Everybody loves his own Jnanpith winner

The heat and dust over the selection of the poet, playwright and writer Chandrasekhar Kambar for the Jnanpith Award has subsided, but the self-inflicted sense of injury about S.L. Bhyrappa being ignored for the honour won’t go away so easily, now that the debate has been framed in ideology with motives being attributed to the jury.

Left versus right, secular versus communal, and so on.

Tough, says the wellknown theatreperson Prakash Belawadi in reaction to two pieces published on churumuri.

Bhyrappa, he contends, is less deserving of the privately awarded honour than U.R. Anantha Murthy, Girish Karnad or Kambar. And those who don’t like how the Jnanpith is being awarded can well get together for an Award that they can hand out to their ilk.



In the opening lines of Woody Allen‘s Annie Hall, the principal character Alvy Singer (Allen himself) says: “There’s an old joke – um… two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, ‘Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.’

The other one says, ‘Yeah, I know; and such small portions.'”

I think that sort of applies to the attitude of disgruntled Kannadigas about the Jnanpith Award. They want it for their favourite guy because it is such a good award to get, but when denied, they denigrate it as a lobby-picked sour grape.

Let’s take the piece which opens with the grand insult: ‘There are mole hills and snake pits and then there are “literary circles”.’ This observer declares that writers are “peevishly insecure,” “loudly backslapping their peers in public and quietly backstabbing them in private.”

This follows beneath a Girish Karnad letter to the editor, so one presumes that this is a snide address to Karnad. There’s something about “incestuous” too, which is positioned against “true intellectualism”, whatever that is.

There is a self reference to “ordinary mortal” – though ironically, I fear – and a claim to “observe the small minds, the giant egos, the juvenile jealousies, and the awfully sour grapes on display.”

Who has the smaller mind and the bigger ego, I wonder.

And then there is the post by the Editor who says a series of contradictory things:

He quotes a Patil Puttappa comment on Chandrasekhar Kambar and calls it an “extreme remark” and follows it up in the very next sentence with “I totally agree with Puttappa”.

Does he mean both “extreme” and “remark” when he says “totally”?

Then comes this bashful confession, “I may not be a Kannada professor or even one who has delved deep into the wonderful world of Kannada literature,” followed by a swanking: “But then I am no nincompoop either as I regularly read reviews and comments on importantl Kannada books and even read some of the books.”

And armed with the confidence of regular reading of “important Kannada books,” he declares: “Howsoever proper Kambar’s selection might be, he could not have taken precedence over S.L. Bhyrappa.”

Says who? The Jnanpith Selection Board may well ask. He then thunders on,”…In fact, out of the seven Jnanpith awardees so in Kannada, all were giants except the last two – U.R. Anantha Murthy and Girish Karnad.”

I too, like the Editor have “even read some of the books” and I disagree. But that’s not so relevant, because I am not on the selection board of the Jnanpith and not likely to be ever, given my ignorance and insignificance.

For the record, the Jnanpith Award is instituted by the Bharatiya Jnanpith Trust founded by the Jain family that publishes The Times of India.

The Editor now moves into weird zone: “It is now perceived that though the Jnanpith selection panel for some years in the beginning was free from political, caste, religious or any kind of bias or prejudice that influenced its selection, in later years it is seen as being subtly influenced by so-called secularists with leftist leanings.”

The Times of India is Leftist? And what about Kambar? If the ‘secularists’ are “backstabbing,” why would they choose Kambar? Make up your mind, dude.

Who are the “secularists”, for instance, that will “subtly influence” the following, all members of the present selection board? Dr Sitakant Mahapatra (Chairman), Dr. K. Satchidanandan, Gurdial Singh, Keshubhai Desai, Manager Pandey, Dr. Gopi Chand Narang, Dinesh Misra (Ex-officio) and Ravindra Kalia (Ex-officio).

