A thinker far ahead of his times

A four-volume set of Shankar Mokashi Punekar’s Kannada writings is being released on Sunday

June 21, 2012 11:02 am | Updated 11:02 am IST

Shankar Mokashi Punekar. Photo: Special Arrangement

Shankar Mokashi Punekar. Photo: Special Arrangement

Critics described him as a post-colonial thinker long before the word became fashionable.

In critic Rajendra Chenni’s words, the late Shankar Mokashi Punekar was a robust nonconformist and an unyielding rebel who did everything that constantly shocked the literary establishment. So much so, Kannada literary circles branded him an eccentric, whose idiosyncrasies had to be tolerated because of his intellectual strengths.

Shankar Mokashi Punekar, who passed away in 2004, occupies a special place in the Kannada literary tradition as a novelist, poet, literary critic and translator.

He wrote when the Navya (modernist) movement in Kannada literature was at its peak and he was a voice of dissent against the prevailing literary norms, sharply critical of what he called the Western and individualistic orientation of Navya writings.

The publishing house Abhinava is bringing out omnibus editions of Shankar Mokashi Punekar’s complete Kannada works in four volumes running about 1,900 pages.

Writer and critic G.B. Harish, who edited the volumes, worked for more than five years on the assignment.

The compilation includes his celebrated novel Gangavva Gangamayi, a brilliant portrayal of the clash between orthodoxy and modernity during the years of the Freedom Struggle, and which is credited with being the first existentialist novel in Kannada.

It also includes his other two novels, the Central Sahitya Akademi award-winning Avadeshwari and Nata Narayani.

Mahati (comparative study of Western literature and culture), Vastu Vinyasa (study of Kannada literature and culture), Susandhi (compilation of short stories, poetry and plays) and Kadambari Trivali (compilation of three novels) are part of the compilation.

Original voice

Speaking to The Hindu , Dr. Harish described Shankar Mokashi Punekar as “one of the most original critics that Kannada literature had seen, who had the courage and clarity of vision to see the dangers that threaten a regional literary culture in the context of global hegemony of the West.” One of his most original arguments was that periodisation of Kannada literature into Navodaya and Navya supported a “false historical perception” that there had been a total paradigm shift in between.

The volumes, said Mr. Harish, tries to place the entire oeuvre of works of Punekar not only in the Kannada context but in the broader Indian context.

English works

The volumes don’t include the Shankar Mokashi Punekar’s English writings, which form an impressive part of his output. One of his important works is a study of the Harappa-Mohejodaro seals, in which he has interpreting 100 of them.

Abhinava plans to bring his English works in separate volumes.

The four-volume set, priced at Rs.1,250, will be released by noted critic G.S Amur. Critic Basavaraja Kalgudi will speak on Mokashi.

The event is at Kannada Sahitya Parishat on Sunday at 10.30 a.m.

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