His exit has impoverished literature

Once, Professor V.P. Devul Gaonkar introduced Giraddi Govindaraj to the famous Marathi writer Pu .La. Deshapande as ‘a good critic in Kannada’. Deshapande’s quick and spontaneous repartee was: “What do you mean by a ‘good’ critic? They are never ‘good’ to us.” Underneath Deshapande’s wit there is a truth: ‘Good’ critics are never ‘good’ to anybody. With some emphasis one may add: ‘Good critics are not and should not be goody goody.’ They never attempt to please any one. Nor do they intend to hurt anybody advertently. They only state and record what they intensely feel or think, unmindful of personal relations.

Professor Giraddi Govindaraja (1939-1918) was a no nonsense critic. He was upright, straight forward and honest. He was uncompromising, did not mince words, and was able to convey complex ideas, thoughts or arguments in simple sentences. He was well versed in both Indian and Western critical traditions. He borrowed from both without any hesitation or reservation. However, his critical writings were free from the burden of critical jargons and theories. He approached literary texts with due respect, recognized their autonomy and attempted to explore from within. Giraddi never allowed theories to bulldoze literary texts. He was very clinical and forthright in his analyses and interpretations. One could argue with him, disagree with him, even challenge some of his findings. In fact, feminists had lots of problems with him. Dalit and Bandaya writers never liked him. But none questioned his integrity.

The title of one of his works - ‘Navya Vimarshe’ (1975) - made him bear the onus of being always identified as a ‘navya vimarshaka’. True, Giraddi paid attention to the text and its inner dynamics, considering it to be of prime importance. However, he placed a writer in his entire body of work and never judged by an individual work: in fact, he also contextualized it in view of writers with similar preoccupations. The titles of many of his works - ‘Sahitya Mattu Parampare’(1981), ‘Satatya’(1992), ‘Pramanu’(2007) - may be cited here. He started as a modernist but went beyond practical criticism and was able to analyse and interpret literary works in larger contexts. His ‘Kannada kavya parampare mattu Bendreyavara kaavya’ (2004) shows Giraddi as a critic in full bloom. Giraddi could demonstrate how a Dasara keertane or a Sharanara vachana deconstructed itself to become a Bendre poem. Giraddi was comfortable with both pre-modern and modern literatures. His essay on Janna’s ‘Yashodhara Charitha’ is a masterpiece in literary criticism. His ‘Vachana Vinyasa’ demonstrates the poetic qualities of vachanas. Exploring the ‘saatatya’ (continuity) in Kannada literature was one of the ambitions of Giraddi as a literary critic.

Giraddi is one of our finest critics of fiction. His taste, scholarship and critical sensibilities can be seen not only in his critical essays but also in the anthologies of Kannada stories he has edited. His ‘Mareyabarada Haleya Kathegalu’(1999) is one of the most important anthologies of short stories in Kannada. He has also edited an anthology of modern Kannada stories. Giraddi has also developed a katha mimamse in Kannada. He has brought out the essential difference between Kannada stories and western stories. His essay on Masthi’s stories is a major contribution to fiction criticism in Kannada. Fiction is construed as ‘kalpitha vaastava’ (imagined reality) by Giraddi. This concept is at the root of his critical engagement with short stories and novels. His essay on Shivarama Karanth’s ‘Marali Mannige’ challenges many popular notions about that classic novel. While most of the critics have declared that the descriptions of rains at regular intervals by Karanth in that novel as dull repetitions, Giraddi has shown that they are recurring motifs contributing to the effective development of the plot. He challenged Gopalakrishna Adiga’s observation that Karanth’s multifaceted interests are not integrated in the novel. Giraddi says that one has to read Karanth’s novels together as one reads the individual poems of a poet to make out his poetry in totality. Giraddi also questions his contemporaries regarding their observations on Karanth’s use of language and form.

Though Giraddi is considered to be a major critic in Kannada, it is interesting to note that criticism was not his first choice. He started as a poet in 1956 and published ‘Sharada Lahari’ followed by ‘Rasavanthi’(1961) and ‘Marlin Monroe’ (1974). He has published three collections of short stories. His famous story ‘hangu’ was made into a film by Puttanna Kanagal. His novelette ‘Mannu’ is considered to be a minor classic in the modernist Kannada fiction. Giraddi says he became a critic by compulsion when he started the literary journal ‘Sankramana’ along with Siddalinga Pattanashetty and Chandrashekhara Patil. However, he excelled as a critic and was soon recognized as a major voice in Kannada criticism. He published 14 works in the genre. Giraddi used to say that his serious engagement with criticism camouflaged his creative instincts. His close friends observed that it camouflaged his natural wit and humour too. His friends knew what a lively conversationist he was, with his innumerable jokes and anecdotes. His ‘hidiyada haadi’(Lalitha Prabandhagalu, 2007), ‘Atmiya’(Vyakti Chitragalu, 2008) and ‘Sahityalokada sutta mutta (Prasangagalu,2009) show the livelier, lighter, warmer and wittier side of Giraddi’s personality which was overshadowed by his serious, critical face.

Giraddi was a tremendous organizer too. He taught in Gulbarga and Karnataka Universities and enthused, influenced a generation of students. He toured Karnataka as a part of Ninasam Pratishthana team for nearly two decades and discussed various aspects of literature with the local enthusiastic youngsters. As professor and head of the department of English at Karnataka University, Dharwad he brought out many healthy and enterprising reforms. As president of Karnataka sahitya academy he conducted very interesting and useful seminars and workshops. The publication of the critical idiom series needs a special mention here. Dharwad Sahithya Sambhrama was a great dream he shared with Channaveera Kanavi, G. S. Amur, M. M. Kalburgi and Girish Karnad. It provided a meaningful forum for writers and readers of literature from all over Karnataka to meet, share and discuss many important cultural issues. Dharwad was Giraddi’s karmabhumi. It was always a pleasure and creative time to meet Giraddi at Dharwad. Dharwad would not be the same now without him.

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 1:46:00 AM |

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