Sitakant Mahapatra is a retired IAS officer, Oriya poet and critic (Jnanpith Award, 1993); Satchidanandan is a highly respected poet, playwright and critic in Malayalam; Gurdial Singh is a Punjabi novelist, the son of a carpenter and blacksmith who went on to win the Jnanpith Award in 1999; Keshubhai Desai is a medical doctor by profession and a highly acclaimed Gujarati writer, Manager Pandey is an eminent writer (who, alongside Satchidanandan, will perhaps fit the “leftist” label) and Gopi Chand Narang is an Urdu scholar and writer who was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2004.

Does the Editor seriously believe he knows better or, as he imputes, is more honest and independent than the above, all victims of “that venomous spider’s web?”

And if indeed the Jnanpith selection panel is yet to be “liberated from these shackles,” how is the award also the “the ultimate stamp of recognition?” Incidentally again, among the trustees of Bharatiya Jnanpith, the only non-Jain members are Sitakant Mahapatra and former bureaucrat T.N. Chaturvedi, who is now with the BJP.

He asks us, “could any reader of Kannada literature deny that S.L. Bhyrappa is less deserving or not at all deserving?”

Eh! Come again. OK, let’s allow that the slip is in subbing and not Freudian, but I, for one – though not a serious “reader of Kannada literature” – will offer that Bhyrappa is indeed less deserving than Anantha Murthy, Karnad and Kambar. (But nobody cares, dude).

And, finally, his disclaimer that he has “absolutely no intention to diminish the literary capabilities of either Chandrashekar Kambar, U.R. Anantha Murthy or Girish Karnad” seems ridiculous.

There are, I am inclined to wish and believe, many deserving writers in Kannada who must be recognized by awards of prestige, such as the Jnanpith, But the rules of the award stipulate that any language that gets the award must be out of the reckoning for the next three years.

I wonder what the mysterious ‘Lobby’ will do in the sit-out period.

Meanwhile, like the old women of Catskill mentioned in Woody Allen’s crack, disgruntled Kannadigas should stop looking for awards from places that offer lobby takeaways. Besides, it is a private award that is widely respected in India and nobody cares what you think, really.

Why should they?

What you could do, however, is get together in a group that is close to Bhyrappa and far from the “secularists” and hand out your own award.

I mean, you know best, don’t you?

Also read: Does Kambar deserve Jnanpith ahead of Bhyrappa?

Kambar and Karnad, Bhyrappa and Puttappa & Co

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29 Responses to “Everybody loves his own Jnanpith winner”

  1. Pulikeshi the Last Says:

    Here is much that I did not know about the constitution of the committee that picks a triennial jnani.

    If indeed lobbying is one of the factors in who gets the moneybag and all other honours thereunto appertaining, I am satisfied that there is a three year limit on lobbying. “If you don’t get the award, take it on the chin and try harder to promote yourself in the next three years” is comforting information.

    Let’s leave the general run of Kannadigas alone in our posts. This is a mud-slinger among the literary folk–the writers and their readers.

  2. mysore peshva Says:

    beautiful, earnest argument… thanks for a superlative read, sri. belawadi.

  3. Law of Omerta Says:

    Everybody loves his own Jnanpith winner

    I don’t.

    I suspect winners of “sarkari” awards….

    Govt. has no right to meddle in the field of arts by dishing out awards.

    All awards ought to be abolished, let the artists compete in the marketplace of ideas and prove their mettle.

  4. Preethi Says:

    I had a good laugh when I read that editorial and also those lines about this particular editor being ‘no nin-compoop’. I have had the misfortune of sometimes being forced to listen to this editor speak in Kannada. And, I can also understand why he says he thinks three people didn’t deserve the award. He obviously hasn’t read them, and the one who read them (for him, if he did) is not around any more. Lack of information and direction, sometimes, shows, and how!

  5. chidu22 Says:

    Who is this DUDE Belawadi?.Dude, you are very patronising.Here is a dude who is not a serious reader of Kannada literature but attempts to dissect the editorial of another not so serious reader of kannada literature.A Blind showing the way to another blind.

  6. maisuru Says:

    Every time a VC is selected some very eminent men constitute the so called search committee. But we know from the quality of people selected as VC’s how impartial these men of straw are ! Come on Mr. Belwadi, do you honestly believe that the Jnani’s whom you have named were capable of assessing the intrinsic worth of a compendium of Kannada work of Dr. kamabar /SLB and then decide who is worthy ? This is no better than the criteria adopted to decide Padma awards !

