly Congress government of Rajiv Gandhi 23 years ago, it will surprise nobody that it was the cowardly Congress government of Ashok Gehlot that did the needful this time round. Instead of reassuring the world that the “Indian State” would protect every single individual, down to the last man, woman and child, even if he has offended the super-sensitive and super-patriotic—especially if he has offended the super-sensitive and super-patriotic—the Rajasthan government caved in to the thugs.

And the Manmohan Singh government meekly watched on—just as it meekly watched on when A.K. Ramanujan‘s essay Three-hundred Ramayanas was being proscribed by Delhi University (where Singh’s daughter works), under the benign gaze of Sonia Gandhi and Shiela Dixit (peace be unto them).

While the Congress deserves every brick, shoe and invective hurled at it for the latest “stain on India’s international reputation“—on top of its execrable efforts to screen Facebook, Google and the media—no political party is properly clothed in this horribly naked hamaam which repeatedly and brazenly cocks a snook at free speech and expression.

# The warnings of Hindutva hitmen owing allegiance to the BJP drove M.F. Husain out of India, forcing him to live the last years of his abroad.

# NCP goondas burnt down a library in Poona because its author had used it to write a book on Shivaji, which they didnt’ like.

# In the glorious republic of Gujarat, movie watchers could not catch Parzania because–horror, horror—it showed the plight of Muslim victims in the 2002 pogrom; because, well, Narendra Damodardas Modi‘s government couldn’t offer basic security to theatres.

# Ditto Aamir Khan‘s Fanaa.

# And of course, the “alleged apostle of peace” couldn’t bear the hints of bisexuality in the real apostle of peace, so Joseph Lelyveld‘s book on Mahatma Gandhi was conveniently removed from the eyes of readers.

# In Left-ruled Kerala, a professors’s hand could be merrily chopped off with gay abandon by Islamists because he had mistakenly prepared a question paper that used the named “Mohammed” for a somewhat daft character. (And who can forget what happened to Deccan Herald, when it printed a short story titled Mohamed the Idiot.)

# Taslima Nasreen was unwelcome in Left-ruled Bengal because her views didn’t match those of the mullahs. (She was later attacked by Majlis MLAs in Congress-ruled Hyderabad and her visa reluctantly renewed by the UPA.)

# The BSP government of Behen Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh banned the film Aarakshan because of is “derogatory” take on reservations.

Questions: Are we really a tolerant, liberal nation open to views from all sides? Or in the 21st century, are we utterly incapable of using the word freedom without adding “but” to it?

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Does freedom have its limits?

‘Online extremism has lowered tolerance levels’

What’s the correct word for a Hindu fatwa?

Free to live. Not free to do and say as we like?

Why we mustn’t ban the book on the Mahatma

Rama, Krishna, Shiva & our political correctness

8 December 2011

Delhi University does not want a certain kind of Ramayana to be heard or read by its students. Well, for altogether different reasons, so do many parents writes the author, speaker, illustrator and mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik, chief belief officer of the Future group, in Star of Mysore:

***

“Often I am approached by well-meaning people who want stories to be told to their children. So which story must one tell children? ‘Tell the Ramayana.’ So I begin—Once upon a time, there was a king with three wives…. And they interrupt, ‘Skip the three wives part. How can one talk about polygamy to children?’

“And then I come to the part where Ram abandons Sita following gossip in the city. And they interrupt again, ‘Can we end the Ramayana with the coronation part and skip this tragic ending?’

“In fact, many parents feel Ramayana should not be told to children as it is a patriarchal narrative. They feel I should tell the story of Krishna. Which part? ‘The childhood part when he is so sweet and naughty.’ And do we tell the story of how he stole clothes? ‘No, no, that is awkward.’ And the part about Raas-Lila. ‘No, no, that is difficult to explain.’

“So shall I tell the story of Shiva? ‘Yes, except anything about the Lingam and the consumption of Bhang.’ What about story of Durga? ‘Yes, Yes.’ But the moment I describe how Kali drinks blood I see eyebrows rise and gestures begging me to stop. ‘We are vegetarians.’

“Every parent wants to control what their children must hear. Every celebrity wants to control what the media says about them. Is there a difference?”

