Earthy concerns

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INTErVIEW G. Rajshekar, among the most committed intellectual of our times, reflects on the many aspects of defining Kannada voices. A book of his writings in the Modala Odu series was released recently SHIVASUNDAR

G.RAJSHEKAR ‘I have learnt my lessons of social criticism more from Adiga or Karanth than from an activist writer like Niranjana'
G.RAJSHEKAR ‘I have learnt my lessons of social criticism more from Adiga or Karanth than from an activist writer like Niranjana'

“We should not confuse popularity with literary merit”

G. Rajashekar's relentless reflective writings ranging from literature to communalism have immensely contributed to the socio-cultural discourse shaping our times. A collection of his selected writings, the first of its kind, has been published by Akshara prakashana in its “Modala Odu” (The First Readings) series. Excerpts from an interview reflecting his literary, political persuasions and influences. Karnataka has a unique tradition where literary giants take on the roles of experts in politics, economy and society. How do you analyse this phenomenon?

G.R.: It is not a new phenomenon. Kannada society has a great tradition of public intellectuals which I would say dates back to the times of vachanakaras. Kannada writers have stepped in as amateur (in ‘Saidian' sense) political scientists, sociologists etc. in the absence of alternate credible sources. Right from the time of Gulvadi Venkatarao, the first Kannada novelist, writers have played the role of social critics. His novel “Indirabai” will create tremors in communal forces even today. This tradition of social commitment guided by vision of Liberal Humanism has been continuing through generations.

But even stalwarts like Gopalakrishna Adiga and Shivaram Karanth show inherent biases and their articulate political positions are far from ideals of liberal humanism. What is your opinion?

G.R. : The 20 {+t} {+h} century developments in India and Karnataka are marked by the assertion of Shudra forces in all realms of society. But, in my opinion, even the writers like Karanth and Adiga did not perceive this as a progressive development. I would even say that they were afraid of these forces and were concerned about the ‘contamination' of the existing ‘sacred' societal arena. For example, Adiga's “Nehru Nivruttarguvudilla” or the humour of BGL Swamy's “Kaleju Ranga” etc stems from such fear of Shudra assertion. The non-Brahmin characters in Karanth's “Marali Mannige” are merely caricatures. Apart from this, Karanth and Adiga's continued association with BJP even after the destruction of Babri Masjid and Bombay riots still puzzles me. The last public event attended by Karanth was an RSS meeting. He was frequent visitor to Bombay. He loved the spirit of that city, it is evident his novel “Alida Mele”. But Bombay riots of 1992-93 did not disturb him. This is a great puzzle to me. In spite of all this I have the highest regard for their literary works. That is why I often wonder if their literature would have been different had their politics been different. For Karanth and Adiga people did not mean the community. I was more in the sense of a mob. Adiga always feared that these forces who have only muscle power will arrive as road rollers and bring in road roller equality. Otherwise, they were liberal democrats. However, Lankesh, U.R. Ananthamurthy and Tejaswi of the Navya tradition transcended this limitation. Lankesh had a clear dialectical understanding of the people degenerating in to the mob.

Thus he was always suspicious of all forms which are popular in art and life. However, I believe that the political inclinations of a work directly corresponds with his literary work. I disagree with the politics of Adiga or Karanth, but that does not diminish my appreciation of their works. In fact, I have learnt my lessons of social criticism more from Adiga or Karanth than from an activist writer like Niranjana.

There is an opinion that the dominant Kannada Nationalism is more the Tilak type exclusivist Hindu Nationalism. What is your comment?

G.R.: It is true that Galaganatha, one of the pioneers of ‘Kannada Nationalism', did propagate Hindu exclusivist brand of Kannada Nationalism; His “Kanadigara Karmakathe” is a good example. But he is an exception. The main current of Kannada nationalism represented by Gulvadi Venkatarao, M.S. Puttanna and Alur Venakatarao had an inclusivist vision of Kannada Nationalism. Having said this, I should point out that we have failed to construct a ‘Kannada nationalism' in which non-Hindus have equal space. Annual celebration of Hyderabad liberation is well known.

But the genocide of more than 50,000 Muslims of that area by the Hindu groups is conveniently buried in history! Important Kannada writers of that area-including the Left have a large share in the creation of this selective amnesia. The Kannada writers have failed to encounter the inconvenient questions of what it takes to be a ‘Kannadiga'? Or a citizen of this country?



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