What our Sahitya Sammelana should be all about

 

PRITHVI DATTA CHANDRA SHOBHI writes from Bangalore: In his classic Jnapaka Chitrashale, D.V. Gundappa (more popularly known to all as DVG) reports on the 1922 Kannada sahitya sammelana in Davanagere; M. Venkatakrishnaiah, also known as “Tataiah“, who was the doyen of Mysore journalism, presided over the session.

In those early years of the Kannada Sahitya Parishat, the sahitya sammelana used to be a modest affair. An advance party would go from Bangalore to the designated city and work with the local literary figures on the logistics.

So, in 1922, when a small advance party arrived in Davanagere, no arrangements had been made; even the venue hadn’t been decided. The advance party couldn’t buy groceries from the local stores nor could they get pots and pans to cook their own food.

The local community, it appeared, had decided to be non-cooperative, if not downright hostile.

There was quite likely some caste animus against a Brahmin-dominated Kannada Sahitya Parishat. While DVG hints at this, he never spells out the details. In any case, these details aren’t relevant for our story.

So, the advance party reported the matter to the office-bearers of the Kannada Sahitya Parishat.

Since the deputy commissioner, Chitradurga, couldn’t be contacted quickly enough, DVG went to meet with the then diwan, Albion Bannerjee. The Maharaja himself was the chief patron of the Kannada Sahitya Parishat and so assuring his visitors of government assistance, the diwan asked them to leave for Davanagere without any anxieties.

The next day DVG, Karpura Srinivasa Rao, Bellave Venkatanaranappa and others went to Davanagere and tried to negotiate with the prominent local leaders, but couldn’t make any headway. So they reluctantly wired their concerns to the diwan.

The next day, the DC arrived at the high school where all the visiting dignitaries were staying and ensured that the sahitya sammelana was conducted smoothly. While a section of Davanagere didn’t attend the sammelana, DVG reports, the organisers managed to get the pots and pans, as well as a venue.

***

I was reminded of this story on the eve of the 77th edition of the sahitya sammelana,which begins in Bangalore on Friday. It is no longer a modest affair. Vast amounts of money is mobilized from various sources, including the government.

Tens of thousands of people attend the event. Politicians and swamijis compete with each other to participate, often overshadowing the real heroes, the writers. Hundreds of booksellers set up stalls. Colleges are closed so that students and teachers can experience the festivities. And picking the president of the sahitya sammelana has become a big, somewhat political affair.

Let us also not forget the changed circumstances.

Cities compete to host the sahitya sammelana and rarely do we see caste groups or local communities boycotting the event. Local politicians, both of the political as well as literary and cultural variety, are keen to see themselves in the limelight.

Indeed, this annual event has become a big deal.

More importantly, the circumstances that motivated the organisers in the early decades of Kannada sahitya parishat have changed. Note that until 1956 Kannada speaking regions were administered by at least four major administrative entities—the presidencies of Bombay and Madras and then the kingdoms of Hyderabad and Mysore.

Except for Mysore, Kannada speakers were a minority in the other administrative regions, which meant Kannada wasn’t the language of the administration and rarely received the necessary state support. Consequently Kannada couldn’t develop as a language of administration, culture and literature.

As surprising as it may seem today, even the early discussions at the Kannada Sahitya Parishat were held in English. When B. M. Shri was invited to give a talk at one of the early parishat-sponsored events, he spoke in English on the great accomplishments of pre-modern Kannada literature.

I note this to point out the objective of the sahitya sammelana in the 1920s and 1930s was quite simply to organize likeminded litterateurs and activists, and to use the occasion to discuss the challenges confronting Kannada language, culture and people.

The office-bearers of the Kannada Sahitya Parishat opted to take the conference to different parts of the Kannada speaking regions and primarily celebrate Kannada, especially its literary accomplishments. That meant the Kannada writer was always the hero.

These early conventions were small enough to actually conduct useful discussions and hence there was a substantial intellectual dimension to these events. Equally important was a desire to build a sense of community among the participants, who would have come from different states and this was especially critical in the emergence of a Unification Movement.