Read Devdutt Pattanaik’s articles: here

Also read: Dasaratha‘s wives gorged on idlis, dosas

Should gods, goddesses have caste identities?

USHA K.R.: The delightful feminism behind Ganesha‘s birth

Vinod Mehta on Arun Shourie, Dileep Padgaonkar

7 November 2011

“India’s most independent, principled and irreverent editor” Vinod Mehta has just published a memoir. Titled Lucknow Boy, the editor-in-chief  of the Outlook* group of magazines, recaptures his four-decade journalistic journey via Debonair, The Sunday Observer, The Indian Post,  The Independent and The Pioneer.

With trademark candour often bordering on the salacious, the twice-married but childless Mehta reveals that he fathered a child in a tryst with a Swiss girl in his 20s, and that as a young copywriter in Bombay, he posed as a prostitute’s boyfriend to get her sister married off (and got paid Rs 500 for his services).

Along the way, Mehta also slays two very holy cows of Indian journalism, Arun Shourie and Dileep Padgaonkar, revealing their hypocrisy and duplicity in the way they dealt with colleagues while grandstanding in public as suave, softspoken, scholarly men of letters.

***

By VINOD MEHTA

Over the years, Arun Shourie and I have not seen eye to eye on many issues—something I don’t regret. Shourie, as editor of the Indian Express, had broken the big Antulay story, ‘Indira Gandhi as Commerce’ [in the early 1980s].

The expose revealed that the Maharashtra chief minister, A.R. Antulay, had started an organisation called the ‘Indian Gandhi Pratibha Pratishtan’ through which he collected illicit funds from builders. The corruption scandal forced Antulay to resign.

Arun Shourie and the Express, now implacably opposed to Indira Gandhi and the Congress, had bagged a big Congress scalp. Among journalists and sections of civil society Mr Shourie was flavour of the month—or shall I say many months.

A young reporter in the Free Press Journal with friends in the Express came to see me. He said he had a story, but was not sure if a recently launched paper like the Sunday Observer had the nerve to publish it. According to him, the chief reporter and several other senior reporters in the Express were sulking because Arun Shourie had hogged all the limelight.

While they acknowledged Shourie’s contribution, much of the legwork for the scoop had been done by the Express bureau, a fact which was never acknowledged in the story. Staff morale apparently was at an all-time low.

‘Shourie and the Penthouse conspiracy’ duly appeared. ‘Penthouse’ was mentioned because Mr Shourie allegedly sat in the Express penthouse with Ramnath Goenka and wrote the expose.

It did not take long for Arun Shourie to come back. He demanded a full rebuttal in the form of an extended interview with him. ‘Your story is a complete fabrication,’ he charged.

Kumar Ketkar, then a young and pugnacious Bombay journalist, jumped into the fray. In a letter to the editor [of The Sunday Observer], he noted: ‘The self-righteous breast-beating of Shourie is a fast spreading gangrene in the profession of journalism. If not checked in time, it could acquire the dimensions of witch-hunting and Macarthyism.’

And concluded: ‘Free from any constraint of veracity, Shourie is always able to provide exclusive stories.’ The debate on our letters page continued for many weeks.

***

On 19 October 1989, The Independent published an eight-column banner headline, ‘Y.B. Chavan, not Morarji Desai, spied for the US.’ For two days the story went largely unnoticed. Except for Mid-Day which carried our Chavan report almost verbatim, the rest of the media kept away.

That did not suit the perenially insecure editor of The Times of IndiaDileep Padgaonkar.

While the other editors in the Times group were troubled by my presence, Dileep had a special and urgent reason to feel troubled. I and my team were producing an English paper every day which looked infinitely better than the paper Dileep was editing, and on many mornings it even read better.

Mr Padgaonkar’s insecurities when word got around that, at a meeting with his senior managers, [Times bossman] Samir Jain mentioned me as a possible editor of The Times of India.

Dileep and the Maharashtra Times editor, Govind Talwalkar, got together to ensure the Chavan story did not go unnoticed. In an editorial on 21 October, the Times viciously attacked me and the Independent. It went so far as to incite physical violence against me, suggesting that if it did occur, it would be my own fault.

