‘Our education system is the reason for increasing concern about Kannada’s survival in Bengaluru’

Poet, translator, and academic H.S. Venkatesha Murthy, who released his autobiography recently in Bengaluru, talks about the literary tradition of Kannada and concerns about language’s survival in Bengaluru

August 07, 2023 09:00 am | Updated 10:51 am IST - Bengaluru

Poet H. S.  Venkatesh Murthy.

Poet H. S.  Venkatesh Murthy. | Photo Credit: MURALI KUMAR K

At the release of his autobiography recently, poet, translator, and academic H. S. Venkatesha Murthy, popularly known as HSV, said that he finds satisfaction in drawing inspiration from his early memories of village life, reflecting them in his writings as metaphors. HSV, who will be 80 next year, believes that Kannada language will continue to be a strong medium of literature in the contemporary context due to its expressive power, even as he shares concerns about the language’s survival in a metropolis like Bengaluru due to the impact of the education system.

The author, who has also written for children, rued the lack of new Kannada literature for children and their disconnect with the language, which can be addressed by promoting Kannada as a medium of education. His new autobiography Nenapina Orate (Spring of Memories) combines both personal and literary aspects of his life.  

When you look back at your long career as a writer and poet, what do you feel most satisfied about? Do you have any regrets as a writer and academic?  

No, I have no regrets. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a village and most of my literature is inspired by the life I had in my hometown. The essence of the language spoken in my village and the scenery there is reflected in my writings as metaphors. So, I am grateful for the life I had in the village and what it has turned me into.   

You have written many poems that have been set to music and made popular. When you started out, there was a certain disdain for Geeta Gayana by Navya (modernist) writers. Those writing songs were frowned upon as “lesser” poets. Has that changed now?  

English songwriters are called versifiers, but it is not the same in Kannada literature, everyone is considered a poet. In Kannada literature, there has never been a differentiation between someone who writes poetry and someone who writes songs. Speech and songs have always got along in Kannada literature, they are called odugabba and haadugabba, reading and singing poetry. Some poets write poems that must be read out and some write poems that must be sung. Even eminent poets like Purandara Dasa and Kanaka Dasa are poets who wrote poems that could be sung.  

How do you view the status of Kannada as a language and as a medium of literature in the contemporary context? 

Kannada’s great poet Da.Ra. Bendre says “Kannadada Kannadiyalli naanu jagathanne thorisaballe” (I can reflect the whole world in the mirror of Kannada), which means Kannada has that kind of strength. Kannada has been in the literary world in the past and will also be there in the future. Great Kannada poetry was written in the 10th Century by Pampa, ever since then it has been a medium of literature. Just like the English language, Kannada has got richer due to the influence of various regional languages like Sanskrit, other Dravidian languages, Marathi, and so on. Even in this era, Kannada has the power to express any sensitive issue, so it will continue to be a strong medium of literature for contemporary work too.  

There are specific anxieties about Kannada’s survival in Bengaluru. What are your thoughts? 

I have the same fear too. The education system in Karnataka, especially Bengaluru, is the reason for the increasing concern about the language’s survival in the City. If children do not learn or are educated in Kannada, they will automatically divert to choose a language they are more comfortable with. Many authors, poets, and leaders in the past have mentioned this, and so have I. It is important for schools to implement Kannada as a medium of education until the 10th grade, or at least till higher-primary classes for the language to survive in Bengaluru. 

Also, there is not much Kannada literature being written for children these days. What could be the reason?How do you view young people’s disconnect with Kannada? What can be done about it? 

The lack of new Kannada literature for children has arisen due to the decrease in the number of children who read anything in Kannada these days. Not many children are into reading Kannada books, plays, or poetry, which is a tragedy. My very own grandchildren do not read the work I write in Kannada. Children these days are more into reading English literature and novels.

These days works of literature by Kannada greats like Kuvempu, Masti Venkatesh Iyengar, Shivaram Karanth, and many such are mostly read by only those who are over the age of 40. As I mentioned before, having Kannada as a medium of education is the only solution to help youngsters build a relationship with the language.  

How can Kannada classics be made accessible to the next generation? You have written a reader on Kumaravyasa called Kumaravyasa Kathantara. 

Classics are not easy for youngsters to understand, as most of them are in Halegannada (old Kannada). It is important to simplify classics and make them easily available for the new generation; this is what I did in Kumaravyasa Kathantara, I simplified the language. Another important and easy way for the classics to reach youngsters is through theatre. When any writing is presented on stage as a play, it gets closer to the audience. It is also necessary for schools to have volunteers who educate and introduce students to various poets, authors and classics to children at a very young age.  

You have written on Buddha in your book Buddha Charana. What attracted you to Buddhist philosophy? 

I was always fond of Buddha, but I was waiting for the right state-of mind to write something about him. Unless you experience something that is very emotionally draining or something that hurts you, you will not be able to write about Buddha who spreads peace, compassion, and love. The death of my wife was not something I could accept; however, it helped me get into the state-of mind I had been waiting for. I started reading about Buddha from various books in Kannada, Sanskrit, and English, and it took me close to 10 years to learn about him. After which I completed the book in one year, and surprisingly I finished writing the book on the day of Buddha Purnima.  

Tell us about the book Nenapina Orate that is newly released.

This is my autobiography. The autobiography is not just about the ups and downs in my private or professional life, it has more to it. The book is an amalgamation of my personal and literary life.  

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