Especially this latter goal was an important aspect of Kannada activism prior to the reorganization of linguistic states in 1956.

In the last 3-4 decades, the sahitya sammelana has evolved into more of a celebratory event. The last significant political interruption was during the height of the Bandaya literary movement in the late 1970s and since then ecstatic celebratory character of the sammelana has become more important.

Personally, I don’t see anything wrong in that.

The principal challenges that confronted Kannada have changed significantly. Be it the challenge of globalisation, or the marginalisation of Kannadiga in Karnataka itself and in the national arena or the slow progress of Kannada IT or most importantly, Kannada’s future as the language of education, administration and commerce—none of these are going to be discussed at and solved in a three-day event, even if we manage to find the right format and forums.

So, the main thrust of the critique articulated by many that the event doesn’t have a constructive dimension seems to be misplaced. I say don’t think about what doesn’t happen in these three days. Instead, consider what we need to do for 362 days and then we can spend these three days of the sahitya sammelana celebrating our achievements.

My reasoning is quite simple. When the Kannada Sahitya Parishat was established in 1915, Karnataka had no Universities, very few colleges and no other state institution that could do the work of Kannada.

Now, we have more than 20 universities, and thousands of colleges; the various academies, and other government institutions such as the Kannada book authority and Kannada development authority along with numerous civil society institutions function throughout the year.

While we may not be happy with their functioning and many of our problems remain unsolved, the entire burden of Kannada doesn’t fall on the sammelana itself. We must use the rest of the year to organize conferences and brainstorm on what we need to do.

***

Up until the 1950s, the sammelana was the only venue for such strategising but that no longer is the case. During the sammelana, if there has to be any speech-making, let that be to put forward the big picture and tell the Kannadigas what we need to do during the next year.

My hope is that such speeches wouldn’t be utilised to abuse our neighbors or lament globalisation but to put forward a constructive agenda. This could mean actually working on setting up sustainable Kannada schools, with rich curriculum and world-class facilities, instead of simply demanding that the government implement Kannada as the medium of instruction.

Or it could mean working on open source Kannada software projects.

Let this be the occasion when we, all of us, get to hear what our intellectuals and writers thought and figured out throughout the year.

Let this be a populist avenue where our writers and thinkers can have a wide audience.

Let this be an occasion for book exhibitions and cultural performances and poetry meets.

Thus, in my mind, the purpose of the sahitya sammelana seems to be something different, far simpler.

The sammelana offers a platform to highlight the cause of Kannada and bring attention to it. We could celebrate our accomplishments and articulate programmatically a vision for the future.

The sahitya sammelana also serves a different cultural and political purpose. As in the past, it puts the Kannada writer on a pedestal and celebrates him. Here the critics are right when they point out that politicians and swamijis have come to occupy the center stage. It would be perfectly all right to kick them out, and bring back the writer to the centre.

It would be extraordinary to have a 98 year-old Kannada grammarian address one-hundred thousand people in the heart of Bangalore. Such a privilege eludes the cosmopolitan Indian English writer, as Dr U. R. Anantha Murthy is fond of pointing out.

The English writer might get a huge advance and publicity in the English press but there is something spectacularly magical, and indeed culturally empowering about a writer demanding and holding the attention of sixty million Kannadigas and outlining his vision for their future. This is why our writers choose to write in Indian languages.

Let the celebrations begin

***

Photographs: A view of the main hall for the 77 all India Kannada sahitya sammelana at the National College Grounds, in Bangalore on Thursday (top); and Mysore pak being prepared for the participants at a kitchen at Kempegowda Nagar (Karnataka Photo News)

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28 Responses to “What our Sahitya Sammelana should be all about”

  1. Dr. Sree Reddy Says:

    melina lekhanavannu thaavu kannadalli barediddare olledallava.
    Greatness of Kannada in English!!
    I am sure there enough people who are literates in Kannada in this churumuri.

  2. Sanjeeva Says:

    Ene agali ee tharaha adduri vyarthavanthoo alla.

  3. AC Says:

    Kannada sahithya looks like aduge sahithya! Instead of discussing books and culture, our newspapers devote more space to oota, thindi, coffee and kodubale!