Departing from its pompous, lofty, measured tone, the Times launched a series of vituperative onslaughts targeting me, which observers found astonishing since the two papers were ‘sister publications’. One opposition leader told the media that while the (Chavan) story was indeed objectionable, it was the Times group which created the ‘hysteria’ around it.

I hold no grudges against Dileep Padgaonkar. He is who he is. However, the man who once claimed he held ‘the second most important job in the country’ can be legitimately charged with single-handedly opening the door for the denigration and decline of the Editor as an institution.

When Dileep’s bosses asked him to bend, he crawled. Since then it has been downhill all the way for other editors.

(Lucknow Boy by Vinod Mehta, published by Penguin Viking, 325 pages, Rs 499)

Illustration: courtesy Sorit GuptoOutlook

Read an excerpt: Vinod Mehta on Radia tapes, Vajpayee, V.C. Shukla

Buy the book onlineIndia Plaza offer prize Rs 299

***

Disclosures apply

***
Also readS. Nihal Singh on Arun Shourie: Right-wing pamphleteer

Why Khushwant Singh fell out with Arun Shourie

‘Lone Hindu’ Dileep Padgaonkar gets it from M.J. Akbar‘s paper

How Dileep Padgaonkar christened a Pierre Cardin model

How the Sakaal Times dream became a nightmare

Lessons for a Kannadiga in swachcha Cantonese

6 November 2011

The question of English continues to puzzle India and Indians even after six decades of independence from the English. Every academic year, every government in Karnataka (and elsewhere) ties itself up in knots on just when or whether English should be introduced into the syllabuses of students.

Buddhijeevis like the novelist U.R. Anantha Murthy argue that a child must speak and learn exclusively in her mother tongue until she enters high school lest she become totally disconnected from her social and spiritual roots. Dalit activists suggest that the promotion of Kannada is an upper-class ploy to keep them away from the fruits of modern learning.

As the historian Ramachandra Guha writes in The Telegraph, Calcutta,

“Dalits say that once the Brahmins denied them access to Sanskrit; now, the descendants of those Brahmins wish to deny the Dalits access to the modern language of power and privilege, namely, English.”

While we continue to look at speaking English merely through the prism of power, privilege and livelihood, there is yet another dimension to it, as Sunaad Raghuram discovers in the former British colony of Hong Kong.

***

By SUNAAD RAGHURAM in Hong Kong

As the Jet Airways Boeing 777 began to activate its ailerons in sight of the Hong Kong International airport by the South China Sea, and heaved its gargantuan body sideways, aligning its pudgy nose with the dark grey of the runway in the distance, I peered groggily out of the window to see the lazy bobbing of fishing boats in the haze covered morning, with the October sun still haven’t woken up.

Out of the swank, squeaky clean airport which seemed to have halls large enough to house an assortment of aircrafts within their own expansiveness, I approached an elderly man and asked him the way to the taxi stand.

“No English,” he waved.

Even as I wondered if it was one of those things that I spoke to that one man in the vicinity who incidentally did not speak English, I noticed a line of red taxis, all Toyota Crowns.

Hailing one of them, I pushed my baggage into the rear of the car and sat down next to the driver and said, ‘Hi, good morning. Let’s go the Harbour Plaza Hotel, Tokwawan’.

The ease with which I threw the hotel’s name at him, I thought, would give him the impression that I was one of those travellers whose trip to Hong Kong was perhaps the 17th! The taxi driver looked at me, smiled a weak smile and didn’t do anything much else.

“Well, this is where I need to go,” I said to him, pointing to the name of the hotel and its address that I had written down on a piece of paper. Only when he stared blankly at it did I realize that even he did not speak or read or understand English.

Getting off the car, I walked up to a woman in uniform, may be an airport volunteer.

“I need to reach Tokwawan, the Harbour Plaza Hotel.”

Perhaps the familiarity of the sounds that I uttered rang a bell in her. She walked up to the taxi and said something which immediately elicited a nod, a smile and a wave of the hand from the driver who beckoned me to hop in.

