Literary critic and scholar, the late G.S. Shivarudrappa made ancient Kannada literature available in a new perspective to the modern generation of writers. Greatly respected by senior writers, he was always open and welcome to the ideas from the younger generation
The passing away of luminaries who have accomplished their mission in life to the satisfaction of the communities they served as also their conscience should be celebrated rather than mourned. However, G.S. Shivarudrappa has left a scar that will linger in many a doting admirer like me. His contributions to the culture of Karnataka in general and the literary scenario in particular are destined to last long not only for their valuable content, but also for their impact on other writers. He moulded our literary culture in unique ways and he steered clear of murky waters engendered by partisan attitudes. However, he did not shy away from the duties of a public intellectual and voiced his opinions in non-vitriolic and persuasive tones. His ability to absorb and analyse contemporary issues in their larger perspective transformed him into an icon respected by many dissident factions.
The multifaceted personality of G.S.S. deserved to be studied both at micro and macro levels. Shivarudrappa was one of the major poets of his generation and published more than twelve collections of poems. He occupied a unique position because he could absorb elements from different literary movements that were prevalent during his career and forge them to create a style that reached discerning readers of poetry. Transparency and universal appeal are the hallmarks of his poetic oeuvre. It acquires a temporal dimension because of his continuing concern for the common man, caught in the web of forces that are neither cognizable nor dissolvable. The angst and helplessness suffered by individuals and communities at large constitute his thematic focal points. He is not unduly worried about structural ambiguities and stylistic nuances, even though he has a fertile imagination and a close acquaintance of Kannada poetic traditions at his service. His poetry is rooted in humanism and idealism. But his writing is far from frothy ebullience and comic optimism that are associated with such a mindset, for, he is thoroughly familiar with the divisive forces that are tearing the society apart. There is an emotional undercurrent that makes his poems poignant, but it is coupled with an intellectual component that saves it from stooping to the melodramatic. There is an inherent musical quality in his poems that have made him popular among the masses as well as the votaries of Sugama Sangeetha.
G.S.S. was equally well known as a literary critic and a scholar in poetics. He secured the Sahitya Academy award for “Kaavyaartha Chintane” an engrossing study in comparative poetics. “Soundraya Sameekshe” (A Perusal of Beauty in Kannada Poetry), his Ph.D. dissertation, was the first book on applied aesthetics in Kannada. He could amalgamate his in-depth knowledge of literary traditions, knowledge of literary theory and a non-partisan understanding of the problems of the contemporary society into a coherent whole and thus act as a living bridge between modernist literary criticism and traditional scholarship. It is to his credit that he could influence modernist writers such as Ananthamurthy, Lankesh and Tejasvi to take a second look at ancient Kannada literature in a wholly different perspective. At the same time, he negotiated those classics with the help of critical apparatus acquired by western masters such as T.S. Eliot and I. A. Richards and F.R. Leavis. He was one of the few literary critics in Kannada who wrote on different ages and forms. His ‘Kannada Sahitya Sameekshe’ is a path-breaking text that delineated novel modes of approaching literary history. ‘Vimarsheya Purva Paschima’ introduced Kannada readers to the nuances of literary criticism decades ago and laid a firm foundation for inter-disciplinary approach to literature in the context of Kannada.
G.S.S. was passionately fond of travel and this was in tune with his exclusive approach to life and art. His travelogues provide us with the glimpses of his love of nature, fondness for fellow beings, a unique sense of humour and other qualities that endeared him to others. He cherished democratic, secular and human values and stayed away from religious bigotry.
Shivarudrappa earned respect from his elders, peers and the writers of younger generations for his broad vision and commitment to work. He had panache for institutional work of lasting value. His prolonged tenure as the director of Kannada Adhyayana Kendra in Bangalore University is known for literary seminars that could bring together various socio-cultural movements to a common forum, thus engendering healthy discussion on various issues. The papers presented at these seminars were invariably brought in the form of books. Hosagannada Kavyada Eradu Margagalu, Pampa-Ondu Adhyayana, Sri Kuvempu, Kadamabarikara Karantha, Karnataka Janapada are among the best of their kind in Kannada. He took keen interest in modernising the syllabi of postgraduate studies and that resulted in the emergence of a new generation of critics and creative writers who have contributed handsomely to the creative and intellectual atmosphere of Karnataka. Sadhane, a monthly, devoted to research articles in humanities and social sciences took its first steps during his tenure. His handling of departmental affairs was catholic and open. Differences of opinion within the faculty arose more for ideological reasons than otherwise. He was the president of Karnataka Sahitya Academy during the late nineties. His tenure was known for the publication of Salu Deepagalu (a collection of introductory essays on the makers of modern Kannada literature) and Vimarsheya Paribhashikagala Maale (a series of monographs on critical terms). He was made the chairman of the trust formed the government to commemorate the life and works of poet P.T. Narasimhachar and created a model worthy of being emulated.
Another aspect of his personality was the keen interest he evinced in socio-cultural movements, even though he did not subscribe to any political ideology. He had an intuitive understanding of the needs of the community and supported agitations that fought for such causes. Shivarudrappa was deeply influenced by Kuvempu, a great visionary and a cultural icon. They shared similar ideals. However, G.S.S. was not given to blind admiration and idolatry. He became a true successor of his model within the framework of his creative and scholastic abilities.
I am inclined to end this tribute on a personal note. Ours was an association of 47 years. He treated me with concern, affection and respect. He welcomed new ideas from the younger generation. I am writing this because I am sure that I will be supported equivocally by writers of many generations from all over Karnataka irrespective of caste, creed or gender.