  4. Arrow Says:

    Having the Sammelana every year, will dilute its very purpose and make it a annual jambooree, a ritual where the same actions and rehtoric are replayed and where people attend only for time-pass and have the free lunch and thamboola.

    The Sammelana should be rid of all politicians and Swamijis. Let it be a Sammelana of writers, thinkers, literatures and people alike.

  5. sunil Says:

    I read somewhere that the one of the breakfast item is PONGAL. Is pongal a karnataka dish ?? i am not sure…….

  6. Abhi Says:

    oh wait, I thought Kannada should survive only if it can survive on its own reading the comments on reservations. Just how tribals should get job only if they can “beat” brahmins at studies. Should we not have the same standards for Kannada? Don’t be pussies folks, let it beat English on its own.

  7. Vinay Says:

    Abhi:

    Very interesting comment. Come to think of it, you have a point. Many people who crib about reservations also crib about how Kannada is dying and that we should take steps to “protect Kannada” from English.

    Double standards here, let us have an answer from some pro-’save Kannada’ anti-reservation folks here.

  8. Anurag/ Murthy Says:

    mysur pak kodbale nippattu chakli = munnudi kaipidi teeke tippani gadya padya
    churumuri – blog
    food for thought – it’s good to not mix sahitya with political ill-will.

  9. Anurag Says:

    @Abhi – “Don’t be pussies folks, let it beat English on its own.”
    We don’t want to beat English .
    Kannadigas need not bark just because English barks.

    Don’t be dogs ( for pussies ) folks :) amazing english vocabularies indeed.

  10. mysore peshva Says:

    *abhi*

    well said! i agree with you, but would you agree that there needs to be an equal playing field? everybody must have equal access to any marketplace in order to have an equal chance to succeed… so i wonder if kannada is in a position to compete with english at all.

  11. Gaby Says:

    Venkatasubbaiah in his keynote presidential address has called karnataka the most corrupt state in the country ( not the Government of Karnataka as the most corrupt- but that is mere semantic sophistry).

    Is this politicisation of the Sammelana or the concern of a writer/academic at the stench of corruption in the body politic.

    personally I found the address good in places – particularly the brief mention of women writers in Kananda but there was a pervasive and morbid preoccuaption with the past, a visceral hatred of English and not much of a vision for the future of Kannada-.

    I would appreciate a full review on the presidential address by someone with a better sense of perspective than me.

  12. Pulikeshi the Last Says:

    Kannada will live as long as Kannadigas speak it.

    Making Kannada the medium of learning in all Karnataka up to the tenth standard is a childish dream. It just is not happening. Only those who need Kannada will use it, at work or at school.

    English or “Ingleeshu” are both OK. Just as we have accepted thathsamas from Samskritha we should accept English words which need not be kannadized. Or any words for that matter.

    There is no such thing as “accha” Kannada. There is only Kannada, spoken differently depending on the occasion. Perhaps what should bother us is the misuse of prefixes even by that old maid, Prajavani.

    Let’s try to democratise Kannada. As D. N. Shankarabatta has been preaching, let’s give up using mahapraanas unless they are absolutely necessary to make the meaning of an uttering clear. Let’s not make fun of those whose speech makes no distinction between “ha” and “a.’ The context makes the meaning clear. “Haalu” and “aalu” mean the same thing. Nobody mistakes “akki aaruthide” for “rice is getting cold.”

    Separate saahithya and cinema from language. The former two are not essential to the existence of Kannada. We have no proof that they make Kannadigas love their language more.

    Kannada will become the minority language in Bengaluru. In many ways, it already has. Nobody can reverse the trend. The fate of Kannada in the state does not depend on its status in Bengaluru.

    Kannada speakers do not number five crore. We are only 65% of the population. The other thirty-five percent is politically and economically powerful. They need not learn Kannada and they won’t. The nation’s language policy is on their side.

    If we want people to love Kannada and make it the primary language of the land, we need to create condtions where monolingual Kannadigas can make a living within their state. I don’t see this happening.

