The Hindu Explains: From the Academy awards to Andhra Pradesh’s new capital Amaravati

Who is Chandrashekhar Kambar?


Picking his words carefully, Chandrashekhar Kambar says his top priority in his new assignment as president of the Sahitya Akademi will be to ensure that all languages get an equal status in the “temple of Sarva Bhasha Saraswati.” The road map for achieving this will be discussed at the next Akademi meeting later this month, he says, refusing to be drawn into a conversation on whether he feels that some languages are more equal than others.

What are his credentials?

Mr. Kambar, who was elected last month to head the national academy of letters, is an acclaimed poet, playwright, novelist, folklorist, film director and academic in Kannada. He has to his credit 25 plays, 10 anthologies of poems, five novels, 16 research works and many academic papers. He brought to the language its eighth Jnanpith in 2010 and has won a string of other awards and accolades, including the Padma Shri. Many of his prose works are available in English and other languages.

Mr. Kambar has also made a mark as an astute administrator, having served as the first Vice-Chancellor of the Kannada University at Hampi, an institution set up to conduct multidisciplinary research on various aspects of Karnataka’s ethos. He served as a nominated member of the Karnataka Legislative Council in 2004.

What is his idiom?

Mr. Kambar was born in 1937 in a backward community at Godgeri in the border district of Belagavi in north Karnataka. The linguistic and cultural idiom of his native village resonates through all his works. The rich sensual imagery that his works abound with and the earthy north Karnataka dialect that his characters speak draw inspiration from the folk story tellers, singers and performers of the region. After receiving the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award in 1992, Mr. Kambar said the exploited and illiterate people of his village “preserved and nurtured their experiential learning through songs and stories.” It was an extraordinary event that he, their son, “became literate and capable of documenting these experiences in writing.”

Interestingly, Mr. Kambar chose to dig into his cultural past to find his muse at a time when many of his contemporaries in the Navya (modernist) tradition in Kannada in the 1960s and 1970s were deeply influenced by Western writers like T.S. Eliot or Franz Kafka. He recast folk plays like Sangya Balya and used forms like Bayalata and Lavani. However, though often described as a “folk writer,” he is more appropriately a writer who chose a folk idiom to tell modern tales. The imaginary place Shivapura, the locale where many of his narratives including the latest novel Shivana Dangura are set, is constantly trying to redefine itself as it comes face to face with colonial and neocolonial forces. Shivana Dangura, for instance, packs in electoral politics, international business interests, agrarian crisis, environmental degradation and multiple other modern themes. Though critics have sometimes faulted Mr. Kambar for a temptation to slide into a simplistic and reductionist celebration of the past, his best works — especially the poems — offer a finer nuance. He has often said nostalgia over past traditions without an understanding of the context could be dangerous. He is also deeply aware that though his fictional locale is Shivapura, his readers are far away from it. He said in an interview late last year: “The people of Shivapura are not the audience of my work. My readers are in the city, probably because my poetry appeals to the villager living in the heart of a city dweller.”

What is his dream?

Outside the realm of his literary output, Mr. Kambar’s keen interest in harnessing technology to keep Indian languages alive and robust is proof that he is not a man lost in the past. With the late writer Poornachandra Tejaswi, he lobbied hard for a greater role of the government in bringing Kannada computing up-to-date with the latest. He often expressed exasperation over the unresponsive government machinery, which is quite unusual for Mr. Kambar.


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Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 11:07:09 AM |

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