    What purpose does it serve to dissect KBG ‘s abaracadabra word by word and phrase by Phrase ? He was ( or his ghost Sub-Editor) at best articulating a popular view within the constraints of beating the publishing dead line and yet trying to moderate views to avoid any legal tangle. At the same time your comments makes it very evident that you were equally guilty of joining a proxy war on some one else behest !

  7. vindy Says:

    the article is a troll , the only enlightening thing about all these is the letter that DVG wrote to the HIndu ( which someone had posted) …

  8. Vijay Says:

    It is India. The government does meddle. It is no surprise.

  9. ananth Says:

    For normal kannadigas who enjoys kannada sahitya, these on going discussions are just like a high level technical document of any software company which is full of non sense.

    Simple, SLB and DVG are two great titans in Kannada sahitya who are deserved to be honored with Jnanapeetha award.

  10. A Journalist Says:

    I fully agree with Prakash Belawadi.

  11. Doddi Buddi Says:

    I object to Churumuri calling …”wellknown theatreperson Prakash Belawadi…” he should be referred to as “heavyweight theatre person Prakash Belawadi”

    OK why PB thinks SLB doesn’t deserve it? Any ideas? Thanks.

  12. Karmasfinger Says:

    Woody Allen!
    Why!? Why can’t you quote from an ocean of works by our authors.
    Let me thank ‘Maisuru’ for putting it on the money.

    While I agree that the arguments made by the editor in that article bordered on the nonsense, dude, you put an equally irritating string of words together. The argument over who was more deserving will rage on.

    -“Eh! Come again. OK, let’s allow that the slip is in subbing and not Freudian, but I, for one – though not a serious “reader of Kannada literature” – will offer that Bhyrappa is indeed less deserving than Anantha Murthy, Karnad and Kambar. (But nobody cares, dude).”

    You argue against the editor and yet you slip on the same point. Nobody cares? Speak for yourself. We all need to argue on a line of argument to take in this particular issue. Are Jnanapith and Padma awards really unbiased and prestigious?

    I am not an expert on Kannada literature. To be honest, I am a nincompoop. However, I am proud of Churumuri and love all things Kannada and sadly, can smell an Americanised poop thousands of miles away.

    Please don’t spray us with your knowledge of Woody Allen’s works and the local slang. It smells and sounds horrible!! Do you really think it is fashionable to be a dude? Bro?

  13. Prakash Says:

    @vindy. Re: troll, mea culpa. I guess I’ve been a bit silly in posting on a blog (my first time), but I was moved enough to do it because I believe some ideas need to be contested. Writing, I think, is a lonely, hard and uncertain vocation. Writing, of the kind we are talking about here, demands idealism and courage and I am grateful that these writers find the inspiration to be so engaging and productive. So, I find the general tone of disrespect, the loose rhetoric, references like ‘jnani’, hideous.

    @Doddi Buddi, since you ask, I offer an explanation, with hesitation and some anxiety because literature is not my ground of practice: I believe any artist(e) works with a consciousness of the unknown and unknowable. It is that niggling uncertainty that encompasses all things – ideas and feeling, memory and faith – that makes a work of art fluid and alive. It is the frustrating sense of the big other – of god, of the cosmic order, or disorder, call it what you like – that informs a work of art, which makes the familiar strange and unfamiliar personal. Such art inspires in us doubt and wonder, critical re-examination of our own previously-held ideas. I find Bhyrappa (in his autobiography and five novels that I know, apart from his newspaper articles) is too sure, too convinced that he Knows. Which is why I also contest the idea that he is Right Wing. Right and Left are political ideas that can survive in friendly debate, one informing the other, moulding the other.

    Bhyrappa is not political. He comes across as opinionated, prejudiced and what he finds is what he is already seeking. This is not a man who will ever be surprised, it seems. So, while he is a supremely engaging writer and wonderful storyteller, he remains – to me, and my opinion is of no consequence – a craftsman. He is not my definition of artiste.