    Fiats will not make our language the leading language of the state. After all these years, we still have not been able to persuade all traders to have their signs in Kannada.

    An unnecessary footnote: Kannada speakers of English don’t realize their English sounds just like Kannada because they are strangers to the sounds used by native English speakers. Our sound system–phonology–will never die.

    What can Kannada kootas, the Saathya Parishath, Kannada University, and such organizations to ensure the survival of Kannada? Nothing.

    Our infatuation with nation building will consume our language.

  13. dinesh Says:

    I love the maysuru pak very much

  14. Sanjeeva Says:

    Kannada should be the medium upto 3rd standard. After that Kannada as a subject should be compulsorily taught till degree irrespective of syllabus (State, CBSE, ICSE) with passing marks being at least 40 per cent. This should apply to any Indian language – whether Kannada, Tamil, Bengali, Punjabi, Gujarati, Assamese, Oriya ………
    Now in the name of 3-Language formula, Hindi is imposed on non-Hindi speaking people and Hindi speaking people do not learn any other Indian language.

  15. the colonel Says:

    i read or try to read everything.

    india is so amazing because of its language, and varients thereto.

    unfortunatly my wife and i are cut out of it, for we read in english.

    we miss out on this great litt.

  16. Yella Ok Says:

    While all the talk and activity might seem to be of “protecting”, it is all about “promoting”. In this day and age, one cannot “protect” (as in protect by halting the advance of others), but can only promote (advancement of one’s interests vis-a-vis others’). In this sense, while all talk about English killing kannada and hence avoiding english, compulsory kannada medium education, etc might seem retrogade, events like this – which have an impact on a few (or more) people, maybe, reading more kannada, using more kannada – are welcome.

    It was a pity there are no sessions on kannada and technology, and kannada and entrepreneurship. It was also a pity that there was no “insititutional partnership” of “Bangalore” in this event conducted in “Bengaluru”.

    And, thank you churumuri, for this article. I dont think the English papers of the state would have any space for an article like this.

  17. poli huduga Says:

    Abhi annow – why don’t you get your friends in Delhi to cancel reservations and come back and let us know when it’s done. Then we will definitely put Kannada on an even playing ground with English as you suggest….

    Point yenandre – talk and pointless hyperbole are cheap…

  18. Pulikeshi the Last Says:

    Colonel, Sir:

    If you have lived among us Kannadigas for a considerable time, I think you are one of us and speak Kannada. Try learning to read our language, too. Some of our writers produce magnificent prose.

    ***

    Gaby,

    I don’t find it objectionable that Shri Veinkatasubbayya took our politicians to task. In the land of Kannadigas, politics, literature, and everything has to do with Kannada. As the man pointed out, most of our politicians are a disgrace to our culture for they know little about basic decency and have been looting the people who elected them. Pretty soon we will be hearing about how a good bit of the setaside money for the Sammelana ended up in the pockets of unscrupulous people.

    It is true that the man demonised English, but it isjust as true that English will be the preeminent language of the world. That is how the British empire planned it and that is how the American empire is implementing it. In Karnataka, Kannada will never be able to take the place of English. Shri Venkatasubbayya was wrong, however, in saying that English usurped the pride of place that French enjoyed Canada. In Quebec, the only French speaking province in Canada, French does assert itself against English every step of the way. Yet the Quebequois have voted at least twice against secession from the Canadian union.

    Part of our problem as Kannadigas is this: those Kannadigas who are acquainted with Pampa, Kuvempu, and the like for some reason think they are the ones who can speak for all Kannadigas. One is no less a true Kannadiga for not reading Kumaravyaasa or Mogalli Ganesh. However, Kannadigas do have the responsibility to learn what is happening in their land and they get that information mostly from television. The existence of the language is not predicated on our reading the newspapers, either. Those who tell us that 98 percent of all Malayalis read at least one newspaper in their own language and thus promote their language don’t know what they are talking about. These are the very same people who said little when the unsingable “Jai Bharatha Jananiya Thanujathe,” a composition in which Karnataka is accorded a minor role was made our naadageethe without the sanction of law.