Off we drove past the harbour bridge with its amazing pylons and cables of sheer steel that resembled its more famous cousin, the Golden Gate in San Francisco; the mesmerising views of the sea and the skyscrapers along its edge that seemed to rise out of nowhere amidst the clouds; the emerald coloured hills in the distance with their velvety looks; and finally the hotel.

On the third day, on a train along the Orange Line from Hong Kong Central to the Disney Resort in Sunny Bay on Lantau Island, I did small conversation with a Filipino woman who spoke impeccable English.

“Why don’t people in Hong Kong speak English all that much although the whole area was under the British for such a long time,” I ventured to ask.

She smiled and answered my question in just one word: “Defiance.” And then she said, “the thought here was; you have come to rule us, so you better learn our language.”

Yet Hong Kong is so much like legendary New York in parts. The mind boggling high rises; the million apartment blocks that have so many houses in them that the architects and the builders themselves seem to have lost count; the vibrancy, the power, the pace, the glitz, the showiness and the social electricity of Tsim Shat Tsui, the central business district; with its grand hotels, boutiques, restaurants, shops and showrooms that showcase the very best of the world’s fashion from clothes to jewellery to watches and shoes.

Louis Erand, Rado, Ebel, Breitling, Tag Heuer and Rolex. A piece of the last named brand that I chanced upon was a diamond encrusted one with a whopping $ HK 3,56,000 price tag, the equivalent of a little over Rs 21 lakh! And then, Prada, Louis Vuitton, and Blvgari.

The magnificence of Victorian grandeur amidst modern day razzmatazz. Bentleys, Ferraris and Lamborghinis zoom around as if they are regulation here.

But in their showrooms somewhere in Hong Kong, I suspect, you better ask in Cantonese!

Should gods, goddesses have caste identities?

19 October 2011

In a roundabout sort of way, Mysore is at the centre of a raging debate in the seats of learning in the nation’s capital.

The Mysore-born A.K. Ramanujan‘s classic essay “Three hundred Ramayanas” has been dropped from the history syllabus of Delhi University because it could hurt the feelings of the super-sensitive folk who have a firm and clear idea of how their gods and goddesses ought to be portrayed.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated move, a section of students of Jawaharlal Nehru University are planning to celebrate “Mahishasura Day” next Tuesday in honour of the demon-king to whom Mysore owes its name and whose statue (in picture) adorns the entrance of the temple atop Chamundi hills.

What gives “Mahishasura Day” an additional edge is the attempt to give Mahishasura a caste identity, the contention that he belonged to a backward community, which, if true, gives Mysore’s already strong reputation as the seat of social reforms a monumental push.

The journalist-author Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a JNU alum, wonders if it is OK for humans to see gods through the prism of caste.

***

By NILANJAN MUKHOPADHYAY

Do Hindu gods and goddesses have caste identities? Can one bring in the divisive issue of caste when talking about them? Would it be right to say that one particular god or goddess is a Brahmin while the other is a Kshatriya, a Vaishya or even one of the OBCs?

These thoughts surfaced in the mind after reading a news report mentioning that a section of students in New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University have decided to “observe ‘Mahishasura Day’ on October 25 to reiterate that the demon killed by Goddess Durga belonged to a Backward Community.”

The report elaborated that the All India Backward Students’ Forum “decided to honour Mahishasura after a tussle with another section of students who had allegedly taken the forum head-on for putting up ‘blasphemous posters on the campus during Durga Puja that hurt religious sentiments’.”

Having been the only university in which I ever enrolled, I have an overt interest in developments related to JNU. The report led me to speak to friends which, though not adding much on the incident per se, sharpened stray thoughts sparked off by the report.

I have been aware of the academic discourse on the caste profiling of mythological characters – especially from the Ramayana. At the level of popular culture, I have tracked Dalits celebrating ‘Ravana Melas’ to protest the burning of his effigies on ‘Dussehra’ and his portrayal in mainstream Hindu culture as the epitome of evil.

The step in JNU to observe Mahisasura Day is something similar, so prima facie there should not be any opposition to it since Ravana Melas have been held at various places for years. But spreading the trend elsewhere and to other mythologies would dilute the symbolic nature of the protest.