  14. div Says:

    who gives a s*** about government of India’s awards anyway?

  15. Vinay Says:


    Going by the amount of discussion and interest that such interest awards throughout cyberspace, including this blog (and of course, outside cyberspace as well), it does seem that people do give more than a “shit” to GoI awards.

    You are in a hopeless minority here.

  16. Prashanth Says:


    You argument on SLB being a craftsman as opposed to an artiste was subtle and engaging. However, I wish to bring up a few differences of opinion here. I think it will make for a more enlightening debate.

    You mention that SLB is prejudiced and thus only finds the answer that he seeks. I began reading SLB in the chronological order of his writings and discovered a subtle but certain strengthening of stance in his works post late 90’s. I think it has had to do with his own intellectual pursuits bearing fruit in terms of convictions. No artist, scientist or for that matter any mortal is capable of overcoming this growing conviction with age. There are far too many instances in science and I can only tell you how a Girish Karnad or U R Ananthamurthy would find it neigh impossible to see the other view point too. For example, the tone of U R Ananthamurthy’s writing and talks have held steadfast to his professed anti-brahminical stance which he carried from the early 60’s. His convictions are no less strong. Thus to paint a mans convictions as prejudice, I feel is a little unjust.

    The art that inspires doubt, wonder and critical re-examination is way deep into the confines of subjectivity and this is precisely where the difficulty and to a large extent, foolhardiness of any award lies. For a large audience, SLB has inspired re-examination of their notions, in the 70’s and 80’s his works have contributed to widespread debates on the relevance or otherwise of hegemonic traditions. And he has brought joy, that indelible pursuit of most artists (Art for arts sake is perhaps a little overrated). So, I am not sure how your arguments of craftsman vs artist would hold water.

    In conclusion, I am a liberal atheist without any prejudice for either Karnad or SLB. I feel that the only true loser is Dr. Kambhara. What a pity that, in blatant disrespect for Dr. Kambhara, we ordinary mortals have to engage in such debates instead of solemnly appreciating and acknowledging Dr. Kambhara’s success.

  17. Prakash Says:

    @Prashanth. Thank you for the considered response. What I absolutely agree with is that there was, on the announcement of the award, blatant disrespect from some characters towards Kambara, who is a fabulous poet and playwright, a truly original philosopher.

  18. Babunath L Says:

    Without commenting on the state of literature in this state, this narrow minded bickering among fans of certain self absorbed and egotistical writers clamming for their fifteen minutes of fame in the national spotlight only serves to highlight the political desperation and polarisation prevalent in this society. This kind of bickering in no way represents any literary achievements. In effect there are writers and fans on two or more sides of the political spectrum and this imbecilic debate only tries to give legitimacy to political doctrines they half believe in. It is high time debates around language pride and other irrelevant topics are cast aside in favour of the real issues.

  19. Doddi Buddi Says:

    Prakash B,

    Glad to know that I came with an open mind and found that you were as smart as a snake in the grass:) While you say that about SLB …” He is not my definition of artiste” you certainly meet my definition of an arriviste.

    In fact in his autobiography SLB writes at length about “Keerthi Masthara” who was finessing him all the time. There were many like “Keerthi Masthara” and others like you who were not willing to accept the genuine merit and talent of SLB. Any body who has read SLB’s autobiography will understand this.

    Still I respect your opinion and I am happy to note that you are in a minority. Brandy and cigar any one?

  20. Babunath L Says:

    @prashanth, you say that we should approach Bhyrappa with an “open mind” and you are a liberal atheist. I don’t know what being a liberal or atheist has to do with it (one only needs to read a history book), but the fact is as his followers keep reminding everyone, Bhyrappa has genuine “talent”, the talent to distort historical facts in favour of a moronic political and religious agenda. This is the fact recognised by most people who rubbish his work. People like Bhyrappa only exist to act as ideologues of a long dead religious obscurantism and an ever alive upper caste chauvinism. Kambar on the other hand has choosen to be a neutral party who, while promoting his own brand of obscurantism vis a vis a supposed “special historical conception of Indians”, has chosen to keep his trap shut on other politically sensitive issues.