    I am not arguing against Kannada literacy. Our communication with various institutions, governmental or otherwise, has to be in Kannada if that is the only language we know. If somebody in Karnataka wants to make money by selling me something and if Kannada is the only language I know, then he better conduct his business in Kannada with me.

    Like our writers, the Kannada movie industry is also making hay out capitalising on the notion that its survival is important for the survival of the Kannada language. No such thing. If that were true, Rajakumar and his movies alone would have ensured that all Kannadigas drowned in a sea of self-importance because they speak the language. Millions of us speak the language because we have to, because we love to, and not because somebody preaches that we should. We read Bhyrappa because he is accessible. And, many times, we use English in our perfectly Kannada households.

    God save Kannada from special interest groups.

    A further comment: our newspapers blithely disregard rules in using prefixes, suffixes, as well as prepositions.

  19. Lavanya Says:

    ಒಮ್ಮೆ ಆ ಸಭಾಂಗಣಕ್ಕೆ ಹೋಗಿ ನೋಡಿದರೆ ಗೊತ್ತಾಗತ್ತೆ, ಕರ್ನಾಟಕದ ಎಲ್ಲ ಕಡೆ ಇಂದಲೂ ಜನ luggage ಇಟ್ಟಕೊಂಡು ಬಂದಿದ್ದಾರೆ..it is definitely a reason to celebrate..We may think and discuss that Kannadigas are getting away farther from their language.. but no..everyday we live with it and love it more. ಜನರಲ್ಲಿ ವಿವೇಚನಾ ಶಕ್ತಿ ಇನ್ನೂ ಇದೆ.. and they teach their next generations too. ದಿವಸ ಗಣೇಶನ ಪೂಜೆ ಮಾಡ್ತಿವಿ ಅಂತ ಗಣೇಶನ ಹಬ್ಬ ಮಾಡೋದು ಬಿಡೋದಕ್ಕೆ ಆಗುತ್ಯೇ?

  20. Anurag Says:

    @ptl looks somewhat dejected – wait it’s not the end of the world.
    the problem is with analysing it correctly. Today’s English is not anymore just “England’s English” .I am suggesting to change the name of English to some international code or something ;

    so that credit is not taken by some British sailors whose original intention was trading some drugs for spices but made shady tricky deals to extend their greed though it can be agreed upon that the genetics of the island like UK with three rivalling countries like scot, ire and englands is much murkier than the Indian states.

    The term commonwealth was originated to mark the colonies who accepted Queen’s descent. Remarkably mistaken identity shoved upon by clever shrewd Macaulays and Mountbattens instigated by Hiroshima bomber Churchill.

    The problem is this generation is much overwhelmed with white porn that it’s almost useless in decision making. They speak , eat , sleep and shag English.

    Certainly the standards and infrastructure of Kannada medium universities and campuses , texts and softwares need to improve. If that’s done churumuri will be written in kannada and china will manufacture kannada keyboards.

    and remember,
    Huttidare Kannada naadali huttabeku
    Kaliyoke koti bhaashe aadoke onde bhaashe Kannada Kannada…
    Kasthuri Kannada.

  21. Vinay Says:

    “texts and softwares need to improve. If that’s done churumuri will be written in kannada and china will manufacture kannada keyboards. ”

    Cheap. Why don’t you hope for India to manufacture Kannada keyboards?!!!!

  22. Bengalooru Haida Says:

    @ Yella Ok,

    >I dont think the English papers of the state would have any space for an article like this.

    As a pleasant surprise, ToI covered the event in a decent way I would think. They frontpaged the event on both the days (so far) and also devoted 2 pages for the coverage on each day. I don’t know the coverage in rest of the English media.

  23. Nastika Says:

    Agree with most points of PTL.

    1) Separate Sathithya & Cinema from language.
    (Cinema churns out trash and want Kannadigas to buy tickets since the trash is in Kannada).

    2) Kannada in Bangalore is no indicator of health of language. Bangalore, due to the opportunities it presents, attracts non Kannada speaking populace and they can’t learn Kannada overnight.
    - They won’t learn Kannada if it isn’t useful for them.
    - They won’t learn Kannada if their stay isn’t permanent.