It also has the potential to boomerang.

Mythologies have portrayed Lord Krishna as a Yadav king but I have not come across any Upper Caste Hindu refusing to revere him.

If we extending caste profiling of mythological characters, gods and goddesses, a situation may arise when any OBC group may suddenly declare that Upper Caste Hindus do not have the right to include Lord Krishna in their pantheon.

Instead of eliminating the caste order, that would only widen the existing schism.

There is also the added problem of ‘fitting’ in the gods of the ati-Shudras or Dalits. Will OBC groups allow Dalits to consider Mahisasura to be their god also and allow entry into temples?

We have caste-based parties or political parties that draw their strengths primarily from one caste. Gods have not yet been split on caste lines. Instead of doing so, it would be best to allow people to follow their own gods – and if any group has a ‘problem’ with the mythology of one group then it’s best to shut one’s ears.

After all, the bulk of these gods and goddesses either wake up once a year or come visiting just the once. Thereafter, it is a matter of routine personal religiosity with no community participation.

(Journalist and television anchor Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay is the author of Demolition: India at the Crossroads. This piece originally appeared on the Asian Correspondent and is reproduced here with permission)

Photograph: The Mahishasura statue atop Chamundi hills in Mysore (Karnataka Photo News)

***

Read the full Ramanujan essay: Three hundred Ramayanas

Also read: In Ayodhya, Dasaratha‘s wives gorged on idli-dosa

A.K. Ramanujan: the old woman and her keys

How our buddhijeevis became one-tongue ponies

Is Samskara a little too sexy for post-graduate students?

The waiter who rose to be a vedic encyclopaedia

18 October 2011

Mathoor Krishnamurthy (left), the executive director of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bangalore, passed away on October 6 at the age of 84. Mathoorji, as the world called him, rose from his humble beginnings as a waiter and bus conductor, to be chief of BVB’s London centre for a quarter of a century.

Captain G.R. Gopinath, the founder of the low cost airline Air Deccan, pays tribute to the slightly built scholar hailing from the Sanskrit-speaking village of Mathoor, who held audiences spellbound with his wit, intellect and wisdom.

***

By G.R. GOPINATH

Though I was acquainted with Mathoorji since long, I got to know him intimately only a couple of years ago.

I decided to host a Gamaka concert at my residence. (Gamaka a dying art, unique only to Karnataka, is where a singer adopts a suitable raga as he recites a poem usually from the epics, a raga or a rasa which verily captures the meaning and spirit of the lines).

I called Mathoorji for breakfast to my house to talk it over. He created an unforgettable impression. He was on the dot at the appointed hour. He was dressed impeccably in the traditional style of a Kannada Sanskrit pandit, with a crisp starched white cotton dhoti and waist coat on a white khadi shirt.

His eyes had a sparkle and he was sprightly and mercurial.

He could converse in flawless Sanskrit, Tamil, Kannada, English and many Indian languages.

When I told him that I intended to host a Gamaka concert on episodes from either Valmiki Ramayana or Mahabharatha, and if he could render a discourse on it both in Kannada and English, he was elated, for he never imagined that someone steeped in the business world would find either the time or have the inclination for such a traditional art form.

He had the energy and enthusiasm of an eighteen year old, and he readily agreed.

Sitting next to Mathoorji was an overwhelming experience—as an experience when you are by the ocean. Whether it was a discourse on the Bhagavad Gita on stage or when he conversed in family circles, he was both akin to a gushing mountain brook and the mighty ocean.

He had wit, great story telling ability that held your attention, and could recite extensively from memory from the Gita, Ramayana, Mahabharatha, Upanishads and Puranas, and also from all the great poets of Kannada and Sanskrit. He was a treasure trove of anecdotes and could hold you spellbound with stories both from his own life and from the mythological epics.

He was steeped in tradition and yet very modern in his thinking and a true Gandhian.

Even at 84, he was involved in multifarious activities – producing videos and audios, writing, publishing and giving a daily discourse on TV channels and also in the educational and cultural activities of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Bangalore.

But his most endearing quality was his humility.