  21. prakash Says:

    @Doddi Buddi. You make a curious effort to take the sting out of personal abuse. You have the license of pseudonymous handles. So, jump the red light. Nobody is looking. Arriviste, perhaps, but not aspiring to your class, cigars regardless. Re. minority, the gladness is mutual

  22. 'mudi'malnad Says:

    @prakash b
    Where and how you grow up has lot to do with opinions you form.
    Since you grewup in’green room’ you are biased towards ‘theater’ personalities (read karnad,and kambar, personally I feel this is written to please karnad)
    If you have just read the Bibliography of Anavarana,(sure you haven’t) you would have changed your opinion towards SLB atleast a bit.

  23. Prakash Says:

    @mudi malnad: It’s possible I’m inclined to the theatre. But though you don’t put out abuse like some scatological bloggers here who seem to write from their rear ends, you still have the certainties that always come from prejudice (“sure you haven’t”). Like I said you will “find” what you are looking for and it isn’t always right (and I guess you mean ‘Avarana’ not Anavarana). To put it on record, I have read Bitti too… What’s there to change? I didn’t have any opinion on the writer before I read his books.

  24. Pulikeshi the Last Says:

    The jnanis (I will use the word despite Prakash’s objections) recognised by the prashasthi in question are mostly from the academic world, perhaps with the exception of Karanth, the one writer people read–I don’t know if they still do–without worrying about his politics. Academic writers always have their own rarefied group of admirers, mostly university teachers, who champion their works according to the political stripe they wear. Now Shri Kambara, his personal qualities aside, does belong to a group who now believe folklore has a big role in awaking our consciousness, giving us a sense of the self. That may very well be true if one is armed with the grammar of current ideological warfare.

    Our general literacy level being what it is, the population generally knows about great works of our literature because of the way literary works are injected into our curricula for extra-literary reasons. If Puttappa, Masthi, Bendre, and the rest would be read at all had they not been adopted by university textbooks is anybody’s guess.

    The academic literary establishment in Kannada has been engaged in a relentless battle against Bhyrappa for his presumed right wing beliefs. Somehow most who do read novels in Kannada without intending to write an article about it for the Vijaya Karnataka or the Prabhuddha Karnataka, don’t much seem to be troubled by Bhyrappa’s perceived stance on history and religion. But they do read him and their numbers are larger than those reading the self-labelled progressives. Simply put, SLB is a known quantity, while CK is not. But the readability of a writer does not play a role in selecting him or her for an award. What does play a role is the writer’s subscription to the regnant politico-literary ideology. The Nobel in literature fits the same pattern. Did Tagore “deserve” his Nobel for “Gitanjali” which is slender in size as well as merit?

    In any case what does Jnanapeetha recognise in its beneficiaries? One thing that clearly stands out is that they be known to our academicians because they are the ones who recommend or endorse the nominees. If this is true, who deserves the award is perhaps a question that does not arise at all. It sounds a bit illogical to say that somebody deserves it “more” than others when there is no universal agreement on the criteria involved.

    Now Shri Belawadi would like us to evaluate a writer on the basis of theory of art that seems to demand that a literary writer not hew to anything that speaks of commitment. Thus Bhyrappa is perhaps no big deal because his narrators are convinced of the truth of their vision of life. The question of the validity of that perception apart, what I see in Bhyrappa’s best work–“Tantu,” “Vamshavruksha,” and “Daatu”–is a clear anxiety about the human consciousness not being able resolve the contradictions in the movement of time, rendering many of his characters unable to experienced the wonder–the fluidity if you will–that is life. There is little in such works that insistently claims that there is one way and one way only to negotiate the unpredictable currents of life.

    The Bhyrappa of uninspired, barely literary stuff like “Aavarana” or “Kavalu” is the one that sparks the ire of his detractors and rightly so.

    We should not allow an award–a Jnaanapeetha or a Nobel–determine the quality of an artist. The best often go without receiving a single award, hence the absurd clamour for posthumous conferral of awards.