    3) Kannada is over 2000 years old. It has seen so may modifications, there is no reason why it will remain same in next 100 years. And modifications doesn’t happen in a day. Its a gradual process. So, nobody can hold the language fixed in time. Its a futile exercise.

    4) Kannada vocabulary is 10~15% of English. In terms of utility, Kannada can never beat English anytime in far future.

    5) Now the equation is, English = Success.

    Its possible that Kannada also = Success.
    - It has to happen gradually without any rules.
    - Translate all technical literature (medical & engineering) to Kannada. Translated work must be better than English. Else no point in reading the translated work.
    - If I can’t do Engineering PHD or research in Kannada, then there is no point doing my basic education in Kannada. Someday, I have re-learn all my learnings in Kannada again in English.
    - People quote that if basic education is in mother-tongue then the kids learn better. In practice I have found no evidence of this, since kids learn English & understand it.
    - If somebody if doing it, then they have to plan right and give themselves 30 years time frame.

    Note: My friend did his basic education in Kannada (till 10th). After moving to English medium, he had to re-learn right from basics in the new language. His kids are in high school. His opinion is in state syllabus English texts are easier to comprehend than Kannada texts covering the same subject.

  24. Anurag Says:

    @vinay
    yes ,good idea. why don’t you take it up? you are in software industry if I am not wrong.

  25. twistleton Says:

    Nastika

    You are absolutely right

    No parent would voluntarily send their children to kannada medium schools. Anybody who can afford it would send their kids to English-medium schools. Because the market demands fluency and competence in English.

    Besides, since we lag behind in technical and non-technical research, not-withstanding globalisation, the chances of catching up with and overtaking scientific thought in other countries is still a far cry. Therefore there is no original research in local languages excepting in certain humanities. Our lives have changed, but our languages have not been quick or inventive enough to catch up and people resort to the easy option: English. Words like mobile, tv, bus, etc are used verbatim and have become part of local lingo.

    Having said that, the three language formula can definitely be put to better use. The third-language can be a tool to make children appreciate Indian languages other than Hindi/Sanskrit/local language. So that Kannada learners are not restricted to Karnataka.

  26. Nastika Says:

    @twistleton

    I agree with 3 language formula – Kannada, English & any other language.
    It must be made compulsory in all schools under the jurisdiction of Govt of Karnataka upto class 12.

    So, there will be 12 Kannada subjects (Level 1 to Level 12). Anybody starting Kannada will start from Level 1. This must be floating. So even a 11th class student must be able to opt for Level 1, if he is new to Karnataka.

    Level 1 must focus on speaking skills. Writing skills can start from Level 2.
    Kannada language must be simple, easy to read & interesting upto level 7. Last 5 levels (8 to 12) can start with grammar.

    Note: If somebody wants to cheat and stay in level 1, let them. Since our objective is to teach Kannada, any level means our objective is achieved. But that student will miss out on the learning of Level 2 – a level must be more interesting than the previous level.

    But, core subjects – History, physics, economics, etc must be taught in English.
    Note: Some selected topics of core subject can be covered in Kannada language course (after Level 7).

    This way,
    1) Anybody who studies at least 1 year in Karnataka will know to speak Kannada
    2) Parents are happy since the medium is English and their child’s future is bright.
    3) Since more people know Kannada, there is chance that it can become lingua franca and please the lamenters.

    Note: I advice use of common English words in written Kannada (such as computer for ಗಣಕಯಂತ್ರ), like ಕೈಲಸಂ. Reading as computer provides better visualization and is more close reality than ಗಣಕಯಂತ್ರ. Thats the Kannada people need.

  27. karihaida Says:

    Making Kannada ( i.e the language of the state) a compulsory subject in all schools till 10th std irrespective of their board affiliations is good enough. Making kannada a medium of education is harmful.

  28. Vinay Says:

    Nastika:

    I like your proposal. It seems practical, and to the satisfaction of all parties concerned – the KRVs as well as the “hip crowd” (for lack of a better term). I especially liked the floating option – immensely practical. This can be replicated across all states.

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