He had seen extreme hardship during his younger days and pursued his studies living in ashrams and taking meals at the homes of well-wishers who offered free board. He had worked in various jobs as a bus conductor and a waiter.

When I praised him, he merely said, “We cannot take credit for anything. We are only instruments in His hands – you do your work and leave it to Him”.

He had come home 20 days ago. He was a bundle of energy. He invited me to a book launch on “GandhiUpanishad” which he had just written. He regaled us with stories and anecdotes and as is usually the case with scholars, he was wont to meander from one story to another.

As he was leaving, he quoted a few lines from the ancient ‘Subhashita’ on the virtue of speaking with love and affection.

I asked him to write it for me in his own hand in the small note book I had in my pocket.

This is what he wrote:

“On your tongue resides Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth,
Your tongue can win you friends and relationships,
Your tongue can land you in prison,
 And your tongue can also lead to death.
Is there any poverty for good words?”

Mathoorji  left us suddenly and his death was a shock to all who knew him. But his message lives on.

He showed us that work is worship, love of the particular need not be in contradiction to love of the universal, and non-violence in speech and action, cleanliness and perennial enthusiasm in daily activities and dedicating as much time as one can spare, to doing public good is way to happiness and salvation.

His life was his message.

File photograph: Mathoor Krishnamurthy with sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan, in Bangalore in 2009 (courtesy The Hindu)

Also read: How namma Vijay floored namma Gopi

An epitaph to the literate, educated middle-class

How “munde magane” launched churumuri

Why modern Kannada films loathe Bangalore City

14 October 2011

The depiction of the “City” in Indian cinema has changed from one of unbridled optimism and opportunity in post-Independent India to the ossification of the great urban dream in the post-liberalised phase.

No City exemplifies this cinematic trend better than Bangalore in which Karnataka’s urbs prima is shown by contemporary Kannada films (like Majestic, Kitty, Jogi and Duniya) in the eyes of Kannada-speaking migrants as a seedy capital of crime, injustice, unemployment, exploitation and worse.

The film scholar M.K. Raghavendra detects at least five reasons for this “unconcealed loathing” of Bangalore by Kannada films, in an article in Caravan magazine:

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1) Unlike mainstream Hindi cinema which has a large constituency spread across the nation, “Kannada cinema defies the expectation of a pan-Kannada reach: earlier, it restricted its vision to princely Mysore (made up of Bangalore, Mysore and the remainder of southern Karnataka) and it continues to exclude Kannada-speaking regions beyond.”

2) “Mysore, during its rule by the Wodeyar dynasty, was regarded as a ‘nation within a nation’ and, to a large degree, has retained its exclusive culture ever since the time of British India. Vestiges of this sentiment lingered on in Kannada cinema, which was born in 1930s Mysore, even after linguistic reorganisation…

3) “Linguistic reorganisation did not create unity in the way it was anticipated. Bangalore became the capital of Kannada-speaking Karnataka, though it was only a few hours away from Tamil-speaking Tamil Nadu, Telugu-speaking Andhra Pradesh and Malayalam-speaking Kerala. As the two sections of Bangalore grew into each other, the city came to exhibit an unusual degree of cosmopolitanism.

4) The IT industry and IT-enabled services favoured those with an English-medium education. “These companies started to recruit from all over India and estimates show that presently only 10 percent of the jobs in the new economy are held by Kannada speakers. Since these companies pay their employees substantially higher wages, the spending power of non-Kannada workers—increasingly visible in new consumption trends—has become a talking point in Bengaluru.”

5) “Another reason for the disaffection of Kannada speakers is perhaps the endless expansion of Bengaluru, marked by the entry of private builders. Families that originally owned bungalows, as well as farmers on the periphery, succumbed to the needs of the ever-expanding city. Those now occupying the apartments in the city are new entrants to Bengaluru, with visibly greater purchasing power. Farmers who gave up their land in exchange for the compensation available to them have realised its soaring value too late. Given this troubled history, Bengaluru may be expected to represent more than simply an archetypal ‘city’ for Kannada cinema.”

Photograph: A still from Jogi, starring Shiva Rajkumar, in which a country bumpkin attempts to find his feet in Bangalore.

Read the full article: Meanings of the City


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