  25. Shankar Bhat Says:

    SLB surely has lots of support going by this thread of posts. While many have spent considerable time in heaping personal abuse on the author and questioning his bona fides, none seem to have given a solid framework or criteria based on which they think SLB was a better choice than Kambar.

    Can some bloggers provide the basis for their analysis and conclusion thereby?

    Before the usual suspects hang me by my family tree and other assorted personal attacks, let me confess I have read neither Kambar nor SLB’s works. But some decent brushes with the literary world tells me that following could be some of those parameters for comparison.

    1. Aesthetics : Use of language/style of prose or poetry

    2. Depth and breadth of works

    3. Evocative imagery, vividness, seemingly effortless flow and congruity of narrative.

    4. social sensibilities

    5. Sense of joy to the readers that hook you to reading/books

    6. Scholarship that is free from prejudices or biases.

    7. Rarity of theme/s – New to the world or stories that are seldom told or forgotten.

    For more you could also look up what Nobel litt prize uses as criteria.


  26. Achyuth Kumar Says:

    I read the article and comments on it.

    I read few works of Mr Kambar, karnad, anantha murthy Mr S L B .All are eminent literary personalities. No one is small or Big. otherwise all are Big in some other Way.

    Mr SLB has written the books not on certain pre- determined thought. He will study the phenomina and do the necessary home work, understand the things with true instincts and then reveals the same in his works. Because of this reality in expression and importance for the theme / narration makes his works dearer to the mass in large.

    It is a fact that his works are reprinted several times and most of the works have been translated to other languages too.

    As an author in present day life he stands giant among many other personalities. Since he is honest, straight forward and principled in his own way ( not wedded to either right or left), most of the leftist oriented personalities envy him because of his popularity and attitude.

    There is no doubt that, he is the real,achiever and the works done by him is much more than the works done by many of the Jnana peeth Awardees.

    Not only SLB. Many of of the other good Personalities like Anakru, Tarasu, BMSri, Tejaswi,DVG, DEVUDU, Triveni etc have not received prestigeous awards. Mr SLB has brought Saraswathi Samman this year (INR 7.5 Laks and citation) which is almost equal to Jnanpeeth award(INR 7 Lakhs and Citation) and made our mother Kannada Rich.

    Instead of throwing abuses, let us respect each other.and respects ourselves.Still Kannada is having good and capable personalities and we may get many more laurels to our land.

    During the Rajyotsava Day or any functions we may normally see only the photos of recipients of Jnanpeeth awards. In my opinion photo of Mr SLB also should be included with others to honour our language as well as culture

  27. endendigu kannada Says:

    whatever it is ..anyhow kannada again got a jnanapith award…congrats kambara..

  28. sudhir Says:

    Comparing SLB with URA or Kambar is like comparing apples with oranges and mangoes. To rate the best works of these people one above the other is a crime. Each writer is unique and has enriched kannada literature with his work. For the true lovers of Kannada literature, awards do not matter. I have known SLB personally. I have read most of his works and also those of other Kannada writers.. He is the kind of a person who never chases fame. He loves pursuing knowledge and sharing it with his audience through some most brilliant works of literature produced in Kannada

  29. Anantha murthy Banavara Says:

    ಶೀಯತ ಪ್ರಕಾಶ್ ಬೆಳವಾಡಿ ಯವರೆ

    ನೀವು ಯಾವತ್ತು ಎಡಪಂಥ ದೋರಣೆ ಎಂದು ತಿಳ್ಳಿದಿದೆ.

    ನೀವು ಎಡ ಮಸೂರ ದಿಂದ ಸಾಹಿತ್ಯ ವಿಮರ್ಷೆ ಮಾಡಲು ಹೊರಟ್ಟೀದ್ದೀರಿ

    ನಿಮ್ಮ ವಿಚಾರ ಸಾಹಿತ್ಯಾಸಕ್ತರಿಗೆ ಗಂಭೀರವಾಗಿ ಕಾಣುವುದಿಲ್ಲ.

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