Friday Review

Beyond literary intentions

Had he lived today, one of Kannada’s most powerful writers and towering influences on Kannadigas would have turned 80. But P. Lankesh is ever present in the hearts and minds of people as was made evident by every speaker at the Lankesh Commemorative function organised by his daughter and editor of ‘Gauri Lankesh Patrike’ on the occasion of his 80th birthday on March 8 at Kuvempu Kalakshetra.

The occasion also marked the 10th anniversary of her paper that has continued her father’s legacy with its uncompromising stand against communal and fascist forces plaguing the country. The foremost thought in every one’s mind at the function was about how Lankesh would have reacted to the ascendance of rightist forces and the kind of malicious campaign unleashed on people. This feeling was expressed by none other than the chief minister Siddaramaiah. Recalling his association with Lankesh, he told the gathering how even he was not spared by ‘Meshtru’ when he did not listen to the suggestion to contest the Lok Sabha election in the 80s from Mysore. Through his popular weekly, the first in Kannada to keep away from advertisements, he invented a new language of journalistic writing and reached a wide spectrum of people. He extended his pedagogic practice beyond the confines of his classroom as an English teacher. In fact, one main reason why Lankesh is revered by all today, including those who were admonished by him several times, was the critical distance he stubbornly maintained with those in power till his last breath. In a way, Lankesh was an uncompromising public intellectual who always “spoke truth to power” to use the familiar phrase of Edward Said.

Noted Kannada critic, G. Rajashekar, remarked that Lankesh is the most powerful presence in the popular imagination of Kannadigas after Kuvempu in terms of their commitment to a secular, progressive vision of Karnataka. This presence was most palpable among the crowd that thronged the venue not just in Bangalore, but also in a place like Raichur where a similar function was held last year. It is well known that Lankesh, along with other two stalwarts of Kannada literary scene, Ananthamurthy and Tejaswi, shaped the Navya movement in Kannada. But in spite of their common legacy of Lohiaite socialism and sharing a common cultural milieu, there are crucial differences among them in terms of how they negotiated with colonial modernity. In many ways, Lankesh and Ananthamurthy represent two strong and distinct streaks of Kannada modernity as can be seen in their literary and in their non-literary writings. Interestingly, the difference continues to manifest itself in various forms through later literary waves like Bandaya, Dalit and Women writing that followed the Navya movement. Though Lankesh’s influence was deep in shaping these movements, his uncanny sense of what constitutes a literary experience, and of what it means to deploy language in all its life force, enabled him to see the crucial difference between literary production and consciously held ideological positions. His own literary craft is an illuminating example for this magical quality of literature that goes beyond the writer’s declared intentions.

As if reflecting all these concerns, the conference saw a variety of speeches ranging from the literary/cultural criticism to a critical analysis of the present day politics. G. Rajashekar in his brilliant analysis through a close reading of Lankesh’s ‘Akka’, showed how the novella could be read as one of the foremost works that deals with an urban experience, written from a subaltern perspective. The voyeuristic streak, made available for the reader through an adolescent boy who is growing to be a teenager much ahead of his age, engages the readers in the moral dilemma that is at once both personal and political.

It is not just a coincidence that Lankesh’s birthday happens to be on March 8. He has not only given us the most memorable women characters in his poems and stores like ‘Avva’,‘Rotti’ and ‘A Girl called Stella’, but also brought some of the remarkable women writers like Vaidehi, Banu Mushtaq, Sara Abubacker, Lalitha Nayak to light through Lankesh Patrike. Pointing out to this phenomenon called Lankesh, critic Asha Devi stressed the need for a deeper understanding of his contribution to women’s writing.

Another highlight of the programme was the debut public speech by Noor Sridhar, the former Naxalite leader, who recently came into the mainstream. In a candid and insightful analysis of the present day socio-political situation, laced with apt metaphors, Sridhar stressed the need to build a new social movement where people become active participants and not just meek spectators. This he said is the answer to the dilemma between the ballot and the bullet as instruments of social change. Dinesh Amin Mattu spoke at length about the challenges before us in the wake of the rise of fascist forces and the role of youth in facing these challenges.

The conference also saw release of four books: A translation of Brecht’s poems by writer-activist K. Phaniraj, a collection of articles by various writers on Ananthamurthy, a book of hitherto unpublished articles of Lankesh. A children’s book of Kenneth Anderson was also released.

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 1:25:34 PM |

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