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The truth that is Kannada

K.N. VENKATASUBBA RAO
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EVENT Bangalore is all set to host the Kannada Sahitya Sammelana for the fourth time, beginning February 4. It's a moment of pride; as we trace its committed beginnings and long journey, it is hard to overlook its huge baggage of politics K.N. VENKATASUBBA RAO

PRESENT BUILT ON PASt Moods and moments Photos: courtesy Kannada Sahitya Parishath Archives
PRESENT BUILT ON PASt Moods and moments Photos: courtesy Kannada Sahitya Parishath Archives

T he 96-year-old Kannada Sahitya Parishath is all set to hold the 77th edition of its prestigious Akhila Bharata Kannada Sahitya Sammelana. This time under the chairmanship of the grand old man of Kannada letters, G. Venkatasubbaiah, all of 98. Amidst a sensitive and uncertain political scene, it begins next week, February 4. The literary festival has assumed multiple significance, not merely because it is the fourth time in Bangalore (1915, 1916 and 1970), but also because the political turmoil the state is going through.

The Kannada Sahitya Sammelana has a long history. It germinated when the Dharwad-based Karnataka Vidyavardhaka Sangha came into existence in pre-independent India on July 20, 1890, with aspirations of consolidating the Kannada language and its culture. The dream began to take shape in reality; it unified the people of Kannada and led them towards vitalising their cultural and linguistic concerns. It gained further momentum when Sir M. Visveswaraya constituted the Sampadabhyudaya Samajada Vidya Vishayaka Mandali, recommending the creation of the University of Mysore and Kannada Academy at the Economic Conference in 1909. It now exists as the Kannada Sahitya Parishath. A sub-committee was constituted comprising Rao Bahaddur M. Shama Rao, Karpura Srinivasa Rao (the architect of the octagonal shaped conference hall of the Parishat, which was renovated recently by the government after a long-drawn controversy over its dilapidated condition) and P.S. Achyut Rao. The sub-committee interacted with several Kannada literary giants, spread out in several presidencies, focussing on the modification of Kannada language and promotion of Kannada books.

On March 22, 1915, the sub-committee had decided to convene the first-ever Kannada literary convention for four days from May 3 at the Government (Fort) High School premises in Bangalore. It had invited 31 papers on five topics to be read during the convention. Interestingly, seven papers were in English. At 3 p.m., hundreds of Kannadigas from different walks of life gathered at the Government High School's quadrangle, hardly a couple of kilometres from the venue of the 77th convention: they created history and pioneered a tradition. The convention selected Rajamantra Praveena H.V. Nanjundaiah unanimously to the chair the event. Nanjundaiah, who spoke in English said: “The objective of the Karnataka Sahitya Parishath is to develop Kannada language and literature and forge unity of all Kannadigas who are scattered; to establish a cordial relationship among them on the issue of language.”

His address in English attracted comments from Bellave Venkatanarayanappa and many others. Nanjundaiah replied: “Our effort should be known to the people who do not know Kannada and the Government that is to give money to the Parishath and the British Resident who is in charge of the Government.” The convention had also set a precedent of adopting resolutions on the immediate issues related to the development of Kannada language and education. He again chaired the second convention of the Parishath held for three days at the same venue from May 6, 1916. After a gap of 54 years, the 47th chapter of the Sammelan was held again in Bangalore for three days from December 27, 1970. The 52-year-old writer D. Javare Gowda chaired the festival. The sammelana was never apolitical, but at this time juncture when language concerns are densely wound with politics it's hard not to see its implications. Besides, the assertive, but blunt outlook of the Parishath in the recent years, as against the challenges it took on in its formative years, the increased political interference in its functioning, is a matter of anxiety more than a heartening cultural development. Sample this bit of startling information: Prior to 2006-07 the budgetary allocation for the Department of Kannada and Culture was Rs. 60 crore and it is now a whopping Rs. 184 crore! The Government has also extended additional grants to various academies for launching programmes that serve as convenient electoral tool. The support it has extended to the Parishath is unprecedented.

The Government's penchant for holding the second Vishwa Kannada Sammelana in March 2011 at Belgaum is rather confounding in nature. The very idea of Vishwa Kannada Sammelana was first conceived by the Congress and JD (S) coalition as a part of Suvarna Karnataka celebrations in 2006. The mega event was deferred in the light of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal's final award. Surprisingly, the Government is defiant in holding the event even after five years! The Sammelana is of course a moment of pride and joy for every Kannadiga. But it's difficult to overlook the politics that clouds the celebration. One needs to rest faith in the moment the idea was born and hope that it will rejuvenate itself to carry the essence of Kannada forward.


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