Friday Review

In the heart of Kannada

There is probably not another south Indian state like Karnataka in which the language of the land, Kannada, co-exists with so many other bhashas. Kannada co-exists with Tulu, Konkani, Beary, Kodava, and Urdu apart from other minor languages and dialects. It is also perhaps the only state which has granted independent status to each of these languages – full-fledged academies have been set up to promote their language, culture and literature. Kannada, in fact, has been richly benefitted from the co-habitation of these many languages. Writers like Masti Venkatesh Iyengar, Govinda Pai, Panje Mangesharaya, Kaiyyara Kinhanna Rai, Gourish Kaikini, Da. Ra. Bendre, K.S. Nisar Ahmed, Boluvaru Mohammed Kunhi… whose mother tongues were different have lived in our emotional world alongside true blue Kannada writers like Kuvempu, Lankesh and others. The Kannada that lives within us is hence a smattering of Konkani, Urdu, Beary, Tulu and more.

The iconic Govinda Pai stunningly said, “I have two mothers – Kannada, the mother I was born to, and Konkani the mother who nurtured me.” Many Kannada writers did not speak Kannada at home, but wrote in Kannada. There were others who wrote in their own region-specific languages, and much of it remained oblivious to the “Kannada” reader who lived in different parts of the state. The most interesting aspect is that each of these languages have several dialects, and are spoken by people of different religious affiliations – Hindu, Christian and Muslim. The intention of setting up these various language academies thereby, was primarily to preserve and promote languages and their cultures. More importantly, one would philosophically imagine, it is also to protect their bond with Kannada. That is, to keep their dialogue with Kannada ongoing.

“The Karnataka Tulu Sahitya Academy is a boon to the Tulu community,” says writer Nagaveni H. An acclaimed Kannada novelist and short story writer, Nagaveni’s writing is rooted in the Tulu sensibility. “We were all swimming in this huge, unfathomable ocean called Kannada. In its immense creative expanse, it was impossible for a Tulu writer to be noticed. Every language is special, and so is Tulu. It has tone, flavour, idiom, imagery and metaphor that is so inherent to the language and its culture. So for a quintessential Tulu mind to write in any other language is a constant process of translation, even if it is to Kannada, who is our first mother. And in this process of translation, there is always a sense of loss. It is like drinking tea that has been thrice boiled, or preparing fish curry in a steel vessel and not a claypot,” she evocatively explains. “Tulu Academy is an emotional victory for us. I do not say this in competitive spirit, but it has given us the confidence to face the glorious Kannada waterfall. We need this Academy also for the unlettered geniuses.”

Winner of the Kendra Sahitya Academy award for his exhaustive novel on the journey of the Konkani community, Sapna Saraswata, Gopalkrishna Pai says: “Konkani is such a special language. This language community has 41 sub sects and whatever work the Academy does, it must be able to include the Konkani Christian, Muslim and Hindu.”

While Pai agrees that having an Academy gives attention and support to the community, he says that a lot more work needs to be done in terms of bridging Kannada and Konkani.

Registrar Fahmida Raham sounds happy at the kind of work the Karnataka Urdu Academy is doing in terms of bridging Kannada and Urdu. “We do plenty of translations from Kannada to Urdu,” she says, citing the example of Vachana literature, Kuvempu etc. The Academy which works in collaboration with the National Council for Promotion of Urdu language conducts one year Urdu courses at the Academy premises every Sunday. “It is predominantly a non-Muslim group that comes for this course. You should see how well they speak Urdu,” she says with pride. The Academy which has nearly 1000 Urdu writers, poets, and journalists on its list, hosts qawwalis, mushairas, and ghazal programmes in Mysore Dasara and several other state programmes.

Like the Konkani, Tulu and Beary academies, the Urdu academy also brings out a quarterly journal Azkar and a monthly newsletter Khabarnama.

“Under the enthusiastic leadership of our chairman Dr. Fouzia Choudhary a lot is being done to save the Urdu language in southern parts of Karnataka. In North Karnataka, particularly Gulbarga-Bijapur and Bidar, there are many associations that work to promote the language,” she explains. However, it is also true that in rural Karnataka, students from the Urdu community opt for Kannada and in urban centres for English.

The problem of the Urdu language is the problem every regional language faces. There is some hope however, in attempts that are being made to address these issues. For instance, Mangalore University has set up the Konkani Research Centre and also has Konkani as a language option at the university level. The University also works in collaboration with the Beary Academy, has a research cell and even awards fellowships.

It is indeed special that a Karnataka Muslim has five mother tongues – Kannada, Mappillai, Navayati, Beary and Urdu. The Beary community which has a significant presence in Dakshina Kannada, Chikmagalur, Hassan, Udupi, Kasargod districts accounts for a huge percentage of writers in Kannada. “Till 30 years ago, Beary was an abuse word. Along with a few friends, we set up the Beary Welfare Association in Bangalore and began to instil pride in the community. We concentrated mainly on education and started giving cash awards to students,” recalls writer B.M. Haneef, who says he was the third graduate from this hometown in 1983. “Today, the scene is completely different. It is a well-educated community and thanks to the sacrifice of one generation of boys who went to the gulf and worked for their families, today we are a community with 100 percent literacy among girls.”

The Welfare Association was indeed the beginning of the Beary Academy. “A lot of work has been done by the association for the language, literature and culture, and we are currently putting together a Beary-Kannada-English dictionary under the Academy. We have already found over 50,000 words,” he says.

What the academies have done for these language communities is phenomenal, and that is one side of the story. But in terms of linguistic transfer, all of them seem to agree that a lot more needs to be done. Does the rest of Karnataka know a Beary or Konkani writer like we know Kuvempu or Ananthamurthy?

“It is sad that the Tulu world is restricted to its region itself. For instance, a brilliant writer like Kalale Seenappa Hegde is not known to the rest of Karnataka,” reflects Nagaveni. “I made the choice to write in Kannada keeping my Tulu sensibility intact. Hence, I am read and appreciated by the Kannada reader. But that is not so in the case of a writer writing in Tulu. In fact, there are many fantastic writers.”

“Ravindra Kelekar was a Konkani writer who won the Jnanpith. How come we still haven’t thought of translating his works into Kannada?” asks Pai. Similarly, there is a huge literary output from Goan and Kerala Konkani belts, but that too has not made it to the literary circuit.

“Also, why haven’t we translated Malegalalli Madumagalu or any of the Kannada classics into Konkani?” He concedes that a lot of good work is done by the Konkani Sahitya Academy, but it needs to widen its canvas. “I am very happy that the Academy is doing a lot for the community. However, a language will not just grow with awards and festivals. It will grow only when there is a dialogue with other languages,” he says emphatically.

“The Beary language and community has got a lot of recognition due to the Academies. Interestingly, in all the 1300 jamats, the registers, records, posters and handbills are maintained in Kannada. There are six major journals in Kannada that are brought out by Bearys. It is true however, that a Beary writer is not being translated to Kannada and that is gross injustice. This is something that we have to think seriously,” says Haneef.

For the quintessential Kannadiga, these various bhashas are a part of his collective unconscious.

If languages have to live, literature has to thrive, and if we have to co-exist with love and tolerance, working between languages and cultures is perhaps the only route. When Kuvempu said “Endedigu nee Kannadavagiru”, he surely had Konkani, Kodava, Urdu, Tulu, Beary and all other Kannadas in mind.

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Printable version | Oct 23, 2021 3:01:16 AM |

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