Does a vibrant language like Kannada require self-appointed custodians?

Are the material and cultural interests of Kannadigas so endangered that they require the militant intervention of so many self-appointed guardians and gatekeepers?

About a dozen such organisations fighting for the protection and advancement of Kannada language and Kannadigas have found mention in newspapers over the last three months that one has been studying them. Among those engaged in such enterprises (the word is deliberately chosen) are Kannada Chaluvali, Kannada Rakshana Vedike (split apparently into two factions), Kannada Sangharsha Samiti, Karnataka Ranadhira Pade, Kannada Sene, Kannada Horata Samiti, and several Rajkumar Fans’ Associations. There may be others in the field.

The latest of them is called Samara Sene, described as ‘a federation of pro-Kannada organisations.’ According to a report in Prajavani (August 22), its objective is to protect and advance the interests of the State, the language, the land, and its water resources.

Confronted with the name of the most recent of such organisations, I could not help recall Samar Sen (1916-87), the poet and journalist who remained true to his inner self in the face of formidable odds and material challenges. He was a cosmopolitan intellectual retaining his core Bengali poetic sensibility even when he stopped writing poetry at the height of his powers and peer admiration, sardonically dismissive of the pretensions of the political and intellectual establishment. In contrast, I was a gawky provincial from small town Kolar with too many chips on my shoulder, finding my way in the minefields of the ideological divides of eastern India of the late 1960s.

I have never met one more tolerant of the frailties of others, more sceptical of loud posturing and radical rhetoric (even when his own journal promoted them), ever so hard in his convictions, yet soft in speech and kind in conduct. This friend whose surname probably goes back to the dynasty of Ballal Sen of 12th Century Bengal (some intimations of a Kannada link there?) seems to have become a most unlikely eponymous model to Samara Sene, an organisation of rambunctious Kannada nationalistic assertion.

Only, such assertion seems odd in the face of the success stories of Kannadigas nationally and internationally, even though such stories are about a small section of the Kannadigas.

So, what’s the beef? The advantage of possession in respect of Cauvery waters and the status of Belagavi, like the advantage that Kerala and Maharashtra have in respect of Kasaragodu and Solapura, cannot be realistically changed, barring defeat in a most unlikely shooting war on the boundary. Other grievances like in-migration of non-Kannadigas depriving locals of jobs, absence of Kannada signboards and so on are more than offset by Bangalore’s (and Mysore’s) high profile and bragging rights.

Harder to understand are the interventions made in defence of Kannada language and culture, supposedly under threat. I am just one of the lakhs of this land’s children who for decades together have hardly spoken Kannada or even listened to Kannada speech. And yet, I know in my bones and in my indestructible memory Kannada’s spellbinding magic and power. To say that this living and vibrant language requires self-appointed guardians whose clichéd illiteracies and abuse of Kannada as she is writ and spoke make one squirm in embarrassment is to do injury to our past, present and future.

M.S. Prabhakara